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Faces of Reimagine Aging

These Baltimore County residents are challenging ageist stereotypes, whether it be related to their health and fitness, employment or volunteerism, skill development, arts, hobbies or lifestyle.

Barbara Riester

Nominated by: Joe Miletti

Photo of Barb Riestser Barbara Riester

After learning of the devastation from a natural disaster in other areas of the world, most people would sit on their couch at home and watch the television for updates. But not 67-year old Barbara Riester! For 24 years, Barbara has been an active volunteer for the American Red Cross, serving as the Assistant Director of Logistics. Two to three times a year, she is dispatched for two to six weeks at a time, all around the globe, to coordinate the materials, people and technology required to rebuild after hurricanes, tsunamis, fires and floods.

Barbara was nominated as a “Face of Reimagine Aging” by Joe Miletti, Regional Volunteer Services Officer at the American Red Cross. Joe wrote in the nomination form, “Barb epitomizes “on the go.” She volunteers for the American Red Cross dozens of hours a month and has done so for years. In 2016 alone, she has deployed to large-scale disasters such as the Texas floods, Louisiana floods, and Hurricane Matthew. She was volunteering 12-hour days, sometimes longer, for roughly two consecutive months in Louisiana alone! As a person in his 30s, I look at Barb and cannot believe the amount of energy she has to tackle these deployments, some of which involve hardships such as sleeping in a shelter rather than a hotel. She absolutely breaks the stereotype that becoming a certain age restricts your life. She also assists with volunteer management and administrative tasks at the Red Cross. In her spare time, she visits her children and loves to knit and be active in her senior living community.”

Barbara has been involved with the Red Cross since she was six years old and took swimming lessons at summer camp near her home outside Erie, Pennsylvania. She received her first Red Cross swimming badge and this motivated her to pursue more badges, and eventually led to a job as a water safety instructor in high school. Barb’s first volunteer job was offering swimming lessons at a local swimming hole, and she continued this while in college volunteering as a water safety instructor teaching children with disabilities to swim.

After graduating college with a business degree, Barbara decided that a job in the “big city” was not what she wanted to do. Instead, she decided to become one of the women who volunteered to serve during the Vietnam War through the Red Cross as part of a program called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO), better known in the military as “The Donut Dollies.” Armed with nothing but cookies and home-made entertainment programs, the Donut Dollies risked their lives every day as they fulfilled their mission of boosting the morale of American troops. They ran recreation centers, visited hospitals, and traveled to front-line landing zones and base camps to bring games and smiles to soldiers. After serving for a year, Barbara returned to the United States and joined the Navy in the Supply Corp where she worked for the next 20 years, eventually retiring in 1993.

Barbara’s passion for helping others kept her actively involved in her Red Cross volunteer efforts. She worked on the Tsunami Recovery Program in Indonesia for eight years and moved into Charlestown in Catonsville when she returned in 2013. After moving 17 times in her lifetime, Barbara felt that Charlestown offered a good opportunity to meet people and put down roots. In addition to her Red Cross volunteer jobs, she also assists with the quarterly Treasure Sale at Charlestown, helping to raise over $120,000 a year for their benevolent care fund.

Barbara says that she is not the oldest volunteer at the disaster sites, since many of the workers are retired. The volunteers represent all ages and are very diverse in their backgrounds and the skills they bring. She is pleased that she can continue to use the skills from her 20-year career in the Navy Supply Corps. Her most interesting deployment was in American Samoa around 2010. Over 200 local volunteers had come to assist, but there was only one Red Cross instructor when she arrived. Barb spent the next month conducting on the job training for the volunteers working closely with the local government, FEMA and the Red Cross to help rebuild the community.

To handle the demands of frequent deployments, Barbara enjoys water aerobics and walking. Eating healthy is also important. While in the Navy, Barbara says she often ate fast food, but now that she is retired her diet is much improved. She likes to eat in different ethnic restaurants so she can be comfortable with the food when she travels to foreign countries and is asked to taste things like breadfruit in American Samoa or spicy food in Sumatra.

When we inquired what age did she think was “old,” Barbara says old age to her is when you can no longer easily get around. It is not a specific age. She cites a 92-year old friend as an example. Because her friend doesn’t act old, she doesn’t seem old, even though others aged 85 to 90 at Charlestown seem old. “And just because you live in a retirement community doesn’t mean you are old either,” says Barb, who is one of the younger residents in the complex.

