The stereotype that exists in America is that old people are to be dropped off at assisted living facilities and left to fend for themselves. According to statistics, almost 5% of 65+ aged senior citizens are sent to skilled nursing facilities, and there is a 25% chance that a senior will spend some time in a nursing home. When senior citizens retire many of them seem to slowly wither away. They just don’t know what to do with themselves anymore. They may not have adequate resources for retirement. They may not have any hobbies or interests to keep them busy. They may not have anyone to share their lives.
What most people don’t seem to realize is that our seniors still have a lot of potential. Our seniors have valuable experience and are gold mines of wisdom and knowledge. If their expertise is put to good use, they can pull off wonders even late in their lives.
At the age of 6 Harland Sanders’ father died and the boy became the man of the family taking on the responsibility of feeding and caring for his younger brother and sister. He had many jobs, including farmer, streetcar conductor, railroad fireman and insurance salesman. At age 45 he opened a restaurant that featured fried chicken so good that the governor made him a Kentucky Colonel, the highest honor bestowed by Kentucky. At age 62 Colonel Sanders closed his restaurant and traveled the country selling franchises of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Anna Robertson was born and raised on a farm in the mid 1800s. She married a farmer and raised a family. At the age of 58 she first dabbled with painting, but it wasn’t until she was 67 that her husband, Thomas Moses, died and she needed something to keep her busy and distracted. That’s when she devoted herself to painting. It took a dozen years before her paintings were exhibited at the NY Museum of Modern Art. Grandma Moses died at the age of 101, after painting around 1,500 works of art and being honored by governors and presidents.
Frank McCourt served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and after that got a college education. He followed that with a 30 year career as a teacher. But real fame came to him only after he retired and found had enough time to write his memoir, Angela’s Ashes. When his memoir was published at age 66 that book won him a Pulitzer Prize and gave him the motivation to write two more books, before he died in 2009 at age 78.
There are many people who have had great success later in life, even in “second” careers. One great story might be unfolding here in Fairfax County. Charlie Bliss, age 98, and Charley Moseley, age 78, have received a patent for a new process aimed at combating global warming. Essentially, they have a revenue producing process to pump carbon dioxide into a chamber containing microalgae, resulting in oxygen and a biomass that could be used as animal feed or converted into biodiesel. If this turns out to be commercially viable they might just have helped to save the world.
Maybe it’s time to discard that awful stereotype and recognize what a tremendous resource we have in our senior citizens. Just because they retire doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy success pursuing their interests. Our seniors should be encouraged, applauded and treated with the respect that they have earned and continue to earn.