WEST FRANKFORT -- He's more than a decade past the age when most people retire and kick back, but Jay Pardus has no plans to do that just yet.
"This is my hobby," said Pardus, of Marion. "I have a good time and I love doing this."
Pardus, who will turn 76 in June, has been a licensed physical therapist for 52 years. He can't imagine doing anything else.
"This is my passion," he said.
Pardus is currently the head of Southern Illinois Healthcare's Rehab Unlimited Clinic in West Frankfort, working with a staff most of who were not yet born when he began his career.
After graduating from St. Louis University in 1966, Pardus spent three years at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville before working in Greenville for a year. He then worked at Belleville Memorial Hospital until coming to southern Illinois in 1976.
"I still work a couple Saturdays a month at Belleville," he said.
Once in southern Illinois, Pardus spent nine years at Franklin Hospital before moving to Marion Memorial Hospital, which became Heartland Regional Medical Center. He left in 2009, to work for a year in a private practice that was absorbed by SIH.
"When I heard they were doing a clinic up here (West Frankfort), I knew this is where I wanted to be," he said. "I'm in the twilight of my years both chronologically and work-wise. I look at this as where I want to retire."
Make no mistake, though, Pardus is not even considering that yet.
"I took some flack last year from my brother-in-law because I was not retired," he said.
In response, Pardus set a personal goal to do one good thing every day.
"I surpass that every day," he said with a grin.
Pardus looks at each day as an opportunity to not only share his wealth of knowledge, but to learn from his younger co-workers.
Occupational therapist assistant Sara Chick has worked with Pardus for six years.
"Jay is special for too many reasons to count," she said. "He is knowledgeable and has helped me learn and grow as a therapist over the years."
Chick also loves his "Jay sayings," including his claim of being the "oldest living physical therapist."
Jeannine Jackson, a licensed physical therapist assistant, said Pardus's entertaining style as he works with patients is a mark of his method.
"He sings and jokes to make them more comfortable with therapy, that can sometimes be painful," she said.
Jackson credits Pardus with having a hand in her entering the professional. In 1969 he and physical therapist Don Courtial co-founded a physical therapist assistant program at Belleville Area College.
"He (Courtial) is my mentor," Pardus said. "I'm a mirror of what he does."
Courtial, now 83, still works at Belleville Memorial Hospital three days a week.
Pardus said learning and sharing skills is a critical part of the field.
"You can't put aside 52 years of my experience," he said, noting that he learns from others as well. "There are orthopedic surgeons who are willing to share and learn."
One of those is Richard Morgan of Marion, a man Pardus considers his friend.
"We spent 36 years on the sidelines of Marion High School football," he said. "I learned a lot from him."
Jackson said Pardus has taught her a lot.
"I'm grateful for his guidance support," she said. "He treats all of his co-workers like family and is always the first to offer his help in any situation."
Benton native Jared Johnston is the youngest member of the clinic staff.
A recent graduate of Maryville University, Johnston is waiting to pass his board exam, while working under Pardus.
"He's the man," he said with a grin. "He's done a great job showing me the ropes and being there for questions and guidance."
Johnston said he has been able to witness the effect of Pardus' "caring mentality and how it affects his patients."
One of those patients is West Frankfort businessman Bill Glodich.
Glodich, who mirrors Pardus in age, has been working with Pardus to overcome mobility issues.
"I'm trying to get back into shape to continue working," he said. "He's helping get me moving." Glodich is a loyal patient, who won't work with anyone else.
That doesn't surprise Karen Russell, who has been the rehab office specialist for 21 years, the last five alongside Pardus.
"We just had a gentleman dreading physical therapy," she said. "Now he's looking forward to getting better."
Pardus was recognized this year with the prestigious Magnusson Award given by the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago.
One of the criteria for that award is what the winner does beyond his or her immediate responsibilities.
That's not a problem for Pardus, who volunteers with the Southern Illinois Veterans Honor Flights.
He's been a guardian for two of the flights, does fundraising, and on flight days he helps get the veterans loaded and unloaded from the plane.
"It's a passion," he said, much like the 36 years he volunteered his time with Marion High School.
Pardus can't point to one specific case that stands out among the hundreds of patients he's worked with.
"They're all remarkable cases," he said. "Whether it's a stiff knee or shoulder or getting an athlete back on the playing field, you just put 100 percent into everything you do."
Laura Roach, PT DPT, is the administrative director of Outpatient Rehab for SIH.
"I have to say I am so thankful to have worked with Jay Pardus," she said. "He is not only an outstanding therapist, but one of the kindest, compassionate friends I have ever made. He is the epitome of what it means to be health care provider."
Jackson hopes Pardus continues to practice for many more years.
"He truly loves what he does," she said. "He provides his patients with a better quality of life."
Pardus's plans are to do just that. "You walk into the office every day because it's fun, because you feel like you have something to contribute," he said.
"I might retire someday," he said, "but right now I have a good time and I love doing this."