Barbara sees herself more as a mentor now with the Red Cross. Because she plays a supportive role in logistics, she helps shape the experiences of others. In North Carolina last year, after Hurricane Matthew, Barb took a younger volunteer under her wing and gave her the support necessary for her to take on a lead role in the operation. Barb says the volunteer was hesitant at first, but because she had been given the needed support, she could realize her own potential and take up the challenge. Barb is proud that she was able to mentor this younger volunteer to tackle a job they didn’t think they could do. “You need to think outside the box sometimes,” she says and attributes this philosophy to the new director of the National Red Cross whose mantra is “get to yes.”

Barb says she has never experienced ageism as a Red Cross volunteer, or sexism in the Navy. She says that as long as you act professionally and get the job done nobody will ask you why you are doing a task at your age.

Carol Castle

Nominated by: Kathleen Styles

Carol Castle

Today’s seniors are changing the perception of aging. They are active, healthy, physically fit and engage in energetic lifestyles. Seniors today see aging as an opportunity rather than a number. They are drawing on lifetime experiences, skills and interests to reimagine aging in retirement. Retired seniors now enjoy ambitious daily schedules with an assortment of activities. They have reimagined aging and are doing more than ever when they retire. One of the images of today’s senior citizen is an individual who volunteers for community service to make the world a better place.     

One woman doing just that is Carol Castle of the Randallstown Y Swim Center. This active 65-year-old lives her life to the fullest every day and is a shining example of someone who personifies the face of Baltimore County Department of Aging’s Reimagine Aging campaign. Five days a week, Carol volunteers as a water aerobics trainer at the Y Swim Center. She teaches exercise programs to promote physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle for seniors. Carol encourages, motivates and inspires class participants to exercise to improve their physical fitness and cognitive skills. But this remarkable woman is also their living role model. Carol sets the example as she champions physical fitness and good health habits in others. “I stay healthy by exercising, watching what I eat and teaching high impact aerobics,” she says.

“Carol has a command like no other in the water when teaching routines,” boasts K. Styles, a member of the swim center who nominated her to be a “Face of Reimagine Aging.” “She is warm and personable and knows everyone by name.” This amazing volunteer arrives at the pool at 5:45 a.m. every morning to be greeted by her “pool family,” more than 30 eager participants, most of them older adults, who have gathered for the 6 a.m. class. Carol teaches every day and fills in for other instructors when needed. But when class is over, Carol is not done exercising or volunteering. After morning aerobics, she walks two to three miles a day, often with her students. She also organizes monthly luncheons and other outings so her students can socialize.

A retired Social Security Administration analyst, Carol lives in Windsor Mill, is the mother of two daughters, Tawnya and Erica, and has three grandchildren. When she retired, Carol started volunteering and it immediately became her passion. For the last four years, she has volunteered to teach classes at the Y. “I love the people, they inspire me, and I love to exercise,” exclaims Carol. “I feel like I am doing something good for myself and for them.” “Carol displays boundless energy in the pool, nearly exhausting the rest of us in exercise routines,” Styles continues. “She has unbelievable strength, endurance and energy in the water while belting out directions, singing and moving in the water.”

When asked if she ever encounters ageist remarks, Carol says, “Oh no, they want to know how I keep up, how do I go so much, how do I have so much energy, how do I talk the entire time we exercise in class. These are the only ageist questions I get.” To Carol “90 is old. I am 65 and I don’t feel old.” Carol encourages older adults to keep moving. “Try to find something, some form of exercise, you can do. Also watch what you are eating and take your medications.”

She believes her biggest impact on her students is “the loss in dress sizes. Plus they can now bend down and pick something up when they drop it. They feel better, move better and walk better after taking the class.” Carol finds the impact she has had on her students to be very rewarding. She is giving them healthier lives. “This is what drives me and keeps me going. I just love getting up and coming to class each morning. We have fun.”

As a volunteer, Carol has inspired hundreds of older adults to lead healthy lives. “She truly challenges the aging stereotype,” Styles proclaims. “She performs a valuable community service, is a priceless gem, and is immensely respected by her pool family.”

