Blind massage therapist wraps up touching career

Dick McStraw has worked as a massage therapist for 57 years, having operated his own practice in downtown Findlay since 1986. He lost his eyesight at age 11 and is shown with his guide dog, Ruby. McStraw will retire at age 80 at the end of the month. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By SARA ARTHURS
STAFF WRITER

Dick McStraw’s career has touched a lot of lives.

More precisely, McStraw, who is about to retire at age 80, has given approximately 74,000 massages in Findlay. This follows decades of his being a fixture in downtown Findlay, regularly spotted with the guide dog which helps him negotiate the streets and sidewalks.

McStraw has worked as a massage therapist for 57 years. The first 21 were out of a health club at the Findlay Family YMCA. He opened his own practice in November 1986, on Crawford Street in downtown Findlay.

He has given more than 44,000 massages at his current business. (Yes, he kept track.) He isn’t certain precisely how many massages he did at the YMCA, but he estimates it’s over 30,000. These figures don’t include “freebies” for family and friends.

McStraw has seen massage therapy grow more popular over time. When he started his career, he was one of just two massage therapists in town. Now, just about every beauty parlor employs a massage therapist, he said, and the Blanchard Valley Academy of Massage Therapy graduates a new group every year.

He’s done a lot of massages on people who simply want to relax, or work off stress, but “it isn’t totally just relaxation.” He also works on people with health issues for whom massage is beneficial. McStraw said massage can help work spasms out of muscles. It also stimulates blood circulation, which helps heal the body, he said.

“I enjoy seeing people feel good, and helping them out,” McStraw said.

And he’s gotten to know people through the years. They talk while they get a massage — sometimes about sports, sometimes about politics.

The work can make McStraw himself a little sore, as it’s physically challenging. When he was younger, he worked on more clients in a week than he does now, and was “wore out.” He’s had six colleagues work with him over the years.

A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, McStraw lost his eyesight from an accident at age 11. This presents some extra hurdles as a small business owner. McStraw keeps the books in Braille, so he can read them, and then a friend converts the records into something he can send to the “tax man.” McStraw’s late wife had previously done this for him.

He got his first guide dog in 1958, after high school. Although “I’d rather a dog live to be 80, like I do,” he generally has the dogs for about 10 years.

McStraw has had 6-year-old Ruby, his eighth guide dog, since 2014. As his own health and energy have declined, he hasn’t been going out with her into public places as much as he used to, so in some ways Ruby is “more of a pet now.” But back when he walked longer distances, he enjoyed being able to “just pick up the dog’s harness and go” to lunch or to the bank. He said downtown merchants have always been receptive, and people he’s met out and about are always more interested in the dog than in him.

“Everybody knows me here in town,” McStraw said.

He’s retiring in part because of his own health. He has been diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and needs to use oxygen sometimes. And last year, he was in the hospital and missed work, at the same time downtown construction was taking place. Business has slowed since then.

People used to ask him when he was going to retire and he’d reply, “Never, if I don’t have to.”

But now: “I’m 80 years old.”

McStraw’s health may be fading, but he plans to stay busy in retirement.

He avidly listens to books on tape through The National Library Service for the Blind and Physical Handicapped, part of the Library of Congress. This program sends him recordings to borrow and send back. He reads a variety of subjects but especially likes murder mysteries, Westerns, American history, biography and the occasional romance. Right now he’s reading a comparison between Finland and the United States.

He’s also a member of the United States Blind Chess Association, and was a past president of the national association. He learned of the organization by reading a Braille magazine and soon found he could play chess through the mail with other aficionados all over the country, writing their moves in Braille and sending them to one another. (He now plays online.) In 1983 he even got the Lions Club to sponsor a blind chess tournament in Findlay.

He listens to baseball on the radio or, occasionally, the television, and has been a Cleveland Indians fan since 1948.

“They won the World Series in ’48,” he said. “Haven’t won one since.” Still, he tries not to miss their games.

McStraw’s life also includes family. Along with a son from his first marriage, he has four grandchildren and eight stepgrandchildren — and now, even great-grandchildren.

“It’s great to have grandchildren because you can spoil the heck out of them,” McStraw said.

His last day of work will be June 29. He’ll clean out his office the following day.

McStraw’s office phone will be disconnected, but he encourages community members who wish to stay in touch to contact him on his cell, at 419-422-2843.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
Twitter: @swarthurs



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