At the age of 91, famed astronaut Buzz Aldrin – the second man to set foot on the moon after Neil Armstrong in July 1969 – continues to tirelessly promote space exploration through books and speaking engagements. Iconic 95-year-old British broadcaster David Attenborough advocates on behalf of environmental causes, including through award-winning documentary films. Beloved actresses Julie Andrews and Betty White remain active at the ages of 85 and 99, respectively, and Andrews is also writing best-selling children’s books with her daughter. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, 96, and his wife, Rosalynn, 93, continue to work with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those in need.
With wisdom and experience gained over decades, sometimes in a variety of realms, older adults have much to contribute to their communities and our world. These are just a few of the countless examples in our modern day – and two more can be found at GreenFields Geneva.
A former science teacher and professor, resident Don Peck was featured in the Chicago Tribune’s PrimeTime section earlier this year for his dedication to lifelong learning – and sharing with others what he knows. At 90 years old, Peck regularly collaborates on open-source online science platforms and creates presentations on a variety of topics ranging from dinosaurs to women in science for his fellow GreenFields residents. Peck also launched GreenFields’ family tree group to encourage genealogy research.
Concerned about residents’ loneliness during the pandemic, GreenFields resident Naomi Hroncich launched a highly successful resident outreach program in which 16 volunteers trained by Hroncich regularly check on the well-being of their neighbors. The committee has also branched out to sponsor fun activities to keep residents connected, including a holiday door-decorating contest and scavenger hunt.
When George Eliot – the pen name for Victorian-era writer Mary Ann Evans – said that “it is never too late to be what you might have been,” she may have been talking about some vibrant seniors who were launched into fame comparatively later in life. Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses, began painting farm life scenes at the age of 78 after arthritis made it impossible for her to continue embroidering the scenes as she had been. Moses began exhibiting her work professionally after being discovered by a New York collector, and continued painting until shortly before her passing at the age of 101. Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first book in her eight-volume “Little House” series when she was 65, and finished the final volume when she was 76. Fauja Singh began participating in races at the age of 89, and at 101 became the oldest person to run a marathon. In May 2013, at the age of 80, Yuichiro Miura became the oldest man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, a record that still stands to this day.
Fame and fortune aside, there are numerous ways for older adults to get involved and give back to their communities.
- Volunteer. Not only is volunteering beneficial to the receiving organization, it can also have personal benefits: studies have found a link between well-being and volunteerism in later life. About 60% of adults age 55 and older donate their time in some capacity , whether at the local library or animal shelter, a National Park, or somewhere in between.
- Become a mentor. It’s a great opportunity to share your knowledge and experiences with a child, youth or young adult, and build a mutually beneficial relationship. GreenFields Geneva residents recently shared their stories via virtual interviews with students in Aurora University’s Therapeutic Recreation program, many of which led to strong connections between the pairs, and a number of residents have also been corresponding with local families through the community’s Pony Express Pen Pal Program.
- Advocate for a cause about which you are passionate. This could include writing letters, posting to social media, or getting involved with a local organization supporting the work.
- Share a skill. Tech-savvy GreenFields residents have been helping their friends and neighbors set up devices and email accounts in order to stay connected, order items online, and more.
While older adults like Buzz Aldrin and Betty White may be grabbing headlines due to their continued fame and success, there’s no need to be a household name to continue making brilliant contributions as an older adult. You can take your cues – and inspiration – from GreenFields Geneva’s Don Peck and Naomi Hroncich, and find a way to make a difference right where you are.