Al Muehlberger

Nominated by: Beverly Hamilton

Al MuehlbergerAl Muehlberger

When you hear about Albert Muehlberger’s life, the first word that comes to mind is “diversity” says Beverly Hamilton. She nominated Al to be a representative of BCDA’s “Reimagine Aging” campaign because of the extensive range of interests, both volunteer and professional, that he has explored in his lifetime. “His mantra is to ‘Be the best human being you can be,’ and he lives up to that saying in everything he does,” she states.

Al grew up near Patterson Park in Baltimore City, but moved at the age of five to Highlandtown, one block away from Barbara Mikulski’s house. He went to Loyola College, where he entered the reserve officer’s program and graduated as a Second Lieutenant, finishing second in his class. He remembers being 25 years old, commanding a nuclear missile battery in Korea, and hearing that President Kennedy had been assassinated. He decided that he wanted a change, the first of many to come in his career, and he moved into Army intelligence. His first assignment was working at a top secret Think Tank in California with Sylvania Electric briefing a three-star General about classified intelligence related to Viet Nam.

After two years, Al left military life and worked in a few jobs with private sector computer systems on the West Coast before deciding to move the family back to the East Coast. He said that he was hoping to have a nice relaxing break driving across the United States with his wife, two little girls and a dog, but his plans were disrupted when midway through the trip he accepted a position with Montgomery County, Maryland, directing all of their computer systems. After six years in Montgomery County, and a position with Baltimore City, Al was on the move again, this time landing a job as the Director with the International Atomic Energy Agency (AEA) in Vienna, Austria.

Al lived for 10 years in Austria working at AEA, the United Nations and a private consulting firm with scientists from around the world, which he found fascinating. Unfortunately, his father became ill and Al was called back to the United States. After briefly working for the state of Maryland solving a complicated problem in the Human Resources Department, at the age of 60 Al chose to “reimagine” his life in a new direction. He enrolled in a massage therapist course so he could work one-on-one with people. This was a 180-degree departure from the high-tech world he had been involved with for almost 40 years!

Al’s ability to analyze systems, partnered with his passion for working with people, led him into designing and teaching massage and holistic health classes at CCBC Essex. Al says one of the biggest impacts he has made in his life is “getting through to” over 600 students from CCBC Essex. Citing hundreds of positive evaluations, Al says that because he cared about the students and their learning, their eyes were opened in a positive way to holistic healing. Al has used massage to comfort stressed-out teachers, cancer patients, caregivers, musicians from the Baltimore Symphony and opera stars. Al says he will go anywhere to give a massage, and shared a tender story of giving a massage to a man on his deathbed.

Along his journey, Al also became a caregiver for his mother, a Reiki Master and a non-denominational minister. He has performed 22 weddings, as well as funerals and home baptisms. When asked why he wanted to become a minister, Al said “it allowed me to go places I otherwise wouldn’t be allowed—like jails and intensive care units.” Al brings his caring, healing touch everywhere he goes. And go he does. Al is one of the most active individuals you will ever have the pleasure to meet. In addition to his massage services, Al is an avid outdoorsman and photographer, and recently has been volunteering at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore as a Zoo Guide, playing at drum circles at the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, taking a Drums Alive class at the Essex Senior Center and working out at a local gym after a hip surgery!

When asked how he stays fit enough for all his volunteer and paid work, Al says it is important to be active and healthy. He doesn’t believe in “retirement”—he feels he will continue going as long as he has a good quality of life. He defines quality of life as being able to use all your talents and capabilities to the greatest degree you can, given your physical and financial limitations. Being curious, reading, writing poetry, meditating every day, and talking with others keeps Al motivated. Al says “old” is not a numerical age; it is when you can’t make decisions on your own.

Many people cannot believe Al is approaching 80 in two years—and he doesn’t take these comments as an insult, noting that “it feels good to be told I don’t look my age.” He says, however, that comments like that just show the stereotypes that face older adults. "Too often young people don’t ask elders what they think, which is a shame," he says thoughtfully.

Al’s advice to those younger than himself is to be curious, always ask why, challenge authority, gather the information you need and trust your intuition. The best thing about reaching this point in his life is that he is wiser now because he never stopped taking challenges. He is proud of the choices he made, even though some would think them bizarre, but he feels that now he can appreciate all the connections that there are in this world.

Beverly Hamilton agrees. In her nomination for her friend and colleague she stated “Al does everything with loving friendliness. He believes we should always take the time to think—not just react. Just for the health of it!”

