Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 25, 2013

Susan Odgers: In many ways, growing older has its perspectives

Local columnist

---- — My friend, Vivien Prindl, will be 102 years old this Halloween.

Her age, however, is her most remarkable feature.

Mrs. Prindl told me she thinks we both care about other people’s development. “Life is special. I’m not,” she said. “Many people do interesting things. In the world’s family of people, diversity is crucial. I’ve seen children with various disabilities marvelously mainstreamed in England. All of the school children benefited. There is so much to learn about in this world.”

Four mornings a week, she tutors a 10-year-old neighborhood boy. The two have been working together for the past four summers and now he’s confidently working at his grade level. At noon, she eats her warm meal. During the day she reads, listens to the radio, plays Scrabble with visitors, crochets, and writes letters (rough drafts and final copies a reflective day later). She also works on the book she’s been writing. She’s now on chapter 10 of Five Generations of Musical Prindls.

Folks call or stop by to see if she needs anything. Neighbors are nearby.

When she turned 100, her local newspaper wrote a front page story about her, complete with a photo. There were parties, cards from the President of the United States, even fireworks. Her son and his wife came from their home in England to help her celebrate. She seems both amused and grateful for the recognition.

Prindl’s husband Frank, a beloved music professor, died in 1974. She’s never remarried. She retired in 1976 after a long career as an elementary school teacher. Since retiring, she’s held many long volunteer positions as a teacher. For the past many years, she’s lived and volunteered at the Kurn Hattin Home for Children in Vermont. She spends the rest of the year living and volunteering in New York.

According to Dr. Kaare Christensen, in a 2009 article in the Lancet, more than half of the babies born in the U.S. in 2007 will live to age 104. The U.S. currently has the greatest number of known centenarians of any nation, with 53,364, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Prindl and I talk about the numerous books written to inspire living a long, happy and healthy life. She said that in her early life, she missed two years of high school due to respiratory illnesses. She describes herself then as frail. “I guess I got illness over with early,” she said.

I shared with her that one of the critical thinking classes at our local college, uses the book “Having Our Say: the Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” about Sadie and Bessie Delany. She explained that she’s read the book and views the sisters’ as role models.

“Having many interests has helped me remain active,” she added. “I love to travel and I’ve been to all the continents, with the exception of Antarctica. In 2005, I traveled around the world in 105 days and volunteered in the ship’s library. I’ve studied at five different elder hostels. I keep up on current events and having a bookkeeper’s mind helps my memory. I find serenity by knowing and caring about what’s going on in the world but not focusing on the major problems.

”Many people have difficulty meeting people and putting forth the effort. My career as a teacher makes socializing easier for me. I have many wonderful friends and relatives. If I want to do something, say volunteering, I take the initiative. I walk whenever I can, don’t overeat and my health is pretty normal. My will to survive is strong.”

Her older sister died last year at 102.

When I asked her what societal issue really concerns her, she said, “single parenting.”

She has great compassion for single parents struggling to work, care for their children, run a home and meet their own needs. She adds that she’s also glad the schools are addressing bullying.

“People can live without technology, but they can’t live without kindness,” she said. Everyone, including me, has a problem or challenge. That’s why we all have to practice compassion.”

Before I left, she asked me about traveling on an airline with a wheelchair. She asked if I bring my own wheelchair or if the airline provides me with a different wheelchair. We’re curious about one another. I’m learning about growing older without disability from her and she’s watching a much younger woman, live with a disability.

That’s remarkable.

Susan Odgers, a resident of Traverse City for the past 26 years, has used a wheelchair for 37 years. She is a faculty member at Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached via the Record-Eagle.