By Kathleen Gest, Local columnist
---- — Even though there are challenges with aging, there are also opportunities.
The senior population is a wonderful resource, giving communities an opportunity to take advantage of their knowledge and experience. Thus, we need to dispense with the stereotypes of what it is to be old and value the interaction seniors can have in their communities.
Established in 2000, the National Cherry Festival Distinguished Senior Citizen award recognizes that individual, 65 and over, for his/her self-sacrifice, hard work and dedication to their community, as well as representing positive aging.
"The Distinguished Senior award is a reinforcement and a recognition that aging is good," said Patti DeAgostino, coordinator of the event. "It is something we all have to deal with, whether we like it or not, and the best way to age is by getting out into the community and helping others."
The award honors that special individual with experience and the wisdom to share with others — that senior who is willing to step up to the plate and say, "I can help."
Previous National Cherry Festival Distinguished Senior Citizens are Peg Simmons, Margaret Dunn, Mary Jean Brick, Clara McManus, Joe Lada, Virginia Olds, Jim Rowlett, Bea Houghton, Rev. Edwin Thome, Sandy Svec and Hettie Molvang.
Last year's honoree, Molvang, was born and educated in London. Her grandmother died in a World War II German bombing blitz. She married an American soldier, Maurice Kunkel, and came to the United States in 1947. A few years later she became a naturalized citizen.
"I think seniors have a lot to give, but I never expected anything like the Distinguished Senior award in my life," Molvang said. "I do what I do "¦ I do what I have a passion about. Certainly, I have a passion for veterans with Parkinson's. I was in World War II in Great Britain, during the bombing of London, so I know what war is about."
Holding a master of arts degree and a master of science degree, Molvang worked as a nurse at Cadillac Mercy Hospital until 1962, when she moved to Traverse City with her second husband, Eric Molvang, to teach advocacy theory and clinical nursing for Northwestern Michigan College. In 1986, she was only the second woman to receive the NMC Imogene Wise award for Excellence in Teaching. She was the director of the honors program and head of the faculty council for several years.
Currently, Molvang is a facilitator for the area's Parkinson's support group and a state coordinator for the Parkinson's Action Network, which lobbies in Washington, D.C., for coverage of U.S veterans and returning servicemen exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange and other neurotoxins. As a result of PAN's work, some 90,000 Vietnam veterans are now receiving benefits.
"The Distinguished Senior for the National Cherry Festival is a very fine award. Certainly, at the time you get it, you think, wow, I must have done something right," Molvang said.
This year's honoree will be named Monday, July 9, at a special breakfast, beginning at 9 a.m. at the TC Elks Lodge (the cost $5). Nominees are Ralph Soffredine, Bob Wilhelm, Bill Crossman, Peter Monahan and Walter Finkbeiner.
"Through the years, the range of service has gone from the conservancies to the History Center to the Pavilions to the cancer society to nonprofits to government," DeAgostino said. "They touch all of the resources we have in the city. I think to give them recognition for what they do, is something we need to do. We owe it to them."
This year, the breakfast and the week of senior activities at the National Cherry Festival are dedicated to Mel Gee. For more information and to register for the breakfast or other senior events, call the Senior Center Network at 922-4911.
Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.