Ronnie Wong

Nominated by: Karlayne Parker

Photo of Ronnie WongRonnie Wong

On September 17, Ronnie Wong will run a race he’s never run before. As the grand marshal for the Baltimore County Department of Aging’s 11th Annual Get Ready! Get Set! Get Fit! 5K Run and Walk at CCBC Essex, the 70 year old will breeze through the course alongside several hundred others of diverse ages. Wong, a marathoner, runs about a 7-minute mile, and sometimes faster, depending on his competition. In many of his races, he wins his age group.

But in this event, the Catonsville Senior Center member doesn’t plan to show off what he can do. Instead, he wants to inspire participants, young and mature, to run their best race for fun and for a good cause. “I just want to enjoy it,’’ says Wong, standing in the basement of his home where there are hundreds probably thousands of race certificates, medals, plaques and trophies strewn about.

Proceeds from the BCDA race support fitness programming and fitness facilities for older adults over 60 years of age, which in turn support the health and wellness of seniors who want to remain independent and live a quality life free of chronic disease or, for some, to help them better manage conditions. Wong realizes the benefits of the Catonsville Senior Center’s fitness center. Several days a week, his morning routine includes dropping by the southwest Baltimore County facility to run for about an hour. The former fast food Chinese restaurant co-owner enjoys a life of leisure that includes two favorite pastimes: running and gardening.

His passion for running began in 1980 when on a dare from a friend he was challenged to see if he could run a 10K in Bermuda. “I had never run before,’’ Wong said. He trained a week for that race, ran it and from that point was hooked. While in the restaurant business, Wong was forced to train between long shifts at work and spending time with his wife and daughter. When he retired some years ago, he dedicated his days to running.

Wong was recently interviewed by Karlayne Parker, Wellness Specialist, at the Department of Aging. Here are the questions and his answers.

 How many races have you participated in?
“I have run in more than 326 marathons. I run about 83 races a year,’’ he says. This includes marathons, 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathoners. “Sometimes I run a 5K one day and then a marathon the next day.’’ Wong says he has participated in races that have lasted as many as six days, covering thousands of miles.

Where have you traveled to run these marathons?
"I have run a marathon in all 50 states,’’ he says. He has also participated in races internationally in Canada, South Africa, Sweden, Bermuda and his native Singapore. He says he was at the Boston Marathon when a terrorist bomb went off in 2013. He was not hurt and did not see the events as they unfolded. He annually runs in local races such as the Baltimore Marathon.

How do you prepare for a race?
“Diet is very important,’’ he says. “Not too much fried food. Not too much protein either.’’ Wong eats pasta and vegetables the day before the race. He logs about 40 to 50 miles per week to train. “About a week before a marathon, you have to cut down on your miles,’’ he says. He reduces the number of miles to about 2 miles a day at a much slower pace. “You have to rest,’’ he says. On most days, he eats regularly, which includes an indulgence of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

What is your best Marathon time?
His best Marathon time at age 70 was 3 hours 52 minutes.
His best Marathon time at age 38 was 2 hours 38 minutes.

What keeps you going?
“You have to run to enjoy yourself and teach the youngsters how to run,’’ says Wong. “They all know me. They know me from here. They tell me 'you are my idol'.’’ He not only wants to inspire, but he is inspired by others as well. For example, he mentioned on the day of this interview a 92-year-old woman who works at the Catonsville Senior Center. “She is 92. She keeps going.’’

Does he plan to stop running?
“I am going to run until I cannot run anymore,’’ Wong says.

Doris Kelbaugh

Nominated by: Suzanne Levin

Doris KelbaughDoris Kelbaugh

Many seniors today are reimagining aging, enjoying active lifestyles, learning new things and living life to its fullest. These proactive seniors are always on the go. They view aging as a state of mind rather than just a number, have a positive attitude and adhere to the philosophy “you are only as old as you feel.”

One active senior who is always on the go is 92-year-old Doris Kelbaugh. After competing in ballroom dancing contests across the country for more than 40 years, Doris now dances at the Cockeysville Senior Center. She also takes fitness classes and is an active volunteer. Doris truly personifies the face of reimagining aging today. “You have to keep going, especially when you are by yourself,” exclaims Doris. “I get up in the morning and I just keep going. I make up my mind and I just do it.”

