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EARLY 2009
Engaged Aging
(212) 337-5600
Researchers at the University of Iowa recently
studied civic engagement as a retirement role for
older adults.
In their definition of “civic engagement,” they included both volunteering and con-
tinued working for at least one day a week. They found that seniors have these pursuits
because they want to contribute to their communities and they want to stay socially
active. Even if they continue to work in a certain capacity, it’s often not just for the
You can read more about the civic engagement research in this issue of New
Horizons, and you will also find some bundled articles dealing with the continued pres-
ence of older adults in the work force. You’ll hear from seniors, who talk about work’s
“whys and wherefores” as they age, and from experts who look at the needs of seniors
wanting to stay active — spiritually, psychologically and from a financial perspective.
Having productive aging opportunities is becoming more and more important
because we have large numbers of Baby Boomers just now starting to enter the tradi-
tional retirement ages. These are people in perhaps the most educated and fit older
generation this country has ever produced. And it’s likely they are going to want to stay
In Village Care’s SeniorChoices programs, we see examples all the time of the ben-
efits of engaged, productive and purposeful aging. It can be someone like Bob Kelly,
who’s featured in this issue and whose wigs you’ve certainly seen either on television
or Broadway, still working at 85. Or it can be someone less heralded like some of the
volunteers who lend a hand at Village Nursing Home.
If we can keep older adults in the work force in some fashion, for example, it can’t
help but be good for the economy, and the workplace. Production would be enhanced
and we would continue to have the benefit of their experience as well as their institu-
tional knowledge.
By making sure we have ample opportunities, too, for seniors to volunteer and con-
tribute their time and services, we can supplement paid workers. Meanwhile, retirees
themselves will benefit from continued civic engagement and contributing to their
It is a classic “win/win” situation.
E A R L Y 2 0 0 9 | V O L U M E 3 , N U M B E R 2
In the News 2
“Ask Medicare” Website WW Helps Caregivers; Tips on TT How to
Exercise Safely; Healthiness in Old Age Requires Planning;
When Words WW Get Old: Ageist Language; Village Care hon VV -
ored by SAGE; VA VV DHC Celebrates Anniversary
Senior Perspective 7
Opinion 30
Civic Engagement; Community Response to Dementia
The Last Word WW 32
Whence Coney Island
The Makeover of Bob Kelly
Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee?
Retirement Redefined BY LUCAS MANN
Opting Out And Back In
2 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
In the News
he Centers for Medicare and
Medicaid Services (CMS) has
unveiled a new online initiative
aimed at educating caregivers of seniors
and people with disabilities.
The new website — Ask Medicare
— was developed by CMS with the help
of several partner organizations. Ask
Medicare features insights from caregiv-
ing professionals as well as representa-
tives of the health care industry. The con-
sumer-friendly Internet resource provides
Medicare beneficiaries and their caregiv-
ers with a wealth of tools and materials
designed to help them make informed
health care decisions. Partners with CMS
in developing the website included AARP,
the Alzheimer’s Association, the National
Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and
the National Association of Professional
Geriatric Care Managers.
The website can be found at www.
“This truly is a one-stop site that will
help lighten the burden on caregivers,”
said Linda Aufderhaar, a licensed clinical
social worker who is the past-president
of the geriatric care managers group.
“It was inspiring to see so many orga-
nizations come together, all united by
a mission to help protect our nation’s
most vulnerable citizens. This website
will help put caregivers in touch with the
experts and organizations that can help
them address a myriad of challenges and
Many Baby Boomers today are a “sand-
wich generation,” wedged between the
cost of caring for their children and their
aging parents. There are nearly 45 mil-
lion Americans — or one in five adults —
who provide unpaid care to a loved one.
This care is valued at a staggering $306
billion each year. That nearly doubles the
amount spent on home care and nursing
home services combined ($158 billion).
CMS representatives hope Ask
Medicare helps many of these people
recognize their own role in the caregiver
“Many caregivers don’t even think of
themselves as a caregiver in the tradi-
tional sense. All they know is that a friend
or family member needs their help,”
said CMS Acting Administrator Kerry
Weems. “In addition to raising awareness
of Medicare benefits, we hope this site
actually helps many of these caregivers
self-identify. Their work is exhausting
but essential — and often goes unrecog-
Designed by and for caregivers, Ask
Medicare seeks to shed light on the
national insurance program by streamlin-
ing resources and bringing together sev-
eral organizations that specialize in issues
impacting the senior population and peo-
ple with disabilities. The website — which
links to a number of caregiver directories
and advocacy organizations — will feature
a bi-monthly electronic newsletter filled
with stories about caregivers and how
they responded to industry challenges.
Medicare leaders also hope the site
will clear up many misconceptions over
what the federal health care program
does and does not cover. According to a
2003 Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard
School of Public Health poll, for example,
39 percent of individuals aged 18 and
older erroneously believe that Medicare
covers the cost of extended long-term
care, such as nursing home care and
home care.
“Ask Medicare” Website Helps Caregivers
Newswise — As Baby Boomers and
older adults try to keep active and exer-
cise, it’s important that they keep in
mind that their bodies are not as young
as they used to be and not overdo it.
In 2007, more than 149,000 peo-
ple between the ages of 45 and 64
were treated in emergency rooms,
clinics and doctors’ offices for injuries
related to exercise and exercise equip-
ment, according to the U.S. Consumer
Products Safety Commission.
“When you are 50, you may injure
your body more easily than when you
were 20,” says James Keeney, MD, an
orthopaedic surgeon and member of
the American Academy of Orthopaedic
Surgeons (AAOS) Leadership Fellows
Program. “Joints, tissues and muscles
may not be as flexible as they used to
be. So as you get older, you need to take
extra steps to protect yourself from inju-
ries when you exercise.”
The AAOS offers the following tips
to help boomers prevent exercise-relat-
ed injuries:
* Check with your doctor before
beginning any exercise program. A phy-
sician will make sure your heart is in
good condition and can make recom-
mendations based on your current fit-
ness level. This is especially important
if you’ve had a previous injury.
* Always warm up and stretch before
exercising. Cold muscles are more like-
ly to get injured, so warm up with some
light exercise for at least three to five
* Avoid being a “weekend warrior.”
Moderate exercise every day is healthier
and less likely to result in injury than
heavy activity only on weekends.
* Don’t be afraid to take lessons. An
instructor can help ensure you’re using
the proper form, which can prevent
overuse injuries such as tendonitis and
stress fractures.
* Develop a balanced fitness pro-
gram. Incorporate cardio, strength
training and flexibility training to get a
total body workout and prevent overuse
injuries. Also, make sure to introduce
new exercises gradually, so you don’t
take on too much at once.
* Take calcium and Vitamin D sup-
plements daily.
* Listen to your body. As you age,
you may not be able to do some of the
activities that you did years ago. Pay
attention to your body’s needs and abili-
ties, and modify your workout accord-
* Remember to rest. Schedule regu-
lar days off from exercise and rest when
Baby boomers who exercise regularly
are less likely to experience depression,
weight gain, diabetes, high blood pres-
sure and sleep disturbances, so it’s
important to incorporate physical activ-
ity into your routine at any age.
For more information about baby
boomer exercise safety, you may visit
Tips on How to Exercise Safely
Thriving in Old Age Requires
Planning, Commitment
If you plan to “thrive” when you are
65, you need to invest in your health
decades earlier.
A new study in a recent issue of
The Journal of Gerontology finds that
fewer than 10 percent of people aged
65-85 maintain exceptional emotional
and physical health throughout their
golden years. These so-called “thrivers”
share specific behavioral and lifestyle
characteristics that may hold the key to
healthy aging, according to the study’s
“Important predictors of thriving
were the absence of chronic illness,
income over $30,000, having never
smoked, and drinking alcohol in mod-
eration,” said lead author Mark Kaplan
of Portland State University. “We also
found that people who had a positive
outlook and lower stress levels were
more likely to thrive in old age.”
“Many of these factors can be modi-
fied when you are young or middle-
aged,” said co-author David Feeny
of the Kaiser Permanente Center for
Health Research. “While these find-
ings may seem like common sense,
now we have evidence about which
factors contribute to exceptional health
during retirement years.”
This is the first research to evalu-
ate which factors help older people
maintain exceptional health over a long
period of time. Most previous inves-
tigations have focused on factors that
contribute to poor health, and they
have made those determinations based
on one-time surveys.
This study included 2,432 Canadian
residents, aged 65-85, who filled out
an extensive health survey every other
year from 1994-2004. One measure
asked people to rate their abilities in
eight categories — vision, hearing,
speech, ambulation, dexterity, emo-
tion, cognition and pain. Thrivers were
those who rated themselves as having
no or only mild disability in all eight
categories on at least five of the six
If respondents reported moderate
or severe disability on any of the six
surveys, they were classified as non-
thrivers. Just over half of the respon-
dents started out as thrivers, but by the
end of the ten years, only 8 percent of
the respondents were considered thriv-
ers. By the end of the study period, just
under half (47 percent) of the respon-
dents were classified as non-thrivers.
The rest (36 percent) had either died or
were institutionalized (9 percent).
“Even though the study was con-
ducted in Canada, the findings are cer-
tainly applicable to the United States
and other industrialized nations,” said
co-author Dr. Bentson McFarland of the
Oregon Health & Science University.
“Our population here in the United
States is similar demographically to
Canada’s, and both health care systems
rely on the same underlying technolo-
The study was funded by a grant
from the National Institute on Aging.
Newswise — The wrong language — denigrating older workers, even if only
subtly — can have an outsized negative impact on employee productivity and
corporate profits, says Dr. Bob McCann, an associate professor of manage-
ment communication at the University of Southern California’s Marshall
School of Business.
