Sharing experiences of dynamic seniors

Inspired by courage, friendship, a writer chronicles 49 lives

March 19, 2001|By Bobby White | Bobby White,SUN STAFF

Depressed about his dwindling eyesight, Leon Rose turned to Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia for help and support.

There he met others who were grappling with the changes that aging produces. The confrontations with aches, pains and occasional mental lapses made for a bond among the seniors who attended programs at the center.

In those friendships, Rose found so many interesting life stories that he decided to write a book.

His encounters with personalities at the center are chronicled in "September Songs: Personal Profiles of Active Seniors."

The book profiles 49 Howard County senior citizens, most of whom are patrons of the Bain center. It is a testament to the lives of seniors and their activities. Rose, 76, stresses activity, not inactivity.

"All over the world, old age is revered, except in this country," said Rose. "It's a terrible waste of human experience not to use people in their older years."

Proceeds from the book will be donated to the center's SPRING programs. SPRING - Senior Peer-Resources, Individuals, Networks and Groups - is composed of about 12 peer support groups. The groups meet weekly and tend to the many facets of senior life.

Some of the groups are social while others, such as the diabetes and widower groups, cater to ailments and loss that accompany life as a senior citizen. Rose belongs to the Nua Insiders, one of the center's low-vision groups.

Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, SPRING hopes that sales from the book will help fund yearlong programs.

SPRING plans to have a celebration this month, a weekend getaway in September and a year-end fiesta in December. Dot Keczmerski, coordinator for SPRING, said the book - with Rose - is a blessing. Keczmerski said Rose's profiles, which he volunteered to do, have put smiles on many faces.

"I would like to clone him," she said.

Keczmerski, who edited parts of the book, knows of the misconceptions the elderly face. She was excited that Rose decided to do the profiles and publish them.

She said she knew the book would hammer home the vibrance and liveliness that seniors experience.

"This book is a counter to the belief that most old people are in nursing homes," Keczmerski said.

Rose's diminishing eyesight, which all but renders him blind, never hindered him from writing. He used computer technology that allowed for him to dictate to the computer instead of typing. He also used a tape recorder to get accurate accounts from the people he interviewed.

"I have been able to maybe not overcome but somewhat compensate for my loss of sight," he said.

A former journalist who also worked in advertising, Rose wrote about seniors' major accomplishments and family ties.

Some of the people he interviewed have died since the book was published, but others continue to flourish. Rose characterized the seniors he encountered as everyday people with fascinating lives.

Some of the profiles could fill an entire book, so Rose sliced delicately, allowing readers to devour the most delectable portions.

Allan J. Hacker, who was appointed to the Howard County Commission on Aging, attended school at the Sorbonne and worked in military intelligence during World War II.

Jim Easley, a former flight controller, conquered alcoholism and became a counselor for alcoholics.

Ada Dasher, whose husband died from a boating accident and who had a tough bout with tuberculosis, supported herself by selling cosmetics. "I've had a hard life," Dasher said in the book. Still, she persevered and sold about $16,000 worth of cosmetics.

Rose included himself in the book. He moved to Columbia in 1969, when the population was 5,000. He considers himself something of a pioneer. He has served on numerous local boards. In 1999, he was inducted into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame.

He considers himself fortunate.

"I am healthy. I don't feel my age," Rose said. "And my eyesight, it's not the end of the world. I have known people who have been far worse off than me."

The book, published by Rose with help from Joy, his wife of 23 years, is available at Florence Bain Senior Center.

Rose named it after an old Jimmy Durante song. In the song, Durante, an entertainer popular during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, sang of how he planned to spend his later years:

It's a long, long while from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September.

When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame one hasn't got time for the waiting game.

Oh the days dwindle down to a precious few.

September, November and these few precious days I will spend with you ...

"Whether a person is in the fall or winter of their years," Rose said, "they still can look behind them and see a tremendous volume of talent and skill."

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