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Retiree Spotlight

Many Chevron retirees live very active lives, embarking on new adventures and sharing their time, skills and knowledge with others. We share some of their stories here, in an effort to recognize them for the example they set and inspiration they bring to others

Alain Steenbeeke

Alain Steenbeeke earned his first swimming medals when he was just eight years old – outswimming some of the bigger kids in his native Netherlands. Now, more than 50 years later, the Chevron retiree is doing more of the same – winning national age group records among men 60 to 64. Several factors help account for his success, including love of the sport, a disciplined approach to his training, and strong motivation – with some gentle nudges from his mother, a life-long swimmer who still competes and is ranked #1 in the U.S. in her age group in several events at age 89. “My mom was my inspiration,” Alain explains. “I inherited my swimming genes from her. And any time I wasn’t in the mood to do a workout, she would keep after me.” After his early swimming achievements in the Netherlands, the Steenbeeke family moved to the United States three weeks before his 16th birthday. It didn’t take long for him to adjust to his new surroundings and the opportunity to be a competitive swimmer. “I joined the high school swim team and local swim team in Colorado, where we’d relocated,” said Alain. “I then went to the University of Denver in 1980 and competed in college swimming.” Denver’s altitude posed an early problem for him since the city is one mile above sea level. “It definitely took me a while to adjust to the altitude, but once I got used to swimming in Denver it actually became a help because it increased my aerobic capacity,” Alain says. “It’s no coincidence that many track and field runners and other athletes train in Colorado and other areas with similar altitudes.” Alain didn’t merely adjust to his new swimming venue – he excelled and became a national champion and All-American swimmer during his senior year. Driven by his success, he tried out for the Dutch Olympic team in 1984. But scheduling problems thwarted his goal. He explains, “Because my school stopped their yearly practice in March and the trials were in July, I did not have a place to work out and unfortunately did not make the team.” He missed narrowly, finishing fourth in the 400-meter freestyle at the trials. Shortly thereafter, he put his swimming career on hold while he took on full-time employment. “Life took over, and swimming became something I just did recreationally, devoting one or two sessions a week to the pool,” says Alain. ​He joined Chevron in 1989 in the credit card department in Concord, California. He subsequently worked for Chevron in San Ramon, Houston, and the Pacific Northwest. He retired in 2021 after 32 years, all in Downstream. However, he didn’t wait for retirement before resuming competitive swimming. “I took it up again when I was 48 and have competed ever since,” says Alain. “My mother, who was swimming competitively at that time at age 74, convinced me to get back into the pool and compete.” He found his readjustment to competitive swimming relatively easy. “I still felt at home in the pool – and felt invigorated from working out ever more intensely,” says Alain. While still working at Chevron, at age 52 he managed to set a Washington state record in the 100-meter backstroke that still stands. Other records would soon follow. ​Since his retirement, he has increased his swimming workouts to three times a week at high intensity, covering at least 2 miles each day. “This past swim season -- June 2022 through May 2023 -- I ranked 7th fastest in the country in the 100 backstroke and 11th fastest in the 50 backstroke in my age group (60-64),” says Alain. “I am also ranked 20th in the 100 freestyle.” The success continues. “So far this swim year I have the fastest times in the 100 back and freestyle and the 50 back,” says Alain. “Although I know that won’t last long, I’m confident that I’ll be faster in better pools. Of interest, I also still hold my high school record in the 200 freestyle I set in 1980.” One thing that hasn’t changed for Alain is his pre-race jitters. “I still get nervous before I compete.” He recommends swimming for people of all ages, including retirees. “It’s the best exercise, the least impactful on your body, and something for people for all abilities,” Alain says. “The more you swim, the better you get.” ​Though he remains highly dedicated to swimming, it isn’t the only major interest in his life. Alain says, “My other interests are beer stein collecting and showing our classic ‘67 Impala at car shows. I am a part of Stein Collectors International and have been the president of our Pacific Northwest club, which is a sub-group of the international club. We meet on a quarterly basis and view each other’s collections and buy, sell and trade steins with each other. I currently have over 500 antique German steins. “And six years ago, my wife and I bought a ‘67 Impala and restored it. We drive around in it occasionally, and we love taking it to car shows for others to look at it.”