Demographic trends point to a more age-diverse work force,
where worker shortages are imminent. According to McCann,
older workers will play an increasingly important role in fill-
ing these shortages, and both management and workers will
need to prepare themselves for this increasingly age diver-
sified workplace.
One often overlooked way to prepare for these new
trends is by recognizing that the language we use
at work can have severe repercussions for older
workers. “Our research in the USA and across
Asia has clearly shown links between ageist lan-
guage and reported health outcomes as broad
as reduced life satisfaction, lowered self-esteem
and even depression,” said McCann.
Given that people derive so much of their
identity from work, the workplace is a particu-
larly fertile and problematic area for ageist com-
munication. Older workers often view their
jobs as a tremendous source of pride and hope
to continue working well past their early sixties.
McCann feels that how we communicate with
these older workers may go a long way toward
creating a satisfying job experience.
“It is quite plausible that retirement deci-
sions may be hastened and work satisfaction
affected by intergenerational talk at work,” said
McCann, who worked on studies that show
ageist language has played a major role in age-
discrimination lawsuits.
For American corporations, age discrimination
can lead to significant expenses. In 2006, the U.S.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received
nearly 17,000 charges of age discrimination, resolving
more than 14,000 and recovering $51.5 million in monetary
benefits. Costs from lawsuit settlements and judgments can
run into the millions, most notably with the $250 million paid
by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System under a
settlement agreement a few years ago.
For the plaintiff, the defendant’s ageist comments typically are per-
ceived as clear evidence of the company’s discriminatory intent toward
older workers. Defendants, by contrast, generally view these same ageist
comments as “stray remarks.”
Age-related comments such as “the old woman,” “that old goat,” “too long
on the job,” “old and tired,” “a sleepy kind of guy with no pizzazz,” “he had bags
under his eyes,” and he is “an old fart” are just some of the hundreds of ageist com-
ments McCann unearthed in his analysis of age-discrimination lawsuits.
Such language has become so common in age-discrimination cases that some groups
of ageist comments even have their own names. “Young blood” remarks are perhaps the
best illustration, including such examples as: “We need young blood around here,” “Let’s
make room for some MBAs,” or “Let’s bring in the young guns.”
When Words Get Old: Ageist Language








old and tired

4 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
illage Adult Day Health Center recently celebrated
its 10th anniversary with a stroll down memory
Program participants, staff members and guests
attended an anniversary lunch that featured a slide show
of photos from past years.
Village Adult Day was one of two such facilities
opened by Village Care in the late 1990s.
Part of the SeniorChoices array of programs and care
for older adults, the centers are free-standing, state-of-
the-art facilities, providing comfort, safety and indepen-
dence through a full range of nursing, nutritional, case
management and rehabilitative services along with social
activities. “We are proud to say that many of our clients
here today were charter clients ten years ago,” Herb
Fillmore, executive vice president for SeniorChoices at
Village Care, said.
Mr. Fillmore told attendees about plans for future pro-
grams that will be part of Village Care’s SeniorChoices.
“Village Care has always been at the forefront of care for
older adults. We continue to develop new programs that
are built around you and your family’s individual needs.”
SAGE — Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders —
has honored Village Care of New York with the 2008 Community Service Award.
The award was presented by Michael Adams, SAGE’s executive director, at the
organization’s 30th anniversary celebration held at the
Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea. Arthur Y. Webb, Village
Care’s president and chief executive officer, accepted the
award on behalf of Village Care.
SAGE’s Community Service Award is presented to an
individual or an organization that, through professional
and volunteer service, advances the cause of the LGBT
older community. The award also recognizes those indi-
viduals who provide specific services and assistance
to LGBT seniors, thereby helping them to
achieve and maintain quality of life.
The anniversary dinner culminated
SAGE’s Fourth Annual Conference
on LGBT Aging. Village Care is a
SAGE sponsor and was a conference
This year’s conference, entitled
“It’s About Time: LGBT Aging in a
Changing World” dealt with a variety
of issue that the older LGBT com-
munity faces each day.
Village Care provided informa-
tion on care options for the LGBT
community as well as presented a
series of sessions on its most recent
findings. Jan Zimmerman, director of
Village Care’s day treatment programs
presented Long-term Care Services for
LBGT Older Adults.
“At Village Care, we train all of our
program staff members to meet the
needs of the LGBT community,” Zimmerman said. “The training, which is provided
by the SAGE administration, include health needs, environmental issues and sensitivity
training. All of our senior care programs are LGBT friendly.”
The conference was held for three days at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn
Bridge in October.
Village Adult Day Center Celebrates Anniversary
Village Care honored by SAGE
Village Care’s President and CEO Arthur Y. Webb accepts 2008
Community Service Award from SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams.




6 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
KARL C. LAUB, West Village
As a semi-retired man in my seventies, I work
with many young people who call me “old
man” or “papi chulo.” They do speak to me
in a condescending way, and quite frankly I
take advantage of it and have some fun. I
mean if someone feels comfortable waiting
on me hand and foot because I am older,
and all I have to do is accept them
speaking to me in a different
manner, why not? Honestly, I
feel most younger people that
speak this way do not mean
any harm, they just feel that
for some reason that we have
become incompetent. A quick
message to my co-workers:
Please don’t stop bringing me
delicious meals and doing my
chores, because I can’t possibly
cook for myself.
Many times when I go to the local grocery
store or any other local merchant, the
clerks, who tend to be much younger in
age, act as if I am annoying or in the way.
They will try to rush me
through my decision
process on what to
purchase. I ignore
it. There is enough
aggravation in this
world, and I don’t
need to contribute to
that. I believe this
behavior is direct-
ly related to atti-
tudes of most
New Yorkers,
who just don’t
have any time
for anyone else
but themselves.
Have you ever been a victim of “elderspeak,”
where people talk condescendingly
or childishly to you
because of your age?
I have been a victim of it, and it is a sign
of no respect for the older population.
My normal course of action is to
ignore the person and make
them realize that they are
not worth my time. I
have accomplished a
lot in my life and I
feel I deserve the
same respect
that I got 20
years ago.
Greenwich Village
I don’t usually get that treatment
because I don’t look my age. I will say
that I do see it all around me, and it
makes me feel sad. It is disturbing
to see people that have lived through
so much and people who are
responsible for making this
world successful as it is to be
treated as if they don’t mat-
ter. I honestly don’t recall
disrespecting my elders
when I was younger, and
I really hope that I don’t
ever become a victim
of “elderspeak.”
CONNIE PRESTIA, Greenwich Village
The crowd that I usually associate with does not
partake in this act of elderspeaking. I can say that
it sounds rather disrespectful, and I do know that if
I was a victim of it, I would not hesitate to let the
person know that they are doing it, and let them
know that they are disrespecting me as a per-
son. All that I can say for those younger folks
who might be guilty of this, is that they will
be older one day too, and they will get what’s
coming to them.
8 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
hat is the simple explanation that 85-year-
old Bob Kelly, a resident of The Village at
46th & Ten, has for his lack of formal edu-
cation. Growing up in the Flatbush section of
Brooklyn in the 1920s, he hated going to school,
and he played hooky a lot, and for this he got a
good licking from his parents.
To become the recognized legendary Broadway
wig maker that he is now
— against whom other
wig makers are measured
— was not even a dot in
the far off future in his
young imagination.
Kelly’s father, a native Brooklynite, was a
trolley car motorman, and his mother was a
As a result of Kelly’s aversion for school, he
quit after the seventh grade and worked in a
neighborhood grocery store in the mid-1930s,
then signed up with the National Guard. After
training in Brooklyn, he was sent to Burlington,
The Makeover
of Bob Kelly “I was stupid, that’s why!”
By Jess Espinosa
Vermont, and then to the jungles of New Guinea.
“When you are as young as I was, it was kind of
fun,” he recalled.
When he came home, he worked for about a
year doing odd jobs, such as driving trucks and
working for Standard Oil, filling small cans of oil
and earning a dollar an hour. He soon got tired
of that, and, on a whim, he enrolled in a beauty
school. “I don’t know why I went to a beauty
school,” he said. Then he started “fooling around”
with wigs. His first job was with the owner of a
string of beauty parlors on 57th Street.
Kelly’s big break came when he worked for a
man named Ira Sands who made wigs for the
Metropolitan Opera. “I learned everything, got
my whole education practically from him,” he
said. He had the opportunity to work for famous
singers like Robert Merrill, Jan Pearce, Risë
Stevens and Richard Tucker.
He had found his niche in life.
In 1958, after ten years as Sands’s
apprentice, Kelly quit and opened his
own business. Thus was born Bob
Kelly Wig Creations, and then Bob
Kelly Cosmetics ten years later. His
first Broadway work was for a show
called “Good Soup” with Mildred
Natwick. That was in 1960. From
then on, it was one Broadway show
after another. Some include “A
Funny Thing Happened on the
Way to the Forum,” “High Spirits,”
“The Rothschilds,” “King Richard
III,” “Chicago,” “42nd Street” and
“Beauty and the Beast,” as well as the
original productions of “South Pacific”
and “Carousel.”
These days, his small shop on West 46th
Street is a beehive of activity as his staff of 15
prepares wigs for shows like “Legally Blonde,”
“Shrek,” “Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King” and
“Mary Poppins,” with shelves full of wood blocks
identified by the character’s or the actor’s name.
“Saturday Night Live,” one of the most popular
and long-running television shows, has been Bob
Kelly Wig Creation’s client since its first episode
on October 11, 1975, creating and designing the
wigs worn by each cast member in each skit,
spanning a total of more than 600 episodes.
