Professor Flanders Dunbar of Columbia University summed up people in their 90’s by several key characteristics; most notably psychological adaptability in the face of stress and keeping mentally and physically active.
I have had the pleasure of knowing one such ‘nimble nonagenarian’ for the past two years. A self-described ‘ladies’ man’—because he always roots for women—and kind soul Bob Erlandson is my role model for how to live and age right.
Born in a small Iowa factory town to a large Swedish family, Bob graduated from Wheaton College and met his dear wife Joan while helping his brother flirt with her friend. There was never a dull moment in their 60 plus years together. Married at 21, they raised five daughters while moving from Iowa to Chicago to California, Sweden, Arizona and finally settling in Ohio in 1999. Bob lost his wife to Alzheimer’s in 2008 and was her caregiver. In their years together they enjoyed learning and volunteering, but music was their passion. They sang in duets, quartets, and were once part of the Mid-America Chorale. Every move meant a new job, new community, new church—and sometimes more daughters. These life events would bring stress to most but Bob and Joan chose to see them as adventures—new places to explore and new friends to be made.
Bob credits staying active for his good health. He volunteered as a meals on wheels delivery driver for many years; is currently a senior companion volunteer, Walk to End Alzheimer’s volunteer, Delaware Citizen’s Police Academy Alumni, Senior Pen Pal, bingo helper at Willowbrook, and a spontaneous volunteer to meet many community needs—like going door to door to end hunger. Bob walks regularly with the golden marathon walking club and has logged over 1,965 miles and his weekly dance lessons have made him a desirable escort for the senior prom. Obstacles like no longer driving have not held this three time cancer survivor back in any way, he is a regular on the Data bus system and jokes, “sometimes I spend more time on the DATA bus than I do in my own bed!’
Volunteering and staying active don’t just help mentally with preventing depression, bridging the generation gap, or overall cognitive health. Being a volunteer and maintaining activity lowers risk of health problems such as Alzheimer’s, heart issues, and even in managing chronic pain.
I have learned so much from knowing my favorite 91 and a half year old. The most important lesson is that sometimes getting older is no picnic; but it is your choice if you see obstacles or new adventures, strangers or friends you haven’t made yet. I will do my best to give back and enjoy my community. And I think I know what choice I’ll make next time life happens—apparently my life depends on it.
Blog writer Melinda Metz is the Senior Leadership Coordinator at Connections Volunteer Center, a program of HelpLine, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (740) 363-5000 to find your perfect volunteer opportunity.