When Doris was married, she and her husband competed in ballroom dancing but when she lost her beloved Joe, Doris sat at home alone. She thought it would be nice to meet people so she eventually visited a senior center. “She was hesitant at first because she thought we were an old age home," recalls Cockeysville Senior Center Director Suzanne Levin. But Doris was pleasantly surprised. “I went to the Bykota Senior Center first because I wanted to learn the computer and I signed up for a class."  She was amazed how fast she learned the basics and email and was “very proud.” “Then I went to the Senior Expo and saw a demonstration on Drums Alive and I thought, I can do that. They were just starting a new Drums Alive dance class at Cockeysville so I went there and have been taking it ever since,” declares Doris. She thoroughly enjoys dancing around the large exercise balls. “I also take the cardio fitness classes and they are just great,” adds Doris. “Her fellow classmates cannot believe Doris, at her age, can keep up,” proclaims Levin. “The instructor is so impressed with her that he calls her his role model.”

“I think other seniors see I can do it at 92 and feel ‘if she can do it, I can do it' and try harder,” asserts Doris. “I always say never stop, never give in and just keep on trying. You can never stop trying. People in the class encourage me, which is great, and they also inspire me because many are so good, even if they are 20 years younger.” Doris still drives, lives independently and does all of the gardening and mulching on her property. She volunteers to help with the Cockeysville center’s annual membership registration and sets up the room for Drums Alive. She also volunteers to help the residents at an assisted living facility and at her church. “I have always been blessed with plenty of energy,” admits Doris. “I eat right, cook my own meals and love sweets but try not to eat them. I exercise, stay busy, take care of my health and go to preventive health care programs.”

“Doris is a true inspiration,” declares Levin. “She always has a positive attitude, never complains about anything and always has a wonderful smile on her face. People are in awe when they find out how old she is because she doesn’t look her age and when they find out she is in her 90s they are so impressed that she is still driving, living alone and doing what she likes to do.” The last thing Doris wants is to be treated as is an old person. “I don’t think of getting old, it never enters my mind.” It used to bother her when people asked her age, but then she decided to view it as “something positive. If they want to know how old I am, maybe I did something they didn’t think an older person could do.”

Doris’ motto, which is found on a plaque posted on her driveway, is “failure is never defeat until you stop trying.” She sees the plaque every day. “It is my inspiration because it is so true.”

Janice Curtis Greene

Nominated by: Sherita Thomas

Janice Curtis GreeneJanice Curtis Greene

Aging means different things to different older adults. Today, many are reimagining aging, taking advantage of a host of opportunities available to them when they retire.  Contemporary older adults are actively engaged in a variety of activities, sharing their time, interests and life experiences with others in the community. They are finding unique paths and rewarding roles as they reimagine aging in retirement. An important role for all older adults is sharing their knowledge, history, wisdom and culture with young people. Janice Curtis Greene, a gifted storyteller, dance instructor, youth mentor, teacher, spiritual revivalist and American Griot, has perfected this role. Through her artistic and animated storytelling, this amazing senior shares multicultural history with young and old audiences at churches, schools, colleges, libraries, hospitals and festivals nationally and internationally. Janice is an exemplary face of Reimagining Aging.   

“I just love doing this,” exclaims Janice. “It speaks to the artistic side of me. I love being a professional storyteller. I love to see the faces in the audience and see that I touch people, it feels so wonderful. I like to speak the truth and help perpetuate the art of storytelling. It is a lost art.” Janice began her storytelling career about 30 years ago during a Kwanzaa cultural celebration at her Catholic Church. She was asked to tell a story because she was “so expressive.” Janice researched African American theology and folktales and found one that personally resonated with her and told it her way. She performed it and “people loved it and were crying.” She was a hit! More churches invited her to tell stories so she learned more stories. Janice had found her calling and her storytelling career was off and running.  She joined the National Association of Black Storytellers, became fascinated with African American history and learned as much as she could to “make her stories relevant and truthful.” In 2019, she will serve as its President.

When Janice retired as a computer analyst from Social Security in 2008, she became a full-time professional storyteller. She entertains and educates young people, adults and older adults, mesmerizing them with folktales, original narratives and bible stories set to syncopated Rap rhythms. She is also a talented actress known for her inspiring portrayals of such historical African American females as Harriett Tubman, Rosa Parks, Phillis Wheatley and Mother Mary Lange, foundress of the Oblate Sister of Providence. Janice believes one of her most important roles is “teaching correct African American history to black children because what they teach in school half the time is not true,” she laments. “I love to mentor young people and reach out to them. I lost two sons so my storytelling and teaching is a tribute to them. I want to touch young people.”