The likes of Gilda Radner, Dan Ackroyd, Chevy
Chase and John Belushi from the original cast
to Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Bill Hader, Darrell
Hammond and Amy Poehler from the current
season have been bewigged by Bob Kelly and
his crew. In a recent episode, Poehler and guest
performer Tina Fey did a widely watched opening
skit in which they impersonated Hillary Clinton
and Sarah Palin, respectively. Their wigs were by
Bob Kelly. “SNL,” relying on late-breaking news
for laughs, demands much from its production
and creative crews, of which Bob Kelly’s is part.
It is not unusual for changes to be made minutes
before the show airs live at 11:30 p.m., necessitat-
ing late-night work for the wig makers and hair-
stylists…and its owner, until recently.
In early 2008, Kelly was in the shop when he
got ill, fell and passed out. At that time, he was
living with his daughter Tracy in her 4th floor
walkup apartment, and on Friday and Saturday
nights, when the shop is busy preparing for the
“SNL” show, he would sleep on a couch in the
backroom. His condition after the fall, on top
of his triple bypass operation in 1989 and
pacemaker operation in January 2008,
required a radical change in his living
and working conditions. Upon his
doctor’s advice, Kelly has at long
last drastically cut down his work
schedule. To add to that, walking
up his daughter’s 4th floor apart-
ment was no longer advisable.
His doctors advised his mov-
ing to a place where he would
have some assistance. An online
search led Kelly’s other daughter,
Barbara, to The Village at 46th
& Ten. After visiting, Kelly and
his two daughters unanimously
expressed approval of the place, and
in April, Kelly became a resident. “I like
the people, I have my meals with them in
the dining room, and I find many intelligent
people there,” he said.
Kelly continues to run the wig shop that has
become a mainstay of Broadway and “SNL,” with
the able assistance of Bill Urban, the shop man-
ager who has been working with him for 52 years,
and Margaret Mettles, director of finance, who
has been around for eight years.
The women who make the wigs, who were
inexperienced when they came on board, can
now do the whole intricate process of producing
a hairpiece — from making a pattern, drawing
a hairline, ventilating, sewing, preparing a lace
front — with minimal supervision.
However, the process itself has gone through
very little change. Although some wigs found on
the market today are made in China by machine,
“The oldest
and most
wig maker
in New
using synthetic or yak hair, this isn’t the case for the well-
respected Bob Kelly Wig Creations. A traditional wig WW -
maker, Kelly continues to make wigs by hand and use
100-percent human hair, imported from developing
countries where women sell their hair to make a
living. Certain styles of wigs are re-used and re-
fashioned. A wig can cost as much as $2,300.
Having coiffed and brushed and set
wigs on the heads of hundreds of famous
people, meeting some of them on a per- rr
sonal level seems unavoidable. Three
of Kelly’s most memorable celebrities
were Gypsy Rose Lee, Ethel Merman
and Mary Martin, whom he consid-
ered his friends. When Hal Holbrook
played Mark Twain on TT Broadway, his
hairpiece and facial hair were Bob
Kelly creations. Alan King, for whom
Kelly made a wig when the comedian
appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show,”
was memorable for another reason
— he gave a $10 tip, something
unthinkable from an actor. These
above-the-title names, Kelly said,
“did not make me feel any different,
I always felt I belonged.”
Bob Kelly has had a full life. He
has been widowed once (and is
once-divorced). Of two sons and
two daughters, his daughter Tracy TT
has followed his footsteps into the
wig business and daughter Barbara
has been a makeup artist for mov-
ies and TV. VV Kelly has gained an
impeccable reputation in the art of
wig-making, so much so that his
company is considered the “leading
theatrical hair and makeup company”
and he has been referred to as “the old-
est and most reputable wig maker in
New York.” YY
Kelly’s doctor has made him swear
off his trademark big cigars, which all his
Broadway clients recognize. Those who
work with him say he’ll still occasionally
sneak a puff or two.
He has hobnobbed with some famous
people and has started the careers of a
young generation of wigmakers. One of
them, Maurice Neuhaus, said in an inter- rr
view, “If you want to become one of the
best, you have to learn from the best.” The
Bob Kelly Wig Creations catalog lists the WW
names of his clients, a virtual Who’s Who
of theater, movie, music and television stars,
spanning many generations.
For a boy who once thought of himself
as being not so smart, he certainly has gone
a long way.

We’re here for you.
12 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
edea had a sore throat, and
she was worried. When she
faces her Greek chorus in two
weeks, she does not want them to out-
shout her or to out-sing her. That would
be a big fat Greek tragedy. She abstained
from talking, drank a lot of liquid, took
some medications with Greek-sounding
names, and had plenty of rest. By sheer
will power, Medea, or Peggy Keating in
real life, recovered, because, well, the
show must go on. And it did.
When the imaginary curtain rose in
the dining room of The Village at 46th &
Ten, Keating and the other members of
The Village Players were ready to show
their audience the fruits of three months
of intense rehearsal and preparation,
accompanied by passion, dedication and
hard work. They’ve come a long way from
the group’s early start three years ago.
of Edward Albee?
Who’s Afraid
A few years ago, Keating had just
moved to 46th & Ten, Village Care of
New York’s senior living residence, and
was facing an uncertain change in her
life. Having had the notion of an acting
career in her younger days, she thought
joining a drama group would revive her
spirit, but there was no such group. She
confided this to her new friend, Ruth
Silverman, who challenged her: Why
not start one? With the help of another
resident, Ruth Selman, who had some
theater background, and with the help of
Claudia Teller, the residence’s recreation
and activities director, they invited other
residents, and they came. Some who
had done some acting wanted to share
their experience; others who had secretly
imagined themselves performing saw an
opportunity to see if they really had it in
them, and still others thought it would be
a fun thing to do on lazy afternoons.
At first, the two Ruths and Keating took
turns directing, but, as they described
it, the results were “chaotic.” When
Selman’s friend, theater director Evalyn
Baron, dropped by to give some acting
tips, the group liked her so much that
she was hired to be their acting coach.
Members of the group started getting
together to read plays, thus awakening,
and satisfying, their inner DeNiros and
Streeps. The Village Players was born.
“They are very remarkable when you
remember that they are dealing with
hearing loss, vision issues and move-
ment problems,” said Teller.
After coaching the group for a year,
Baron announced that she was leaving to
become a theater director in a prestigious
Virginia theater, and she brought Michael
Swift and Janice Goldberg to the atten-
tion of Teller as potential substitutes.
With Swift and Goldberg’s theater experi-
ence and complementary strengths, the
fit was perfect.
Swift and Goldberg put the seniors
through a rigid but fun regimen of exer-
cises, starting with breathing exercises to
warm up and get the class focused and
relaxed. The other exercises seemed out-
right silly, such as “the swoosh” in which
actors make a swooshing sound as they
pretend to pass at random an imaginary
ball to the person next to them or the one
across the room. Other activities were
quite revelatory, including an oral history
exercise where each person is asked to
talk about such thought- and emotion-
inducing topics as first love, first job,
wedding, children and other aspects and
adventures of their lifetimes.
All these exercises were meant “to get
ee ca
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Ten. Ruth S
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14 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
their bodies moving, blood flowing, and concentration
working” and “to have everyone get used to standing in
front of an audience and for us to get to know the stu-
dents,” according to Swift. “Memory is a muscle that
needs exercising.” Each session ended with readings of
plays written by known and unknown dramatists to test
the members’ acting chops.
Finally, they were ready, and the group proceeded
to the next crucial step — selecting the plays to be
performed. The criteria were: there would be parts for
everybody, everybody could be actively involved and
they would have a good time performing. Finally, the
choices were narrowed down to the ones the actors
liked the most, where they laughed the most or con-
nected to the most.
Five one-act plays were selected — by Mary Louise
Wilson, Carol Hall, Earl Reimer, Wendy Wasserstein
and one of Swift’s own. The resident cast would con-
sist of Harry Davis, Warren Halliday, Sophia Husar,
Peggy Keating, Lucille Rosenblum, Ruth Selman, Ruth
Silverman and Marilyn Wohltman.
Whether intentionally or not, four of the five one-
act plays chosen have a real-life quality to them as they
depict real-life situations common to men and women
of a certain age, much like the men and women of a
certain age who were going to enact them.
“Lost” is about two friends going for a drive who,
because of memory loss, confusion and lack of coordi-
nation, forgot the key, the water bottle, the shoes. “The
Fairest Sex” depicts a couple that has lost interest in
each other and yet still shares a passion for only one
thing — sex. “Vacation” relates a plane trip taken by
a still-active, still-in-love retired couple who witnessed
with glee the games that the cheating man and woman
across the aisle from them were playing with their
respective spouses. “Golden Arches” is about a woman
with a put-down remark ready for all occasions for
her gentle, patient husband until a chance encounter
with an old friend brought about a change. The fifth
choice, “Medea,” is a modern-day spoof of the Greek
tragedy with references to such un-Greek icons as
the TV shows “Home Improvement” and “Designing
Women,” which gave the cast a chance to overact, be
silly and have fun.
There was a feeling of excited anticipation as the
audience, consisting of residents and staff of 46th &
Ten and friends of the cast and directors, awaited the
start of the performance.
Seconds before the first play began, a slim, older,
distinguished-looking man with very dark glasses came
and quietly took his seat. He observed the performance
raptly, applauded at the end of each play politely, but
watched the proceedings unsmilingly, even while the
rest of the audience was laughing at the funny lines.
An astute resident recognized him to be Edward
Albee, the famous playwright of award-win-
ning Broadway dramas, who was Michael
Swift’s guest. Albee’s enigmatic critique
of The Village Players: “They played like
Swift said, “It was cool that he was
So, this group’s motto could very well
be, “Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee?”
Definitely not these talented, young-
at-heart troupers, who, when told of the
presence of this important personage, just
shrugged it off.
