A Fine Pair of Pals
by Cynthia Bix, Ashby Village Volunteer
photos by Nancy Rubin,
Ashby Village Volunteer
A wandering jack-of-all-trades and a firmly “grounded” geologist might seem like a pretty unlikely pair of pals. But (former) Ashby Village member Bob Compton and volunteer Mary Lucas McDonald have found common ground in surprising ways.
From Chicago to India to California, Bob Compton has packed a lot of adventures—and the stories to go with them—into his 94 years. A native of the Chicago area, he began his adventures serving overseas in World War II. “I was a radio operator,” he recalls. “I went to England and then France, following D-Day. Then I was flying supplies behind the lines into Germany. We also brought prisoners back—all kinds of people, half of them were American airmen who had been shot down over Germany and were in prisoner-of-war camps.”
Back home after the war, Bob and an old Chicago buddy set out for California in 1946. He earned his degree in psychology from UC Berkeley. "Uncertain in my direction in life, “I had various jobs—I was a sheet metal worker, and I worked in a cannery in Berkeley. I even worked as an insurance adjuster. I went from one thing to another, trying to decide what I wanted to do.”
Finally he went to school at UC Berkeley and got a degree in social work. “I worked at Langley-Porter Psychiatric Hospital in San Francisco. At the time they were still performing lobotomies and doing electric-shock therapy. Then I got my masters and went to New York City and worked as a social worker at a mental hospital, where they discovered the drugs that could be used in place of the old therapies. So I saw both ends of the spectrum.”
After that, Bob went to work for the Veteran’s Administration, and for the next seven years he worked with VA patients and lived in Greenwich Village—a vibrant, fascinating scene in the 1950s, the years of the Beat Generation. Every year, he vacationed down in Florida’s Key West. “I loved that place.” he says with a twinkle.
Bob continues, “Around that time my aunt—who had grown up in India—wanted to go back to visit her one remaining sister there. So we both said, ‘I’ll go if you’ll go.’ This was in about 1956. So I went to India and stayed there for three months. I traveled third class on the trains—sometimes they were so crowded I had to ride hanging on the outside steps. It was pretty frightening going through tunnels! In those days I was fearless, I guess.”
After that, Bob made his way back to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he has settled at last. Bob worked for some years as the Activities Director at International House. He also continued to do social work at San Francisco’s Fort Miley VA Hospital, working with veterans suffering with PTSD.
Bob’s engaging way of telling his many stories is clearly part of the reason Mary has so enjoyed getting to know him over the past three years or so. Mary first met Bob when he called Ashby Village requesting someone to come and take out his garbage.
Mary, a geologist who makes her home in Berkeley, had turned to volunteering as one way to keep active. Mary works with a small company of five people to write environmental impact reports. “For example,” she explains, “we did the environmental impact study for the America’s Cup, and for the Golden State Warriors stadium, and a lot of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission jobs. When someone proposes a new construction or other project, we evaluate the potential impact on the environment from things like noise, traffic, and air quality, and we produce a document that goes out for public review.”
Mary works out of her home, and even though she is very busy, that can be isolating. Volunteering for Ashby Village and other organizations is a perfect antidote. “I welcome the social contacts I get from that,” she says. “Before I got so busy with other things, I used to manage the Ashby Village Facebook page—I was on the communications team.”
Before becoming a member, Bob, too, had been a volunteer at Ashby Village. When he still had a car, he visited people and also volunteered in the office, and helping with computer issues. But then he had to stop driving, and he needed services himself.
After that first meeting, Mary began to help Bob with a variety of things, especially grocery shopping. Mary and Bob worked together to help Bob organize his needs so that he made less frequent demands on friends and Ashby Village volunteers. Bob laughs. “Oh, yes, that’s right! I’d keep thinking of one thing and then another, and finally she had to set a limit.” Mary laughs, "Volunteers do have to learn how to set limits!"
Mary’s character combines warm-heartedness with a firm hand when it comes to dealing with somebody like Bob. And her own adventurous side—as evidenced by her love of dragon boat racing—gives her something in common with the adventurous side of Bob.
“Dragon boat racing is one my biggest things right now!” says Mary. “I had joined the YMCA to work out and get in shape, but I found that paddling offered a social outlet on top of a physical workout.”
She explains that a dragon boat is typically about 40 feet long, propelled by a team of 20 paddlers and a steersperson. Dragon boat racing began in ancient China and is an enduring tradition in that country. In the Bay Area, there are over 2,000 participants racing locally and internationally. In fact, DragonMax, a Berkeley dragon boat club, has partnered with Ashby Village for the past two years in a fun, no-holds-barred Volunteer Play-It-Forward event. Of course Mary has hosted it on behalf of DragonMax.
The club is part of the Berkeley Racing Canoe Center (BRCC), a non-profit organization. “I’m currently on the Board of Directors as the Outreach Director,” says Mary. “We have a team that competes locally and around the United States. We also do a lot of community outreach.” She continues, “I’ve also gone with a different, pickup team to race in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Hong Kong, which has really been fun! I love the social aspect of dragon boating, and I get great exercise at the same time.” Obviously, she’s hooked!
Bob himself is no stranger to the YMCA. At his present residence in San Pablo’s Brookdale Senior Living facility, he can be seen zipping around with his walker at top speed in the hallways and community social areas, chatting with other residents and visiting the garden outdoors. When asked how he keeps so active, Bob says, “I go into downtown Berkeley two or three times a week, so I can work out at the YMCA. I mostly work on the machines—you know, rowing and stationary bike.” It should be added that to get there, he uses his walker to get to the bus, which takes him to BART, and then walks to the Y. And home again, of course, the same way.
Because he had to move out of Berkeley into this affordable senior living apartment, Bob is now out of the Ashby Village service area and not officially part of the Ashby Village community. “Mary really shouldn’t be helping me,” he says with a wink. “So now she helps me as a friend.”
Bob and Mary used to get together every two or three weeks or so. Now that Bob is living in San Pablo, their meetings are necessarily less frequent. Still, the bond is strong. They get together sometimes by planning, and sometimes by accident.
“By an extraordinary coincidence we ran into each other in downtown Berkeley not long ago,” recalls Bob. “I was walking down the street with my walker and thinking of Mary and how much I had missed seeing her. And all of a sudden there she was, standing waiting for me on the opposite curb. That was astounding!”
Culture of Giving Profile: Kris Owens
by Karin Evans,
Ashby Village Volunteer
Kris Owens’ best-laid plans were to keep working at the job she loved—“until I died at my desk from the sheer pressure of my job at the age of maybe 69 or 70,” she says. Why not? It was a job she loved, managing a commercial escrow branch, all women, in the title insurance industry. “I totally enjoyed what I was doing. It was interesting, fascinating, nothing boring.”
But then, at the age of 61, Kris was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was totally a life-changing event for me. All of a sudden I realized, maybe I don’t have that much time, and maybe I don’t want to be doing this forever.” She went through treatment, recovered, and groomed a successor. At 64, she retired, with no intentions but to take it easy, enjoy life, and travel.
Six months later, Kris had cleaned out all her drawers and was totally bored. Her oncologist, Lisa Bailey, M.D., suggested she come volunteer in the Carol Ann Read Breast Health Center, which Bailey had created, to help other women who were going through what Owens had been through. “I got really involved with that,” Kris says. “It made me feel good to help someone, and my only regret was that I didn’t have someone like me to help when I got cancer.” Kris volunteered there for two days a week, for three years.
Just as she was casting about for something else to do, Owens was invited to an Ashby Village neighborhood chat at the Emeryville Watergate, near where she lives. She immediately signed up to volunteer. She did that “ferociously,” as she puts it, five days a week. She took members grocery shopping and to hair appointments, and she went to as many Village events, as she could—from yoga classes to luncheons. She loved everyone she met. After a year she became a member, as well as a volunteer, and began an even deeper involvement in the life of Ashby Village.
After meeting one amazing 90-year-old after another, she realized how valuable the help of a MedPal could be. So she decided to take Marion Anderson’s MedPal course. “Then Marion asked me to join in her classes, and I would play the patient and she would play the doctor, and we would do some skits about what to do and not do,” says Kris.
When Marion stepped down a few months ago, Kris was asked to take over the MedPal trainings. “I said, ‘I think you guys are crazy, but okay,’” she says with a laugh. “My only experience was with the breast cancer volunteer work. But I figured as long as I had the compassion and the enthusiasm and wanted to do it, I would.”
The experience has turned out better than she could have imagined. “It’s surprising because my whole career was in a very contentious industry, working in a competitive, nasty business,” she says. “To survive that you have to be really aggressive and assertive. Compassion wasn’t even in my dictionary!
“So this is a new part of my life,” says Kris. “Now I am totally, completely involved in Ashby Village and I think the concept is the greatest thing anyone has ever done for seniors. I love the idea. In the past I have given money only to women’s causes, such as breast cancer organizations and Friends of Faith Fancher. Now Ashby Village will get all of my donations because they are local and the money stays here and it goes to the members and the staff and to the members who can’t afford the fee. I think the staff are so fabulous and so dedicated, and I don’t know how they manage to do all they do.