This remarkable senior is also an accomplished writer. Several of her articles written for the Catholic Review Newspaper are featured in the book, "What We Have Seen and Heard: Essays and Stories from Black Catholics of Baltimore." An active member of her church, Janice teaches Sunday School, sings in the Gospel Choir and has directed the Sacred Dance Ministry for over 20 years.

Janice is a genuine role model for older adults. This active and engaged senior, 69, focuses on her health and exercise. “I enjoy being fit. I eat right, work out, lift weights, cycle, teach dance classes and teach cycling at the gym. I don’t think of myself as old,” she asserts.  “Age is nothing but a number.”

She frequently visits senior centers and inspires older adults with her exhilarating stories and portrayals. “I remind them of all the things Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman accomplished well into their 80s and 90s. I tell older adults they can do it too.” Her advice to today’s older adults:

  • Before you retire have a plan and a new life list since sitting at home gets old fast
  • If you are afraid of doing something different do it anyway
  • Know that you are not alone and have faith
  • Do something to help someone else as it will keep you young
  • Exercise even if it means just talking a walk on a regular basis
  • See your doctor on a regular basis

Gerry Von Paris

Nominated by: Patti Madigan

Gerry Von ParisGerry Von Paris

Today, seniors are reimagining aging in unique ways. One of the contemporary images of today’s senior is someone who volunteers to help other older adults. While some seniors adapt their individual skills, experiences and talents they have acquired over the years to volunteer in the community, others volunteer to undergo specific training and educational classes to help where the need is the greatest. All of these volunteers are reimagining aging, giving back and supporting others.

One exemplary individual, Gerry Von Paris, has taken classes to learn how to help other older adults find jobs, but she goes way beyond that, serving as their mentor and personal coach. She worked for the Baltimore County Department of Aging’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) for four years before becoming a volunteer. Gerry, who is 86-years-old, now assists Baltimore County seniors with their job search. To learn the skills needed to help people find jobs, Gerry took SCSEP classes then shared her knowledge with others. She is now teaching classes at several senior centers. As part of the class, Gerry meets with seniors, discusses the employment challenges they face as older workers and assists them with resume development, computer options and work force training tools needed in today’s job market. But this is just the beginning.

Gerry supports older adults with low-incomes, helps them overcome barriers they face when seeking employment and puts them on the path to economic self-sufficiency. She gives it her all, offering these seniors peer-to-peer mentorship, coaching, valuable resources and a network of support. She personifies the face of reimagining aging today. “Gerry has a talent for understanding job search frustrations,” declares Patti Madigan, who nominated Gerry as a Face of Reimagining Aging. “She navigates individuals in a planning process that offers confidence building, motivation, skill development and personal satisfaction.” “I enjoy it,” exclaims Gerry. “I like being with people and talking with people and anything I can do to help them find employment is what I am here for. I think seniors get a lot out of it because Patti gets rave reviews, which lets me know the seniors appreciate what I do. The most important part is it hopefully helps them find jobs.”

“Gerry’s true mission as a volunteer,” adds Patti, “is to provide seniors with a feeling of self-assurance, pride and achievement.” “My volunteer work is important to me because it is helpful,” explains Gerry. “It helps other people and it helps me keep alert and keep current with what is going on and all of the new innovations in different industries. It is something that I just need to do.”

This amazing individual lives life to the fullest and Gerry says she is “not happy unless I am helping someone. I love volunteering. It keeps me busy because I am not one to sit still. I just can’t stay at home day in and day out. It gives me something to do and there is no point in going out and doing anything if you are not helping someone.” When asked what age she considers old, Gerry adeptly replies, “I recently read an article that said if you are thinking ‘old,’ you must be leaving this earth sooner than you expect. So if you want to be on this earth a lot longer, you should be thinking forever. I want to live to be 120.”

 

Mary Kelso

Nominated by: Carol Mason

Mary KelsoMary Kelso

Today’s seniors are reimagining aging, living life to its fullest. They view retirement as an opportunity. Seniors are engaging in a wide range of activities to give back to their community. They are pursuing meaningful and rewarding ways to make the world a better place as they reimagine aging in retirement. 