Basking on the success of the performance,
The Village Players have more and bigger
plans, including having the members
write their own scenes and mono-
logues, and reading Tony-award-
winning full-length and classic
plays. “My ultimate objective
is to continue engaging the
students and to put up poi-
gnant, relevant theater,”
said Swift.
Added Goldberg, “We
will keep looking for
works, bring in original
plays and have more of
an originally tailored
class that directly comes
from our creation. We
will continue to read in
class to keep their skills
Teller commented, “My
hope for the future of our
drama group is that they
continue to have great fun
and learn more about working
together as actors. Hopefully, more
and more of the residents would join.
I do not have a long-term goal in mind
because I believe that creative endeavors
have a life of their own and should be allowed to
grow naturally, not forced.”
The 46-Ten
Drama Club
By Shep H. Greenberg
My Building has a Drama Club.
It meets every seventh day.
And once a year they open up
And put on a little Play.
The Directors are real, not amateurs.
They are active in the Arts.
And they told their colleagues to come and see
Our Players play their parts.
So, at this afternoon’s performance
Some strangers came to watch.
One looked a bit distinguished
Raised the audience appearance a notch.
By a Cast member, he was greeted.
Who introduced herself and said.
“Pray, tell, Sir, may I ask your name?”
And was told “My friends, they call me Ed.”
He seemed to enjoy the Drama Club efforts.
He stayed right to the end.
Applauded at the proper points.
Then homeward did he wend.
The Drama Group was very good
But they might have been dismayed
To have known beforehand that Edward Albee
Had come to see them, did, and stayed.
As it is, they met their goals.
For the lines of which they read.
They did their best, pleased their Directors,
The Audience, and a man named “Ed”.
© 2008. Reproduced with permission from the author.
Greenberg is a resident at The Village at 46th & Ten.
, P


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ift g
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16 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
Retirement Redefined
As the largest generation in American history enters
its golden years, Baby Boomers finds themselves
rethinking the whole concept of retirement.
By Lucas Mann
They’re living longer.
They’re more active.
They’re engaged.
They’re not their parents.
These Baby Boomers, all 79 million
of them born between 1946 and 1964,
are skidding closer and closer to that age
when they are expected to ride into the
sunset. The oldest of the Boomers turned
62 this year and became eligible to collect
partial Social Security benefits.
Groups like AARP and the National
Council on Aging, as well as local orga-
nizations and government, are trying to
figure out what the future will look like as
the largest generation in history retires.
That’s a question especially important
in an economy with dwindling finan-
cial security and more foreclosed houses
accumulating each day.
But a better question to ask might be
what does it mean to be retired?
“Right now, we’re looking for a chang-
ing definition of the word retirement,”
said Lucy de Haan, a spokesperson for
the New York office of AARP. De Haan
says that “2011 will be the year that the
first Baby Boomers turn 65 and begin col-
lecting full Social Security. Our studies
tell us that they won’t be retiring in at all
the way we’ve come to think of it.”
There are a whole batch of issues that
are raised by this new type of senior —
in some cases one that cannot afford to
retire, in other cases one that has accu-
mulated wealth but still wishes to stay
connected to the workplace, and in some
cases both.
“As Madison Avenue sells the concept
of the Baby Boom generation with all this
money, if we look at the actual demo-
graphics it’s quite different,” said Susan
Stamler, the director of policy and advo-
cacy at United Neighborhood Houses of
New York (UNH). Stamler deals with
the reality of aging for many people who
are not financially secure as they age and
need both housing and social services, a
segment of the population that will spike
along with millions of Boomers march-
ing toward the so-called “golden years.”
“Many of [the Boomers] will be poor,
or living with a limited income,” Stamler
said. “And there will be those that will
want to stay involved in the workplace,
whether it’s paid or not. It is very hard
to paint older adults. We have so much
delineation of people in their youth,
before 20, and then after they turn 60.
But there’s 40 years in there and we
don’t really delineate it. So we need to
remember that this isn’t a monolithic
The oft-overlooked population of the
aging Baby Boomer demographic are
those that will need to depend on public
housing and on city senior centers that
have already suffered funding cuts nation-
ally in the past six years. Cuts to such
Forty years after Woodstock, the youth of the Baby Boom
generation that once belted out “I hope I die before I get
old” are currently facing retirement square in the eye.
18 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
centers have particularly affected seniors
in New York City. City Councilmember
Maria del Carmen Arroyo, from District
17 in the Bronx, chairs the City Council
Committee on Aging, and she has been
frank about the inadequacies in the city’s
facilities for seniors that will be exposed
when many of the largest age group in
history begin to need them.
“Our senior centers have not been
revamped since the early 1970s,” Arroyo
said. “Baby Boomers, in particular, will be
expecting a different level of service. I’m
concerned that we won’t be able to meet
those demands. I mean, these people are
looking for more than bingo and a hot
Arroyo pointed to the completely dif-
ferent world that Boomers have worked
in — one with rising levels of responsibil-
ity for aging employees, as well as com-
puter and Internet literacy. “[Boomers]
are involved in the workplace at a
higher level of technology,” Arroyo
The New York City Depart-
ment for the Aging recently
released a concept paper con-
cerning the modernization of
services. Chris Miller, a spokes-
person for DFTA, described the
questions that his organization has
begun to ask in their concept paper
and are continuing to investigate.
“We’re looking at our three core servic-
es,” Miller said. “There is our individual
case management, our food distribution
service and our senior centers. How do
we prepare all of them for the seniors of
tomorrow? To help do that we are part-
nering with ReServe.”
ReServe is an organization that con-
nects experienced older adults with sti-
pend-paying jobs that challenge them
to use their lifetime skills for the public
good. ReServe brings a passion not only
for the need to assist senior citizens, but
for the importance of listening to and
respecting an aging point of view in the
workplace. The organization brings a phi-
losophy of “social engagement,” placing
older adults into vital, paying positions at
non-profit and public agencies. By tap-
ping into ReServe’s philosophy and the
network of groups that they have been
working with since their inception in
2005, DFTA is taking steps toward rede-
fining the potential of New York City’s
older adults. (Read more about ReServe
on Page 28.)
“We are allowing our new seniors to
give back to the city,” Miller continued.
“It is not traditional volunteering or work.
We allow for a flexible schedule — our
seniors aren’t working 40 hours a week.”
The nuances of where “social engage-
ment” fits in the spectrum of full time
employment and volunteer service are
being worked out by other organizations
within New York and throughout the
“A lot of Boomers are looking for new
ways to take their knowledge and give
back,” said AARP’s de Haan. “Consulting
is one option, maybe starting a business.
A lot of people might want to move into
a type of work that they’ve never had the
option to try. Now the kids are out of the
house, they will redefine what we’ve typi-
cally termed ‘retirement.’”
Programs similar to AARP’s are
sprouting up in other organizations
throughout New York City. UNH, which
controls 35 agencies and 400 sites dedi-
cated to improve housing and social ser-
vices throughout the city, is focusing a
lot of its attention on the changing tides
of aging.
“It’s thinking about utilizing older
adults in a new way,” said Monica Serrano,
senior project manager and colleague of
Stamler’s at UNH. Funded by Atlantic
Philanthropies, UNH is part of the New
York City portion of a pilot program
geared toward finding new ways for this
newest aging generation to connect to
their environment in innovative ways.
“Last year was an assessment phase
— how are people connecting, are there
barriers, that sort of thing,” Serrano said.
“Another aspect is continuing educa-
tion, specifically training opportunities
for older adults to move into new fields.
Finally, there is the advocacy phase. How
do we change policy in the right way for
these new older adults?”
To be sure, many of the Boomers that
will move into new fields or will continue
to earn money by consulting as they age
will not have the option to retire with the
same ease and security as their parents
may have had. But part of rethinking
retirement is changing the traditional
thought process that would define such
responsibilities as less than ideal. In
fact, many researchers are pointing to
continued workplace interaction as not a
mere product of a rising life expectancy
that needs to be supported, but a cause
of it, as well.
Dr. John Beard is the senior episte-
mologist at the New York Academy
of Medicine and focuses most of his
research on creating a successful
life model for productive aging. He
thinks that any city that can produce
the most responsibility, stimulus,
and overall interaction for its seniors
is keeping them healthy and alive.
“We should think about how to help
people live a productive life as they age,”
Beard emphasized. “Increasingly, people
want to work, want to be productive, want
to be tuned in.”
Beard is part of a new initiative run by
the Academy, together with the Mayor’s
Office and the New York City Council,
called Age-Friendly NYC. Beard and his
colleagues are dedicated to updating New
York City to make it an overall environ-
ment that fosters engaged, longer-living
“We are doing studies, now, where
we’ve followed people over a couple of
years and found that mental and physical
health, like a person’s weight, are affected
in the environment around them,” Beard
explained. “If you live in an affluent
neighborhood, no matter how much you
yourself earn, you’re better off. As you
are if you’re near a bus stop and can
move around — anything where an older
person is encouraged to be out and about
and engaged.”
Working, or even passionate volun-
teerism, fits into the model that Beard is
“These people are
looking for more than
bingo and a hot meal.”
describing of a city in which people do
not have to feel disconnected nor isolated
as they grow older. This potential for
activity does not only do the mind good,
but can also transform the traditional
view of a physical timeline of aging.
“Evidence is growing that if you remain
significantly active there doesn’t need to
be much decline at all in physical health
and body functions,” Beard said. “If we
design our city right and encourage our
seniors to stay active, health should hold
up until the very last years of life.”
Baby Boomers have shown, for the
most part, to be the generation most suit-
ed to this model of continued activity and
connection. As Councilmember Arroyo
emphasized, this is a new generation of
people that has been engaged in different
ways than its predecessors.