“I have never been involved in any organization that is as valuable as what they do at Ashby Village,” she continues. “I think all of the board members and the women who run different committees are just incredible.” And, she adds, “I am constantly trying to recruit people! Join up and you could do something every day for a year for just $750. You get so much!
“For me it’s been really rewarding. I enjoy getting up in the morning and then I get in my car and I go out and do something for someone. There is more to life than just going on cruises and taking it easy.”
Kris laughs. “I never thought I’d leave my career path, but here I am. I just love doing this.”
Poetry in Motion
by Cynthia Bix,
Ashby Village Volunteer
Ashby Village member Betty Roszak is a poet (a very good one), while volunteer Valerie Yeakel never thinks of herself as someone who likes poetry. Betty is comfortable reading subjects such as politics and the social sciences; Valerie prefers American and northern European detective novels. Yet these two women have formed a strong bond that has endured for five years and is still going strong...
This particular afternoon we sit in Betty’s sunny Berkeley living room looking out at a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay and sipping ginger tea. Everywhere the walls are hung with paintings and drawings acquired over many years, and all around the room are shelves lined with a lifetime’s collection of books.
Betty herself is a writer and editor. With her husband (author and educator Ted Roszak), she co-edited Masculine/Feminine, Readings in Sexual Mythology and the Liberation of Women. But she is also a poet. She recently published a poetry collection, For Want of the Golden City, which includes translations of poems by Pablo Neruda.
Keeping company with the books in Betty's home are her clusters of cylinders, large and small, set on end, their curved surfaces alive with myriad patterns in colors ranging from earthy tones to vibrant hues. Gradually, you notice they’re tucked in everywhere—tall ones grouped in corners, smaller ones set on shelves or tables. Betty creates these unique Tubes, as she calls them, by using a combination of acrylic paint and collage. The Tubes display remarkable detail when viewed up close. The ultra-heavy cardboard tubes themselves come from carpet companies. “I believe in recycling,” says Betty, with her characteristic twinkling smile.
Creating art through recycling isn’t the only progressive idea Betty has put into action.
Betty explains that she and her husband, prominent Berkeley academic, thinker, and author Ted Roszak, were involved in Ashby Village right from the beginning. “We were in discussions with the founders,” she recalls. “We had learned about the original organization in Boston, and we thought—what a great idea. We found out that people were starting an organization here, and we got involved, went to meetings, and so forth.” She and Ted became a vital part of catapulting Ashby Village from a small neighborhood organization to one that included all of Berkeley and many surrounding communities.
Author of the seminal 1969 work, The Making of a Counter Culture, Ted was also a pioneer of the concept of redesigning our lives as we age. His later works include Longevity Revolution: As Boomers Become Elders, and The Making of an Elder Culture: Reflections on the Future of America's Most Audacious Generation. To learn about the important role the Roszaks played in the early days of Ashby Village, READ MORE
Betty continues her Ashby Village story. “Ted and I knew that we would need these services ourselves in the not-too-distant future.” (Sadly, Ted passed away in 2011.) Sure enough, about a year ago Betty found that she needed help with transportation to doctors’ appointments and other places, as well as for grocery shopping.
Which leads to the story of how Betty and Valerie met. Five years ago, Valerie—then a recent volunteer at Ashby Village—responded to Betty’s request for a driver to take her grocery shopping. Now they have a regular weekly “date” to shop at Trader Joe’s, which has offered them a chance over the years to come to know each other and enjoy their differences and similarities.hem a chance over the years to come to know each other and enjoy their differences and similarities.
Valerie was surprised and fascinated when she first learned that Betty was a poet. She confesses, “I have never been one for poetry. But I went to one of Betty’s readings, and I was quite simply amazed by her writing. I went because I wanted to be polite and supportive; I had never been to a reading. But as soon as she began to read, I thought—Wow! This is poetry, and I like it!”
Indeed, Betty’s way of reading her poetry adds immeasurably to its appeal. Although she is a quiet person, Betty says, “I love reading aloud and getting the words and the meaning across that way. I really like doing that.”
One of their favorite ways to spend time together is simply doing routine errands. On these jaunts, they enjoy just being together and chatting. “We just seem to get along even though in many ways we’re very different,” says Betty. “We talk about a lot of things—current events, politics, everything.”
“And our families—we talk about our families,” smiles Valerie. Now retired, Valerie previously worked in customer service for 20-plus years, including as office manager at a condominium building. She originally volunteered at Ashby Village because of her strong views about senior living. “I have a lot of concern for seniors,” she says. “It’s so important for older people who live in their homes to be able to stay there. Assisted living is changing, but it’s slow. That’s part of why the concept of Ashby Village is so good. The organization promotes and sustains the idea of senior independence and continued participation in an active, vital life.”
Valerie adds, “That reminds me that one of the things I appreciate about Betty. I have a tendency to rant and rave about politics—I get on my soapbox, and off I go! So, one day I realized that I was getting a little out of control. I said, ‘Oh, gee, I’m really sorry.’ And Betty said, ‘No—you’re so passionate!’ And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a nice compliment.’”
Betty smiles. “You didn’t realize you were so passionate.” And Valerie laughs, “Yes, I just thought, I’m going off the deep end!”
“We just have a lot of good back-and-forth conversation. I like the way it goes. We do talk about politics a lot, and we tend to have similar views on that,” observes Betty.
Another thing the two women have in common—perhaps not unusual in this university town of Berkeley—is a love of books. “We do share a passion for reading,” says Betty. “We’re both book junkies. I think we read different things. We don’t really discuss the books we read, but I think I know what she likes.”
”Yes—mysteries!” chimes in Valerie. “We’ve gone to the Albany Library Book Sale, which is great.”
“I introduced Valerie to that—she loves it!” says Betty. “She comes out of the sale with an armload of books. She’s definitely a reader.”
Betty and Valerie obviously appreciate one another on many levels. Betty appreciates Valerie’s considerate nature as well as her practical help. She says, “Valerie always calls me before she’s going to come and pick me up, and we just have a little patter that we follow with every call. Once in a while we miss a day, but mostly it’s pretty much every week—and I really depend on her.”
In turn, Valerie says, “I got very lucky! Betty always thanks me –she lets me know that she really appreciates what I do. And that goes a long way to make you feel that you’re really helping somebody else.”
As we end our talk and prepare to say goodbye, Valerie suddenly realizes it’s Friday.
“Hey, you know what, Betty?” she says happily, “Tomorrow is shopping day!”
Saying, “Yes!” to Life - An Interview with Cecelia Hurwich, Ph.D.
by Charli Depner,
Ashby Village Volunteer
Ashby Village member Cecelia Hurwich is a woman with a message: Despite its challenges, later life can be filled with inner richness and vitality. At 95, she is actively engaged socially, culturally, and politically and you would know it to look at her. Dressed in vibrant hues of orange and red, favorite colors reverberating throughout her home, she greeted me with a big smile. “I am a playful, joyful person,” she announced, setting the tone for lively and thought-provoking conversation.
It is not surprising that Cecilia and her life partner of many years, Don Ross, were early supporters of Ashby Village’s pioneering efforts to facilitate long-term ties to home and community. “My home is an anchor. It represents stability, safety, and a place of continuous nurturing. It expresses who I am. It’s aesthetics and bright colors offer both stimulation and tranquility,” Cecelia says of her Elmwood house, purchased in 1956 with the aid of a Veterans’ Assistance loan.
Cecelia speaks with gratitude for assistance with technology and home repair, provided by Ashby Village volunteers. Her primary engagement with Ashby Village, however, has been as “a place to be introduced to new ideas.” She participated in tai chi classes “to reconnect mind, body, and spirit.” The “Walking with Poles Class” garnered her vigorous praise, not only because it makes it possible for members to stay physically active, but also because it provides an opportunity for members to experience nature together.
In 1990, at age 69, Cecelia earned her Ph.D. from the Center for Psychological Studies at Berkeley. Grounded in her belief in the capacity for growth, meaning, and vitality in later life, her research brought a fresh perspective to the field of Gerontology, which at that time focused primarily on the negative aspects of aging.
Her work’s attention to women’s lives was also unique. Up to that point, she recalls, “It was almost as if women who enjoyed life and found it meaningful did not exist.” Cecelia’s research on women over seventy vividly illustrates a capacity to enjoy a fulfilling life into advanced age. “Vitally engaged” women are optimistic, physically active, engaged in friendships, committed to continued growth and learning, and experiencing life as meaningful. “Despite setbacks, they go on,” Cecelia observed, “Life is about learning to live successfully with things you cannot change.”
Cecelia did not set out to write another “how to grow old” book. Instead, her autobiography, 92 and dancing, blends her research with the story of a life guided by an appetite for meaning and new experiences. It is a life grounded in the East Bay and extending to global travel, service as a WAVE in World War II, climbing Mount Everest, a life-long love of the wilderness, and commitment to social and environmental issues.
