Top senior too active to accept his award Abraham Bates, 80, is fifth recipient of county honor

July 25, 1996|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Eighty-year-old Abraham Bates is so active that when the Howard County Office on Aging named him its Outstanding Senior Citizen of the Year, the Woodbine resident had to send his son to accept the honor.

The elder Bates was taking a well-earned vacation.

Bates' calendar leaves him few free days.

He teaches English to immigrants, lectures about fossils and is active in the Howard County American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National International Affairs group at Florence Bain Senior Center and the Senior Advocates of Howard County.

His wide range of activities were cited by those who selected him for his recent honor.

"We look at a particular senior's work in the community and how it is spread out," said Tiffany Hackney, volunteer coordinator at Florence Bain.

She added, "Mr. Bates has a wide range of service for various ages. He has a strong impact in the community and is not focused in one particular area."

Bates, chosen from among seven nominees in Howard County, shares the ranks with four individuals -- including James W. Rouse -- who have been named since the award was begun in 1992.

"I think it's important to keep active in causes in which you believe, and I would rather do that than not do anything," said Bates, who has been a member of the Howard County ACLU for 21 years and a member of the Maryland ACLU since the late 1960s.

As former chairman of the county organization and a current board member, Bates calls himself a "great believer" in democracy, freedom of speech and civil liberties.

"Abe is one of the inspirational leaders of the group," said Ken Stevens, coordinator of the Howard County ACLU. "He is very interested in the separation of church and state, and he is very supportive of civil liberties. "

Bates' involvement goes beyond the various civic organizations to which he belongs.

For eight years, he has spent two hours every Wednesday at the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia, helping immigrants to master the English language through conversation.

He enabled two of his students, a Russian couple whom he had tutored for five years, to obtain U.S. citizenship.

"He was our first friend in this country," said Irina Kalichman, 69. "He started with us from the very beginning when we arrived from Russia five years ago, unable to speak or to understand the language. He helped us so much."

In addition to helping the couple with their English, Bates provided them with transportation to the center and also assisted them with their applications for citizenship.

Bates and his wife, Virginia, 71, threw a celebration party when the Russian couple officially became citizens last July.

Because of his willingness to work for the common good, Bates joined the Senior Advocates of Howard County -- a group that meets monthly at the senior center.

As a member of the group, he has lobbied legislators for a universal health care system.

"You advocate and work for the things that you would like to see happen, and it can be two steps forward and three steps back, depending on the political climate," Bates said.

For eight years, Bates has been a board member of the Senior Adult Summer Institute that conducts annual, four-day learning sessions for senior citizens at Howard Community College.

When he is not planning the session, or participating as a student, he will occasionally lecture on his favorite subject -- fossils.

During the mid-1970s, Bates explored the Calvert Cliffs in Calvert County, collecting hundreds of fossils as part of a volunteer paleontology project with the Maryland Academy of Sciences, where he was an assistant comptroller.

Bates says his collection of fossils consists of ear bones of whales and of teeth from 100-foot sharks that existed when the Chesapeake Bay was still part of the Atlantic Ocean.

He donated part of his collection to the Smithsonian Institution.

Because of his research on fossils, Bates has lectured on the subject to church groups and at the senior center.

In addition, he has talked to children about fossils at the Deep Run Elementary School Summer Program in Elkridge.

Despite his numerous activities, Bates is modest about having received the Outstanding Senior award.

"I am sure there are hundreds of people in Howard County who have done as much as I have, but I am pleased and surprised," he said.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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