Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Connect, create, contribute: Reflections during Older Americans Month 

Written by Leonard Adreon, Washington University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) participant

I am a lucky 92-year-old guy who retired from an active career a decade and a half ago. Lucky, because not long after retirement I found Washington University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), where I have been an attendee of classes and now volunteer to facilitate two classes every week. I know from my experience at OLLI that my retirement years have been rich and fulfilling in multiple ways.

I am sure there are many activities that fit your theme of Connect, Create and Contribute. There is seldom only one way to an end. However, I am at a loss to think of a program that offers the combination of benefits to retirees better than what I have enjoyed all these years at Washington University.

The first ‘C’ is Connect: to friends, family and services that support participation. At OLLI, I have a strong connection with my classmates, many of whom are now my newly found friends. It has surprised me that the connection is not limited to my classes. It includes the helpful and friendly staff and other facilitators and is enhanced by my attending special events held at the West Campus.

The second “C” is Create: by engaging in activities that promote learning, health and personal enrichment. OLLI is a peer learning experience. We exchange ideas based on our life experiences. In my classes are doctors, lawyers, teachers, therapists, and many people of varied backgrounds who bring their intellect and knowledge to the classroom and are eager and pleased to share with the rest of us. Some of the classes offer the opportunity for the class to express themselves by writing about their lives or writing poetry, essay, fiction and more. What can be more creative than that? Out of my memoir class, in 2017, emerged a book I wrote and published called HILLTOP DOC, A MARINE CORPSMAN FIGHTING THROUGH THE MUD AND BLOOD OF THE KOREAN WAR. For me that was a worthwhile creation that satisfied my desire to pay tribute to my fellow Marines in that awful war.

The third “C” is Contribute: time and talent and life experiences to benefit others. In my view, it is indeed rewarding to actively participate in a worthwhile endeavor whether in a teaching/learning environment or by volunteering to help in hospitals, food pantries or religious organizations that benefit our community.

As the lucky among us inevitably age, we learn and adapt to changing circumstances and do our best to propel ourselves forward. Recently, I had a traumatic event that has threatened my future activities. I suddenly lost all hearing in my right ear and simultaneously, lost my balance. I couldn’t stand up without holding onto something. My first concern was whether or not my productive life was over.

As I have done before in other dire circumstances, I attacked my problem. An MRI of the brain showed no brain damage (no stroke), which often is the cause of sudden total hearing loss. Doctors have told me my hearing loss is permanent. This past week, I received a new hearing aid for my left ear and a transmitter device for my right ear to wirelessly transfer sound from the dead right ear to the left ear. After two months of visits to the Rehab Institute, I will be on a walker from now on. I have learned to be independent, can drive to OLLI and other places, lift the walker into and out of the trunk of my car, walk to my destinations and continue most of my activities. I am condemned to a walker. So what. It will slow me down, but it will not beat me.

I believe that if the senior population can find a way to connect, to create and to contribute, then our lives will be adequately satisfying as we enjoy our families, our friends and a new world of opportunities that await us.