“We have seen that Boomers have
different characteristics from previ-
ous generations,” said Tom Endres,
vice president for civic engage-
ment at the National Council on
Aging (NCOA), in Washington
D.C. “They always want to be
involved; they are very conscious.
One example is that people are
much more conscious about their
time being used well. [Boomers]
will not continue to volunteer at
activities if they feel like their time or
expertise isn’t being used well, if their
tasks don’t have meaning. They want to
be really brought into the organization
that they work with later in life. This
will inevitably have a big impact on the
NCOA is working to ease companies
into the new workplace that Endres sees
as inevitable as the Baby Boomers turn
65 and older. The most important idea,
according to Endres, is that companies
realize that they are making necessary
changes to maximize what could be a
huge, mature and heavily experienced
pool of employees.
“We manage a work force program
designed to support low-maintenance
aging people moving into unsubsidized
jobs,” Endres said. “We’ve just received a
grant to remove some income restrictions.
We’re looking at training for positions
like nursing and pharmacy assistants.
There is a major shift in attitude and pol-
icy going on regarding aging. Obviously,
resources have still been focused on pro-
viding services to the elderly in need, but
now there is a new dimension. At the
same time as we care for people, we also
have an aging asset potential that we have
never had before.”
Endres says that, through NCOA’s
work force program, companies through-
out the nation are realizing the benefit of
turning the rapidly growing aging com-
munity from an assumed collection of
retirees to a vital part of the workplace.
There are, Endres pointed out, nearly
10,000 people a day turning 65. With so
many of them healthy and passionate to
stay involved, why shouldn’t corporations
pay for their expertise? The manage-
ment of NCOA encompasses 22 model
programs around the country that con-
nect willing companies with elder adults.
NCOA is studying the progress in their
model programs — what are the roles
that seniors are taking within the compa-
nies? What part of the traditional office
culture and expectations must change for
“We are also looking at whether or
not the organization leaders are respond-
ing to tapping into this huge resource,”
Endres continued. “Or are they still stuck
in an old paradigm? Are they inclined to
think, ‘These are volunteers, you can’t
depend on them.’ That’s why we say,
‘civic engagement.’ It’s a redefinition of
what to expect. At the end of our research,
we will provide the companies a return
on their investment, and we will compile
hard, convincing data from our program.
Anecdotal stories aren’t enough.”
In a struggling economy with shrink-
ing security, economists see minimal pos-
sibility for any conventional retirement.
“Many people have not saved enough,”
said Professor Sharon DeVaney, from
her office at Purdue University, where
her she focuses her research on trends
in retirement planning. “And most are
not well-enough informed about Social
Security. For instance, if you withdraw
from your Social Security at 62, the earli-
est possible age, your benefits go down.
If somebody continues to work until 70
and then collect, they get the maximum
benefits. With this generation staying
healthier for longer, why would you want
to quit at 55 or 60?”
But then there are the revolutionary
ways in which the masses of aging Baby
Boomers can counteract the very social
and economic strains that many fear their
numbers will bring. One issue where
this necessity of balance is exempli-
fied is the potential for a spike in
Alzheimer’s cases.
Jed Levine, executive vice presi-
dent of the New York chapter
of the Alzheimer’s Association
said, “There are roughly 5.2 mil-
lion people with Alzheimer’s in
America right now and we estimate
that there could be 11-16 million by
2050. We are trying to mobilize Baby
Boomers — help them help us. This is
a group that has historically been activ-
ists. They are also the first generation
to see some of their parents stricken by
Alzheimer’s. We think we can mobilize
that energy.”
Like Councilmember Arroyo and
economist DeVaney, Levine is quick to
acknowledge the strain that the aging of
Baby Boomers will place on his area of
focus, saying, “This is something that
could overwhelm health care, Medicare,
Medicaid — the cost of care is very
prohibitive.” But he sees the activism
of the generation as something that
can perhaps defend its own from the
disastrous Alzheimer’s effects that we
see now.
Most experts agree that there will be
many people who, whether they cannot
retire or do not want to, will continue
to be a large force in corporations, non-
profits and social movements. Baby
Boomers are expected to change the way
all that come after them will see the word
“We have seen
that Boomers
have different
characteristics from
previous generations.
They always want to
be involved, they are
very conscious.”
20 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
By Brett C Vermilyea
Reporter Albert Amateau in The Villager office.
lbert Amateau has been a community report-
er for decades. He’s covered just about every-
thing a newspaperman could: sports, celeb-
rities, meetings, sex, murder, community develop-
ment and, even the news story of lifetime: the
horrific morning in September, 2001. As a reporter
for Lower Manhattans’ The Villager, Amateau had
front-line access on 9-11 as the newspaper’s offices
were otherwise in a no-travel zone, about ten blocks
from the wreckage.
“That terrible day!” he remembers. “I got to work
just after the second plane hit and watched both
towers go down from the roof of our building. It was
deadline day for The Villager — of course we didn’t
make it until two days later — it’s all a blur to me
now. I still get anxious on mild autumn days when
the sky is perfectly clear.”
Amateau, 76, is still out pounding the pave-
“I still do it because I like to do it,” he says in the
airy Lower Manhattan offices of Community Media,
publisher of The Villager. “And my colleagues value
my input. I don’t work as hard as I used to — I don’t
think they mind — but I work hard enough. And it’s
still fun. It’s like any newspaper job — it’s frustrat-
ing, it’s irritating, it’s horrible — but it’s still fun.”
Amateau is part of the fastest-growing population
in the American work force: folks over 55. Between
2005 and 2007, the over-55 population of workers
grew by 9.7 percent, according to a 2007 study by
the AARP Public Policy Institute. By comparison,
the under-55 worker population grew by only 1.7
With people continuing to work deeper into life,
Village Care of New York’s Human Resources Vice
President Dorette Norris looks at it this way: “Really,
there are two main reasons why people continue to
work: either because they want to or because they
have to. And then there are sub-reasons of why
people want to work and why people need to work.”
She says the people who just need the money fall
into the “need to work” category, while those choos-
ing to work are trying to stay busy, trying to stay con-
nected, trying to keep meaning in their lives.
Robert Conant, 72, who is a frequent drop-in
visitor at Village Care’s Senior Inforamtion Center in
Chelsea, has continued to work for a variety of rea-
sons, he says, but income tops the list. “I absolutely
need the money,” he said. “No question. The little
bit of money I get from my Social Security and the
little bit of money I get out of working, you know,
keeps me going.
They’re Still At It
Why folks over 50 are the
fastest-growing segment
of the work force
22 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
Model Dina Paisner has graced magazine covers and been part of many ad campaigns.
Four years ago, Conant inherited a home in Maine
when his mother passed away. He uses the place in
the summer, and he told some friends there who own
an auction house that if they need any extra help to
call him. Now he sorts through estates three days a
week during the summer and prepares items for sale
for the auction house. He says the small income from
the part-time work is just enough to keep him in the
lifestyle he’s become accustomed to.
“Financially it offers me the opportunity to do some
of the extra things I like to do. I consider myself living
a very nice lifestyle on a very limited financial scale.
As you get older, your wants and needs become less
anyway. You don’t need an awful lot of anything nice,” YY
Conant said.
Conant said he didn’t spend much time planning
for retirement. “And I’m not sorry,” he said, “I’m just
not that kind of guy. I’ve been single my whole life.
I’ve always lived alone. I spent all my money having a
good time, doing what I wanted to do when I wanted
to do it, not really worrying about things. And I’m still
not worried.”
Conant is far from alone in his need to work.
According to a recent Ernst & Young study, nearly YY
three out of five middle-class retirees are likely to run
out of money if they try to maintain the lifestyles they
maintained while they were working full time.
“Financially, we’re simply not prepared for a longer
lifetime,” Carleen MacKay, author of Return of the
Boomers: A Leader’s Guide and one of a very few experts
in recruiting, developing and retaining the mature
work force, said. “We’ll outlive our money. And that’s WW
fully half the Boomers,” she said, if they try to con-
tinue the spending habits they’ve had all their lives.
Earning the extra money to support his lifestyle
is another important reason reporter Amateau still
works. Yes, he loves the job, but the income factors YY
into it.
“I want to work,” he said “But I could use the
money. I don’t really need it. I could get along if I lived
in a retirement mode, but with the money I can spend
what I want. It makes me very comfortable financially.
My wife makes a good living, slightly better than I do,
but my salary gives us an awfully easy cushion.”
Besides, he said, giving yet another reason for still
working, what would he do “in retirement mode”?
Amateau loves to read and watch movies and
enjoys his leisure time, but he can’t imagine making
his leisure pursuits central to his life, saying he has
interests, but nothing that would make me get up in
the morning.”
“I’m afraid,” he says. “I’m afraid to retire. I don’t
know what I’d do. My wife says, ‘Oh, you could just
go to the gym’ — I go to the gym a lot — ‘you could go
to the gym a half a day and then go to the senior center
and have lunch — and bring some home for supper —
and this and that.’ It sounds like fun. For a month.”
Village Care’s VV Norris thinks this fear is common
among those older people who decide to still work.
“They want to remain busy,” she said. “Actually,
it’s socialization for them: to get up every morning, to
come to work. They have an opportunity to socialize at
work, to socialize after work.”
MacKay agrees. “Work has many benefits. WW One
is, obviously, it helps you financially. It gives you the
capacity to have a life and spend on something other
than nondiscretionary items. But it also brings other
rewards: social rewards; a sense of belonging to some-
thing; a sense of having to get up, get showered, get
dressed and get out.”
Conant said the interaction with people at the auc-
tion is important because a solitary existence just isn’t
an option for him. “If I don’t have people around me,
I miss it terribly. I’m not one to sit home and not get
out and communicate with the world.”
