By SHARON KANNA
It's a sunny spring morning, and inside McDonald's it's breakfast time. Many retired folks are taking advantage of the 25-cent senior coffee.
There's no beef being served, but at a particular table the bull is flying.
Helen Stults, on her mid-morning break, is sitting with her buddies, regulars she affectionately calls "my motley crew." The quips are coming fast, and everybody's laughing. Their picture is taken, and Alvin Benedict says, "This is the McDonald's Mafia. If they see this in the paper, they'll stop taking the paper."
Stults' traveling companion to Spain a little over a year ago, Avah Wiggins, is introduced. "Everybody calls me Snooks," she says. Larry Williams pipes up, "I went to Denmark last week; I go every two weeks." There is raucous laughter from the "motley crew." Williams adds, "You know, it's right there above Port Orford."
Williams, who is African-American, adds, "I go to Fiji every morning it's right there on Railroad. You know Fiji Island Tan! The customers are very rude; they always fight for the tanning booth I come out of."
Stults said she keeps on working because she thoroughly enjoys people. She said of the regulars who like to tease her, "They make me laugh. If you start out laughing, it makes a nice day."
She also keeps working because it gives her extra money to travel. "I love to travel," she said. This year she is going with her sister, Pauline, on her first cruise. They will fly to London, England, and from there sail to St. Petersburg, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. "We're going to have an absolute ball," she said.
Last August she and a friend visited Australia, New Zealand and the Fiji Islands with a tour group.
She has been to nine countries, and said she has pretty much traveled the whole United States. "The only states I haven't been in are Maine and Alaska," she said.
Stults moved to Brookings 10 years ago to be near her sons, Jim and Allen. "I thought I would retire, I thought I would live off the Social Security I was getting," she said. "But I was bored to tears. I thought it would be great to retire, but it isn't."
Not long after, she was serving hamburgers at McDonald's and loving it. "I need people that's why I enjoy working at McDonald's," she shared. You'll usually find Stults behind the counter from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
She has been at McDonald's 10 years, longer than any other employee presently working. She knows all the regulars by name. "She's an excellent worker, good with the customers," said morning shift manager, Gina Bledsaw. "They all love her and call her by name."
For 20 years she was a keypunch operator in Garden Grove, Calif. But in the back of her mind was a dream. "All my life I thought it would be fun to be a waitress." So when she moved to Laughlin, Nev., she took a waitressing job at the Golden Nugget. And it was fun, she said.
With her people-loving, people-pleasing personality, it was a good fit. And so is McDonald's, she said.
"She's the speediest thing on two feet," said co-worker, Dorothea Humphreys. "The only person who comes close is an 18-year-old here."
Even with her 30-35 hour work week, she stays active with her friends and family. Tuesday nights finds her at Azalea Lanes bowling on a team. McDonald's is sponsoring them, and they are in first place.
She and her daughter-in-law, Lucille, belong to a pinochle club. They also do a lot of hiking together on ocean and river trails, and floating down the Chetco River in a rubber boat. Sometimes her grandchildren and son, Jim, join her. "We love the outdoors," she said.
"Everybody knows me," she said. "Even when we go out on the river, little kids will holler, Oh, there's the McDonald's lady!' "
In pursuit of fun she has not always kept her feet on the ground. In the 1960s she owned her own plane. "I had a twin-engine Apache. We (she and her late husband Allan) owned Fullerton Flying Services in Orange County, Calif.
"I was terrified of flying, but after I had my first solo, I thought, Gee, this is great.' Then I really got into flying. I just did it for fun. I used to fly me and my girlfriends up to various golf courses to play, just for the ducks of it, just to fly. I played a lot of golf."
She added, "I've always been very active; I've never been one to sit still. There's so many things in life to enjoy." She said she loves the beauty of Brookings: its' coastline, the woods, the rivers. "There are so many things to do that don't cost one dog gone dime."
One customer brings over a man of about the same age as her. He introduces his "dad" as "Curley." "Curley," who is really Joe Hodge, said, "He's always teasing me about that." He points to his almost bald head. "Grass don't grow on a busy street," he said.
And the ribbing continued, much to Stult's amusement. "Yeah, they start your morning off right," she said of the jokesters. "They're such a mess!"
What does Stults see herself doing in 10 years? "Hopefully the same things I'm doing right now. God willing!"