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Friday, October 7, 2022

Still In The Game


Canning for a good cause: Piermont's Rob Elder, a newly-minted
 octogenarian, collects returnable bottles and cans at the Bradford golf course and elsewhere to benefit the Piermont 7 & 8th grade trip.  Just one of the many civic activities of this energetic elder.   
Chief Energizer:  Ed Pospisil assumed the role of chief of Corinth's volunteer fire department a decade ago.  During his tenure, he has been able to secure state-of-the-art equipment to an energized force. 

Still in the game at 103: Haverhill's Evelyn Brown's advice to younger members of the community is "Do it while you can." She is pictured with just one of the numerous quilts she makes for sale and as gifts. 

Journal Opinion, Sept. 28, 2022

It can be easily understood why Vermonters live longer than the persons in most other states, there’s so much worth-while to stick around for.” St. Albans Daily Messenger, Nov 1, 1935

If this can be said about Vermonters, it must also be true of those who live in New Hampshire and Maine, as those are the only two states with an older population. The population of all three states is aging more rapidly than in other states.

In times past, Americans have been ambivalent in their attitudes toward the elderly. Terms such as frail, decrepit, doddering, stooped, senile, long in the tooth, or infirm describe the negative sides of old age.  Elders were sometimes thought of as being in the way.

On the other hand, others celebrated longevity. Elders were sources of accumulated wisdom gathered from a lifetime of experiences. Many who lived to a ripe old age were considered as vibrant and “well preserved.”

Newspaper articles frequently commented on the elderly in their community. In 1873, a Haverhill columnist wrote, “the healthfulness of our village is often remarked, and the longevity of its inhabitants is something remarkable.”

Several years later, newspapers carried the following on Newbury’s “remarkable percentage of longevity.” In a population of 2,300, “there were no fewer than 42 persons who are more than eighty years of age, still living and of these seven have passed their ninetieth year.” The writer credited that record to the relative lack of doctors and lawyers in town.

Better health care and healthier lifestyles have increased the life expectancy of residents of the area. An individual that lives past 65 has a good chance of living to be 80 and beyond. Studies have shown that many “people tend to feel younger as they get older.” There is something to be said about 80 being the new 60. 

The remainder of this column is a celebration of eight area residents who are 80 years of age or older and are “still in the game.” As you will see, this means that they still lead a vigorous and rewarding life, rewarding both for themselves and for the community in which they live.

Rob Elder of Piermont is a newly-minted 80-year older, reaching that milestone this September. I play a round of golf almost daily with Rob and somewhere around the 4th hole, I ask him about his agenda for the day. 

That agenda is filled with community volunteer activities. Almost too much for any one person, it includes mentoring a young man, organizing six blood drives annually, delivering meals on wheels, and serving as a cornerstone of the Piermont Congregational Church.

As a member of the area’s Interchurch Council, Rob is pivotal to the operation of its food shelf. He gathers donations to resupply the shelf and helps with the distribution to needy families. This is coupled with his role as area representative for the Salvation Army,  

As we go around the Bradford golf course, play is interspersed with the collection of empty bottles and cans, something he does whenever there is an opportunity. The money he gains from the annual collection of 8,000 items is donated to the Piermont 7th and 8th-grade class trip.   

 When asked if he is going to slow down now that he is 80, Rob quotes Galatians 6.9, “let us not grow weary while doing good…”

Ed Pospisil has served as Chief of the Corinth Fire Department for a decade.  For this 81-year-old, this is a continuation of a lifelong interest in the fire service that began in New York City when he was just 6.

His fire service career included both New York and Hartford, CT. He retired from the latter with the rank of Lieutenant and as the most highly decorated firefighter in the department.

During his membership in the Corinth Fire Department, Ed has used his connections with urban departments to obtain state-of-the-art equipment for Corinth. Taking advantage of those departments’ policies of retiring equipment that is still very serviceable, he has acquired six vehicles, bunker gear, and a jaws-of-life tool.

This leadership has led to an energizing of the department into an organization that merged two smaller companies. Membership has grown to 25 volunteers. A renewed effort to replace two aging firehouses led to a drive to build a new one. In 2020, a new 4-bay firehouse was completed on donated land on Fairground Road.

Ed’s pride in the fire company he leads is evident in his voice. When asked why he was still so involved, Ed said, “It is something I love, it’s very dear to me.”

Another Corinth resident still very much in the game is author and conservationist 82-year-old Laura Waterman. She and her husband Guy moved to Corinth in the 1970s and adopted an off-the-grid lifestyle. They became experts on mountain climbing in the Northeast and wrote extensively about mountain environment and history.

Following her husband’s death in 2000, Laura continued her work as a writer, having recently completed her second memoir. She is also writing a novel about opera singer Maria Callas.

In a recent telephone interview, Laura talked about her role on the Board of Directors of the Waterman Foundation that was established to continue emphasizing their life-long role as mountain stewards.  

Laura maintains a large garden, emphasizing feeding herself as much as possible. She said gratitude for health and opportunities best expresses her attitude toward an aging life.   

