January 3, 2010

USA: The Roaring Nineties - Super-seniors are active, alert, and engaged

. TOLEDO, Ohio / The Toledo Blade / Culture / January 3, 2010 By Tahree Lane, Blade Staff Writer Celia Szymanski rises before dawn, reads the Bible, and is at her easel by 8 a.m., brushing bold color onto canvas. She enjoyed her first gallery exhibit last month, at which 31 of her paintings were shown. Gordon Wendt, a member of the Sounds Great band, keeps his hands limber by playing the piano for two to three hours a day. “I've got to keep up, you know,” he says. Celia Szymanski, 91, has been painting for 30 years and recently had her first gallery exhibit. The Blade/Jetta Fraser In between reading romance novels and watching TV judges, Dorothy Pringle Slocum sews four hours a day, making patchwork quilts. She's donated 300 in the last four and a half years. Doris Hedler serves on the board of FOCUS, sings in a choir, and is an avid comparison shopper. Active and healthy, these northwest Ohioans are all in their nineties, a demographic that's growing. In 2000, Lucas County had 2,537 residents over the age of 90. This year, it's projected to have 3,051 and in 2020, 3,738, says Bob Applebaum of the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University of Ohio. “One of the best things you can do to live a long life is to pick good parents,” says Mr. Applebaum, a professor of gerontology and director of the Ohio Long Term Care Research Project. Gordon Wendt, 90, a member of the Sounds Great band, plays the piano for two to three hours a day. The Blade/Amy E. Voigt In addition to starting life with premium genetics, expanded longevity can be attributed to public health improvements that began in the early 20th century, he notes: cleaner food and water, improved sewage treatment, and inoculations. And in recent decades, significant strides have been made in medical technology, particularly in cardiac and cancer treatment, he says. Ohio ranks sixth or seventh in the nation for the number of people 65 and older, he says, adding that people live the longest in Utah where a large Mormon population eschews smoking and drinking. Like many nonagenarians, Celia Szymanski, 91, of Toledo, starts her day by stretching for 20 minutes in the tiny South Toledo home she shares with her husband, Richard. Born in Mexico and raised in Texas, she's painted since she was 30, especially portraits and landscapes. A new, fanciful piece she titled The Sky was Full of Violins has a stairway leading to a harp, and bird-like violins in flight. Gordon Wendt's first performance was 83 years ago when he played a button-box accordion between acts of a play at Waite High School as a 7-year-old. ‘I enjoy performing, even if it's for charity,” says Mr. Wendt, 90. He studied piano four years when he was at Clay High School. His electronic keyboard offers him 399 different sounds and he's likely to embellish the beginning of a tune with accents of sax, trumpet, banjo, or guitar. Retired from working 35 years in custodial maintenance for the Oregon board of education, he also repairs electrical appliances. “I like to see what makes them work.” Dorothy Pringle Slocum, 95, was a basketball star at Rossford High School where she graduated from in 1933. She was the first woman inducted into its athletic hall of fame. She was a terrific softball pitcher, and married her coach when she was 18. For 30 years, she competed in horseshoe pitching leagues averaging a ringer every other throw. She danced, called square dances, and bowled as a member of the Toledo Blade Queens (672 was her best three-game series). Mrs. Slocum lives in a duplex in Fayette next to one of her five children, sewing up a storm making quilts she gives to churches that auction them or distribute them to the needy. She drives to church, shops for groceries, and stays clear of doctors, although she saw one last year. “I had my ears cleaned,” she says. Her mantra: “Refusing to worry. What is to be will be.” Jueng Ming, 92, practices tai chi at the Asian Senior Center a few times a week. The Blade/Lori King Doris Hedler, 91, is in her 78th year of singing in the choir at Ashland Church where she's attended since she was 4. She was born in Toledo in 1918 to immigrant parents who ran a Chinese laundry and restaurant and she spoke Chinese until she started school. She went on to teach, raise seven children, lead honorary societies, and tutor. In 1982, she was a founder of FOCUS, a nonprofit that helps the homeless, and continues to serve on its resource development and finance committees. She reads widely, cooks, and drives younger friends who have permanently parked their cars. “I get a kick out of that,” she says. At 92, Jueng Ming is lithe as she line dances and practices tai chi a few times a week at the Asian Senior Center in Highland Park's shelter house. She walks, gardens, and does exercises in bed every morning before rising. A new widow, Mrs. Ming converses with her 96-year-old sister in San Francisco regularly and her four children, she says, speaking in Cantonese through interpreter Angela Drotar. She likes being cheerful, exercising, and eating well.
STRATEGIES FOR HEALTHY AGING Images of Ohio Centenarians: An Exploratory Study (2008), was based on interviews with 16 people 100 years or older by Lisa Groger and Jessie Leek of the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University of Ohio. From those interviews, the writers identified strategies the 13 women and 3 men used to deal with decline and loss. They found that the centenarians: • Put a positive spin on negative events. • Minimized difficulties, comparing themselves to people who are worse off. • Made adjustments to meet environmental demands. • Called on informal support and engaged formal services. • Had a sense of strong humor, often self-deprecating. • Had great ability to adapt to a wide range of changes. • Characterized the distant past as both the good and the bad old days when life was simpler but required more skills and effort. • Showed a general sense of control over their own psychological well being and environment. — Tahree Lane
Yuk-Sau Loo, 97, a retired cook, attends the Asian Senior Center with his wife, Yuk-Ying Chan Loo, 81. He loves singing and eating the healthy meals his wife prepares. His twice-daily exercise is a type of martial art that involves deep breathing and slow movements for strength and flexibility. In Bowling Green, retired mechanic Victor Patterson drives to Burger King shortly after 7 every morning for coffee and to meet friends. He often returns in the afternoon. “I meet an old guy there. He's about 80,” chuckles Mr. Patterson, 91. He lives with his wife of 67 years, Margaret Patterson, 87, in an apartment and they sometimes dine at the senior center if the menu is to their liking. There, they talk to friends and play dominoes. Ethel Walden, 90, isn't retired — she's still the homemaker she's been through 56 years of marriage to Robert Walden, 89. When she was in her 70s, she cared for her mother, who lived to 104, and when she was almost 80, Mrs. Walden began eight years of raising a 6-month-old grandchild. Now she cares for her husband, driving to him to dialysis and doctor's appointments. She stays fit by walking on her treadmill and up and down the four sets of stairs in her West Toledo home. Edna Zaenger of Ottawa Lake keeps busy with programs at church. She also folds newsletters for a nearby school, visits people who are home-bound, keeps house, bakes, and reads. “Mostly Biblical works and history and archaeology. Life is too short to read fiction,” says Mrs. Zaenger. At 91, she drives and lives in an apartment built onto her daughter's home. Bishop Albert Ottenweller plays 18 holes of golf twice a week in season. “I got a hole in one when I was 89 at Inverness, number 12 hole,” he says. He lives with other priests adjacent to Rosary Cathedral in the Old West End, is an inveterate reader, and volunteers at the Servant Leadership Center. And there's one more thing: “I really love to eat,” he says. “Here I am, I am 93 and I'm having fun. My life is as vibrant as it was 50 years ago.” [rc] Tahree Lane E-Mail: tlane@theblade.com Copyright 2009 The Blade