Local nonprofit directors dedicate their lives to the common good. photos by Keith Borgmeyer Cheryl Howard, Nora Stewart Early Learning Center As a former graduate...
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Three Columbia seniors live life passionately.
On a grim, icy day in December, Sue Winn, 89, sits tucked in her apartment at Provision Living, watching out the window as cars slide their way down Chapel Hill Road. Inside, her room looks warm, with white wicker furniture and pops of hot pink in her throw pillows and décor.
A book from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring Chanel, sits on her coffee table, reflecting her love of both travel and fashion. Looking like she stepped out of a magazine herself, Sue sports a matching magenta vest, her hair perfectly in place and her jewelry sparkling.
“I love clothes, especially pretty combinations like pink, yellow, and green,” she shares. “They give a lift to living.” Sue thinks she gets the obsession from her mother, who loved hats. “I just hope I have enough money to see my love of clothes through to the end,” she says with a grin.
Sue also loves getting to know people. She admits her wardrobe has opened many doors for her. “People have always noticed what I was wearing and would come talk to me,” she says.
Sue grew up in Salisbury, Missouri, was valedictorian of her high school class, and went on to study music in college. She married John Winn, and they raised their two daughters in a house nearby, where she lived until moving to Provision Living last fall. She adores her three grandsons and great-grandson, and she served for 55 years as a member of a local PEO Sisterhood group.
“I will be 90 in May,” Sue says. “It sounds crazy. I just wanted to have a good time all the way through.”
Part of Sue’s fun has been traveling the world. “I started in Ireland when I was 50, and I have seen every country I wanted to see,” she says. Her excursions have taken her across Europe and into Asia. “While I was on one trip, I would start planning another.”
Which adventure remains closest to her heart? “Ireland was my favorite. Being Irish, I felt like I had close family ties to it,” she explains, describing a memorable experience touring an Irish castle.
Sue’s travels have also taken her to some places repeatedly, like New York. One year, she was invited to tag along with her daughter, who was taking a class of 22 kids to the Big Apple. The excursion became a 22-year tradition.
“There is always something new and different going on outside in New York,” Sue says, recalling a time the streets were lined with decorated pianos for people to play.
Over 90 years, there is one thing Sue never learned to care about — food. “I eat just enough to get by on,” she says. “I’d rather spend my meal time talking with friends.” She also admits that she hasn’t changed dress sizes since high school. Her one vice is chocolate. “I’d eat it for all my meals and in between if I could.”
Although she hasn’t left the state recently, Sue’s favorite traveling adventure is her weekly trip to Boonville on Sunday afternoons. Why Boonville? The Russell Stover shop, of course. “I have eaten Russell Stover’s candy all my life, a pound a week, and I’ll go with anyone who will take me,” she says emphatically.
Sue’s advice for aging gracefully? “I steer clear of people with a negative outlook. It’s too easy to become that way,” she says. “And I sleep. That’s another thing I really love to do!”
Sitting in the bistro at the Village of Bedford Walk, George Hoey, 84, is on his best behavior. He’s been reading “1776” by David McCullough, and he stops to share about life and his thoughts on getting older. His blue wool sweater brings out the color in his eyes, which gleam with a hint of mischief.
“Age is just a number,” George says with a smile. “It’s all about how you use it.”
A former resident of Chicago, George moved to Columbia following his wife’s death in late 2014 to be near his son, who lives in Ashland. Having lived two miles from Wrigley Field with a career as a PE teacher and coach, George says he couldn’t get enough of the Chicago Cubs, all things sports, and a good party.
“I never let my feet drag,” George says. “I was all over the place.”
George’s adventures included being part of Maguire University, a fictitious college created by a group of Chicago high school basketball coaches in order to score tickets to the NCAA Final Four. The idea was hatched in 1963 at Maguire’s Pub in Forest Park, Illinois. George won’t confirm or deny the details (the official Maguire University website lists him as vice president), but he does admit to having attended the Final Four every year since 1980, and he’s looking forward to Phoenix this year.
“I do like to party!” he says.
It’s no surprise that one of George’s favorite activities at the Village of Bedford Walk is the Happy Hour, catered by Room 38 every Wednesday afternoon. He also had the opportunity to show off his bartending skills at a holiday brunch for the staff in December.