 Helping to develop a sense of community in a town that has changed over the years is a focus of 82-year-old Ann Green of Orford.  Ann is on the Board of Directors of the town historical society, a volunteer at the Orford Social Library, delivers meals on wheels in Orford and Lyme, and helps to distribute produce collected by the Willing Hands organization. Ann has helped to organize the Orford-Fairlee 4th of July parade for many years. 

She explained that one project that carried out the sense of community goal was the creation of the new bandstand on the Orford common. The idea came from a simple conversation. A group of five organized the Band Stand Committee and raised private donations for its construction. Each summer the committee, with partial assistance from the town, organizes six concerts using local bands.

Ann brightens any room she occupies with a broad smile and cheerful greeting. There is no doubt that helps to garner support for her projects.  Asked about the concept of actual age v. felt age, Ann confessed that sometimes she feels vulnerable to the effects of aging and takes caution against accidents. Something, she believes, she shares with others who are just “old enough.”      

At 3 A.M. tomorrow morning, 82-year-old Douglas Miller will be in the barn doing chores at his Bradford South Road farm.  He and his son Robert have 20 beef cattle and one milk cow. They sell hay,  maple syrup and calves. 

Doug is the newest member of Bradford’s Board of Listers, a position he held from 1978 to 1989. He is also chair of the Bradford Development Review Board.  This is the new title for the Zoning Board of Adjustment, on which he has served for nearly 40 years.  He also was a Bradford Select Board member from 1988-1998.

This experience, coupled with a strong memory for details, makes Doug one of Bradford’s residents most familiar with the town’s physical characteristics. As I have always been complimentary of Doug’s ability to recall facts, I asked him if he felt he is as sharp as he ever was. “Off just a bit.” was his response. 

I asked this practical traditionalist if he was optimistic about the future. He said he was optimistic but did not believe things will change as much as many others think.

 84-year-old Bill Murphy of Lyme epitomizes the title, “still in the game.” He is teaching social studies at Hanover High for the 62nd year.  He is an honored and beloved member of that school’s community, having taught generations of students. Teaching his students civic responsibility is a significant focus of his courses.

In 2020, Bill entered his name in the New Hampshire Republican Presidential Primary, getting less than 500 votes. Whether he enters in 2024 depends on who else seeks the nomination.  Either way, his bid offered an example of the civic responsibility he fosters in his classroom.  

I spoke to Bill as he was preparing for another day at school.  He loves the routine of “teaching the kids.” “I started teaching when I was 23,” he said, “and the kids were 16.”  They are still 16, so thinking young, “I should still be 23.” 

Bill is known for his coaching of Hanover’s Quiz Bowl Team which has won championships in both states numerous times.  He is also writing a history of Hanover High School. 

Bill also is active in the Lyme Congregational Church, where he serves on the church outreach board.  With his love of history, it is not surprising that he is vice-president of the Lyme Historians.  

“Mover and shaker” is the description that comes to mind for 86-year- old Don Weaver of Fairlee.  Don is a part-time resident at Lake Morey, having come there since he was 2.  He spends the remainder of the year in North Carolina. 

In the past, Don played a pivotal role in moving of the Fairlee Town Library to its new location, in restoring the Fairlee Town Hall and in Fairlee’s 250th celebration. He is currently co-chair of the Lake Morey Commission. The latter is an extension of a 30-year effort to protect the lake’s health, leading to almost total eradication of mill foil.

Don retired in 1989. “Sitting on his hands” is not in his nature.  He “enjoys big projects” and “the more difficult a project is, the more enjoyable the challenge.”  He is especially challenged by projects that others believe cannot be done.   

When talking of his key role in the town hall project, Don hoped the restored space would activate the residents of Fairlee to take part in and enjoy cultural programs. A recent program held in the hall drew over 100 spectators. The sense of satisfaction that he felt as he watched the turnout was his reward.

When asked what advice she would give to these folks in their 80s, 103-year-old Evelyn Brown of Haverhill said, “eat healthy, keep busy and never get bored.” During her 29 years in Haverhill, Evelyn has gained a reputation for her sewing of quilts of all sizes. She says she learned to sew from her mother, who often used material from feed bags.

 Her sewing room is filled with pieces of cloth, either donated or purchased, waiting to be hand quilted. “I always have a quilt going. I can’t image anyone with a sewing machine being bored,” she says. 

 Since January she has made 11 baby quilts, 8 sofa quilts, and children’s book bags.

She handcrafts the quilts using traditional patterns, using both new and repurposed pieces. She displayed some of her older creations for my wife and me and readily recalled the origin of many of the pieces.

Evelyn sells some of her creations, but many are just given away. Parents of newborns are gifted baby quilts. Book bags are donated to the local library and church. 

Evelyn Brown is the concept of “still in the game” personified. What about staying in the game? “Do it while you can,” she advised.

In the interest of full disclosure, I selected this topic as I will be 80 in October.  While my activity agenda is still reasonably full, I am interested in how others, of reasonably good health, have dealt with being in their 80s.

 I could have interviewed a similar group that was overwhelmed by the ill effects of aging, but I chose to offer these individuals as models instead.  I am sure that readers are familiar with elders in their community to serve as models of being still in the game.  

I think that all these eight individuals can identify with a quote I found on Laura Waterman’s website. “Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now.”