Cecelia’s passion for philanthropy and social activism is an extension of her willingness to engage. As she puts it, “We need to show up for each other. Life has meaning beyond me and mine.” She has served for several years on the board of the Arkay Foundation, a funder of Ashby Village and other initiatives in social innovation, economic and social justice, and environmental protection. Active in Great Old Broads for Wilderness, she joins activists who bring media attention to wilderness areas threatened by pollution and development.
Going forward, Cecelia asserts, “I believe in remaining open to new experiences no matter how old I am. This is what keeps me young and joyful.” To illustrate her point, she relates a story. While enjoying a walk in her neighborhood, Cecelia encountered a man chasing a chicken. After he retrieved the bird, they struck up a conversation about urban farming and sustainable living. His parting gift was a fresh egg and an offer to stop by if she ever wants more.
“We can’t lock the door to new encounters,” she continues, “We need to allow ourselves to experience new people and ideas, not be fearful and disengaged.”
A member of two book groups and one long-standing writing group, Cecelia recommended several great reads. Suggesting her current favorite, The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak, she said, “This book describes what it means to live life fully and joyfully. That is my philosophy.”
The epitome of creative perseverance, Celia continues to reap the rewards of a long life: “The challenges and changes of aging cannot be erased by denying they exist, and false bravery is a poor tool for coping with the symptoms of aging. But they are to be faced with guts, determination, and perseverance, if one is to continue to embrace life and find meaning. I believe in saying, ‘yes’ to life.”
Recognizing a “landsman”(Yiddish for a fellow villager): Thelma Elkins and Julie Freestone
by Cynthia Bix,
Ashby Village Volunteer
In her light-filled living room, warmed by colorful pictures painted by a friend and a lifetime’s collection of books and artifacts, Ashby Village member Thelma Elkins sits down with volunteer Julie to talk about their history together. The two women seem as if they’ve known each for years, but surprisingly, it’s been just six months since they first met.
The two have had a series of fruitful collaborations. For example, Thelma shares “I had a batch of letters written in Yiddish that were handed down to me. Some of them were written by my grandfather (back in Lithuania) to his son—the one who brought our family to this country—during the early part of the 20th century. There was also all this correspondence between cousins and other relatives. In the past I was able to read it all, but now I can’t see well enough.”
As Thelma tells it, one of her granddaughters, then a high school student, “… called one day and said, ‘Grandma, I’m writing a senior paper, and I need a mentor. Will you be my mentor?’ So I said, sure. It turns out she wanted to write it on learning Yiddish, of which she knows not one word. But I’m the last repository of Yiddish; it was my first language growing up.”
Eager to help her granddaughter, Thelma tried without success to find someone to translate the Yiddish letters into English. Julie overheard Thelma talking on the phone seeking a Yiddish translator, and spoke up to say she might be able to help. Julie immediately sent out a couple of emails to a friend and a cousin who knew Yiddish.
“Thelma and I both come from the same New York background,” explains Julie. “We’re both the children of Jewish immigrants. My parents spoke Yiddish when I was growing up.” And her father, a distinguished lawyer, had translated a book, The Education of Abraham Cahan, from Yiddish to English. Julie added, “Within a few days, we had several of the letters translated, and they were fascinating.”
Abraham Cahan, the subject of the book Julie’s father translated, was the publisher of the influential Jewish Daily Forward in New York, and a leader in the New York Jewish community around the turn of the century. Julie’s father had even worked for that newspaper. (When Thelma found out about the book, she enthusiastically searched and bought a copy, even though she couldn’t see to read it.)
With the letters and other information Thelma provided, her granddaughter wrote her high school paper, and when she read it aloud to her class, it had quite an impact!
Thelma and Julie say it’s clear that the rapid blossoming of their friendship is because they have so many things in common, and they became immersed in them immediately. Thelma, who was a clinical social worker as well as owner of the former Easy Going (Berkeley’s beloved travel shop and bookstore), has always been an outgoing “people” person. And Julie, as a longtime (now retired) freelancer reporter for the Jewish Bulletin, Hills Publications, and many more newspapers, loves to talk to people and learn their stories. (With her longtime partner Rudi Raab, she is also the co-author of a recent novel, Stumbling Stone, based on their families’ histories.) And of course the two women’s background similarities are a big part of it all.
Thelma sums it up like this. “You don’t have to be told, you just know what ‘village’ your families come from—you’re a landsman [or lansman—roughly, Yiddish for a fellow villager]. There’s a familiarity, and from there, you’re off and running!”
Given the many interests Thelma and Julie now share, it was interesting to hear about the first time they met. Thelma asked for an Ashby Village volunteer to help her with only two things—to read her email, and to help her organize her papers.
Volunteer Julie Freestone responded to the request. With years of experience as a freelance journalist (now retired), Julie had helped out Ashby Village members on two previous occasions. But this was her first visit to Thelma. She recalls, “I thought, these two requests seem to be combine-able, so I said okay, I’ll do it. I got here and said, okay, what do you want to do first?”
Thelma wanted to start with her email. Julie laughs, remembering. “Her email was like a little treasure trove. She had a brisket recipe for Passover, and information from the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California—which I used to work for as a reporter. There were emails about all kinds of political things, the same ones I also got at home, and lots of KQED stuff, and so forth. We found from doing that little exercise that we actually had a lot in common!”
After that first hour, Julie assumed they would turn to sorting papers. But Thelma said, “No—now that I know who you are, I have some much more pressing work for you to do.” As it happened, Thelma was about to make an important presentation to the Ashby Village Board the following week. In her typical dynamic style, she had responded to her loss of vision by starting a local support and information group for others with the same loss of vision. Now she wanted to take it a step further by making a presentation to the Ashby Village Board.
Julie takes up the tale. “She had six versions of this presentation, but of course she couldn’t see well enough to read them. Because I had told her I had been a reporter, she figured I could help. We both came from families where advocacy was the rule of the day, so this was a perfect match. So I decided to help her. I came back about three days later, and we finished the presentation.”
Thelma explains how the group (whose ideas she planned to express to the Board) got started. “When I was first diagnosed with macular degeneration, I searched for resources and couldn’t find any. Macular degeneration is one of the fastest growing health problems for older people. People don’t know what it is, or where to go for help. So I and others formed the Ashby Village Macular Degeneration Support Group,” says Thelma. Note: macular degeneration affects more than 10 million Americans—more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. At present, it is considered an incurable eye disease.
“In addition to presenting basic information about macular degeneration and the experiences shared by members of my group,” says Thelma, “My pitch to Ashby Village was that since the organization was set up to take care of people in their homes, they should also become active in getting services to go with that, as part of their mission.”
The macular degeneration presentation was a great success. No surprise, Thelma was motivated to go on to try to influence wider circles of people. She is now personally active in getting support for legislation that affects people with low vision; an effort with which Julie assists.
From the very first meeting it was clear the two enjoyed a special relationship. When Julie called Thelma the next day to tell her how much she had enjoyed their meeting, Thelma told her, “I’ve been telling everybody I talked to today that an angel came to my house.”
And how does Julie experience the time she spends with Thelma? “I feel like I’m having a play date when I come over!” Julie says.
The Missing Piece
by Nancy Rubin,
Ashby Village Volunteer
Sometimes a story is about what’s missing, like building a jigsaw puzzle from the outside inward to discover the center.
When Don Foley and Marion Anderson stand side by side, they are both tall, slender, and somewhat formal, at least in the beginning. Cookies and a pitcher of cold water are set out, with introductions made all around.
At age 96 when Don joined Ashby Village, he still drove a Toyota and had a valid driver’s license. Independence and automobiles are featured in many of Don’s best memories. He remembers his family’s first car in 1926 – a Willys Whippet – and his excitement when he got his first driver’s license at age 16. So it was not easy for Don to decide the time had come to let his driver’s license expire and to donate his car to KQED. Fortunately the transition from driver to passenger was eased by Ashby Village volunteers.
Ashby Village Med-Pal volunteer/member Marion Anderson gave Don his first ride and thereafter drove Don and/or Katharine some 30 rides all carefully recorded. Don finally gave up keeping track of his Ashby Village rides, but estimates he’s gotten another 20 “unrecorded” rides from Marion. Marion laughs that if she is ever audited by the Internal Revenue Service, she will count on Don’s records to document her volunteer work for Ashby Village. In addition to both being somewhat reserved, both have a very practical nature. Discovering they shared the same audiologist, Don and Marion began coordinating their audiology appointments in tandem on the same day at Kaiser Oakland Hearing Center.
Initially driving Don with his wife Katharine to her medical appointments, Marion continued driving Don alone to his own medical appointments after Katharine’s recent death in January 2015, after 74 years of marriage. On this particular sunny afternoon, reflecting on why he and Marion are so comfortable in each other’s presence, Don says softly “Marion and I have a grief we’re sharing – a quiet respect for what has occurred for both of us.” Marion shares that her partner Ashby Village member Peter Franklin died in October 2013, so the two of them share an unspoken empathy and understanding about what the other is going through after the loss of a loved one.
