By KATHLEEN GEST
Special to the Record-Eagle
---- — Populations around the world are aging, but even though there are challenges, there are also opportunities. The senior population is a wonderful resource, giving communities an opportunity to take advantage of their knowledge and experience in the course of their volunteer activities. Volunteering is the cornerstone of a stronger nation as people, working together, help make their communities a better place in which to live.
Furthermore, volunteers are unique people and Mike Sheehan is definitely a unique volunteer. Born and raised in the south side of Chicago, he left home at the age of 15 to become a monk, entering the Order of St. Justin, a high school seminary, in Saugatuck. For his bachelor’s degree, he went to Villanova University in Philadelphia, founded in 1842 by the Order of Saint Augustine. He received his master’s degree from DePaul University with post grad work at the University of Chicago.
After 13 years, Sheehan left the monastery and began teaching English at City Colleges of Chicago. After teaching for 26 years, he retired in 1994. When he and his late wife started looking for a retirement area, they looked all over the country — Amherst, Mass., Madison, Wis., Park City, Utah and Sequim, Wash. Instead, he chose Leelanau County, six hours from their home in Chicago.
Sheehan started his volunteer career the same year he retired. He uses his talents, passions and humor to breathe life into his volunteer tasks
In 1994, the Traverse City free Internet was transferred from Northwestern Michigan College to the Traverse Area District Library. They asked for people from the community to volunteer on the board. Since Sheehan was computer literate, he signed on. Each board member was asked to select a specialty and Sheehan chose seniors.
“I figured OK, the kids are controlling the Internet right now, why not give ‘us’ a place,” Sheehan said. “Looking down the line, I knew the generation of boomers would come already computer literate. So I started in 1995, putting ‘The Senior Corner’ online. It is basically information for seniors — all kinds — medical, social, transportation — anything I can think of that might be of interest to seniors — sort of an online phone book, if you will, with links for senior services.”
The Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging now maintains the Senior Corner on the county website.
However, Sheehan didn’t stop there. Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed him to the Commission on Services to the Aging; he became the chairman of the State Advisory Council on Aging, a member of the Bay Area Senior Advocates and an Advisor to the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Michigan. He also taught computer classes at the Traverse City Senior Center.
Having taught composition, he became a prolific writer, writing 10 books. He hosts a call-in radio program, “Words to the Wise,” about the English language, each Tuesday on Ron Jolly’s radio program at Traverse City’s WTCM. He is a member of several language and writing societies and he writes Wordmall, a blog about language.
As an expert with words, Sheehan defines volunteering as, “Doing something for others, rather than for yourself. I think that is the core of it. You’re not looking for recognition, you’re not looking for money, you’re looking to pay back the good that the community has done for you … we would be dead in the water if we didn’t have enough volunteers … the way society is these days everybody needs volunteers – churches, libraries, schools, etc. So many things are being cut back that we have to have volunteers.”
Many men find that retirement is a different life, with different rules. It’s no longer about position and earnings; it’s about the interesting ventures that can be accomplished during the rest of their lives, as well as representing positive aging.
“I’m busier now than when I was working as an English professor. That’s what retirement is for,” Sheehan said. “Volunteering keeps my mind active, for one thing. It acts as a networking tool — I know a lot of people I never would have met otherwise…mental alertness, networking, socialization, all the good things. And nobody tells me what to do either. That’s the nice thing about volunteering — they are grateful to have you.”
For more information on volunteering opportunities, call the Senior Center Network at 922-4911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To access The Senior Corner online, search for “Grand Traverse Senior Corner.”