Category Archives: Aging

Aging Out Loud – with dignity, optimism and gusto

Theme of Older Americans Month, May 2017, is “Age Out Loud”.  The idea of the Administration for Community Living, the lead sponsor of the campaign, is to “amplify the many voices of older Americans.”

Surely, Aging Out Loud is a worthy goal.  If I have a concern it is the need to focus on the message as well as the medium.   As I struggled to come to grips with my own wonderment about the message, I happened to hear a recording of the message that former Vice President Joe Biden shared recently with an audience in Manchester, New Hampshire.  Biden focused with precision on the values that he believes are missing from the national conversation ongoing in this country today.  The values he stressed are just three:

  • dignity,
  • optimism,
  • the willingness to do big things.

The values of dignity, optimism, and the willingness to do big things seem to me in synch with the aspirations, and thus the message, appropriate to Aging Out Loud.  For older Americans hope rests in dignity, optimism and a willingness to do big things.  First among those “big things” is an irresistible — too often repressed — need to share  stories.    Aging out loud can and should be a selfless, other-centered expression of dignity, optimism and willingness to do big things.

On a practical note, sponsors of OAM have created a wealth of timely promotional materials that amplify the voices of older Americans.  The frequently updated list of materials is readily accessible here:

Locally, public agencies and nonprofits, the faith community, neighborhood organizations and countless other entities will host OAM events.  One that caught my eye is coming up this Saturday, May 6 – it’s the Age Out Loud Run/Walk at Lake Como  in St Paul’s beautiful Como Park.  The whole family is welcome to participate in the 1.67 mile run/walk around Lake Como’s wheelchair accessible path.  There will be prizes, snacks and family-friendly activities at this free event (

If you or a friend would prefer to  age in the quiet comfort of a cushy rocker, you might want to read out loud some verses from this special collection (  The collection reflects the Age Out Loud theme — though I doubt it’s what the sponsors had in mind…

I was hugely relieved to discover there was a purpose 

for girls with loud voices.     Betty Buckley, actress



Sources and Stories Blaze the Trail for Older Americans Month

There’s a bit of irony in the fact that President Kennedy designated the first Senior Citizens Month in 1963.   Kennedy was a young man then, the nation’s youngest president. If today’s seniors were even around, they were also young, facing an uncertain future and a far distant war.

“Senior Citizen” was still politically correct, not that the world was yet into political correctness in 1963. For the record, it was 1980 when President Jimmy Carter changed the name to “Older Americans Month” and who, incidentally, redefined the image and role of 21st Century older Americans.

Theme of Older Americans Month 2016 is “Blaze a Trail.” The idea is to challenge older Americans to take action, to give back to their communities, to start new careers or hobbies, basically to put a contemporary face on aging.

At the national level planners of OAM have provide a robust digital library of excellent resources created by a host of federal agencies and nonprofits including USDA, NIH, National Institute of Aging, the National Center for Creative Living, the Office of Justice Programs and others.   The basic resource themes include Wellness, Securing Your Finances, Reinvention and Civic Engagement. All of these are readily accessible online –

For the statistically enchanted, the U.S. Census Bureau has also just issued a great guide (CB16-FF.08) It’s actually a great introduction to a world of numbers that tell the story of a rapidly changing demographic shift in this country and the world.

It may not be too late for community groups, churches, nonprofits, book clubs and others to build on the “Trailblazer” theme with an interesting Story Competition also prepared by OAM organizers. The idea is to launch a “trailblazer” story competition to encourage older adults to share their stories – stories of their careers, time in defending the nation, their advocacy work, whether for the arts of early childhood education or services for those who are physically or mentally challenged. Again, there’s an excellent guide for organizers.

Poetry opens minds and memories for elders challenged by Alzheimers

One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Elders who are fortunate enough to be engaged in the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project understand Goethe’s thought.   They both read and share a good poem, and perhaps hear a little song in the reading and sharing.

Today marks the first day of National Poetry Month, a springtime event that reminds the world that, even in this digital age, poetry matters. ( It is worth noting that, before data ruled, poets had a grip on meter….)

My recent awareness is of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project (, a national and local initiative of which I was unaware and which gives me joy to share.

The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project affirms the basics.   Poet Gary Glazner founded the project in 2004 in Santa Fe; the project has morphed over the years to what politicians would deem a movement. Glazner’s vision was to “bond together as a community build on shared words, passions, and discoveries through the performance and creation of poetry.”

