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November 25, 1997

Positive Aspects of Aging:

The Individual Experience

by Judy Skillman

In March 1995 I completed my senior research project on the positive aspects of aging. Yes, positive! There is a significant portion of the aging population who are reasonably healthy, active, and remain productive in their community. My senior project is a qualitative research to find out, document, and understand individuals own interpretations of who they are and why they behave in a particular manner.

Seven individuals participated in this study of productive aging. They shared similar historical and economic events throughout their lives, but each reacted and adapted differently. Their adaptation to these shared events is what made each individual unique and a valuable resource to their community. At the time of the interviews they were creative, had a network of friends and family, exercised, were reasonably healthy and they continued to grow, learn, help and teach others.

Where are these individuals and what are they experiencing and doing now? Over two years have passed, are they still active and would they be willing to share their views and identity for this article? Because of time constraint, only five of the seven individuals, who were originally interviewed, were contacted for this article.

Mr. Dale Housel and his wife Kaye Housel have five children, thirteen grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. At the time of the original interview in 1995, Mr. Housel was 80 and an active licensed pilot, who continued to evaluate and encourage student pilot. He also made frames, mats and cut glass for his wife's nationally known silhouette artistry. He traveled, was a volunteer for the local fire department and loved to swim, canoe and exercise.

Mrs. Housel, then 82, cut and sold her famous silhouettes, belonged to quilting clubs, traveled with her husband in their four-place aircraft, the "Yankee Clipper," and enjoyed the quiet trips she took with him in their canoe.

Now, October 17, 1997: When I called the Housels I was informed that today was Mr. Housel's birthday. "He's 82," said Mrs. Housel. "He recently had a heart attack and possibly a stroke." However, Mr. Housel's quick wit and sense of humor shines through when he comments: "That's what they say, but I think they lied. I didn't feel a thing, no pain, nothing." Even though Mr. Housel is blind on the left side of both eyes, has trouble reading, had to give up flying, and sold his airplane, "He is doing fine," according to Mrs. Housel.

Mr. Housel said, "I do not go to the airport. It's too hard. Tears run down my cheeks when I think about not being able to fly." Then he laughs, "Kaye is my eyes now. I don't run the mile now but I do walk, slower now. I have my boat and can take it out for short rides, but it has a leak that needs to be fixed. I tinker. I can fix things, just takes longer."

Mrs. Housel continues to receive requests for her famous silhouettes which she magically transforms into beautiful profiles of people, landscapes, or "just about any project." Requests for her silhouette artistry are received by mail; a photograph is enclosed which is used to create a perfect profile. Mrs. Housel also performs her scissor magic at the German Festival each year, "I stay busy."

The Housels recently flew to North Carolina to visit their daughter and are planning a "train trip" to Houston to celebrate their sixty-second anniversary. They never took a train trip before, so they are really looking forward to the experience. Mrs. Housel continues to quilt and remain active in Topsy, a local community quilting club. Her quilting accomplishments adorn Admiral Semmes' beds and the walls of a museum in Maine.

The interview with Mr. and Mrs. Housel was conducted over the phone because they were on their way to Gulf Shores Community Theater. A friend of theirs has a part in the play "Down to Earth." "She is playing the grumpy old lady," said Mrs. Housel.

Paul Cherney. Photo by L.D. Fletcher

Mr. Paul Cherney was 83 in 1995, and he used his cultural background, knowledge, expertise and experience to address issues that concerned the citizens in the community. He was active in Odyssey USA and other community organizations.

Now, October 21, 1997, Mr. Cherney was just returning from a board of directors meeting for Murray House. Mr. Cherney is an active member of the board for this assisted living facility. In addition to his involvement at Murray House, Mr. Cherney continues to remain active in Odyssey USA, an educational and resource program for older adults at the University of South Alabama, where he is Chairman of Subcommittee on Academic Review.

According to Mr. Cherney the curriculum committee continues to work to extend courses and opportunities for senior citizens to remain involved in their community and to work together to make a difference. "Now a person at age 85," said Mr. Cherney, "can look forward to good health and a longer life, perhaps 25 years longer. What are they going to do? Spend those 25 or so years just playing golf, watching T.V. or going on vacation? No! From my own experience, being involved is the best antidote for the aches and pains of getting older. You know, feeling a part of things, being wanted, feeling that you are meeting a need. Maybe one day in the future we will have programs to educate the people on how older people can contribute, and how their life experiences can be a tremendous asset to the community, not in competition for a leadership role or a threat to the younger generation."

About one year ago Mr. Cherney was one of three concerned citizens that started a program called Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASE), which is a national citizens movement formed to help curtail child abuse problems within the family unit. It is basically made up of people who want to get involved. "These are volunteers who are trained to be advocates not only for children, but are trained to be sensitive to the family's strengths as well."

"My interest now is writing. This is my main reason for remaining active in the community. It keeps my source of information diversified and personalized. When you are older it seems you have to be twice as good to be accepted."

Sara Kretzer. Photo by L.D. Fletcher

In 1995 Mrs. Sara Kretzer was interviewed in her office where she worked, part-time, as a lecturer and counselor in Developmental Studies at the University of South Alabama.

"Now," in October 22, 1997, "I'm retired, again. This makes the third time! However, you never stop learning. I'm 80 now and enjoy being involved with the Arts, life and my family." Mrs. Kretzer puts family priorities first. She finished her requirements for teaching in the fifties, when her children were grown. She taught school and then retired to enjoy her grandchildren. In the seventies she went for her Master's degree and again, returned to teaching, then retired for the second time in 1981.

Mrs. Kretzer sounds younger than her years, and I wonder if she had joined the fitness program she talked about two and one-half years ago. "No," she said, "I do not like walking inside. I prefer going on walks in the outside world, but only when it's not too hot! I remain involved in the Chamber Music Society, the symphony committee, opera, and a classical book club." She also continues her active participation in Curriculum Committee for Odyssey, and serves as an advisory counsel for Retired Senior Volunteer Program (R.S.V.P.) and travels, with her husband, to elderhostels throughout the world.

Ruth Morrison. Photo supplied

Mrs. Ruth Morrison, 80, continues to play and teach the harp, volunteers and shares her talents and knowledge within the community, travels, exercises, belongs to reading groups, and continues her work in psychotherapy.

"Now, in addition to playing the harp for weddings and parties, I take a small harp to Thomas Hospital. I play for individual patients at the medical and surgical divisions, and I play once a week for the psychiatric unit. I think it is a wonderful experience for all of us, the patients and myself."

"The other thing that is fun for me, and I want to share with others, is hiking," Mrs. Morrison said. "I have just gotten back from hiking in North Wales for a week, and then in Yorkshire. I have gotten a group of Americans, I think there is going to be 16 of us, that will go to England in June of 1998. At home I walk two to three miles a day and do water aerobics two or three times a week. I am also a vegetarian; I feel so much better than when I was eating other foods. However, you do have to make sure that you get complex carbohydrates and protein and that sort of thing. All this is a very important thing to me, because I am very highly invested in good health. So with my exercises, a vegetarian diet, and my head being screwed on in the appropriate direction. I mean that seriously. Now, I don't spend time with anger, fear and sadness. They are a waste of energy, but it takes a lot of self awareness and hard work to get to the point of being able to work through anger, fear and sadness."

"I had my eightieth birthday a month ago," Mrs. Morrison added. "I'm excited about being 80! If you ask me how I feel, I feel about forty, so if I live until I'm 120, then I'll feel like 80! I'm grateful for the memories of my past life, but don't live in the past. The excitement is about now!"

The Harbinger, Mobile, AL