Asking if we have seen the family photographs attached to the refrigerator door, Don draws attention to one showing his wife Katharine playing tennis. He makes sure we know that the fact Katharine beat him at tennis on their first date was one of the things that attracted him to her. He chuckles in telling how his wife Katharine acquired the lifelong nickname “Taddy” from having asked at age five whether she was a tadpole. Don is grateful that his wife Katharine’s desire not to have life sustained through extraordinary medical intervention was honored and that she was able to spend her last days in her own home surrounded by loved ones.
Following up on Don’s description of Katharine’s last days, Marion comments on how much Marion values Compassion and Choices, which is partnering with Ashby Village to raise awareness about end of life decision-making. She mentions the Mid-landish neighborhood group to which both she and Don belong, is hosting a “Final Exit” lecture/discussion.
Throughout the conversation, most of the time Marion listens quietly but closely, responsive to any request that Don makes. She does not interject about herself, unless directly asked. Watching her attentiveness to Don’s needs, it is no surprise to learn her lifework has been focused on the care of others. Describing herself as a “nurse with a Ph.D”, Marion has over 20 years experience doing database health research for large medical systems such as UCSF, HealthNet, and Kaiser Permanente, answering the question “Did people get the care they needed when they needed it?”
After her retirement, Marion became a leader in the Med-Pal Program at Ashby Village. (The Med-Pal program provides members with more than a ride to medical appointments, but also someone to go with the member to listen to what the doctor is saying, take notes, and ask helpful questions.) Other Ashby Village activities Marion enjoys are yoga and lectures. She’s often at the First Friday happy hour. She also enjoys singing with the San Francisco Choral Society, and is on the waiting list to join the Berkeley Community Chorus. Visualizing Marion singing in harmony with others is easy to do.
Whatever the subject under discussion, Don has a way of bringing it back to his recently passed wife, as he points to the many things in the living room that were part of their life together, from the quilt hanging behind him that Katharine sewed together from pieces of shirt fabric, to the various displays of artistic photographs taken by Katharine, to the unfinished puzzles on the table where he and Catherine spent hours.
Puzzles are one of the ways Don’s methodical approach to problem-solving is evident, as he keeps a ruler handy for measuring progress. The ruler, well placed, also serves as a barrier to keep the puzzle pieces from falling off the edge of the table.
Don’s talent at tracking detail has taken many directions including an interest in genealogy. Explaining how he ended up doing a genealogy study on Marion’s family (with the interesting discovery that Marion’s Swedish Mormon grandmother was from Idaho!), Don pipes up “I was nose-y!” Marion quickly counters firmly that he simply offered, and she was glad to accept.
Don’s appreciation for the nuances of how things relate to each other is reflected in his career choices. Don joined the Department of City and Regional Planning on the Berkeley campus in 1953. He then spent 27 rewarding years, retiring in 1979. He mainly worked with students earning the Master of City Planning degree and, later, also with students earning the Ph.D. degree. He and Katharine and some of their children spent 4 wonderful sabbaticals in London. Don produced two books about London planning and London metropolitan government.
This month is Don’s 99th birthday. Looking back over his lifetime, Don recalls all the technology “firsts” he has seen: first radio, first telephone, first movie, first sound movie, first television, first computer, and all the changes in cars.
Asked how he wants to celebrate his centennial birthday next year, always low key, Don responds “if I’m still here” what he would most enjoy is simply having a family reunion with his three children, eight grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. Asked about cake, he concedes “Cake is good.” What’s his favorite kind of cake? (pause) What about chocolate? “Chocolate will do.”
What does matter is that Katharine will not be there.
Old Fashioned Reading and New Fangled Computers
The Chemist/Painter and the Software Engineer
by Cynthia Overbeck Bix,
Ashby Village Volunteer
It all started with a pile of magazines. One Tuesday a couple of years ago, Ashby Village volunteer Daniel Sabsay decide to attend a luncheon given at the North Berkeley home of member Dr. Danute Nitecki. Known by all as Dee, she had recently begun hosting lunches for Ashby Village members. Up to ten people gathered around her long dining table for conversation over a delicious home cooked meal.
After lunch, Daniel wandered into the living room and spied a stack of Science News Journal magazines.
“I was particularly attracted to the magazines,” says Daniel, a software engineer and lover of all things scientific. “I don’t subscribe to anything anymore, but I just try to catch up.” He commented on the magazines to Dee.
Dee, a research chemist whose distinguished career spanned decades, revealed that, sadly, she was no longer able to read her favorite journal. Since 2000, her vision has been increasingly limited by macular degeneration. “Now I cannot read books,” she says in her soft Lithuanian accent. “I have to use very large magnification, which means a very small magnifier. I have to magnify word by word to read a sentence.”
Right away, recalls Daniel, “I said I was interested, and she said maybe I could read to her sometime.” And thus began a mutually satisfying relationship.
He continues, “We would read the headlines and negotiate on what articles to read. I would read one article, then we’d decide on one or two more. Sometimes that was after the lunch, and sometimes I’d come over independently of the lunch.”
Coming over wasn’t a simple matter. Oakland resident Daniel doesn’t have a car, so it took him about an hour each way, using several forms of public transportation. But he and Dee enjoyed their get-togethers so much that it was well worth it.
The two are a study in contrasts, yet they have much in common. Both are strong minded individuals, both have scientific backgrounds, and both are eternally curious about learning. Daniel, originally from Los Angeles, has a degree from UCLA in math and physics. He’s had a long career as a computer programmer, consultant, and information systems and project manager. In addition he has been instrumental in setting up and maintaining the website for Ashby Village.
Daniel is also president of the East Bay Skeptics Society, an organization that, among other causes, advocates that psychics be regulated the same way as drug manufacturers. Dee shares his views. She says, “I don’t belong to the organization, but I’m a skeptic. I sympathize and agree with it.”
Dee, a native of Lithuania, fled the second Soviet occupation at the end of World War II. She and her family spent the next six years as Displaced Persons in Austria and Germany. Dee graduated from art school in Freiburg im Breigau, Germany. She recalls, “I studied Northern European folk art—basically textiles like embroidery and weaving, as well as folk art painting, ceramics, that kind of thing.”
In 1950 the family emigrated to the United States, where she attended the University of Chicago and received her Ph.D. in chemistry in 1961.
“My basic background is in chemistry,” Dee tells me. “I worked at UCSF Medical Center for 20 years and did a lot of research in basic immunology—trying to understand how the immune system works. We did some very interesting research. Then I worked in biotechnology when it started—on GMO research, for one part. The other part was pharmaceutical and such like, researching micro-organisms so that we could produce human growth hormone quickly and cleanly without having to isolate it in people’s brains, which was the only way to get it until that time. I also worked in MRI imaging. So I have over a hundred papers on these topics. I was in research all my life.” She also holds more than forty patents related to biochemistry and biotechnology.
Daniel adds, “Dee has forty patents and I have only one. My patent was on card key door locks that you use in hotels. It wasn’t huge in terms of money, but I’m proud of it.”
So—invention, skepticism, and science in general are meeting grounds for this pair. As is reading together.
“I was happy with reading the science magazines,” recalls Daniel, “but then along came an assignment from Dee’s Chicago book club to read this 650-page tome.”
“I’m in two book clubs in Chicago,” Dee explains. “I have belonged to both of them over 30 years.”
The book was The Physician, a novel by Noah Gordon. It’s a colorful historical novel that centers on 11th century practice of medicine. Daniel admits, “I would never have picked a book that long. I only read science and science fiction.”
But Dee told him, “I have this as a priority, to read this book.” And Dee is a person who, once decided on a course of action, seldom wavers.
So Daniel would take the bus over around 2:00 in the afternoon, and read between 50 and 80 pages aloud. He’d read until dinnertime.
“To tell you the truth,” he admits, “I loved that book—it was fascinating. And Dee has treated me to lots of nice dinners, too!”
While all this was going on, Dee and Daniel embarked on a separate project that Daniel was particularly well qualified to direct. He explains, “She had this old PC that wasn’t really functioning. So I said, ‘Look, what about getting rid of this and getting a new Macintosh?’ She said, ‘Oh, I used to use a Mac, I like that.’ So I spec’d out a system that would work for her, and we got a new Mac going.”
There was a training period that went on for quite a while. With two such strong personalities, it wasn’t always a smooth road.
Daniel says, “We’ve probably had one or two arguments on just about every topic! The arguments I recall were around whether or not she should be patient, and learn one or two things about what’s on the way toward getting to her computer goals—like sending email.”
Dee smiles. “I certainly was not in principle against sending email, but it was our two approaches. He’s essentially a button man and I'm essentially an arrow. He wants to teach every step, but I want to go right to the task. We had some fierce arguments.”
“Moments!” Daniel amends with a chuckle.
