During his long and extremely visible career as a TV personality, administrator and creative mind, Chuck White has taken the phrase "young at heart" as a personal calling.
White, 83, will be one of the speakers at the annual Young at Heart event Thursday, July 19, at Villa Milano Banquet & Conference Center, 1630 Schrock Road in Columbus. Young at Heart is sponsored by The Columbus Dispatch and ThisWeek Community News.
The Worthington resident is best known for his time at WBNS-10TV, where he served in just about every role at the station, including anchoring the news, producing shows and serving as the station's director of community affairs for 30 years.
Perhaps his most well-known contribution, however, was to "Luci's Toyshop," a 1960s children's program for which White served as puppeteer, co-producer and co-writer. He also served as the voice of the singing Mr. Tree, one of its most beloved characters.
"I was a news anchor, but I think most people remember me as Mr. Tree," White said with a laugh. "He was a wise old tree who would give the weather and the temperature. He would also make wise comments that the children would follow. ... Everyone remembers the song, 'Hi there, Mr. Tree. Wake up, Mr. Tree.' "
And though he spent plenty of time making children smile on television, he spent even more time fighting for them behind the scenes.
While working in public affairs for 10TV, White was handed the task of creating the Children's Miracle Network Telethon, which began in 1985 and still runs today.
The model White developed was a success. He said it raised about $500,000 for Nationwide Children's Hospital in its first year and became the blueprint for other fundraisers.
"We created a telethon that was used as a model of telethons across the country," he said. "The other stations modeled theirs after ours."
Despite retiring from 10TV in 2008, White still "makes an appearance" at the telethons. He said he is as proud of that project as anything and is thrilled to have influenced the lives of so many children.
According to 10TV, the telethon had raised more than $10 million for the hospital by 2014.
"I have children of my own, and it's important, I think," White said. "When you have a child that goes into a hospital, you can't help but have heart for a child. So I wanted to do everything I could to help that cause and to help raise money for (Nationwide) Children's Hospital of Columbus."
For Angela Pace, a longtime anchor who took over as director of community affairs, White's influence outside the telethon was even greater. In her youth, she said she saw White -- one of the few black men she could remember seeing on television -- on her local channel and was inspired.
"I remember seeing a man of color singing and playing guitar on TV," she said. "I was struck right there."
It wasn't until later when she realized that he also was Mr. Tree.
"There are grown people who can still sing the Mr. Tree wake-up song," she said with a laugh. "There are those of us who are of a certain age range who grew up watching him. Years later, I found out he was Mr. Tree and several of the puppets on Luci's Toyshop."
Pace said it was a bit intimidating to step into White's shoes when he retired. She called him "instrumental" in many of 10TV's long-term projects and people often are confused when she tells them she's in his role now, she said.
"There are still people who think that Chuck is the director of community affairs," she said. "He really has had a lasting impact on at least the nonprofit world here in Columbus."
White's newest interest is traveling the world with his wife, Bernice, a retired nurse.
The couple recently traveled to Iceland, Cuba and all over Europe, and White said they have no plans of stopping, with trips to China and other places in the works.
"I don't want to get old, but I know Mother Nature says, 'Yes, you're going to get old,' " White said. "I'm pretty much young at heart. I go to the gym every day, and I try to do things that keep myself young. I read constantly. I work puzzles. I speak Russian and French. I try to keep my mind occupied and do everything I can to keep myself young."
Pace and White know each other well now, and Pace said White will go "drink for drink, story for story" with anyone of any age. People often are surprised, she said, when they find out his age.
But for her and others who know him well, Pace said, White's age is nothing but encouraging.
"He exemplifies what I think going into your golden years should be like -- still having the energy, the curiosity, the willingness to embrace a lot of different people and ideas and philosophies and experiences," Pace said. "I want to be Chuck White when I grow up."