It’s a beautiful vision, made real in this community by those who share a commitment to the power of poetry to evoke the thoughts and strength of Minnesota seniors.   Since 2012 the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project Minnesota (www.alzpoetryorg) has shared the beauty and power of poetry with Minnesota elders and their families, friends and caregivers. The goal is to evoke and share the untold stories of many whose voices have yet to be heard.

On Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23, the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, will celebrate the power of poetry to unlock stories for loved ones challenged by memory loss. The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project will hold a benefit reading on Saturday, April 23, 2:00 p.m. at Homewood Studios, 2400 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis. Poets Raachel Moritz, Dian Jarvenpa, Julie Landsman will share their words and wisdom.  Incredibly, there is no cost to attend, though donations will be gratefully accepted. Limited edition letterpress broadsides of an original poem created by the Alzheimers Poetry Project poets, will be available.

Employ Older Workers Week – Thoughts of an Older Worker

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.  Theodore Roosevelt.

National Employ Older Workers Week (September 20-26, 2015) will conjure a broad mix of images. On the one hand, there are older workers who just can’t stop working – they love the camaraderie, the feeling of accomplishment, the structure it gives their day. They work at jobs, often self-generated, that they love. They start the day full of ideas and gusto – end the day with a feeling of accomplishment. They find time for dining out, travel, and golf – and spare cash for domestic assistance.

For many older workers, necessity drives their daily work lives. Often they have always lived on one – or no or low – income. The costs of daily living left no stretch to save, far less invest. Financial consultants and investment advisers are as remote as Wall Street and invitation-only fundraisers for millionaire politicos.   Though work may not be an option, these older workers continue to bring experience, skill and commitment to the workplace.

In recent weeks I have had the experience of observing older workers who exemplify the possibilities. My observations were of older women, in this case women religious, who are making significant, creative and forward-looking contributions to the institutions and communities – including global communities — they serve. These women are not working for income, but for self-fulfillment and for the common good. In a word, they offer a holistic sense of older workers. As these older women are providing essential, often innovative, services the offer models of the mental and physical benefits of work. In this era of working to get ahead, working to buy stuff, working to aggregate power, we are in danger of losing sight of “the best prize” – the reward that these women religious experience, the rewards that come from “the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Admittedly these encounters influence my thoughts on National Employ Older Workers Week. I’m thinking now that the tone of the week is largely pragmatic, at times dismissive, at some points indicative of a sort of do-good attitude that misses the point so eloquently made by President Roosevelt.

Clearly, attitudes differ about the employment of older Americans. They are also evolving, if slowly. For some the benefits will show up on a spreadsheet. The Department of Labor comforts us that “helping older adults remain in the workforce provides a boost to our national economy: These workers pay taxes and cover more of their own expenses during their later years.” In fact, a growing number of federal bureaucrats acknowledge that “scientific studies…demonstrate that, contrary to ageist stereotypes, older workers are a good investment, rating high on characteristics such as judgment, commitment to quality, attendance, and punctuality.”

A growing number of opinion and policy makers are taking small steps to a more inclusive position, acknowledging the expanding – and necessary – role of older workers. The Department of Labor acknowledges that older workers “are the group most likely to be serving as family caregivers for a spouse, elderly parent or other relative – and they report that they receive less accommodation than younger employees who are caring for children.”   In fact, AARP asserts that “workplace discrimination against family caregivers is growing more commonplace and more problematic as baby boomers age and combine work in the paid labor force and unpaid work as caregivers for their parents. It may take the form of limited flexibility, denied leave or even a pink slip.”

This at least gets to the point that there is societal benefit to welcoming and supporting older workers. Though it falls short of celebrating Roosevelt’s “best prize” it is a step in the right direction.

Still, I find that my view of Older Worker Week, influenced now by my recent time with the women religious, is through a different prism. For starts, I will reflect on the brilliant words of Marge Piercy who wrote:

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

And I will ponder the wisdom of Maya Angelou who reminded workers that “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Clearly, there are many ways and many reasons for workers, employers and Americans of all ages to celebrate National Employ Older Workers Week. My hope is that our celebration will focus on the many ways in which, even as the women religious,  everyone, regardless of age, enjoys the “best prize that life has to offer — the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”  It seems to me that would focus Employ Older Workers Week in a different light.



At the venerable age of 80 Social Security keeps up with the times

The 80th anniversary of Social Security completes the trifecta of progressive federal legislation that has changed the lives of millions and the social fabric of the nation; other monumental legislation we commemorate this summer include the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 50th anniversary of Medicare. (

Truth to tell, Social Security is so woven into the lives of every American that we take it for granted, fail to consider the path that led to this monumental legislation and to appreciate ways in which Social Security has adjusted, adapted and weathered eight turbulent decades.