“But,” he says, “We got the email going.” Much of what Daniel did was to adapt the computer so Dee could use it with her failing vision. Daniel was uniquely qualified to help Dee – for several years he worked for the Disabled Students Program at the University of California, Berkeley, providing assistive technology support. “We did the setup for just about everything—voice recognition, audio playback. I can also dial in and take control of the machine and help her solve problems.”
He adds, “There is such great satisfaction in seeing the empowerment that comes with knowing how to operate the computer.”
There is one very important pursuit of Dee’s that—although he doesn’t participate—Daniel supports and admires. That is Dee’s painting.
Tail of a Trio ~ Member Phyllis Plate Volunteer Enid Pollack Mutual Friend Griffin
by Cynthia Overbeck Bix,
Ashby Village Volunteer
The little black and white dog sits between the two women, gazing adoringly first at one face, then at the other. He tilts up his nose to “kiss” Phyllis, and she gives him a delighted hug. “This is just him, all the time!” she laughs. “Griffin is the most unusual, loving, trusting, friendly, intelligent, sensitive dog.”
This little pooch definitely knows how to turn on the charm.
“He’s just a wonderful dog,” Enid agrees. “I’m very lucky to have him, and I’m also lucky to have friends who love him too!” she smiles at Phyllis.
It’s a classic formula: Two Strangers + One Dog = True Friendship.
Enid Pollack, an Ashby Village volunteer, first met Village member Phyllis Plate less than a year ago, when she answered Phyllis’s request for a ride to the grocery store. Recently retired from her high-profile position as Senior Development Director for the UC Berkeley College of Engineering, Enid wanted to focus her considerable energy toward helping out in her community.
“I heard about Ashby Village,” she says, “and it sounded like such a wonderful concept. I thought—this is exactly what our society needs. I wanted to be a part of it.”
The pair hit it off from that first encounter. In the first place, both were New York City “expatriates.” Not only that, but they also quickly discovered that they had similar tastes in books, art, and films.
Phyllis, a diminutive octogenarian, projects an abundance of energy and spirit. She's full of surprises. During our chat, I asked her about her career and learned that she had been a psychiatric social worker. Then I asked where she had done her most recent work. Her answer: San Quenin State Prison, where she was the first social worker in the Psychiatry Department.
Clearly, Enid and Phyllis respect one another's professionalism. Warm, people-oriented Enid also appreciates Phyllis' love of dogs.
Soon after becoming a volunteer at Ashby Village a couple of years ago, Enid—who had never had a dog— volunteered to help out at the Berkeley Humane Society by taking care of a series of foster dogs.
Her fourth “boarder” was Griffin. He had been hit by a car and was healing from a broken leg. Right away, she was struck by his affectionate, winning personality. After a few days, Enid recalls deciding, I have to adopt this dog! She smiles ruefully. “I had no intention of adopting a dog, but he stole my heart, as they say!”
Shortly after that first grocery store outing, Enid recalls, Phyllis mentioned how much she loved dogs. “That’s an understatement!” puts in Phyllis, who—it must be revealed—is such a dog lover that she always carries treats in her pocket just in case she encounters a friendly pooch.
So, one day when Enid was walking Griffin, she decided to take him over to meet Phyllis. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Like Enid, Phyllis fell for Griffin immediately. “He really is better and smarter than the average dog,” she says, with all the pride of a fond aunt or grandmother.
And she’s right—there’s something about the little dog that is irresistible. In addition to being pretty darned cute, Griffin is the perfect lap dog. At 12 pounds, he’s just the right size. A half hour into our conversation, he apparently decided I possessed a dog-worthy lap. With surprising power in his stubby little legs, he leaped down from Enid’s lap and sprang onto mine. He even bestowed a sloppy kiss on my cheek.
Apparently, he’s as hungry as he is affectionate. “He’s very food oriented,” says Enid. “He sometimes runs across our street to a park, where he knows that the children playing there leave crumbs. He’s very smart—he knows all about treats!”
And sure enough, at one point during our visit, Griffin was suddenly not in the room. He had wandered into Phyllis’s bedroom and was sniffing excitedly at the floor under the bed. “He’s probably looking for crumbs!” laughs Phyllis.
By now, the relationship between Enid and Phyllis has gone way beyond the basic member-volunteer connection to become a true friendship. “I don’t even take you places as a volunteer any more,” Enid says to Phyllis. “I’m more than happy to take you on errands as a friend.”
“We have such fun,” Phyllis chimes in. “We went to the Asian Art Museum. Enid pushed me in a wheelchair, so I had the luxury of riding around and getting to the front of a long line!”
“We’ve done a lot things together,” adds Enid. “We went to a fascinating talk at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco, as well as a film, a reading at a bookstore, and so forth.” They also just enjoy spending time together, doing very ordinary things like watching television.
And of course Enid brings Griffin over for regular visits. In turn, Phyllis helps out Enid by taking in Griffin when Enid, an enthusiastic world traveler, goes on one of her trips. “I love it!” beams Phyllis.
Not surprisingly, both women sing the praises of the organization that brought them (and Griffin) together.
Phyllis became a member of Ashby Village in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. “The volunteers—all of them—are so nice and so interesting. And what they do makes such a difference.”
Enid adds, “Phyllis is saying how wonderful the volunteers are, but the members are wonderful, too! They’re so interesting to talk to. It’s an adventure to be a volunteer.”
A bit later, as we say our goodbyes at the door, Griffin trots up between the two women, looking up as if to say, “Hey, I’m part of this group, too!” Phyllis picks him up and cuddles him. Clearly, from all points of view, this lucky “accident” was meant to happen.
Stepping Forward To Gain Traction: Spotlight on Beth Burnside
by Karin Evans,
Ashby Village Volunteer
If there’s anyone around Ashby Village these days who exemplifies the qualities of leadership, it’s Beth Burnside, Professor Emerita of Cell and Developmental Biology and retired Vice Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley. Currently a member of the Ashby Village Leadership Team for 2014, Beth is devoting her considerable experience and energy to finding fresh ways to keep Ashby Village vital and viable. She’s no stranger to challenges. While at the University, she oversaw the reorganization of the Life Sciences Department and went on to streamline administrative procedures for science researchers. Once retired, she was looking for a different kind of involvement.
Beth found Ashby Village a few years ago after reading an AARP article that explored the village movement taking root across the U.S. “I thought, this is such a good idea,” she recalls. “It was also timely for me because I live alone, and it appealed to me to join people who wanted to have that kind of community. I wondered at the time whether there might be something like that in Berkeley.” A year went by and Beth received an email describing the mission and goals of Ashby Village. “I thought, ah, there is one in Berkeley. I immediately asked for the forms and joined up.”
Once a member, it took Beth no time to get to work. “I felt very passionately about the village’s mission,” she recalls. She took the volunteer training, became a major donor, and got involved with organizational aspects. Like other villages, Beth points out, Ashby Village faces challenges--how to offer the needed services, keep the fees down, and make it all work. “The aim for Ashby Village this year is to get traction,” she says.
Beth currently chairs the Ashby Village Neighborhood Group Council. “I have primarily been trying to get these neighborhood groups alive, starting with the Kensington one, working with Betty Webster. We get together once a month to figure out ways to help the groups thrive and get them started where no one has stepped up to be a coordinator. People from groups that are already active are volunteering to make themselves available to others who want to start up.” Right now, the team is looking for people to head up the neighborhood groups in North Berkeley and in the Elmwood.
It can be a challenge sometimes to find people to take the lead, Beth admits. “People are often tired of responsibilities and don’t want to necessarily take on new ones.” But she will be the first to say that the rewards of jumping in can far outweigh the amount of work involved. Plus she still has time to engage in the artwork she always wanted to do but had postponed when she was working at the University. She also wants to keep a hand in her science research, which casts light on the mysteries of sight and the prevention of blindness.
“I have very much enjoyed my involvement with Ashby Village,” Beth says. “The Village gathers together a remarkable group of people. It’s an amazing organization, and I must say I have been quite in awe of how effective it is, and the fact that it runs mostly with volunteers. I am awestruck by the dedication and sophistication of the Board. They have really good people who know a lot about what they are doing, and it is very generous of them to be so dedicated. I haven’t met anyone I haven’t liked, and that’s not something you can say about too many groups!”
How Rewarding it is to Just Give of Yourself: Profile of Volunteer Jimmy Baker
by Karin Evans,
Ashby Village Volunteer
Jimmy Baker has carted books, walked dogs, ordered ferry tickets, watered plants, and done a lot of listening in the course of his volunteer work for Ashby Village. But he’s wise enough to say no to some jobs, electrical work, for instance or lengthy excursions to Costco. "I know my limitations," says Baker, with a chuckle.
"I heard about Ashby Village around four years ago," says Baker, now one of the Village’s most active volunteers. "I had just moved from San Francisco to a second home in Oakland when I saw a segment about Ashby Village on the local TV news. I liked the village concept, I loved the idea of community, and I thought volunteer work would be a good way to give back. So I decided to contact them."
Baker’s first task for a Village member was helping a woman downsize her book collection. "She was consolidating. On my first visit, I took the books down off the shelves for her, and then she spent a few days going through them. I came back later to help re-shelve the ones she wanted to keep, and take others to the bookstore for her.
