Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happy Older Americans Month!

Since 1963, May has been the month designated to celebrate our nation’s longest-living citizens – those who are at least 65 years old. Originally named “Senior Citizens Month” by President John F. Kennedy, the celebration became the more politically correct “Older Americans Month” thanks to President Jimmy Carter in 1980. The purpose of Older Americans Month is to encourage the nation to pay tribute in some way to the 37.3 million people aged 65+ across the country through ceremonies, events and public recognition.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of those events last week. On May 9, the Metropolitan Detroit Jewish Community held the Bessie Spector Brunch honoring the "Oldest Jewish Americans" - members of the community at least 95 years old. There must be something in the water in Detroit; amazingly, there were nearly 70 honorees, including several people who were at least 100 years old and one woman who was about to turn 110 years old.

Each of the nearly 40 honorees who was able to attend the event was interviewed and had something of interest to say. They talked about coming to America after being born in other countries, discussed their past and continuing volunteer activities and talked about their most memorable experiences. It was an astonishing event that reminds us of the importance of active living at every age.

What was striking to me was to see to many people at the brunch who still function at a remarkably high level. One of the prime examples among the honorees was my father, Ben Gurvitz, who is living proof that getting older doesn’t mean you have to get “old.” He is a marvel who lives independently, has an appropriate joke for every occasion, and enjoys an extremely busy social life involving for the most part people at least 20 years younger than he is who are eager to be in his company. He remembers more names, faces, facts and phone numbers than most people have forgotten. A retired pharmacist, he has aged so little that people still recognize him as the owner of a drugstore he sold more than 30 years ago.

And I’m not the only one who sees my father as special. He is a role model for many people of my generation. As psychologist Steven Ceresnie wrote in the June 2007 issue of Michigan Psychologist, my 97-year-old father is “one resilient human being who treasures each day, never complains, and helps everyone who knows him stay optimistic about the species.” He is living proof that getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop living life to its fullest.

Which is important because by 2030, approximately 75 million people – or about 20 percent of our citizens — will be at least 65 years old. The age group 85 and older is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. So a lot more of us can look forward to being in that same boat. However, as my brother is fond of saying, “getting older sure beats the alternative.” Especially if you can keep a sense of humor about reaching an age where, as my father would say, “God is just a local call.”

So what do you give someone who is celebrating an 80th birthday or 85th birthday or 90th birthday or 95th birthday or even a 100th birthday? Help them keep smiling by giving the gift of memories. I recently presented my father with a Purple Raincoat collage based on the restored wedding photo taken of him and my mother. The look on his face when he first saw the collage was priceless. It was a joy to give him a gift that will keep giving him so much every time he looks at it.

Give the gift that celebrates the past in a way that you can enjoy far into the future. Let Purple Raincoat create a collage to celebrate the older Americans in your life. We can take those old photos and other memorabilia and turn them into unique works of art that touch hearts. What a wonderful way to honor their lives and say “thanks for the memories”.

This collage is similar to the one I gave to my father. The original black and white photo was restored and turned to sepia. Elegant muted papers in tonal prints of bronze, copper, cream, tan, and gold decorate the background of this collage. Read about it in more detail at

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