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Over the Hill Hikers celebrate 40 years of camaraderie

Members of Over the Hill Hikers meet for a photo at Mead Base in Sandwich before going on a hike, part of a celebration of the group's 40th anniversary. (Photo by Erin Plummer) (click for larger version)
September 05, 2019
SANDWICH In the summer of 1979, a group of friends came together to do regular hikes, 40 years later that group has over 100 members taking part in different hikes across the state and even the world. Members of Over the Hill Hikers are celebrating its 40th anniversary doing what they do best: hiking.

Over the Hill Hikers is a loosely formed organization mainly comprised of older people, though people of all ages have taken part. Different hikes are ranked into different difficulty categories: Group A, Group B, and Turtles as well as a Friday hiking group. The organization also has groups for kayakers, skiers, snowshoers.

This past week, members of the group gathered for a group photo and a hike on the Mount Israel Trail, the Beede Falls Trail, or the Bearcamp River Trail.

According to the group's blog, Over the Hill Hikers started as a group of friends who would start at Jose's Bridge in North Sandwich and end with a picnic lunch at Great Falls. A few years later Lib Crooker and her husband Charlie Crooker retired to Sandwich and Lib became the group's first Den Mother, creating some organization to the group.

Charlie Crooker passed away in 1994 and Lib married Frank Bates.

Lib's daughter Cathy Crooker has been part of the group for more than 30 years. She said she was already an avid hiker and would hike when she was in the area on vacation.

Sue Speers has been part of the group since around 1992, after she and her husband moved to Sandwich full time. One of her neighbors asked if she would be interested in joining the group and hike with them. She said shortly after joining they had a whole group of friends.

"Wonderful way to get to know people," Speers said.

Bill Glenday comes from Troy and attended UNH, then went into the Air Force and had a job with Westinghouse. He and his family would move to different places every three to five years as part of his job. Glenday and his wife settled in Sandwich in the 1990's and did some hiking. He said got involved in the group on the insistence of his neighbor Jocelyn Gutchess.

"One of my neighbors said, 'You're going to do it,'" Glenday said.

Glenday said it ended up being a great experience and was especially a great way to catch up on all the news in town.

"You kept in good shape and got to know all the gossip in town," Glenday said.

New people coming into the group would experience the same warm welcome.

"When people came in you introduced them to hiking," Glenday said.

Crooker said the organization is not really that organized. It really doesn't have much of a central organization and is mostly members working cohesively.

"We are going to keep this as simple as possible because it's about the hiking," Crooker said.

Crooker said hikes went beyond New Hampshire with hikes going into Vermont and Maine. Speers also went to Switzerland with Penny Pitou.

A number of members have completed the 48 4,000 Footers.

"I was proudest to finish the 48 just before Medicare kicked in," Speers said.

Glenday said there was a race between them to finish the 48 first. Speers said they worked on hiking summer after summer.

Crooker said in the beginning there was only one hiking level. As many of the members have gotten older the group has put in place different levels at which members can participate.

"So people can stay here, they don't have to leave the group as they age," Crooker said.

In the 1990's as members aged and many became exhausted with the 48, Lib Crooker Bates created a new list, the "52 With a View" as a new goal. The "52 With a View" are hikes of different abilities from easy to difficult with excellent views of the White Mountains.

Speers said as everyone in the group has aged everyone has been enormously supportive and somebody is always willing to help.

"It is part of what creates community here," Crooker said.

Lib Bates was a major organizing force through the group's entire history. Speers said when Bates stepped down it took several people to take on her role.

Shortly before she died, Bates was given LL Bean's Outdoor Hero Award for 2011, including a sizable gift certificate from LL Bean.

"There she was with terminal cancer, what did she do with the gift certificate but buy a huge tent," Crooker said.

She said her mother's tent was set up in the backyard and she enjoyed some time in it before she passed.

Cooker said she's convinced it was because of the group that her mother was able to live the rest of her life in Sandwich and not in a nursing home. Lib died at the age of 92 on Oct. 11, 2011 in her bedroom with a view of Mount Israel.

Tracy Ripkey is the new Den Mother. She and her husband moved to Sandwich from Washington, DC, in 2014 after retiring from a military career. She learned of the group after buying Bates' home. She said as they toured the home they saw some items related to Over the Hill Hikers and asked the realtor what it was.

"I love the camaraderie, I loved the dedication," Ripkey said. "Everybody has a passion for nature and fitness and health and just a very positive outlook on life. That energy that keeps you wanting to be a part of this group of people."

For more information on Over the Hill Hikers, visit http://overthehillhikers.blogspot.com.

Varney Smith
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