His drink of choice? A simple beer, like Miller Lite.
“I wanted life and I’ve found it here at The Village of Bedford Walk,” George says. “I can’t gush enough about the place. It’s my home and this is my family.”
George prioritizes his time to volunteer at University Hospital on Monday and at the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.
“George moved from out of town and wanted be part of the community,” says Village of Bedford Walk community relations specialist Brittany Lambiris. “He really rallies around the other residents and encourages them to get involved.”
Lambiris says that George’s desire to serve in the community was the inspiration for the Bedford Gives Back program, which the Village of Bedford Walk developed to get other residents involved in volunteer work. George also serves as an ambassador for the Bedford Walk community as one of six residents who welcome and engage new people.
In his free time, George is serious about staying fit. He walks three miles several times a week and does water aerobics in the facility’s resistance pool. “I may creak once in a while,” he says, “but I’m not going to say I can’t do it. I’ll just do what I can.”
An obvious highlight of 2016 for George was the Cubs winning the World Series. To fully immerse himself in the experience, he watched the games in his room, where he could yell and scream at the TV screen.
“Cardinal fans give me business all over the place,” George says with a devilish grin, “but this year I gave it all back to them!”
George’s antidote to aging? “I love life. I think it’s meant to have fun,” he shares. “There are hard times, but you can’t dwell on them all your life. You have to move on.”
Edie Brennan, 91, has spent her morning out and about. After her daily walk with a friend (a routine she started at age 49) and running a few errands, she drives back to the Terrace, determined to make the most of her day.
Inside her modest two-bedroom apartment, Edie skitters about, putting her coat and hat in their place while pointing out her latest quilting project spread out on the couch. She eventually takes a seat there, adjusting her artistic metal frames, and gets down to business.
“I don’t understand how people just eat, bathe, sleep, and get up to eat again. They’re not interested in anything,” she laments.
Edie grew up in St. Louis, went to Webster University, and spent most of her career working as a secretary in the Kirkwood School District. She raised two boys and moved to Columbia during the devastation of the 1993 flood, to be near her son in Harrisburg.
Edie might choose to spend her days void of a computer or TV, but her life still holds plenty of adventure. One of her favorite activities is horseback riding.
“I love traveling and always wanted to go down into the Grand Canyon on a mule,” Edie shares. “One of my friends told me to take lessons or it would kill me!”
Despite her fear after being thrown from a horse as a teenager, Edie started taking riding classes and spent several vacations on dude ranches. Eight or so years later, she fulfilled her dream, thankful for her developed muscles and her friend’s advice.
Edie still rides today, traveling to RS Ranch in Bourbon, Missouri twice a year to spend three days exploring the Ozarks scenery from atop her horse. “I chose RS Ranch because they have gated horses,” Edie explains, “which trot in a way that’s easier on seniors.”
Edie has built a relationship with the ranch’s owner and considers her an adopted daughter. “You never know when I might get a call from Tanya, alerting me to an upcoming group that would get a kick out of riding with an old lady,” Edie says with a laugh.
Edie’s modes of transportation even stretch beyond horses and her car. Before moving to Columbia, she also had her pilot’s license.
Having heard a retired employee from McDonnell Douglas, a St. Louis-based airplane manufacturer, talk about learning to fly when he retired, Edie took the challenge. Although she struggled with altitude sickness, she enrolled in ground school in her early 60s and learned to fly on a Cessna 182. “I passed and was the only lady in the club,” Edie recounts. “My dad wasn’t too happy.”
Edie originally quit riding to fly, but she’s now back to riding again. And, of course, she also quilts.
“My goal is to do as much to a quilt as possible to make it beautiful before I let it go,” Edie shares. One of her masterpieces has won several best-in-show awards and took more than 800 hours to quilt and 120 hours to assemble and finish. It appraised for $2,500.
“Unfortunately, I’m aging out of my hobby,” she shares. “It’s awful.” Because of decreased eyesight and reduced manipulation in her fingers, projects seem to take her three times as long.
Yet Edie has a low tolerance for crabbiness and negativity, including her own. “I try not to fuss and instead learn to adapt,” she says.
Edie’s attitude about aging? “I’m living while I’m alive,” she says with determination, “and I’m going to enjoy every day of my life.”