U group’s Web site offers seniors classes, activities

by Amy Hackbarth

Four years after retiring, Peter Sammond wonders when he ever had time to work. The 69-year-old paints watercolors, gardens, attends weekly discussion groups and takes classes at the University’s ElderLearning Institute.

Sammond is a member of a growing senior population that – thanks to rising life expectancies and health care advances – is living longer and healthier for decades after retirement.

To serve this population, a University organization is launching a Web site to provide the growing number of active seniors with educational and recreational opportunities to fill their post-retirement lives.

The Vital Aging Initiative launches its Web site Tuesday, which will connect senior citizens with everything from yoga groups to reading circles.

Jan Hively, the organization’s coordinator, said, “It’s a very different world now. People aren’t going to just be sitting in their rocking chairs.”

Hively, 70, became interested in the active living of senior citizens two years ago on a winter flight to northern Minnesota.

“I was looking out the window at the farm communities below and I started wondering who was shoveling these people’s driveways,” she said.

Hively began research in rural farm communities that had high numbers of senior citizens. She found societies of contented, healthy older people who could care for one another.

“It surprised me that these people were able to take care of each other and function in a community,” she said. “They didn’t have a lot of problems, and they were happy too.”

Hively conducted more research in communities of senior citizens across the state, identifying values that senior citizens want to see addressed.

“They want to be self-determined, they want to be integrated in the community, they want to have intergenerational relationships,” she said. “And they want to combat ageism.”

Hively said she has friends who refuse to take advantage of senior citizen discounts because they don’t think they need them.

Steven Miles, a professor at the University Medical School who specializes in gerontology, said the increasingly better health of older people has changed the way they live.

“Sixty-five-year-olds are doing all these amazing things,” he said. “It’s not unusual to see a 65-year-old caring for her parents. It’s ridiculous to expect her to be disabled.”

Senior citizens healthy enough to be active after retirement can find plenty of activities on the Web site, Hively said.

People interested in continuing their education, for example, can find courses at the ElderLearning Institute, which has more than 50 courses and activities led by retired faculty from local colleges. More than 650 people over age 60 attend the school to keep their post-retirement lives busy.

“I found retirement to be a time that I wanted to make the most of,” Sammond said. “I wanted to learn and pursue the interests I didn’t have time to before.”

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]