Lakeland resident Nate Davis has become a poster boy — even though he's turning 94 today. The former jack-of-all-trades has taken front and center as a living symbol of how a local service agency can and does change lives.

Davis is one of the 8,080 Polk County senior citizens who are considered legally blind or visually impaired.

Davis was recently singled out by the tri-county Lighthouse for the Blind for his ability to adapt to his failing sight and maintain an independent lifestyle.

Davis, a steward in the Navy during World War II, was selected by Lighthouse to take last week's Honor Flight to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C., with State Rep. Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven as his traveling companion.

Lighthouse Director Sheryl Brown says Davis was chosen to make the flight to show others that life after sight is still good.

“When Nate first came to us two years ago, he was just sitting in his house doing nothing, completely relying on his son, also named Nate, for almost everything,” Brown said. “But now, he's virtually independent and is helping us motivate other seniors struggling with their loss of vision.”

Davis hasn't gone completely blind yet. “I can still see some shapes, some light and some colors.”

Brown said Davis is losing his sight to degenerative glaucoma, an eye disease that plagues many who come to Lighthouse for living assistance training.

“I was just sitting at home doing nothing,” Davis says, “Until I came here.” He says he was depressed and relied on his son for everything.

“Now, he (his son) just picks out my clothes for me and does the laundry,” he adds. “And he sometimes makes dinner.”

After taking a six-week crash course at the Winter Haven Lighthouse facility, Davis learned how to sort his clothes for washing, take his medications from color-coded containers and even prepare his own meals by using a series of specified locations for foods and utensils.

“I know the medicine I take three times a day has a black top, the twice a day one is red and the other one once a day is blue,” he said. “I learned that here at the Lighthouse.” He also explains how he sorts his clothes into individual bags for his son to launder and always knows which bag holds which type items. “You know, the first bag is underwear, the next one is T-shirts, the next one is socks...”

Another valuable lesson, Davis said, was learning how to use the recognizable white cane.

“That has gotten me out of the house and helped me be more active,” he said. Although he once walked 2 miles a day, now he may walk only a few blocks. “But I'm outside and I can get to the bus stop, take the bus to Walmart to shop or pick up my medicines. Or, I can still walk 2 miles if that's what I want to do.”

He explains how that 2-mile walk goes by describing how he counts the number of blocks in his southeast Lakeland neighborhood to calculate his turn around and return to his home.

“Now I can meet my friends at McDonald's for breakfast and coffee and I wasn't doing that before. That's one of the best things I've been able to do again,” he said.

Davis is not only just living his life, says, but sees how his struggles were alleviated by a brief course in how to cope.

“I was so depressed and feeling sorry for myself and didn't really want to come here (the Lighthouse on Avenue D NW) at first,” he adds. “But after the first day, I saw how much I could learn to do for myself and not have to depend on others. Hey, now I can even fix my own food.

“I know which shelf in the refrigerator has the eggs; I know where the dishes are; I know where the knives and forks are and there's tape on the microwave so I know which buttons to push so I can make myself an egg or warm up a plate my son leaves for me.”

The younger Davis works nights but prepares some meals for his father, so Nate Sr. just has to warm up a plate. “He tells me what there is and always puts the plate in the same place in the refrigerator so I know where to find it.”

Davis was referred to the Lighthouse for the Blind by a home health aide who visits him twice a month to help monitor his well-being.

Now, says Brown, it's hard to keep him from trying to help others. She says her independent living coaches have to rein him in when he visits the Lighthouse campus. “He wants to help so much, we have to tell him 'no, they have to learn it just like you did.'”

So today, the man who has outlived three wives and four pacemakers, has regained most of the lifestyle he had before his eyesight failed.

“When I went to the Lighthouse and found out they could teach me so many things, I was so proud,” he says. “When you leave there, you are a different person all together.”