"I was a little nervous on that first visit," Baker admits, "but once I got into it, my whole anxiety about going into someone’s home, or wondering how they would react to my efforts, was all released. It was very easy. From that very first day, I enjoyed volunteering so much that I now do it twice weekly, and fill in on other days when I can."
A native of Decatur, Georgia, Baker had lived in San Francisco for some 30 years before crossing the Bay to Oakland. He still works full time in the city as a senior business analyst for Experian, a major credit reporting agency. "I can’t retire just yet," he says, but with the full support of his company, he spends what time he can helping out with Ashby Village requests. By now he has several "regulars," members he sees weekly.
Baker meets with one woman every Wednesday. "I just walk in and say, ‘What do you need for me to do today?’ She usually has a long list." On Friday, he visits another member and walks her dog. "But I am there to help in any way that I can," he says. Recently, he helped her buy some tickets online so she could take the ferry to the Giants game. And always, on any visit, Baker spends some time just chatting.
"I know I am the eyes and ears of Ashby Village, to make sure everybody is doing okay at home," he says. "I find that people like that, that they feel reassured that someone is coming to their homes to check in and talk with them." For Baker, it is sheer pleasure. "I just love talking with the people. I have always enjoyed history, and I love hearing the stories, about the Bay Area and how it has changed. I have seen a lot of change in 30 years, but they have seen so much more. I get some living history."
Experian, Baker’s employer, not only encourages its employees to volunteer for good causes, it offers financial donations to the organization involved. "If I do 50 hours of service, they give $500 to the nonprofit," explains Baker. So far, his time spent helping members has resulted in a donation of more than $2000 to Ashby Village. "I just keep an Excel spread sheet of my hours, and submit the request for the company to give matching funds. Experian is very much into encouraging its employees to do volunteer work, and community service around the world. I am so thrilled that my organization supports this." Baker says it's his impression that more and more companies are beginning to offer similar encouragement and support to employees who do volunteer work.
"I have really grown to realize how rewarding it is to just give of yourself," says Baker. "We humans get this nice feeling when we give, whether time or money, when we are just helping another individual. People are so appreciative. Every single time when I am leaving, the members say, 'Thank you so much for coming by.' I get so much joy from the people I work with."
Coordinating Mutual Support on a Cul de Sac
by Hilary Lorraine,
Ashby Village Member and Volunteer
Several years ago, two people on a little cul de sac in Kensington joined Ashby Village and they then encouraged others on their street to join. Now there are six households who as members of the Village provide volunteer assistance to each other.
When one of them needs a ride, they contact the office and their request is posted on the general email request list. This alerts a volunteer who lives on the cul de sac, is usually are able to respond.
This Ashby Village coordinated mutual support system allows neighbors to help each other when they can, but when not, to draw on the larger volunteer pool. This street-based mutual support group is now beginning to expand to include people who attend the Village sponsored monthly lunches.
This creative member-initiated use of Ashby Village will now provide a model for spreading it to other neighborhood groups in the Village.
Introvert Goes to the AV Potluck
by Mary Graham,
Ashby Village Volunteer
I'm not shy, but I am an introvert. I'd rather not mingle with large groups of people. Yet, as a new volunteer, I found myself looking forward to the Village's holiday potluck. Where would it fit on the continuum of 4-H and church potlucks that I remembered from my small home town?
As I came in, the band was warming up and the tables looked festive with fresh flowers and two kinds of water. The staff and event volunteers had been busy! I dropped off my casserole and headed for the book-exchange table. Hilary seemed to be in charge, and we visited over the music. She gave me a great tip: Mack's Pillow Soft ear plugs block movie and airplane noise. People were dropping off lots of books. I asked one guy how he could part with a vintage E.B. White volume. "I'm divesting," he said cheerfully, "I try to get rid of something every week."
Standing in line to sample the dozens of main dish and salad offerings, a volunteer named Roger gave me another great tip: San Francisco State University offers summer courses out of Sierra City on Highway 49. I know that part of the Sierra well, and can imagine spending a week at a summer camp for grown-ups. For an introvert, visiting one-to-one is ideal, and I struck up a conversation with Joan G. An ideal dinner companion, Joan is a voluble Village member and a long-time Kensington resident. We chatted about her positive experience with the Village staff and volunteers, and we agreed that the Inn Kensington biscuits have been delicious for 25 years.
When Andy Gaines began to speak, it was like herding cats to quiet everyone in the room—people just couldn't stop visiting.
Then the band began its second set, and this introvert realized her social stamina was running low. As I slipped out, I felt a positive glow—I was becoming part of this new Village.
National Village Volunteer of the Year Nominee: Tom Boyden
by Kristina Holland,
Ashby Village Member and Volunteer
As Tom tells it, he began volunteering for Ashby Village when his all-knowing wife announced to him that he "couldn't retire unless he found some place to volunteer at least eight hours a week" and then directed him to Ashby Village. That was three years ago.
From that first meeting, he was smitten, signing up to answer phones and give rides. After a few weeks he began taking on the role of everything from handyman to computer guru (for the office as well as for members), chauffeur to MedPal mentor, e-mail recruiter to outreach ambassador. Tom quickly worked his way up to a regular schedule of five days a week, opening the office at 8, welcoming staff at 9 and "clocking out" at noon.
Tom really has found his calling as the "go-to guy" on hard-to-fill and last-minute assignments where "getting to Yes" is imperative, and as the indispensable follow-up caller whose warmth and natural love of people inspire prospective members to join the Village and reassure new members that this is the place where they belong.
Tom says he misses the early handyman experiences that so often touched him deeply. These days he finds equal pleasure in spending most of his time in the office--on the computer, making sure every member's needs are met; on the phone, enlisting last-minute help and arranging connections with the community; on a ladder, or on his back, wrestling tangled under-desk computer connections into miraculous working order.
As the staff member puts it, Tom wears so many hats at Ashby Village it would simply be impossible to replace him. And, luckily, it sounds like that won't be necessary. Tom says this is "the best work experience of my life," and he plans to keep on doing it..."until I can't."
National Village Photo Contest Finalist
by Peter Sussman,
Ashby Village Member
When we think of villages, we don't always envision older people tracking the paths of hawks through a redwood forest, but in Ashby Village they do.
Ashby Village helps connect its diverse members through communal events, of course, but also - and every bit as important - through members' shared individual interests, in small groups initiated and shaped by members to reflect those interests. Through its newsletter, website and recent "Interest Faire" barbecue, our village assists members in finding others who share their passions, among them bridge, modern poetry, knitting, photography, computers, painting and - among the earliest and most popular of the interest groups - nature walks.
Audre and Roger Newman, world-traveling nature lovers, suggested the nature walks and have been energetic organizers of the group ever since.
Audre & Roger Newman with Irene Marcos (left)
The Newmans - shown here with Irene Marcos in one of our resplendent regional parks - have led walks through many of the natural wonders that encircle the urban core of our membership area, from a bird migration walk in a local marsh to a fern walk in a redwood forest and a wildflower walk in a hillside park, among others.
Guest experts often serve as guides; one, a naturalist and gerontologist, led a tour through a park built on landfill, explaining not only the natural features but the park's historical and ecological context, including how methane gas is systematically released from the garbage dump on which the park was built.
Sometimes, prospective members join in the walks, forming friendships with current members who share their interests and sampling the pleasures of joining Ashby Village. The group's walks often end with the reading of a nature poem or, in one case, an essay on the pleasures of sauntering - as opposed to hiking - in natural surroundings. Afterward, the hiker/saunterers often like to share a lunch, deepening bonds formed on the trail.
At the end of one walk, a member read a poem by William Wordsworth celebrating daffodils. One of the walkers reported in our member newsletter: "It was a foggy day at Inspiration Point, prompting each of us to feel as if we had 'wandered ... as a cloud,' as the poem says. We enjoyed the incomparable beauty of Tilden [Park] and shared thoughts, memories, and good conversation along the path. This richness of nature and of friendship continues each month."
None Too Early
by Bob Davis,
Ashby Village Board Member
My wife, Merle, and I were in our 80s when we attended our first Ashby Village Living Room Chat. It was 2009 and there were only about 30 members. It all seemed too good to be true.
Ashby Village Board Member
We were doing fine on our own at the time. But because we live in the Berkeley Hills where we can’t rely on public transportation, we knew the day might come when we couldn’t get out and drive ourselves to wherever we needed or wanted to go. Everything about Ashby Village seemed so right, so we decided to join then, before we needed assistance. That way, if something happened so that we couldn’t keep our cherished dream of aging together in our hillside home, we’d be prepared. Neither of us believed that time would come so soon.
Since joining Ashby Village, I have been a member of the board as well as an active volunteer. I have driven people to medical appointments, taken them shopping, and sat through an evening with a member whose husband underwent abdominal surgery. I was, to quote Joan Diamond, "Paying forward for services I might need later." In 2012, payback became a reality.
