Octogenarian Charlie Crews knows computers

Charlie Crews.jpgCharlie Crews, a member of the Todd County Healthy Community Partnership, will be 80 years-old on September 27. He volunteered to serve on all of the task forces by doing online research on youth retention, senior services and economic development task forces. Unlike many people half his age, Charlie has no fear of computers. In fact, Charlie has worked with computers since President Eisenhower’s first term.

“I was in the Navy in 1955,” says Charlie. “I worked in aviation supply and we used an automated record system. The computer was a UNIVAC and had vacuum tubes. It filled one room. We had to have an air conditioner to cool it.” He developed programs for maintaining aviation supplies- instant information on tracking and shipment of parts- to keep the time that planes were out of action to a minimum.

UNIVAC is an acronym for Universal Automatic Computer and was the first commercial computer produced in the United States. It used 5,200 vacuum tubes and weighed 29,000 pounds. In contrast to that first computer, Charlie tells of recent gifts for family members. “We bought all of our grandkids and great-grandkids 9-inch mini-computers,” he says. The interesting thing is that Charlie knows what made that 15 ton computer work and he knows what makes the baby laptops work, too. He’s the one who keeps all of the family’s computers working.

Charlie is definitely in a minority group. Many people much younger than Charlie are reluctant to learn to use computers. According to the Pew Research Center, “As of December 2009, 38% of U.S. adults age 65 and older go online, a significantly lower rate of internet adoption than the general population (74%) and even the next-oldest group (70% of adults age 50-64 years old go online). In addition, just 26% of U.S. adults age 65 and older have home broadband access, compared with 56% of adults age 50-64 years old (and 60% of all adults).”

Charlie thinks it’s kind of sad when people don’t use computers. “You can search the Library of Congress or find out how to fix a sewing machine,” he says of the varied capabilities of online searching. He kept up with advances in computer technology during his 22 years in the Navy followed by a second career working for 3M as a microfilm equipment specialist and then as the national director of the sales division.

After retiring in 1986, Charlie and his wife moved from the Twin Cities to Todd County’s Sylvan Shores and now lives in Staples. He started computer classes for senior citizens in 1994 and slowly led about 150 people into the computer age during the five years he taught the classes. He helped them select computers and serviced them for free.

Charlie no longer subscribes to the trade magazines nor attends consumer electronics shows, both of which kept him up on all the latest developments. He still stays current on the pricing and how to fix problems, admitting that viruses and worms have gotten him three times.

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