Social Security emerged from the darkest days of the Depression, initiated by FDR, implemented in part by Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins) Perkins, who harbored some misgivings, observed later, when the dust had begun to settle, that “it is difficult now to understand fully the doubts and confusions in which we were planning this great new enterprise.”

Conservatives resisted, objecting to the expansion of the federal government and “the inevitable abandonment of private capitalism.” Playing to Americans’ premonitions of war, they spared no effort in their campaign to kill the concept; warning Americans “the lash of the dictator will be felt.” They fueled the fears by threatening the body politic that “this bill opens the door and invites the entrance into the political field of a power so vast, so powerful as to threaten the integrity of institutions and to pull the pillars of the temple down upon the heads of our descendants.”

In spite of the skeptics and Americans’ predisposition to a spirit of individualism, FDR persisted – persevered. His opponents caved, ultimately voting for the legislation that Roosevelt signed into law on August 14, 1935.

The 1935 legislation has been amended countless times in the intervening years. Some useful resources that offer context and trace the evolution of Social Security over the past eight decades:

There’s a great timeline of developments and changes on the SSA website at

The Wikipedia entry on the Social Security Administration offers a useful summary with copious links to original sources.

For a quick synopsis of Social Security beneficiaries as of May 2015, check this simple but revelatory chart. (

Needless to say, the digital world is replete with resources on the history, statistics, social and political impact of Social Security. For a quick synopsis of eight decades of SSA, the federal agency has created a convenient summary of highlights available at

If you prefer video, you may want to view this April 2015 documentary produced and available online from the Social Security Administration. This is actually a history of social insurance, placing 21st Century Social Security in the historic context of which is the primary manifestation.

As we stumble our way into an interminable campaign season it is probably a good idea to have a grasp of how we as a nation have struggled with hard times, personal needs, and social justice over the decades. We are not the first Americans to face tough choices – learning from history could possibly lead to informed decisions that are as wise as they are just. Though conditions evolve, the idea of progress remains a human aspiration and a social/political challenge.

Genevieve Casey – Imagining the possibilities for 21st Century libraries

Though the name Genevieve M. Casey may not be a household word, there are many beholden to her for her lifetime of contributions to her chosen profession of librarianship. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, she spent much of her youth in Detroit, returning to St. Paul to receive a Masters Degree in Library Science at the College of St Catherine (now St. Catherine University.)   After a year of service in many roles Genevieve Casey retired from Wayne State University as Emerita Professor, where she was honored with special tributes including a scholarship in her honor. She died in 2012 at the still vibrant age of 96.

More important than the statistics is her legacy in a changing profession.

Her first professional position was in the early 60’s with the Detroit Public Library where she introduced the idea of an urban bookmobile. Though bookmobiles were originally designed to provide library service to rural communities, the bookmobile idea caught the fancy of Casey who saw the potential of a mobile library to share books and library service with urban readers in neighborhoods throughout the urban Detroit area.

Casey’s commitment to flexibility – meeting the needs of a changing population – was at the core of her professional service, a commitment she demonstrated when she was appointed by the Governor to serve as the State Librarian of Michigan. Those must have been some turbulent years for Casey. Two of the Governor’s budget recommendations that year were for the construction of buildings, one that would house the Law Library Division in a new Supreme Court building; the other, a new facility for the State Library. His vision was years in fulfillment.

In 1963 a state reorganization moved administration of the State Library from the State Board of Libraries to the Department of Education. That same year a former manufacturing building was remodeled as the headquarters to house offices for the State Library. In four months, library staff moved over one million volumes…. The new facility housed the Library for the Blind, a resource that continued to serve a public demand that rose from 635 items in 1960 to 280,347 six years later.

Looking to the future, Casey collaborated with Western Michigan Library to sponsor a professional trainee program through which library students could earn an accredited degree for working at the State Library, with the proviso that they would continue to work at the library for two years after graduation. During her tenure Casey was also called upon to deal with internal problems, including a pervasive rift as school and public libraries were pitted against each other, to the certain delight of others at the public trough.

Casey resigned from the State Library Agency in 1967 to join the faculty at Wayne State University in the Center for Urban Studies.   The 70’s saw a more inclusive approach to meeting the information and recreational needs of the nation’s library users. Once again ahead of the clock in 1974 Casey published The Pubic Library in the Network Mode, a prescient study on the possibilities.