Ashby Village Member
On Jan. 23, I had ankle replacement surgery at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco. Because my right ankle was in a cast, I couldn’t drive. Merle and I were stranded at home and dependent on others for all of our transportation needs. Naturally, I turned to Ashby Village for help, and they came through for me. I needed transportation to San Francisco to have a new cast put on and, six weeks later, to remove it. Merle needed rides to the store so we could replenish our food supplies. There were trips to rehabilitation to assist in my recovery, follow-up medical appointments at Richmond Kaiser, and there may be more still to come.
The volunteer services we received have been exemplary. All of the volunteers who helped us have been punctual, friendly, and helpful. They load my wheelchair into and out of their cars and push me to my appointments, wait for me, and then drive me home. I have offered remuneration, but they would have none of that. How could volunteer services be any better? Joining Ashby Village was one of the best decisions we ever made and, as it turned out, none too early.
Our thanks go to Ashby Village and its wonderful corps of volunteers.
Jumping Around & Kicking up Her Heels
by Josephine Rand,
Ashby Village Member
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the first Ashby Village Creative Movement class led by Andy Gaines, Executive Director. I do hope that these classes become a regular event. I enjoyed going for a number of reasons. I thought that it was an excellent way to get to know some of my fellow Ashby Village members.
We played a game where we used movements and our names, and even though normally I have a tough times remembering names, I learned the names of most all of the people in the class.
I confess that I have not been getting any exercise at all recently. I have wanted to start, but I would feel woefully inadequate were I to join a movement class for the general public. Undoubtedly, I would get embarrassed and stop going to class. Although I hate to admit it, I have done just that in the past. However, Andy set up the activities so that people of all levels of activity could join in. We could participate as vigorously or as easily as we felt comfortable doing. And best of all, I felt like a child getting to play. We had structure, but we also had a lot of latitude with our movements.
I felt as if I were a little girl jumping around and kicking up her heels. Of course, I wasn’t able to do that for very long. But if these classes continue I will surely become stronger and more limber in time. And I will continue to be able to feel this joy that comes with moving freely and without inhibition.
Prepared to Spend the Night
by Carloyn North,
Ashby Village Member
"One Friday morning, my husband Herb was having some strange symptoms, so we went to the Kaiser emergency room, where they examined him and said he needed surgery later that day.
Herb & Carolyn North
Ashby Village Members
At that point the doctors couldn't say if Herb's condition was routine or life-threatening. We waited all day in the ER for surgery, and at the end of the day I took a break to go home for some rest and a bite to eat. Once home, I realized I should not be alone for the surgery. It was a Friday night, and on such short notice, I couldn’t find a friend to accompany me. Our family lives across the country. Then I remembered Ashby Village, and called for help.
"Within the hour I got a call from volunteers Bob and Merle Davis, who picked me up and drove me to the hospital. They waited with me for three hours, until we got the good news that Herb was fine and could go home the next day. Bob and Merle drove me home and told me graciously that they had been prepared to spend the night with me if necessary. We had never met before; we have not seen each other since. But they probably saved my life that night – or my heart, at least – and I will be grateful to them forever. Not to mention Ashby Village, which makes such encounters possible."
Managing Unexpected Life Transitions
by Bob Forthman,
Ashby Village Member
The last year and a half has been a time of profound change for me. I cannot express with enough gratitude how valuable Ashby Village has been in assisting me to navigate several major life transitions.
In July of 2010, my wife Lynn and I joined Ashby Village. We had heard that it was designed to assist and support people who are aging to continue to live independently in their homes, and we were hoping to volunteer to help others. We never imagined that we would be the ones who would actually be calling for support – and soon.
One month after we joined, Lynn was struck by a hit-and-run driver in West Berkeley.
Ashby Village Member
She was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries (five shattered ribs). Needless to say, I was stunned. When confronted by the deluge of questions from the hospital staff regarding how to address her care, I called Ashby Village. Immediately, several volunteers, including a geriatric social worker who serves as an ombudsman from Ashby Village, came to assist and support me in making choices and managing her health care. The issues were many and complex:
- I needed to know what my rights were as a husband.
- The hospital was pressuring me to release her immediately (they needed the bed), and they were going to send her to the lowest-grade nursing home in the East Bay (because it always had empty beds).
- I was being pressured to agree to her release and transfer.
- With the guidance of the volunteers, I was able to slow down the process for a day by refusing to sign any papers unless they released her to Alta Bates Hospital.
- Without the support of the volunteers, I would probably have caved in to the three doctors and top administrators who wanted that bed money.
With the help of our 'support team,' Lynn was released to return home following a very short stay in the hospital.
Over the next several weeks, Lynn received in-home care from an organization referred to us by Ashby Village. They were wonderful. Lynn’s health seemed to be improving, and all appeared well … until one morning, without notice, Lynn went into the bathroom and dropped dead. "I was in a state of shock. Lynn and I had spent 60 happy years together, but we had no family living nearby. Suddenly, there were so many things to deal with and choices to make. It was like facing a machine gun. Once again, Ashby Village came forward to help. On the day she died, three board members came to be with me, bring food and help guide me through that traumatic time. They were my lifeline.
Over the next many weeks, Ashby Village volunteers helped me write Lynn's obituary; find a venue for, and plan, her memorial; find a rabbi to officiate. One of their committee members, with a friend, helped me to evaluate my own unexpected housing needs, and when I realized it was no longer safe for me to drive between our house in the hills and downtown Berkeley, they helped me relocate to a smaller, more manageable home near the University.
I am incredibly grateful for the help and support Ashby Village provided me in my times of need. I continue to look for ways I can give back, supporting others facing the challenges – and also the joys – of growing older.
On Our First Birthday
by Elaine Hooker Jackson
Five years ago, longtime Berkeley neighbors and friends Pat Sussman and Shirley Haberfeld read an article about Beacon Hill Village in Boston, and the idea resonated. Their mutual enthusiasm led to numerous sidewalk conversations and ultimately culminated in the founding of Ashby Village.
Shirley and Pat at Yasai Market
where the conversation began
The issue that captivated them was summed up in another context by Geoff Hoyle in his popular one-man show, "Geezer": "Who will take care of us besides us?"
The Beacon Hill model - creating a community organization to enable members to remain in their homes as they age - has spawned more than 50 such villages across the country. Hundreds of similar organizations, from villages to "naturally occurring retirement communities," are in various stages of development, and the villages now actively share ideas and strategies.
This month, Ashby Village celebrates its first year of full operation, and by all measures it's wildly successful: a 95 percent renewal rate, higher than Beacon Hill's; double the number of members it had at launch, making it one of the fastest-growing villages in the country; a 70 percent return rate on a member survey; and most important, satisfied members who count on being one phone call away from getting help. That help could take many forms, some of them not yet articulated. A few of the more frequent requests have been for a ride to the doctor's office, a handyman's skilled assistance, a dinner delivered during a health crisis. Members also say they join for the social events and personal connections.
Susan McWhinney-Morse, one of Beacon Hill Village's founders, has said, "I often think that what gets older people down about living in their own homes are the little things. ... Who's going to change the light bulb on top of my stairwell? Who's going to fix the leaky faucet?"
Pat and Shirley get teary-eyed when they talk about it. They've known each other since before Shirley was a mother; her oldest daughter, Sarah, is now 36. But their friendship deepened over the countless hours they spent nurturing Ashby Village.
"We have given birth to something, and we had no idea we were pregnant," Shirley said.
Pat, a former hospice director, healthcare administrator and, at the time, consultant, had long worked with LifeLong Medical Care, a group of community health centers that now serves as Ashby Village's fiscal agent. Shirley retired in 2009 as an educational psychologist for K-12 schools. Her retirement spurred Ashby Village into the intense planning stages, 18 months before our operational launch.
The two co-founders marvel at the people they’ve met, the talent and commitment so many have brought to the cause. They recruited eight people who began meeting monthly. The meetings evolved to two or three times a week; the numbers swelled.
"In the past year, so many more stepped up to the plate in so many ways," Pat said.
"We kept stumbling onto things. Someone came up with something that would take us to the next level," Shirley added.
They credit Ted Roszak, author of "The Making of an Elder Culture," with pushing them to expand the village beyond the neighborhood of the original planners. Roszak, who died recently, was an early advocate for the village movement, and he and his wife, Betty, became charter members of Ashby Village. Roszak wrote in his book, "As the longevity revolution unfolds, senior villages will become one of the distinctive social inventions of our time."
Andra Lichtenstein "kicked us up another notch," Pat said. In the words of Executive Director Andy Gaines, Andra is one of the "three strong women" who work with him on the Executive Committee.
Jane Selby, another friend and neighbor of the cofounders, was a key participant in the original eight-member board. She has just moved temporarily to Washington, D.C., after her husband, Joe, was appointed to a central position in planning the future of healthcare. The Selbys retain their commitment to Ashby Village and plan to move back to their Berkeley home in a few years.