While the population of those over 55 is growing,
older workers find themselves dealing with a lot of
myths: They can’t learn new things; they are stuck in
their ways; they can’t work a whole day; they’ll work a
short time and retire.
Gene Burnard, publisher of, takes
issue with all of these myths
“Even if the myth that older workers are going to
be working two or three years and then leave was true,
that’s not different than the average throughout the
work force,” Burnard said, adding quickly that it’s a
false belief. The average worker stays at a job only
three-and-a-half years, while the average older worker
stays for five-and-a-half years, Burnard said, which
should add value and be an asset because it saves the
company money in recruiting, hiring and retraining
He sees a deeper problem: “We’re a society that’s WW
fascinated with youth. All of our advertising tells us
younger is better. It creates a passive age discrimina-
Recruiters need to see the advantages of having a
balanced work force age-wise, he said.
Brunard’s website provides services to older work-
ers looking for employment — services like older-
worker-centric job listings, search tips, blog, links,
education resources.
Oftentimes the problem lies with the work recruit-
ers, Burnard said, even while companies and execu-
tives are becoming more open to hiring older adults.
“A recruiter is typically a 25- to 30-year-old female.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but a 25- or 30-year-
old female, if I were in interviewing for a job, would
have a difficult time talking to me, unless she has been
well trained. There has been a lot of fallout of good,
older job seekers not getting past the interview, or per- rr
24 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
haps not getting an interview at all, because
the recruiter feels uncomfortable talking to
older workers,” Burnard contended.
MacKay said that companies can change
their attitudes with better training of their
leaders. By looking at who can do what
best, companies might see that the older
work force — the very experienced who
have specific skills — are really good at
projects. “You don’t have to hire them all at
once; hire them as needed, which is a great
way to keep costs down.”
She agreed with Burnard that attitudes
are evolving. “But I don’t think it’s chang-
ing fast enough. Where it’s changing are in
the high-need organizations that are already
suffering from retirement, for example:
health care, aerospace, rocket science. All
the things that take years and years of train-
ing are feeling the effects of a retiring work
force,” she said
According to the 2007 study “Preparing
for an Aging Workforce: A Focus on New
York Businesses” by AARP New York, 60
percent of the state’s businesses report they
expect to face skilled worker shortages in
next five years, while only 25 percent have
taken steps to address the possible short-
ages of Boomer retirement.
Losing experienced workers can leave a
company weaker and vulnerable to compe-
tition because the retirees take important
institutional knowledge and specific skills
with them. When a person retires, 87 per-
cent of businesses say it’s a loss because
that knowledge and those skills have to be
built back into another employee, which
takes time and money. A full 95 percent of
New York companies say retaining institu-
tional knowledge is vital.
“We want to try to retain as much of that
intelligence as we possibly can because you
pay for that going in,” Village Care’s Norris
said, adding that she sees other values in
retaining older workers.
“They have a completely different work
ethic, completely different. The person
who’s 60, 65 is much more committed.
That individual will come to work in the
rain, in the snow, not feeling well. They are
a lot more committed.”
Retaining valuable older workers requires
some adjustments, she said, such as under-
standing there may need to be some flex-
ibility in work schedules. “For instance, if
we have a registered nurse who’s 60 years
old who’s working on the night shift and is
ready for retirement because she doesn’t
want to work nights anymore, we need to be
able to entertain a request for a day shift.”
Besides being open to easing into retire-
ment, Village Care has taken a number
of steps to retain the older workers they
have. “You want to keep lots of options
open,” Norris says. “You have to be open to
requests to change a shift, to change a job.”
Someone might say to her, “‘You know, I
may be getting a little too old to do nursing,
but I can do other things. I can do qual-
ity assurance. I can do risk management.
What’s available for me?’ We have to keep
our eyes open, keep our options open,”
Norris said.
Cornell University, which also is trying
to hang on to its older workers, has been
recognized by AARP, which named it the
best employer in the country for workers
over 50.
“We were facing a loss of workers to
retirement,” said Mary Opperman, vice
president for human resources. This was
especially troublesome for the university
because of the specialized nature of the
work and where that work takes place.
“We are in a fairly rural area,” she says
of the campus in Ithaca, New York. “We rely
very heavily on long service. This is an area
of the country with a fairly stable popula-
tion and our work is very complicated. It’s
very demanding work. So when we find the
right people, we like to keep them, and we’d
like them to make their careers at Cornell.”
To entice people to stay, Cornell offers
a number of benefits older workers find
attractive: generous health care coverage and
wellness benefits, including long-term care
insurance; free or discounted classes each
week targeting health and fitness issues fac-
ing older adults; free continuing education
classes; accommodation of employees with
special needs; alternative work arrange-
ments such as flextime, compressed work
schedules, job sharing, telecommuting, and
a formal phased-retirement program.
“We know that as our work force ages,
flexibility is a big need,” Opperman said.
“When someone has committed their career
here, after a long period of time they might
want to focus their priorities more broadly
— maybe they want to do community work,
maybe their family has moved around the
country. They’re looking for more flexibility
to meet other priorities in their lives besides
just work.”
She emphasizes, however, that while
the AARP poll of its workers was a great
confirmation of Cornell’s efforts, retaining
older workers is not the sole goal of those
Cornell professor Henry Tye is part of the over-50
demographic that makes up 43 percent of the
university’s work force. AARP named Cornell the
best employer in country for workers over 50.
“We focus our programs holistically,”
she says. “That does include the needs of
all of our workers. And right now a large
percentage of those workers are older.” In
fact, employees over 50 make up 43 percent
of Cornell’s work force.
Publisher Burnard says some companies
are starting to hire older workers because
these companies realize that older workers
possess something intangible, something
younger ones don’t. He calls it “relatabil-
“Some companies are looking specifi-
cally for older workers because a lot of the
population is getting older,” he says. “Look
at retail and the customer interface at a
place like Toys ‘R’ Us. A customer at Toys
‘R’ Us is not a young person with children.
It’s the grandparents who are the primary
customer of Toys ‘R’ Us, and having some
college student on break working at Toys ‘R’
Us and trying to sell to a grandparent just
doesn’t get the job done as well as having
someone the grandparents’ age.”
For the older worker, there often comes
a time when he or she needs to have some
control over the time spent at a job.
Robert Conant, for example, planned
the auction house work to be just a little
side gig, but soon he found himself work-
ing five days a week, 14-hour days, and
even going up in the winter. “Working
too much. I didn’t want to work quite that
much,” he said.
He was expected to jump in when an
estate came in. “It was stressful on me
and it really wasn’t viable for me to try to
do that,” he said. So he had to cut back. “It
was disappointing for me to have to say ‘I
can’t do that.’ I’m 72. I get tired. It’s sup-
posed to be my time to smell the roses.”
Reporter Amateau similarly has also
slowed down.
Still a full-time worker, he’s adjusted
his pace at the office as best he can.
“Occasionally I still come in on the week-
end, but not much,” he said.
Another frequenter of the Senior
Information Center, Dina Paisner, says
she’s also taking it a bit easier now.
Working for decades as a professional
actor and model, Paisner has kept a busy
schedule appearing in various magazines
and periodicals including the cover of New
York Magazine, the front page of the Sunday
26 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
Art Section of The New York Times, in Joyce Tenneson’s pho-
tography book of women over 65, “WISE WOMEN,” and in a
special Ellis Island project.
And even though she still routinely auditions for acting
roles and can be seen at Judson Memorial Church in early
March in “The Red Thread,” a dance piece created by Lori
Belilove of the Isadora Duncan Foundation, Paisner said she’s
not eternally hunting for acting roles like she used to because
the constant grind is just too much work and her priorities
have changed a bit.
“My pace is much slower. I used to have more energy.
There’s no question about it. But when I’m called, then I sud-
denly have the energy. When I have a job and I have to be some-
where at six in the morning, I’m up at four. But otherwise, I
sleep late,” she said.
Conant agrees that the work helps to keep a person active,
and he, too, has noticed his priorities have changed. In fact, to
him, the very nature of work has changed.
“I was developing a career in those days,” he said of his
younger, ambitious self. “I was in competition with a lot of
people. I was managing a big photography studio. I’m just a
worker now. I’m not in competition with anybody. I don’t have
aspirations and goals or this and that. I’m just a worker, mak-
ing a dollar and enjoying life. It’s a lot less stressful.”
Many say, however, that older workers are going to have to
retain their competitive nature if they want to keep working.
The marketplace is changing and older workers are going to
have to keep up.
“If you’re not prepared for today’s market in some way that
matters to an employer, you won’t be hired in any capacity,”
MacKay said. “The first step is to look inside and see what you
have, do a little bit of gap analysis of what you don’t have, and
look at what the market needs, and the marketplace needs are
very clear.”
Job seekers need to know what recent changes have
occurred in the careers they are seeking. Have there been any
recent technological innovations? Is there a new skill needed?
Is there a new philosophy?
“You have to look at the business setting and see what the
needs are and be sure you go get them,” MacKay said. “The
good news is, the community schools, the colleges, the four-
year institutions are there to help you get there fast.”
Burnard agreed. “Most older job seekers are long on experi-
ence,” he said. And he advises them not to talk so much about
work history. Instead, he said, “talk about what value you can
bring to the company, not just experience. Experience is
just one thing.”
MacKay says curiosity is more important than experi-
ence, and it is one of the most valuable assets a person,
young or old, can bring to a company.
“When I work with recruiters to help them under-
stand the benefits of hiring the older work force, I tell
them one of the most important questions they can
ask older workers is ‘What have you learned in the last
year or two?’ And sit back and listen to what they say.
If they’ve been learning and paying attention, they’ll be
good employees,” she said.
Significant hurdles face older job seekers.