Peter Schmidt

Chevron retiree Peter Schmidt describes his volunteer activities as “a quiet time in which to recharge my batteries.” This perspective has served him well, even when a multi-taloned, potentially dangerous raptor from the Lindsay Wildlife Experience is perched on his wrist. (Photo credit Paul Hara). The care of raptors has been Peter’s specialty ever since he began working as a volunteer at the center’s sanctuary for birds and animals in Walnut Creek, California, in 1997. Peter stresses that “these birds aren’t pets – and yet it’s possible to build a relationship with them.” His work with raptors includes cleaning up their area, feeding them and taking them for exercise. “They seem to recognize that I’m not someone who wants to clip their talons or other things they don’t like.” ​Peter originally joined the facility to replace his son, who had cared for raptors during his high school years and was leaving to attend college. Peter quickly found himself fitting into his role at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience, which provides the community with a mechanism to connect with wildlife that have been injured or are otherwise unable to be released to the wild. Today, he no longer works exclusively with raptors. “The administration wanted volunteers to extend their efforts to a wider group of birds, which meant that I had to develop a greater spectrum of skill sets.” He became particularly attached to Shadow, a great gray owl who often startled easily but relaxed in Peter’s presence. ​At Lindsay, he has also become involved in special projects, such as building an enclosure for an aquarium tank to house hermit crabs. “It was a good project for me since I like making things,” Peter says. Over 70 years of existence, the Lindsay Wildlife Experience had various names and locations, but the same purpose. It is the country’s first wildlife hospital, a zoological organization, and an educational museum specializing in native California wildlife. Since 1993, it has occupied a 28,000-square-foot space in Walnut Creek’s Larkey Park. There, each year, its veterinarians, husbandry experts, biologists, and teachers treat more than 5,000 wild animals; care for the 70 animal ambassadors who call Lindsay home; and educate approximately 100,000 people. ​Peter’s fascination with building things was one of the reasons he became a volunteer at Burning Man roughly 10 years ago. Burning Man Project, headquartered in San Francisco, is a network of people inspired by the values which include radical self-reliance, communal effort, civic responsibility, and “leaving no trace.” Each summer, the organization creates a temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock high desert, where scores of individuals create colorful, transient sculptures and other art. As volunteers, Peter and his wife devote roughly 10 days each summer to helping to build the city. “My biggest interest in Burning Man is the community of people,” says Peter. “And the process of building the city each year involves uplifting vibes and a camaraderie to get the job done.” Peter and his wife design large flags and portable 6 furniture that contribute both artistic and practical qualities to the 10-day event. “The flags are our most dramatic contribution,” says Peter. “They’re designed to fit in with the event’s annual theme and they fly over Burning Man’s Center Camp Café.” The practical contributions include plywood benches for the café, which interlock and can be taken down and stored flat to minimize storage requirements in trailers. Peter also made a “Price Is Right” wheel for the emcee to use on the café’s performing stage - It lights up and rotates, then can be broken down for storage each year. He has also contributed used paint from the county hazardous waste recycling center, which the artists can reuse. A picture of the large group of volunteers who build the temporary city each year shows Peter in the center, in red. ​Working at the Black Rock plateau site posed early problems for the Schmidts. “It took us the first year to get used to the quiet and the hot, dry, dusty climate. Whenever we returned to the ‘real world,’ we had to wipe ourselves down with a vinegar solution to remove the limestone dust from our skin. But we adapted.” ​He also expanded his responsibilities, feeding some of the visitors and becoming involved with the local Rangers to patrol the city and provide help where needed. Peter’s enduring impressions of Burning Man include an appreciation for its art, its spectacle, its thematic creativity (such as one year’s event devoted to DaVinci’s Workshop) and its communal spirit. ​Peter’s earliest volunteer activity occurred during the years when he was working for Chevron Research Company. At that time, he served with the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts while his sons were involved with the organizations. He remembers the “high adventure” of taking the boys camping in the Florida Keys. And he praises Chevron Humankind for its financial contributions to organizations for which Peter has volunteered for more than 35 years.


Jose Ayala

Chevron retiree Jose Ayala is passionate about his many roles as player, coach and administrator in supporting youth soccer in his hometown of Vacaville, California. “I love my town and I have great memories of when I first played youth soccer there almost 50 years ago,” says Jose. He revived his connection with the town’s soccer program in 2004 when he became coach of a team on which his son played. He subsequently switched to coaching his daughter’s team until 2012 – and a decade later he began coaching his grandson’s team. Jose smiles when he reflects on his wife’s occasional criticism for being too much the disciplinarian with their children. “I learned everything from my dad and I guess, like him, I expected more from my kids,” Jose says. “But they all ended up being good players who got a lot from the experience. For all of the kids, my own and others, the skills they learned will help them be successful.” Over the years, he has adapted his coaching style, becoming more patient while retaining his satisfaction at “getting along and enjoying the camaraderie and team bonding.” As a coach, he supported the young players in their studies, ensured that they had a way to and from the practices and games, and helped them develop their character. If financial support was needed so that a child could play, he found a way to make that happen using Chevron volunteer grants, personal donations, and Chevron matching funds. And he encouraged other Chevron employees to do the same. Jose helped gather between $8,000 and $10,000 a year to support the soccer league and soccer players. During his coaching years, he became treasurer of the Vacaville United Soccer Club and was named its president in 2013. Jose estimates he volunteered more than 4,000 hours, promoting all aspects of youth soccer in Vacaville. Outside all his regular presidential duties, he helped stripe the fields, repair nets, inspect the area to ensure a safe family experience, plan for opening day, and encourage efficient team movements to ensure that the games stayed on schedule. Realizing the impact the pandemic had on children, Jose led development of a compliant program that provided an outlet for all their pent-up energy (much to the relief of beleaguered parents). Jose brought a vision of the future as president of the soccer club. He saw many elements of his vision implemented, including a comprehensive referee program involving a referee assignor and a field assignor. He led the re-negotiation of the 20-year contract with the city that allowed the league to continue to develop and maintain the five-field soccer complex. He is especially proud of his efforts in reorganizing the town’s soccer administration. There had previously been two leagues, one for recreation, the other for competition. With the pandemic straining the town’s efforts to keep the sport alive, Jose helped negotiate a new structure, consisting of one club with a single board of directors. “They even adopted my theme: one club, one family, one vision.” With the merger, he became responsible for the competitive and recreational programs for more than 1,100 soccer players ranging in age from 5 to 19. Aside from his involvement in soccer, Jose occasionally supports friends who operate as guides to caribou and moose hunters in Alaska. “When the hunters arrive, we give them orientation, which involves a lot of flying around the area,” says Jose. “It’s beautiful to fly over the mountains and glaciers and see the northern lights every night.” Jose’s professional career spans 18 years in the grocery business and 20 years with Chevron’s Richmond Refinery, where he rose from apprentice mechanic to planner in the facility’s turnaround group. Since he retired in 2021, he has periodically returned to advise the refinery on upcoming turnarounds. “The first time, they needed me because I was the only available subject matter expert who could help coordinate the event. And I’m currently doing it for the third time.”

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