One remarkable senior doing just that is Mary Kelso. This dynamic 80-year old loves her local school, Patapsco High School. Not only does Mary serve as a substitute teacher at the high school, which is remarkable in itself, but she helps out in the school’s main office substituting for the staff when needed. Mary personifies the face of reimagining aging today, actively working at the high school and volunteering to help students, teachers and office personnel. “Mary is always willing to help everybody. She goes out of her way to take care of people and is always so kind,” adds Carol Mason, who nominated her as a Face of Reimage Aging. “She is definitely a role model for any senior citizen.”

This delightful senior is a true legend at Patapsco High School, known as the school’s “Fairy Godmother.” “I just love the school,” exclaims Mary. “And I love the students.” Her devotion is even reflected in the beginning of her email address—patapscomary. “Mary is dedicated to Patapsco High School and has given time, money and energy to the school,” exclaims Carol. “She has fostered a positive outlook at the school for over 40 years.” 

Mary became involved in the school when her three children attended almost 50 years ago. She started volunteering by organizing the guidance counseling office, then filling in as an employee and working with the students. She also helped initiate the Service and Scholarship Banquet and the Athletic Awards Banquet and ran karate tournaments as fundraisers. One day in 1972 the school’s Vice Principal needed a substitute teacher and begged Mary, who reluctantly agreed. “I loved it and the kids were great, respectful, well-behaved and they listened,” she recalls. So Mary became a substitute teacher.

Next Mary was hired as the secretary for the school library and worked in the main office for 12 years. When she retired, Mary continued volunteering and returned as a substitute teacher, counselor and office assistant. “I go wherever they need me. I have told them that I love to do it and they don’t need to pay me.” Mary especially loved substituting for students in the special education program. “So many were forlorn and kind of left in the lurch so I picked them out,” she declares. “They would help me hang pictures and I’d treat them to a soda or give them money for a treat.” This generous lady paid for many kids to go on school trips, donated money for prom attire and even bought yearbooks for some.

“Mary has helped so many youth in so many ways over the years,” Carol continues. “If there was someone who needed something, she provided it. If a student didn’t have the money for a prom dress or a tuxedo, she would work with the guidance counselor to make sure they had one. If someone couldn’t get a ride home, she would give them a ride. She has worked in the school forever and all of the students love her as a substitute.” “Every child needs a friend and I wanted to be their friend. It makes me feel good,” asserts Mary. “I often see grown kids from the school and they always come up and speak to me. They say ‘I always loved you Mrs. Kelso, you helped me do this, I remember you doing that and I thought about you.’ ”

This is what it is all about to Mary, being a friend. “It makes me feel good that they remember me and I hope they feel good that some old lady helped them a little.”

When asked what age is old, Mary says “I’m still going. I still drive and keep a nice home. It’s being around people that is my way to keep young. I like being around young people.” One of the reasons Mary loves Patapsco High School is that it keeps her young.

Hannah Krauss 

Nominated by: Lois Steinberg

Hannah KraussHannah Krauss

Challenging aging stereotypes related to health and fitness levels is what Hannah Kraus does best according to Lois Steinberg, who nominated the 89-year-old Kraus as a Face of Reimagine Aging. Lois is quick to sing her praises. “Hannah is a dedicated volunteer who can out-run and out-walk me any day. She literally appears to fly across a room, and I rarely see her sitting down,” she exclaims. 

“I have always been active and was sort of a tomboy as a kid,” says Hannah when asked about how she got interested in fitness and exercise. In her youth, Hannah went to Towson State Teachers College and wanted to be a gym teacher, but they did not offer a physical education certification. To get the teaching certification, she would have had to attend the University of Maryland, but that was too far away from her home. Sadly, Hannah’s mother passed away at age 39 while she was at college, so she had to quit school and help raise her younger sisters. Instead of becoming a teacher, she went to business school to become a secretary, and she got married at 21 years of age. For the next two decades, Hannah focused on raising three children, joining clubs and being active in the synagogue. Hannah says her greatest achievement was raising three wonderful children and now seeing her grandchildren grow.

Looking back she says she and her husband were always active. He was an attorney, but he got his pilot’s license, sky-dived and rode a motorcycle. Unfortunately, he died at the gym running on the track. But that did not deter Hannah from continuing to exercise. She walks every day through her neighborhood for at least an hour, saying her prayers along the way.

