Creative Aging: 65 and Better in the Berkshires

In the Berkshires, creative aging is for everyone

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Marjorie Cohan biked across the state of Missouri on the nation’s longest continuous bike trail this summer.

Andy Plumer traveled to Europe and Japan to consult on technologies to protect planes from lightning strikes.

Mary Talmi organized a rock and roll band camp for local youth and arranges for Russian ballet dancers to perform all around the United States.

Bill Sturgeon brings local news alive each morning on WTBR’s “Morning Drive” show.

What do these Berkshire residents have in common?

They are all 65 or better and live active lives that benefit the Berkshires and communities across the world. Each is a pioneer, charting new ways for us to grow older in the 21st century. And each is profiled in “Creative Aging: 65 and Better in the Berkshires,” an exhibit of portraits and profiles that opens in the Massachusetts State House today and begins appearing weekly in The Berkshire Eagle for the duration of the series.

Even more exciting: Each Creative Aging photographer and writer is an active ager themselves, all members of OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, at Berkshire Community College.

To develop the Creative Aging exhibit, OLLI solicited nominations of vibrant, purposeful individuals who exemplified creative aging from the Berkshire community. We wanted to recognize a variety of individuals who are living the third act of their lives in creative ways.

More than a dozen OLLI members used their talents as photographers and writers to produce the portraits and profiles of the featured individuals. Writers were assigned to interview people they did not already know, and frequently said afterward, “I had so much fun getting to know these amazing people. How is it possible I didn’t know about them and their work?”

Why did we do this?

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As OLLI members planned for the August 2019 University Day, “Living Longer, Living Better: Changing the Culture of Aging,” it was obvious that ageism affects everyone and stereotypes are common.

Ageism, as author and advocate Ashton Applewhite notes, is the last prejudice that is still widely accepted and voiced every day. Old people are ____. Fill in the blank with a stereotype about older individuals, and it’s often a negative one.

One of the greatest fears of older adults is becoming invisible, not being recognized as a valued individual in the community. Instead of being seen as the acclaimed visual artist he is, an older man may only be seen for his gray hair and limp. Instead of being seen as an internationally recognized expert on nonviolent social change, an older person may only be seen as the woman navigating the grocery aisles with a cane.

Ageism affects every person – it is a prejudice against our future selves. With luck, we will each get old. But we should each fight against being stereotyped and against stereotyping others. We wanted to remove the veil stereotypes create and help individuals behind the veil become more fully visible.

Over the next six months, each Monday, Berkshire Eagle readers will get to know a new creative ager.

Perhaps you will find a new ally in Ella Deane, an advocate for grandparents raising grandchildren. You may decide to head to Housatonic for lunch after meeting Craig Bero, the chef-owner of Pleasant and Main.

Or maybe you will be inspired to run for office by Pittsfield School Committee member Cindy Taylor. Perhaps you will attend a drumming circle led by Otha Day, or audit a class on dance at Williams College with Sandra Burton.

And maybe you will be inspired to find your own voice and path to a more fulfilling third act of your own life.

The Creative Aging portraits and profiles will help you question your own stereotypes about what aging means for yourself and others. The Berkshires is a great place to grow old, full of communities that are learning how to welcome older adults and the talents they bring. We hope these creative aging profiles highlight some of the resources the Berkshires offer and the many ways older adults take advantage of them.

Katherine Kidd is a retired professor and the chair of OLLI’s University Day Committee. She lives in Pittsfield.


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