For anyone of any age, “job seeking gets pretty
depressing,” Burnard said. “And for an older worker
that recognizes that there’s age discrimination, it can be
doubly depressing. But the only way to succeed is to be
positive. The biggest turnoff for an employer is to talk to
someone who isn’t positive.”
MacKay takes a tougher stance. “That’s life,” she said.
“The hurdle becomes the individual’s to deal with, not
the company’s initially. You have to know what’s useful
to an employer; you have to know how to present your-
self; and you have to know, you must absolutely know,
what you have to offer.”
The onus isn’t exclusively on the older job seeker.
“Companies have to think about what it is that is going to make
their company successful, which they already do, but they don’t
necessarily add into the equation the value an older worker can
bring,” Burnard said.
He counsels businesses that “there is a valuable pool of
talent out there. Don’t just sit back and see what happens but
aggressively take a look at [the older workforce]. They might be
surprised. I’m not saying an employer should hire just older
workers, but it should be intergenerational. An employer has
an obligation to hire the best person, whether they’re 20 or 90.
If they don’t actively consider the older work force, they may be
missing out on finding that best person.”
Paisner, who as a model and actor has to forever be audition-
ing for work, probably has the right attitude.
“They just want someone who knows what they’re doing,”
she said of the people who hire her. “It’s not a question of
them respecting you if you’re older. The only time that does
any good is to get a seat on the subway. I’ve never been treated
badly. Never. And it has nothing to do with age. They just want
somebody who does a good job, and I love working so I do a
good job.”
Village Care’s Dorette Norris says employers have to be open
and flexible if they want to retain older workers.
New Y rk
V age Care f
We’re here for you.
28 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
cott Kariya retired early.
He had spent 25 years recruiting program-
mers, systems analysts and network engineers
into the IT field, and in 2006, at age 50, he opted
But retirement wasn’t exactly what he expected.
“During 2007 I putzed around, worked on my
investments, whatever,” he said. “I did volunteer
work as well — I still do volunteer work at the Red
Cross. But I guess midway through 2007 or so I
started getting kind of bored. Then at the end of
2007, I saw an article about ReServe.”
One of many organizations launched in the last
few years to tap into the growing number of retir-
ees looking to give back to the community, ReServe
matches older adults looking to offer their skills with
nonprofits needing experienced help at low wages.
Six months ago he came onboard and now uses
the recruiting skills he developed in the private sec-
tor to aid and strengthen the nonprofit work force.
He hopes to grow ReServes’s partnership list from
400 to 800 and has a large, talented pool of workers
to operate with.
This idea of older folks using their talents gained
in a lifetime of work to give back is growing past
being mearly a trend and becoming a full-blown
movement, especially among the millions of Baby
Boomers who are starting to reach retirement age.
“The desire to give back through work is wide and
deep right now,” said Phyllis Segal, vice president of
Civic Ventures, an advocay group calling for older
workers to make a difference through employment.
A joint study conducted by Civic Ventures and the MetLife Foundation
found that fully half of all workers between the ages of 50 and 70 were inter-
ested in taking up, either now or in retirement, work that improves the quality
of life in their communities.
Civic Ventures founder Marc Freedman coined the term “encore careers” to
describe this movement, and Segal said it’s driven, in part, by longer lifespans
— if people are living longer, it should be expected that they will be working
longer, too.
“The idea that when you reach the age of 62 or 65, you retire from produc-
Opting Out
And Back In
By Brett C Vermilyea
ReServe’s Scott Kariya
tive work was a social invention,” she said. “And while it may have been an
invention that fit the needs of our nation and the needs of individuals in the
’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, we are living in a different world. If you retire from
work at the age of 62, the idea of playing golf for 10, 20, 30 years is not that
appealing to a lot of people.”
And this longer-living generation is the same one that grew up with
President John F. Kennedy’s call of “Ask not what your country can do for you,
but what you can do for your country.” They’ve been taught that civic service
is important.
About 8.4 million older workers have entered encore careers and while
approximately two-thirds say that they wanted to stay active, productive and
challenged, a third say that they want to improve the quality of life in their com-
munities or in society. “They are people that want to have an impact that helps
strengthen our community and our world,” Segal said.
An impressive 84 percent of people in encore careers say that they get a
“tremendous amount” or “quite a bit” of satisfaction from the work they do,
according to the Civic Ventures/MetLife study.
But it’s not just idealism that keeps these folks working longer; there’s a
practical side, too.
“The economics of living for decades without any source of income is not
sustainable for individuals or for society,” Segal said.
ReServe tries to alleviate some of these economic pressures by requiring its
nonprofits to pay a $10-an-hour stipend to workers it hires through ReServe.
And while ReServe emphasizes that it’s the giving back aspect of these positions
that is the most rewarding, Kariya said the organization is currently re-examing
its workers’s financial needs and trying to address those needs because the
original philosophy behind the stipend was meant to give more meaning to the
work. It wasn’t meant to be an important source of income.
“We wanted to include this in because we feel that, although volunteerism
is a wonderful thing — and a lot of our people do volunteer work, and I do as
well — that when there’s some monetary value attached to the relationship,
oftentimes it gives that relationship more commitment and more significance
on both sides,” Kariya said.
“I’ve done many volunteer works,” he said. “Volunteering is a great thing.
We all believe in volunteering. But sometimes organizations might not treat
volunteers as importantly as they could. But in the ReServist positions, the
organizations give us a job discription, they interview people for it, they want
people with certain background and skills, and they hire them specifically for
that position. So it’s really a part-time job.”
But the difference is that in these jobs, people feel like the skills they devel-
oped in their careers are making a difference in their communities.
(212) 792-6205
Civic Ventures
(415) 430-0141
Experience Corps
(212) 614-5499
(415) 430-0141
Using a Second Career to Make a Difference
Civic Engagement
ivic engagement is now being
seen as a formal retirement role
for older adults, with a beneficial
impact on society. Many national orga-
nizations devote significant resources to
studying the phenomenon.
New research on the subject defines
civic engagement as volunteerism and
even paid work that is done for at least
one day a week and which has a direct
impact on the local community.
The attention that civic engagement is
getting stems from a belief that “retired
older adults are an untapped resource,
and increasing the civic engagement of
retired Americans will correspond with
increasing social capital,” according to
Brian Kaskie, who collaborated with a
team of University of Iowa researchers on
the study. Kaskie authored an article pub-
lished recently in The Gerontologist.
Not only that, Kaskie says, but it’s
important to look at civic engagement
from its potential effect on individual
“Several researchers have linked
engagement with health, successful aging
and have suggested that aging persons
who continue to work, find a second
career, volunteer, or become involved in
local affairs maintain better physical and
mental health as they grow older,” he
wrote in the journal article.
In a survey Kaskie conducted in 2004,
he found that retired older adults con-
sidered themselves engaged if they were
volunteering as well as working. Nearly
all saw volunteer service as a form of civic
engagement. Seventy percent of those
who considered themselves retired, but
were continuing to work in some capacity,
said they did so “because they wanted to
keep active, be engaged with other people
and make a contribution to their local
Kaskie said that his research has led
him and his colleagues to believe that
civic engagement should be defined as a
role that involves voluntary or paid partici-
pation in an activity that occurs within an
organization that has a direct impact on
their local community.
A precise meaning of civic engagement
is important to policymakers and program
administrators and allows researchers to
study its impacts effectively and consis-
tently, according to Kaskie.
The study found that engaged retirees
differ significantly from those who volun-
teer less or who work in non-civic roles, or
do neither. “Non-engaged” retirees were
less likely to have finished high school,
less likely to exercise and didn’t think
their communities offered sufficient work
and volunteer opportunities.
Kaskie said that there is a need for
persuasive campaigns and opportunities
to compel older adults to become engaged
regardless of level of education, health
status, socioeconomic status and other
It’s likely that the civic engagement
phenomenon will expand for several rea-
sons, including the prospect of reduced
financial support from government for
education, health and social services pro-
grams, which are already being depleted
by an aging work force, particularly in
There is also a growing number of per-
sons who are retiring from their primary
careers but who may not be prepared to
retire completely. Other retirees recog-
nize that they will be spending more years
in retirement and may wish to partake in
a civic engagement role as a way to main-
tain their health and to contribute to the
social capital of their community.
In addition, retirees may have increased
levels of civic engagement because there
are a greater number of people with
higher levels of education, good-to-excel-
lent health and other characteristics that
enable them to engage in activities.
Kaskie said it’s important to differen-
tiate more committed retirees who are
engaged in a civic purpose from their
counterparts who only occasionally take
a volunteer role. Neither should we
think that civic engagement roles cannot
include retirees who have returned to
work in particular jobs or organizations.
“As the population continues to age
and the demand for voluntary and paid
labor increases, discussions about the
civic engagement of retired Americans
will be come more common and more
important,” he said.
A while back, pollster Zogby
International, conducted a survey to
determine what age Americans believe is
“old,” and asked participants how old they
wished they were.
A third of those surveyed said that an
age between 71 and 80 is “old,” and about
19 percent said between 61 and 70, while
18 percent said between 81 and 90. About
30 percent of those under 30 placed the
cutoff point for being old at 61, but most
others chose the age of 71.
Blacks and Hispanics are less likely
than whites to choose a younger age as
“old,” while Republicans are slightly more
likely to choose a younger age as “old”
than are Democrats and independents.
Southerners are most likely to say that
61-70 is old, while those living out west
are most likely to see old as being 71-80.
Easterners, on the other hand, were more
likely than those in other regions to say
that 41-50 is old.
As to how old they wish to be, one in
three in the survey said they wished they
were somewhere between 21 and 30, 17
percent wished to be between 31 and 40,
11 percent wished to be between 41 and
50, and 13 percent wanted to be under 21.
