Elders go back for future 1996 resolutions: Six elderly residents of a Columbia nursing home, including a former congressman and a prominent civic activist, offer some resolutions on New Year's resolutions and a few thoughts on the new year.

January 02, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

At the turning of another year, he clings to the habits of a disciplined mind over once-a-year promises.

"I like to think I do the best I can every day," said John Bennett, an 82-year-old metallurgist who worked for the Federal Bureau of Standards until he retired.

To Mr. Bennett, dramatic resolutions at New Year's seem like a repudiation of the life that went before.

Such a thing might be quite advisable for some, perhaps, but not for him.

He grants this much: "I suppose it is a good time to stop and think. I'd always like to do what I do a little better."

Yesterday, he and five of his neighbors at Vantage House, a continuing care retirement community in Columbia, offered some conclusions about resolutions:

* The unexamined life may not be worth living, but daily moments of reflection and stock-taking work better than once-a-year resolving.

* While you're taking stock, don't forget your sense of humor or your manners: Be thankful.

* Personal or even societal change, the motivation and the momentum, come without regard to the calendar.

* Resolutions about improving your community may be more credible than ones about self.

At a time of life when some elders like to say that buying green bananas is an act of faith, the Vantage House six do have wishes and goals for 1996.

One of several women who pushed Gov. Marvin Mandel into beginning a school lunch program in Maryland in the early 1970s, Ann Miller has seen the power of personal and organizational resolve.

"You think it's impossible to change government, but it's not," she says.

Formerly of 13 W. Biddle St. in Baltimore, her community labors continue in her new community.

She works in a local school and she reads poetry once a week to nursing home residents of Vantage House.

'Control own destiny'

She does not make personal resolutions as a rule, but this year she has one: "To control my own destiny."

No one is trying to take over yet, she said, but her weekly visit to the nursing home patients -- and apprehensions about memory -- leave her wary.

Also, the habits of an active life have their perils: While line dancing to "Achy Breaky Heart" last year, she fractured her wrist.

Her wish list for 1996:

"That peace in Bosnia is for real.

"That 1996 will be a year of understanding and compassion.

"That the government will stop stalling and really try to find a way to keep the country stable without penalizing the needy.

"That The Sun will publish news instead of fluff."

Ms. Miller's concerns about budget balancing are overstated, according to her new neighbor, William H. Ayres, a former Republican congressman from Ohio.

Not that he is altogether happy with his former colleagues.

Too much demagoguery

At the same time, he watches the so-called Republican revolution with disgust. Too much demagoguery on both sides, he says.

Again, he speaks with some authority.

He had a role in another revolution. A newly elected congressman from Akron in 1951, he wanted to bring his campaign photographer to Washington for a holiday. The young man was black.

"I couldn't get him and his family into a hotel," he said. "I was dumbfounded. It really shook me. There wouldn't have been any problem in Akron."

He went to work against the most resilient segregationists, forcing a Southerner to accept the first black page, a young man who went on to become a doctor.

At 80, Mr. Ayres now resolves to help Bob Dole win the presidency this year.

His Vantage House friends have more modest goals.

Alice Brands, soon to be 86, wants closed-circuit TV installed as soon as possible.

The money is there for the new system, she says, and the residents need information about weather and daily events.

'Do It Now' list

Recognizing that the work of one year often reflects the unfinished work of the year just past, she is resolved to put her "Do It Now" list on the desk of the Vantage House administrator -- possibly today.

Boniface "Bonnie" Brazaitis, 80, is organizing a foreign affairs forum, and he hopes the life lessons of his neighbors -- a former congressman, university professors, the widow of a Federal Reserve Board governor, an expert in the breeding of sheep who worked on a Navajo reservation, among others -- can be communicated to the Vantage House community at large.

And Jane Vance, president of the Vantage House Residents' Association, resolves to confront, as she always has, the realities of her life.

The wisdom of choices she made in earlier years come home to her now. With two years of college, she left to get her "MRS."

"Get it?" she asks.

When there is no immediate reply, she says: "Well, your generation is a little slow."

'Very reflective'

At the first of the year, she says, "I'm very reflective, assessing what went before and how to approach the coming year -- but I'm not strict with myself."

Except in the area of accepting new circumstances.

"We in the aging population have to come to grips with so many things. You lose your husband. You lose your friends," she said.

"Thank God, you have your children, some place to invest your love."

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