Those who believe that we stagnate and become aimless as we age have not yet met June. Allow me to introduce you!
At 89, June is a terrifically vibrant woman. Aging has not required her to make many lifestyle alterations. It is easy to imagine that this nearly-90-year-old dynamo is not all that different from the dynamo of years passed.
In the course of a week, June covers a lot of ground. Each Monday, she is at the local library teaching Healthy Bones, a class for older adults that focuses on balance, endurance and positive aging. She has led these sessions for 20+ years.
On Tuesdays, you’ll find her in conducting mode as she leads the Bayonne Senior Orchestra rehearsal. From there, June will jump into her car and drive 40 minutes to a ballroom dance studio where she will joyfully spend the next three hours.
June’s dining room table doubles as her desk. She sits there regularly as she prepares a monthly column for the local newspaper. And every few weeks, she stops in at a favorite jazz bar in Manhattan where she is routinely invited to sing while accompanied by an 11-piece band.
In the 1940s, June was in college on a pre-med track. This was highly unusual. Many parents at this time thought that college was a waste of time and money for their daughters. June had an inspiring role model. While many of her friends’ mothers were secretaries and teachers, June’s mother was a dentist with her own practice in Brooklyn.
As an undergraduate at Ohio University, June soared academically except in the sciences. She scrapped the dream of a medical career and enrolled in a Master’s program in contemporary American literature at Columbia University. She was far from disappointed.
“I was told to spend all my time reading everything by Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passo. It was delightful!”
Geriatric researchers point to several factors that are conducive to successful aging. Fortuitously, June has long incorporated many into her daily life.
The importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is always cited. Well before bookstores were overflowing with cookbooks on whole grains, June grew up in a household that avoided white bread and sweets. She has continued her mother’s smart eating habits and cooking philosophy throughout her life.
Exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle. In addition to ballroom dancing, June takes a daily brisk neighborhood walk. Only icy pavements will keep her indoors.
Also high on every aging-well checklist is intellectual stimulation. Periodically, June will pick up new sheet music and decipher it on the piano that is positioned regally in her living room. This is not a favorite activity. The challenge of transforming notes on a page to keys on the piano can be grueling. June pushes herself nonetheless, knowing that these cognitive gymnastics are essential.
Aging experts also recommend that older people build and retain connections with younger people. This happens routinely for June as she researches and writes her monthly Hudson Reporter newspaper column.
The column, In Tune with June, is written for an age-diverse audience. June may be 89, but don’t erroneously assume she is writing about bingo tournaments and hearing aid advances. The column, which she has authored for more than three decades, is a chatty review of all things hip and current. In recent articles, June opined about Broadway’s hottest shows, Gloria Steinem’s newly released autobiography, Bruce Springsteen’s current concert tour, and filmmaker Michael Moore’s latest documentary. June constantly has her antenna on the lookout for people, events, and happenings that have broad appeal.
Gerontologists also highlight the power of love. After meeting June, I know not to underestimate that power. She lights up as she discusses her new love. Well, actually, it is a relationship that began nearly seven years ago but appears to have bloomed just last week. Stay tuned! You can read more about this sweet story in a future post.
June acknowledges all that’s going well in her life but is quick to point out that she doesn’t take any of it for granted. A few years ago, while picking up her morning newspaper, she fell down the front stairs. She broke her hand and her shoulder. It was a wake-up call. June had to look to others to manage her everyday life. Further compounding the situation was the realization that these injuries could permanently sideline her lifelong passion for piano.
The recovery was slow, requiring two surgeries. June had faith that she would fully heal, and she did. In addition to the residual scars, she now carries a deeper sense of what truly matters in her life.
“I now have great appreciation for even the smallest, most basic things. I can get up each morning and take care of myself. I can walk outside and know that I’m alive. I’m lucky, and I feel grateful every day.”