I’m a senior citizen and so is my mother (ages 56 and 81), but our lives couldn’t be more different. In the evening, she watches game shows; I watch The Daily Show. She enjoys big band music; I like good ol’ rock and roll. She’s in bed by 8 p.m.; my preferred bedtime is midnight or 1 a.m.
So what is a senior citizen? Most young people (as I did at their age) have a certain image in their mind when they hear that term. But think about it. At age 55, we become “senior citizens.” From 55 to 105—that’s quite a mixed bag of people!
Check out these local seniors. You might just get a different perspective on who we are. And next time you see a senior, be curious about the person behind that white (or, ahem, dyed) hair. He or she probably has some pretty entertaining, interesting and wise things to say.
Blandy Merrill: Whoever has the most fun, wins.
Blandy, 61, has been a cardiac sonographer at for 31 years. She lives with her dog, Bene, and cat, Ivy.
Here are Blandy’s thoughts on her life as a “senior citizen”:
“The thought of being a senior citizen is so funny to me. The weirdest thing is when you go somewhere and get a [senior citizen] discount, and they don’t card you. It’s kind of insulting, but I guess nobody would fake being a senior citizen.
"I don’t feel the same as I thought older people felt when I was a kid. My grandparents were this age when I was in my 20s. I just don’t feel like I’m that old. It’s very odd.
"I love plants and dirt. I love to sing and dance, and I play the ukulele. One way I keep in shape is taking my dog for walks.
"Since my back surgery, I haven’t been able to surf, and it’s driving me crazy. I hope to be able to surf again—being on the water, sitting on your board, in the sun. It’s just so much fun. And that’s the way I feel about it: Whoever has the most fun, wins."
Mark Bernhard: Circumstances of life are more important than age.
Chiropractor Mark Bernhard, 62, has a 27-year-old practice that he finds “rewarding, challenging and stimulating.” He couldn’t be more proud of his retired-schoolteacher wife, Anne Steyaert, and his two grown sons.
“I don’t feel 62 or, at least, as old as I used to think 62-year-olds looked like they did when I was 22. My personal outlook has not changed much since then.
"What you’ve done and continue to do and the circumstances of life are more important than age. I am supremely fortunate, with no complaints other than the sociopathic miscreants in the Republican Party.
"I have been a student of Tai Chi Chuan for the last 12 years and recently begun teaching with Santa Cruz Tai Chi. This has helped me to be still and to live in the moment.
"I just got a lifetime pass to the U.S. National Parks for $10 and a discount at the . If the label 'senior citizen' comes with my age, I can handle it.”
Ron Stephenson: You need a positive way of thinking.
Ron Stephenson, 74, is manager of the Electronics Recycling department at the California Grey Bears. He and his wife, Carolyn, are in the office working side-by-side five days a week.
“I say to people, you have to stay busy. And that’s one of the reasons I come down here [to Grey Bears]. The reason we have people who are 95 and younger who come here—they need something to do. I need something to do. I’d probably go crazy or die early. Because you need to stay active.
"Some people play golf. I write books as a hobby. I have five books that I’ve self-published. I write about people I meet. I play bridge. I set up a guy with a computer and a bridge game, and he loves it. And now he goes to bridge clubs here in town. So you need to find your niche. My mother’s 95, and she listens to books on tape. That’s the way people keep going when you’re a senior. You have to have a positive way of thinking."
Diane See: I learned how young 80 and even 90 could be.
“As an instructor in the Older Adults Department of City College San Francisco for 13 years, I met hundreds of 'seniors,' and I learned how young 80 and even 90 could be. I was 57 when I began teaching, and after retiring in 2003, at the age of 70, I spent three months in Bali, India and Japan by myself, feeling young, healthy and energetic.
"Living in Santa Cruz, since 2006, I wrote [two books, see above]. I have almost completed my memoir.
"Now I teach T’ai Chi Chih at Santa Cruz Yoga. That plus writing, reading, walking by the Bay and photography give me great pleasure. Aging is inevitable, but I give it little attention. How about simply 'People Over 60' instead of Senior Citizen—if any title is needed!"
Ken Miller: If I just sat down I probably wouldn’t be here.
Ken Miller, 92, works in the Electronics Recycling department at the California Grey Bears, where he disassembles computers and separates the various components. When I first walked into the facility, he was standing, hunched over an open computer, vigorously removing a bracket.
“I’ve been volunteering at the Bears since 1985. And I put in three days a week from 9 to 1 o’clock. Of course, I do other things to help out the Bears. I help them out quite a bit. I can do things at home, but I had a little heart trouble, had two stints put in at 91. So I’m limited on reaching, squatting and lifting weights. I don’t mow my lawn anymore. But I pull weeds and other yard work.
"My wife and I have been married for 68 years. The wife is 87. I had three daughters but lost one to cancer. I have five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.
"I came to Capitola in 1940 and operated a chicken farm on Capitola Avenue for nine years. Then I moved into Santa Cruz. We built our house in 1960, and we still live there.
"So I keep busy, and I think that’s what we do with the time we have living here. If I just sat down, I probably wouldn’t be here."