Feisty professional women are the movers behind most of the villages, author Gail Sheehy wrote in a USA Today article on the village movement. She quoted Ashby Village board member Bob Davis as saying that women are the ones who see the value of socialization.
Both Pat and Shirley now feel that the structure supports itself. "It's not all on our shoulders," Pat said. "Every idea anyone brings to the board, they're all looked at equally," and they've received many important contributions from the membership. There's no ego involved, Pat said, no "founders' syndrome."
Anxiety over membership renewals - needless, as it turned out - caused them to focus on the concept of sustainability. Two highly regarded retired UC Berkeley professors and administrators, Bill Webster and Steve Lustig, will head a sustainability task force to help chart Ashby Village's course for the future. Both are Village members.
Shirley and Pat at the
New Year's Holiday gathering
Pat and Shirley already have strong ideas about some of the directions Ashby Village should take: broaden the volunteer base, particularly to include more people of various ages; broaden services based on what members say they need; increase diversity among members; expand institutional partnerships; double the membership base to more than 340 within two years; offer subsidized memberships, with the help of grants. Membership fees alone won't cover the cost.
Coincidentally, Village to Village Network, an umbrella organization of existing and fledgling villages, will hold its national conference this November in Oakland. "We asked them to make the theme sustainability," Shirley said.
The urgency of the theme has been underlined by Candace Baldwin, co-director of the Village to Village Network. As she told SeniorResourceGuide.com:
"When you think about the fact that by 2032, there will be more people over 65 than people under 15, we have no time to lose in getting sustainable villages in place."
A Tribute to Ted
As many of you know, our dear friend and fellow Ashby Village member, Ted Roszak, died on July 5, 2011. As one of the pioneers and deep thinkers in the movement of redesigning our lives as we age, Ted, was a vital part of catapulting Ashby Village from a small neighborhood organization to one that included all of Berkeley and many surrounding communities. His big thinking and his passion for the Village movement was contagious. His heart and soul were evident at every committee meeting and every Living Room Chat where he and his lovely wife, Betty, were always present to encourage others to reach out and grab onto the village movement — supporting one another in our communities as we age.
If you were fortunate enough to have had a conversation with Ted, you would have heard him emphasize the point that the Village movement could only exist if the current elders used that same energy and ebullience of the Boomer generation to spearhead alternative ways to age in their communities. "My own hope is that the boomers-the best educated, most widely traveled, most innovative generation we have ever seen-are not too frivolous to face the dilemmas of longevity. On the contrary, I believe they will in growing numbers as the years unfold, recognize that the making of an elder culture is the great task of our time, a project that can touch life's later years with nobility and intellectual excitement." While Ted realized it was pushing the rock up the hill, he was confident that the elder culture of today could do this. And furthermore, he viewed this movement toward aging in our homes or in our communities not just for current elders, but creating new structures for our children and our children's children. His book The Making of An Elder Culture
was an eloquent call to arms.... if not us, then who?
Ted's enthusiasm for Ashby Village was present to the very end of his life. At his bedside days before his death, Ted was still talking about the virtues of Villages. He was a great contributing member to Ashby Village in its infancy and, fortunately, was able toward the end of his life to see Ashby Village take shape and also to be there for him as his illness progressed.
We want to thank Ted for his contributions to Ashby Village, for his forward and big thinking, for his passion and for his humor and wit throughout the challenge of forming Ashby Village from the grassroots upward. We owe so much to him and we will miss his presence and his unconditional encouragement and for rodding to us think big.
Our sincere condolences go to his wife, Betty and his daughter, Kathryn and his grand-daughter, Lucy. These three women always brought smiles of love and pride to Ted when he spoke of them.
For details of Ted's rich background and literary contributions, please see articles in the July 13th edition of the SF Chronicle
and the New York Times
. His book, The Making of an Elder Culture
is available and highly recommended for Ashby Village members. A copy is available to check out at the Ashby Village office.
by Tom Boyden,
Ashby Village Volunteer
I got a call from Irene about two weeks ago. She wanted to know if I would accept an assignment to repair a table for Elivia, an Ashby Village member of two or three months. I was already quite busy that week, so I asked Irene if she would try for another volunteer. I suppose it was a sense of guilt that motivated me to email Irene two days later. When she said she had not been able to find anybody else, I said I would do it.
I called Elivia on the phone, and we set up the following Wednesday for me to come take a look. The following Wednesday it was raining, so we postponed the job one week until December 15th, the next weekday I had free. I had been to her house once before, to change some halogen lights that were too high for her to reach. And while Elivia is quite mobile, she can no longer climb ladders. So I knew how beautiful her house and its surroundings were going in. Her husband, who had passed away this past July 4, was an architect, and had restructured and remodeled the Kensington house in the most beautiful and gorgeous ways. His affinity for Japanese architecture and culture was evident to me throughout. I only learned later that he had designed and built the outdoor table I was about to fix.
The table was nothing like what I had imagined. It is a circle close to 8 feet in diameter, only about a foot off the ground. Its top is made of 1 x 4 pieces of redwood, supported in part by a circular fascia, made of three strips of redwood, laminated together. Several weeks earlier, a tree company had come to Elivia's house to fell a large redwood tree, maybe ten feet from the table. When the tree fell, it hit the right side of the table, breaking one of the 1 x 4's, and splitting the fascia along 40% of its circumference. After thinking it over a while, I asked Elivia what she thought about gluing the fascia back together, instead of ordering a matching curved piece (the price of which still staggers my imagination). She said fine, and I thought to myself that if it doesn't work we would be no worse off than we were at the present time.
So I got in my truck, drove home to get all of my clamps, bought a large bottle of gorilla glue, and returned to Elivia's house. On my way back, as I realized that I was going to be able to fix the table, I was overcome by an urge to call my former place of work, and say to my friends there something like, "I'm so sorry you guys are still stuck there. I know you are still being forced to do (economically) hurtful things to your clients, while I get to have this supreme privilege of actually helping people out for a change. Of course, I'm not getting paid for it, but that is more than ok with me—I'm retired and I'm a volunteer!". I never did make the call, but I can still feel the happiness of that moment.
When I got back to Elivia's with my six clamps and the bottle of gorilla glue, she told me, "Just let me know when you are about twenty minutes from being finished, and I will start on lunch." I said, "You don't have to make me lunch—that's not necessary at all." But she insisted, so I started to work.
Everything went according to plan, and as I was about to put a new 1 x 4 on top to finish off the job, I let Elivia know I had about 20 minutes to go. After washing up, I was astonished to find a huge (and very delicious) salad, a piece of chicken, a potato and two pieces of bread waiting for me on her dining room table! She started to leave the room, and I asked 'where are you going?' Elivia said something like not wanting to intrude, and I said 'no, please stay!'.
Elivia had placed a piece of paper on the table for me to read while having lunch. It was her husband's obituary, which she herself had written only month's before. She asked me what I had done before retiring. I told her I had worked for the Recreation Department at the City of Orinda. She told me she had spent the past ten years caring for her husband. She said don't ever think that is a complaint; I would give anything to have ten more years to care for him. A lot of women don't have good husbands, but I did. Please don't ever fight with your wife. Please, try only to make each other happy. You know, my husband designed and built the table you just fixed. We used to sit there in the moonlight. That is why this is very exciting for me.
Psychological and Veritable Safety Net
by Joan Cole,
Ashby Village Member
My husband and I joined Ashby Village, excited by the concept and eager to discover what it might have to offer. We are unaccustomed to asking for help of this kind. My husband had broken his hip and was facing a very slow recovery and some cognitive challenges, and we were determined to remain in our home! When we rebuilt, following the Oakland Hills fire storm, we announced to our family that it was our wish to be here until our last breaths. "They should plan on carrying us out". Well, that may or may not be possible, but the safety net that Ashby Village provides makes it far more likely that this intention will come to pass.
In the past months since we joined, my husband's wish to complete a memoir has been made possible by an amazing woman who is volunteering to help him finish work that he can no longer complete on is own. When I asked Andy to help us find someone who might work with Bob, he put some Ashby Village volunteers to work finding an appropriate person for the job. Michelle McGuinness now comes once a week and we have together crafted a form that works for Bob, and that promises completion of the project. An oral history, which will likely be transcribed into written form as well, is well underway. Michelle arrives with her Smart Phone and is videotaping stories which Bob will soon present to our family. This is incredibly satisfying to both of us, and we are so grateful to Ashby Village for finding Michelle and to the time she is donating to his work.
The other service that Ashby Village has provided me is a personal assistant who is helping me with my desk and organizational work. She comes as needed, is lovely, helps me get rid of "stuff' and is a delight to work with.
Our overall challenge with Ashby Village is to think in terms of what we need and how the Village can provide it. It requires thinking outside the box and I trust that over time we will get better at that. As we move into the New Year we hope to be part of this movement which holds so much promise for many of us who are staunchly independent and are now in a stage of life where that fierce autonomy is no longer a viable way to live. The mere existence of the Village, and the marvelous sense of community that is growing around it, has created a psychological and veritable safety net for which we are extremely grateful!