Every day Hannah can be found volunteering at the Pikesville Senior Center with the Eating Together program. She also helps on Farmers Market Coupon Distribution Day and with other special events. Last year Hannah had 1,452 hours of volunteer time on the books between June 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017. She says being involved with the senior center helps because it’s good for her mentally. “I can’t just sit at home,” she says. “I need an outlet to keep me active. Pikesville’s like a home away from home.”

Lois applauds Hannah’s work ethic. “She makes sure that everything is prepared for an event, lunch or social occasion and that the activities are running smoothly. She is a determined person who finds it easier to accomplish tasks by herself rather than ask for help. I admire Hannah's ability to think fast and to be physically active,” says Lois.

When asked how old is old, Hannah declares, “Age is only a number.” Her advice to young people on how to live long and live well? First, help people. Second, stay close and active with your family and friends. And third, eat well. “I eat lots of vegetables, chicken and fish. But I do love cheese!” she laughs.

“The best thing about reaching my age is that I thank God I’m still physically and mentally able to get up each day and help people,” she replies. And help she does. Lois discloses that Hannah would be the first to tell you that she knows she has been blessed. "She is everywhere that a helping hand is needed and is ready to go the extra mile for anyone," Lois adds.

Betty Borcerding 

Nominated by: Joyce Redman

Betty BorcerdingBetty Borcerding

Today’s seniors are reimagining aging and living life to its fullest in retirement. They are proactive, enjoy active lifestyles, engage in a wide variety of activities and love to travel. They volunteer their time, special talents and passions to give back to their communities. Seniors are finding meaningful and rewarding ways to volunteer and enhance the lives of other people. One remarkable senior who does just that is Betty Borcerding. This dynamic 85-year-old teaches Spanish to other seniors at the Bykota Senior Center and pursues her love of the arts by volunteering as a docent at the Baltimore Museum of Art. In retirement, Betty is also a world traveler and helps raise her special needs granddaughter. Betty is truly the epitome of the face of Reimagining Aging today.

“Betty goes out and lives life,” declares Joyce Redman, who nominated Betty as a Face of Reimagine Aging. “She is not what you would think of as a typical senior, probably because she was a teacher and she traveled so much. Betty teaches Spanish, volunteers at the museum, maintains her ties with the art world and travels with friends.” 

“I do what makes me happy,” Betty proudly asserts. “I love the arts so I volunteer at the museum. I enjoy speaking Spanish so I teach it, and I love to travel and go places.”     

This special senior just loves the arts, music, ballet, opera and plays, and is quite knowledgeable, which is reflected in her volunteer work at the Baltimore Museum of Art. She enjoys sharing her passion for the arts with others. “I just love the museum and being in a new field,” exclaims Betty. “I love showing the art to people. I particularly like to share it with people who say they don’t like it. I ask, ‘What do you see?’ and tell them that if they understand it, they might like it. Then I explain it to them. I enjoy turning people’s opinions around.” Betty also enjoys going to performances at the Lyric and Hippodrome Theatres in Baltimore and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, to see a variety of artistic events.      

She also enjoys teaching. “I taught English literature, creative writing and Spanish as a teacher. I now teach two Spanish classes at the center,” Betty continues. “I love the language and really want to keep speaking it. But I don’t hear it around me much anymore so I don’t get the chance to speak it. I used to live in Arizona and that was great because just about everyone there at that time was bilingual. Now I teach Spanish to keep speaking it.”

When she is not teaching or volunteering, Betty loves to travel around the world and visit friends across our country. She frequently drives up to New Jersey to see her son and granddaughter, and is actively involved in her granddaughter’s life. Betty also goes to New York City to see the sights and take in shows, symphonies and museums while she is visiting her family. “I grew up in the cornfields of Illinois,” she explains. “I just wanted to see the world and felt the world was beyond a cornfield. I enjoy traveling and I just like to go places.” Her favorite spots include Venice, which she has visited six times because she enjoys “walking the city,” Africa and, of course, Spain. “I have enjoyed everywhere I have gone.”

“Betty is always open to new things, is always welcoming to new people and just does so many different things,” adds Joyce. “She has a wide variety of interests and a large number of friends who share in her activities. Betty still lives in her own home, drives everywhere, is very independent, enjoys her many friends and lives an active life.” When asked what she considers old, this spirited senior says, “I just don’t think about it. Life is what you make of it, and I intend to have a good time as long as I can.”

 
Revised November 13, 2017         

 

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