The rest weren’t sure.
Current age made a difference here
too. Those 18-29 were the most satisfied
with their current age, or close to it. Two
in five 30-49 year olds wanted to be 21-30.
Interestingly, among 50-to-64 year olds
in the survey, they were closely divided
between wishing to be 21-30 and wishing
to be 51-60; among those 65 and older, the
division was between those wanting to be
21-30 and those wanting to be 61-80.
No matter what age group they were in,
a goodly number of folks seemed satisfied
with being their current age.
30 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
Community Response to Dementia
here is an emerging crises
in America, a crisis that exists
because the health care system is
biased against certain disease conditions.
If you get cancer or diabetes or any other
disease that the acute care or primary care
system is designed to treat, well, no prob-
lem, come right in.
But if you get a dementia, for which
there is no pill, no surgery, and requires a
different kind of care, sorry, you are tough
out of luck.
The incidence and prevalence of
Alzheimer’s and other dementias is
increasing. The impact of this on indi-
viduals, their families and communities is
immense. Looking at the policy and pro-
vider landscape, I see a few responses that
recognize this reality, but very little in the
way of a comprehensive response.
There is not enough going on. I can-
not emphasize too strongly that we must
respond and respond now — time is of the
What are the tools in our tool bags?
Home care, nursing homes, social capi-
tal? Let’s take the last one. Most care deliv-
ered to seniors in this country, including
care for persons with dementia, is pro-
vided by informal caregivers, usually family
members and oftentimes their friends and
In the communities Village Care serves,
social capital is not an abundant commod-
ity. Many seniors live alone, many in walk-
ups. There is a limit to what we can ask
their neighbors to do.
New nursing home beds, not the most
desired, or even the best solution, are not
being built. In fact, quite the opposite:
Nursing home beds are being taken off
line. Furthermore, the traditional skilled
nursing facility beds that do exist are not
optimally designed for a population with
dementia. It could be argued, for that mat-
ter, that they shouldn’t even be used for
persons with dementia because they aren’t
appropriate care settings. Not to mention
that Medicare and Medicaid have designed
their reimbursement systems almost to
guarantee that the person with dementia
will not be cared for in those settings.
We need new thinking about clustered
living solutions that maximize efficien-
cies of staffing and quality of life, both
through physical design specifically for this
population and reimbursement and regula-
tions that promote quality specialized care.
The mechanism for this may be enhanced
Medicaid Assisted Living Programs, a
relook at the old health-related facility con-
cept, or some new version of apartment
living combined with day care.
We need to be exploring new answers
now because we are likely to be faced with
an exploding dementia population and I,
for one, don’t want to look the other way
as we use marginal nursing home beds as
the solution and hope that the problem will
just go away. We have to figure this out
now because the lead time for these bricks
and mortar solutions is at least five years.
What about home care? Home care is
definitely a part of the solution but it does
not provide socialization, and it is extreme-
ly costly when around-the-clock safety and
supervision must be guaranteed.
What about technology? Aren’t there
some technologies that combined with
home care could enable many more per-
sons to have a better quality of life and stay
in their own homes within a budget our
society could afford? That too is part of the
solution, but we aren’t there yet. In fact we
have a long way to go, while leadership at
the state and federal levels is woefully lack-
ing to promote an answer to this problem
with technology.
At Village Care, we have used what
resources we have and explored concepts to
piece together some solutions. We’re using
our medical day health centers combined
with home care and technology, and with
close working relationships with primary
care physicians, to take care of patients who
have advanced Alzheimer’s and dementia
symptoms while allowing them to continue
to live in the community. Meanwhile, we
are making the best we can of our nursing
home beds through specially trained and
selected staff in our person-centered thera-
peutic recreation program.
It is truly remarkable what can be
achieved in Alzheimer’s community care
but it is a constant effort to keep all par-
ties working well together, especially in the
coordination of home care and day care
where money and regulations often work at
cross purposes to serving and keeping per-
sons in their homes. Our experiences in
this area constantly reveal the problem with
a system of silos where patients can easily
be missed, while transitions between set-
tings can bring their own crises. You need
a team. If you are an individual provider
of care you will quickly be overwhelmed
by the medical and social complexities of
Village Care’s response is to open a
Program of All-inclusive Care for the
Elderly, known as PACE, that will bet-
ter allow us to coordinate care and target
services, including technology where it is
needed. We are also working on opening
a purpose-built specialized Assisted Living
Program for persons with dementia. Of
course, these solutions will work for people
with Medicaid but what about everyone
We are doing much of our work under
demonstration authority from the state and
hope that that our efforts can help inform
many of the conversations that are going
Much needs to be done if we are going
to adequately meet this looming care cri-
What will we say ten years from now?
Will we pretend that no one could have
seen this coming, or will we have seen
what had to be done and risen up in the
best traditions of our country to meet the
needs of our parents, our spouses and our
It’s a fundamental choice: Are we will-
ing to accept more misery in our midst, or
will we care for each other?
We at Village Care cannot look away, and
we are doing everything we can to meet this
crisis head-on.
(Mr. Fillmore is the executive vice-president
of SeniorChoices at Village Care of New
Whence Coney Island
32 NEW HORIZONS | Earl y 2009
he news was reported in all the
major metropolitan newspapers just
as summer was growing to a close
in September: Astroland, perhaps the last
vestige of what was once the most famous
oceanside amusement park setting in the
land — Coney Island — was closing for
Astroland actually was relatively new by
Coney Island standards, having risen up
along the famous boardwalk only in 1962.
Still, it was a part of old New York that’s
been erased as the city has risen from the
ashes of the good-old-bad-old-days of the
It had been some 15 years since I’d been
to Coney Island, and that had been a busi-
ness visit with the late Donnie Halperin,
who was head of the state Division of
Housing and Community Renewal at the
time, to meet with Brighton Beach Mitchell
Lama project residents over complaints at
the state-supervised middle-income hous-
ing development.
The announcement of Astroland’s clo-
sure brought back a slew of memories of
my first visit to Coney Island as a 16-year-
old, and spurred me to make a new trip to
the island on the D train on a sunny and
warm early fall afternoon. Four subways
– the D, F, N and Q – terminate at the new-
ish (2004) Stillwell Avenue Station at Surf
Avenue in Brooklyn, and the D gives you
probably the most scenic trip through the
It’s no accident that most everyone who
visits Coney Island stops at Nathan’s for
a hot dog on their first trip to the area.
Nathan’s is right smack in your face when
you exit the El onto the street. This autumn
afternoon was no different. Although the
crowd was smallish, there was a long line
to the hot dog counter and a steady stream
of folks wandering in.
Strolling up to and down the boardwalk,
however, can be a sad and depressing expe-
rience if your mind’s eye sees what once
was and you are filled with nostalgia for a
bygone era.
To a 16-year-old those many years ago,
Coney Island was a fabulous sight, even
though the deterioration and downward
slide had already been underway by the
time of my first visit. The summer evening
crowd was literally a throng and the specta-
cle of the rides — from the then-awesome
Thunderbolt roller coaster, which was a
more wild ride that its famous neighbor,
the Cyclone, to the iconic Parachute Jump
— was breathtaking.
Bright neon lights, the hustle and bustle
of the boardwalk, the noise level of the
crowd, the harkening cries of the bark-
ers from the booths along the boardwalk
and the streets, the clatter of the coasters,
the screams from terrified ridegoers, the
aromas emanating from food stands — all
were evident on that first visit.
In 1955, a short few years earlier, 1.5
million people had visited Coney Island on
July 4, setting the record for that holiday.
But a mere decade later, a rise in crime and
unsafe subways contributed to a stunning
decline where only a few thousand people
came during summer weekends; and by
the 1970s, the area had become a ghost
town, according to Coney Island historian
Charles Denson.
While the subways are safer today and
there is little lingering fear of crime, the
desolation of what had once been an escap-
ist magnet for millions for more than a
hundred years is well evident today.
Sadly, the landscape is replete with plots
of empty land, perhaps the most poignant
being a large lot of overgrown greenery
that stretches a block off the boardwalk
and ends with a tumbling-down, one-story
structure with its rickety “Playland” sign
standing sentinel over the miserable sur-
roundings. The silence around Astroland
is deafening. An empty Steeplechase Park
abuts the renovated, reconstructed, but
non-operational, Parachute Jump, which is
a preserved New York City landmark, along
with the still-working Cyclone roller coaster
down the boardwalk.
To think that we might ever recapture
what’s been lost at Coney Island might seem
a bit farfetched to anyone who remembers
what the island was like “before the fall.”
It should be noted that all is not lost —
the beach is today a thing of beauty, the
benefit of a mid-1990s restoration. The
New York Aquarium, with its 14 acres
between Surf Avenue and the boardwalk,
draws thousands every year. Keyspan Park
was built behind the old Steeplechase Park
for the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones
baseball team.
In mid-October, the City paid $11 mil-
lion for nine acres adjacent to the Wonder
Wheel in the latest move in a battle with a
private developer as city government tries
to fulfill its vision of a Coney Island that
preserves the amusement park character of
the island. The 150-foot tall Wonder Wheel,
first opened in 1920 and another NYC
landmark on the island, will continue to
operate under lease until at least 2020.
A new Coney Island will rise. Whether
good, or bad, it won’t ever be the same.
If you’d like a glimpse of the past, the
1953 Oscar-nominated (Best Writing) “Little
Fugitive” is a black-and-white movie filmed
on Coney Island that offers great scenes
of what life was like half a century ago. If
you would like to learn more about Coney
Island and its history, try these websites:
Coney Island History Project: http://
Coney Island amusement park histo-
Forgotten New York website: http://
www. forgot t en- ny. com/STREET%20


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