Hoyte Decker: Giving back to his community
If retiring means slowing down, nobody told Rehoboth Beach resident Hoyte Decker.
Despite having retired in 1998, Decker has kept an active lifestyle, wearing many hats including city advocate, traveler and personal trainer at the Sussex County YMCA.
Born in Pennsylvania but raised in Washington, D.C., Decker spent his professional life working in aviation, both in the private and public sectors.
A graduate of the University of Maryland, Decker’s father worked in the federal government for the Civil Aeronautics Administration, a forerunner of the Federal Aviation Administration.
“I had this influence in aviation. Actually, when I was in college I got a job with what was then called Allegheny Airlines. After I graduated from college I got a job with Pan-American World Airways and I worked with them for two or three years and then literally crossed over to the federal government at that point, and worked for 33, 34 years regulating the airlines,” he said.
Decker was in the consumer protection office of the Civil Aeronautics Board, which was later subsumed by the U.S. Department of Transportation when the government deregulated the airline industry.
“We literally handled this complaint handling system. Our office created the smoking rule and the denied-boarding rule. Toward the end of my career, when this whole concern about airline security started to evolve, it was partially a responsibility of the office I was in,” Decker said before joking “And I’m so glad that I’m not involved in that aspect of it.”
His office also played a role in legislation that was a forerunner to the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“It started in the airline industry. It continues to be separate, but it formed a model for the Americans With Disabilities Act,” Decker said.
He reflected on his time in federal aviation by saying, “I love to travel. I love to fly. I can look at a plane and tell you what it is as it goes by. But that’s it.”
Decker has been a visitor to Rehoboth since he was a child and met his wife, Sonja, there. After retirement, the couple lived in Ocean City, Md. before permanently moving to Rehoboth.
Not content to merely spend his time at the beach, Decker is a presence at city meetings and serves as a member of the communications committee.
“I’ve always been active in what I’ll call community service,” he said.
Decker is also active in Rehoboth’s Neighborhood Watch program, which he helped co-found with Commissioner Stan Mills.
“It wasn’t any big thing for me to become involved in things like the Neighborhood Watch. As an adjunct to that, I started going to city meetings and found it fascinating to watch how they operate,” Decker said.
He was also active in the city’s homeowner’s association, although he has not been a board member or officer for two years. Decker was involved in period of reform for the association, which included adopting new by-laws, stopping endorsements of political candidates and opening meetings to the public.
While Decker is a bit reticent to pat his back on his government career or Rehoboth political issues, his excitement ramps to discuss his new career as a personal trainer at the YMCA.
“My goal in life is to have the maximum quality of life experience I can have. And a major component of that is being physically active,” he said.
Decker’s interest in physical fitness started during his days working in government, when he rode a bicycle to work every day.
“The only thing that stopped me was snow. I loved it. It was the best stress reliever. I pounded that bike going home,” he said. “When I retired, I made a conscious decision that I was going to remain active. One way that has evolved is I started doing triathalons.”
Despite getting into his 70s, Decker still manages to compete, and win medals, in triathalons.
“At this point, all I have to do now is show up,” he joked. “It’s not about competition, it’s all about participation.”
Decker first got involved with the YMCA through a walking group.
“Within three months of us arriving, the lady who led the walk group said, ‘I’m going to go somewhere else.’ So, I said to the director, ‘Can I get a free membership if I lead the walk group?’ And she said, ‘I’ll give you a job,’” he said.
While his original walk group is no longer active, Decker is now teaching P90x, a vigorous workout program that combines stretching, weight training and cardiovascular training.
“I do that three times a week, and get a lot of satisfaction out of it,” he said.
While his current career is dedicated to helping others stay fit, Decker does enjoy some of the creature comforts Rehoboth offers, particularly the food and beer at his favorite restaurant, Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats. Decker offered high praise for Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione and his vast array of beers.
“I’ve been all over the world and his beer stands up to anything I’ve had anywhere. I love going there and getting a new beer. It’s just a wonderful experience,” he said.
Besides being a member of the communications committee, Decker is also a member of the board of the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society. He has also done informal work with Rehoboth Beach Main Street and the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce.
“What it boils down to is I have this strong sense of wanting to participate, to be involved, to give back to the community,” he said.
“I think it’s just inbred; it’s part of my personality. I care about what happens in the community. I’m engaged in all these kinds of things because it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to contribute like that.”