By Conrad Dudderar
Dale Willhite has been doing taxes for Yukon residents – free of charge – since the mid-2000s.
The Spanish Cove resident, a young 91, loves his volunteer work serving fellow citizens between Feb. 1 and April 15 each year.
“I just like to help people,” Willhite said. “I get to help people and I’ve developed acquaintances over the years.”
For the past 16 years, Willhite has helped with thousands of personal income tax returns as a volunteer tax preparer through the Oklahoma AARP Tax-Aide Program.
“The tax work that we do is relatively simple and limited,” Willhite explained. “We don’t do farms, businesses or rentals.
“There are five of us ‘old hands’. To me, taxes is a team effort.”
His fellow Yukon volunteer tax preparers are Wayne Watts, Judith Watts, Trudi Pye, and Bob Appelbaum. Local AARP tax-aide coordinator is Marsha Ridenhour.
“All of us work because we enjoy it,” Willhite added. “We’re very conscientious about it. We always get two sets of eyes on each return. That’s an AARP requirement.”
Yukon’s AARP volunteers completed more than 300 income tax returns this year. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they did about 450 returns for two straight years.
Although this free income tax preparation service is co-sponsored by the AARP Foundation (along with the Internal Revenue Service), it’s open to those of all ages.
“We are not limited to seniors,” Willhite emphasized. “We’ll prepare the teenager’s W-2 from Sonic too. We span all ages.”
Medium- and lower-income taxpayers especially benefit from the AARP Tax-Aide Program.
In 1983, Willhite was working in Washington D.C. and married a woman from Yukon.
When he retired in 1990, they built a home in the Westbury South addition. His wife passed away in 2005.
“I had a tax question, so I dropped by the tax preparers in the Yukon library,” Willhite recalled. “They said, ‘Gee, you seem to know as much about taxes as we do’.”
That prompted Willhite to contact the Oklahoma AARP Tax-Aide Program to offer his services.
The next year, he found himself preparing income tax returns for others.
Willhite has volunteered in Yukon as an Oklahoma AARP tax preparer since 2006.
In those early years, people would bring their tax documents to meet with Willhite and other volunteers in the two front meeting rooms of the Mabel C. Fry Public Library.
The annual tax service grew, so much so that Willhite in the late 2000s approached staff at the Dale Robertson Center next door about moving to a larger space.
“We were welcomed and supported well,” Willhite said. “The cooperation has been even greater over the years.”
Mondays are Thursdays are “tax days” at the center, 1200 Lakeshore. Appointments are made between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on those days during tax season.
The Oklahoma AARP Tax-Aide Program always seeks volunteers who want to help others by preparing their taxes. Training is provided each January.
“We can certainly use more people,” Willhite said. “We’re always looking for recruits to do tax work.”
What are the requirements to become an AARP volunteer tax preparer?
“Don’t be afraid of numbers,” Willhite replied.
PAT SNYDER’S SPECIAL FRIEND
Months before moving to Spanish Cove Life-Care Retirement Village in June 2013, Willhite became acquainted with Pat Snyder.
Snyder, a highly acclaimed artist and matriarch of Yukon’s iconic grocery store family, had a vision to make Central Park a gathering place on the Cove campus.
“She wanted to improve the park,” Willhite related. “It was nothing but a lawn and some trees.”
Snyder, who had recently moved into a Spanish Cove cottage, initially met some resistance.
Then in December 2012, Willhite donated the Christmas lights and Nativity scene from his home to Spanish Cove’s Central Park.
Wilhite had an impressive yuletide display while living in Westbury South, although not as grand as his neighbor Joe Palmer.
“They were well received here, and Pat liked it,” he said. “It renewed Pat’s interest in doing something in Central Park. She saw how the people gravitated toward it. That ‘revved’ her up, and she started getting serious about the park. That’s why we have such a beautiful park today.”
Willhite’s donation inspired Snyder to develop Central Park with help from Yukon builder John Nail Jr. and his design architect.
Cove residents have been able to enjoy this park featuring a fountain, decorative stone, firepit, flowers, and statue.
Willhite and Snyder played bridge together for several years before becoming close companions.
“I had two tickets to the Civic Center and asked her to go, and she went,” Willhite shared. “We kept going to plays, started traveling together and going on cruises.
“It was delightful – the best eight years of my life, really.”
During the Korean War, Willhite served three years in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. Calvert.
Snyder would even accompany him to Navy reunions. She died on March 23 at age 91.
“I miss her tremendously,” Willhite shared. “We were very close. Pat was a real delight.”
A Capitol Hill High School graduate, Willhite enlisted in the U.S. Navy in February 1948 and later earned an engineering physics degree at the University of Oklahoma.
After his active military service ended, Willhite spent five years as a civil servant with the Navy and then decades as a contractor.
“I served in the Operations Evaluation Group at the Pentagon,” he said.
After retiring and living 23 years in Westbury, Willhite found a new home at a first-floor Spanish Cove apartment.
“It was the best move I ever made,” he said. “I appreciate how hard the staff works to try to keep us happy.”
With tax season over, he stays busy playing bridge and reading. Willhite regularly has lunch with fellow Yukon seniors at the Dale Robertson Center.
“The people who come in are very nice,” he said. “I just go for lunch, and I make myself available for people with tax questions. It’s year-round.
“The questions are usually simple, like ‘how long should I keep a tax return?’ Three years.”