As a faculty member at Wayne State Casey rose to the expanding opportunity to “reach out.” A priority for her was libraries’ inattention to the specific needs of an aging population. In a scholarly piece written in 1973 Casey lamented the fact that there had been scant involvement of libraries in the 1971 White House Conference on Aging. She raised the question: “What is the reason for the indifference on the part of libraries to the aging who constitute 10 percent of the present population, and whose number and percentage are generally believed will increase in the future?” Responding to her own question she quotes the National Survey of Library Services to the Aging, conducted by Booz, Allen and Hamilton:

The absence of special programing for the aging is a result of the traditional philosophy of library service held by most librarians – namely, that the library should provide services of universal scope and appeal. The result of this approach has been to submerge the needs and requirements of a particular group or segment of the population that might have a unique claim on the resources of the library.

That did not satisfy Casey who went on to write a major piece on “Staffing Library Services to the Aging”. It remains a hallmark study. Her ideas about the topic are best preserved in Library Services for the Aging, published in 1984 by Library Professional Publications.

Casey decried the fact that “library services to the aging have not developed at a pace consistent with the increase in the number of 65+ persons in the nation and commensurate with the increase in national interest in the needs and problems of the aging.” Always a systemic thinker Casey envisioned and offered concrete recommendations to train new professionals and to retrain existing staffing and administrators, basically to restructure public institutions.

Though times and technology have changed, Casey’s vision matters today as public institutions address 21st Century challenges. Genevieve M. Casey made a difference for her profession, for her students, and for the needs of a changing population.







Ideas + Influence Inspire Change – The Challenge of International Women’s Day 2014

[Fighting] to give women and girls a fighting chance isn’t just a nice thing to do….It isn’t some luxury that we only get to when we have time on our hands. This is a core imperative for every human being in every society. If we do not continue the campaign for women’s rights and opportunities, the world we want to live in — and the country we all love and cherish — will not be what it should be.  Hillary Clinton

The quote is from the The Shriver Report – and it may be because I have been following the reaction to that report that I review with mixed feelings the stories I’ve been gathering for a Minnesota Women’s Press calendar of activities planned to commemorate International Women’s Day 2014.  ( Pre-pub tip –there are some great events in the works – check the next issue of MWP)

On the one hand it may seem quaint to be celebrating the century old IWD custom, a day designated in a time when women had no right to vote much less to have a say about how the home, the church, the town or the world was being run.  We’ve come a long way since those feisty women of the Socialist Party of America observed the first National Woman’s Day in February 1909.

Maybe it’s time to count our triumphs, bank the benefits, and exhale.

Or not.  Though the focus of IWD is global, clarity begins at home where it seems the urgency to categorize the rights, contributions or welfare of women has waned. Many institutions, even those that once made an effort to schedule events and raise issues, seem disinclined to budget the money or time to pause on March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day 2014.

Maria Shriver and the raft of women and organizations that have joined her initiative suggest we think again about today’s domestic realities.  To wit:

  • 1 in 3 American women, 42 million women, plus 28 million children, either live in poverty or are right on the brink of it.
  • The Violence Against Women Act continues to languish in the U.S. Congress.  The fact is that violence against women is major health problem and an horrific violation of women’s human rights.  35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • SNAP benefits, upon which countless women and their children and “invisible” elderly women depend, remain a political punching bag in Congress.
  • Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women who often get zero paid sick days.
  • Two-thirds of American women are either the primary or co-breadwinners of their families.
  • The average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that figure is much lower for black and Latina women; African American women earn only 64 cents and Hispanic women only 55 cents for every dollar made by a white man.
  • Even though women outnumber men in higher education, men still make more money than women who have the same level of educational achievement, from high school diplomas to advanced graduate degrees. In 2011, men with bachelors’ degrees earned more than women with graduate degrees.
  • There were 135,000 more elderly women living on less than $5,500 per year in 2012 than in 2011, pushing the total size of that group to 733,000.
  • In 2012 6.2 million children lived in families with unemployed parents. Many of these children live with parents who have been out of work six month or longer. Unemployment insurance covers only 36 percent of children with unemployed parents; unemployed parents are more likely to receive SNAP benefits than unemployment benefits.

Though the human mind can absorb just so many stats this small sampling makes the point that there are millions of women in this nation who are not swept along by the tide of women’s progress.

The good news is that there are women in positions to make change.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2014 is “Inspiring Change”.  Decision-makers are “inspired to change” by those who elect, appoint, support, contact, or otherwise express their concerns and their ideas for change.  That’s where most of us come in.  IWD falls on Saturday this year – good time to think about how to inspire changes that will cast in legal concrete the rights and opportunities of women and girls, now and for generations who will someday walk in the path we forge for them.