WAXTER Center has a class in calligraphy, and in this...


October 14, 1994

WAXTER Center has a class in calligraphy, and in this anniversary year you should see the fun its members are having. One elegantly lettered sign, framed and hanging on a corridor wall, reads:

The Waxter Center

for Senior Citizens

20 Years Young

The three-story, three-sided, towered and terraced creation of a $3.8 million municipal bond loan was a tribute to Thomas (Jake) Waxter Sr. (1899-1962), social work pioneer and director of the Commission on Aging and Retirement. How has that distinctive brick home-away-from-home at 861 Park Avenue borne up?

Some of the carpeting is distressed, in a building where about 300 seniors come and go daily. The elevators -- climbing is for the young -- work fine, en route to the second floor's pool tables and checkers boards, to the third floor's diagnostic clinics.

The first floor, with its auditorium and cafeteria, shines like new, having been redone by the 2,300-member Waxter Center Foundation as an anniversary observance.

Today, there isn't the flow of delegations from other cities that came in the '70s, when Leo D'Aleo's ideas, as executed here, were envied afar.

The no-steps entrance, no parking lot (but a front-door bus stop plus today's nearby light rail), the art room's 20 windows all in a row (the music room's none), the hub relationship with Baltimore's 16 other senior centers, the free (and fee) classes, the bus trips -- Waxter is still a model.

Nobody is a centenarian, it seems, in any given day's set of leather workers, costume designers, World War II rememberers, swimming pool splashers, computer basics initiates, Spanish learners, estate planners, lunch eaters and flu shot signups. But Peggy Waxter, civic personage and Jake's other half, came by once more, at age 90, for an anniversary event.

The center's director is L. Joann Gusdanovic; Iris Davis, M.D., is the medical director; Harriet Mandell heads the supporting foundation.

No pitch, here; no urging. A calendar, later or even soon, will impel any Baltimorean toward Waxter Center.

* * *

MORE Waxter-like institutions are needed, and not just in Baltimore. According to "Vital Signs: The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future" (by Lester R. Brown, Hal Kane and David Malin Roodman), life expectancy has increased dramatically. "Now at 65 years, the average human life expectancy has increased by almost 20 years since mid-century," the authors say. "No other period in history registered such an improvement. Life expectancy data are an indicator of more than just longer lives; they also signal improvements in sanitation, water supplies, health education, literacy, food security, the spread of basic nursing services, immunizations and human rights."

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