Enriching the twilight years

The elderly. Who are they? Too often, these men and women in their advanced years are stereotyped as old folks who spend their days in rocking chairs. This image, according to Steve Heiner, director of BYU's Gerontology Resource Center, is no longer an accurate picture.

"More people are living longer in their retirement years," said Dr. Heiner. "People simply remain active longer. There's a good deal of evidence that being active physically and mentally will help extend your life. Reaching your genetic potential is much more likely to happen if you're challenged physically and mentally."Retiring from life is not a good idea. I think older people need to keep their social network going. They need to be as physically active as possible. They can take on reading projects; no one is ever too old to learn. Being vital and active is important in retirement. You can't just fade away."

Following are accounts of some elderly people who have accepted new challenges, are serving others and who continue to look forward to the future.


When Julia Webster of the Kaysville (Utah) 6th Ward turns 100 years old Aug. 12, all her neighbors will know – but only because they've been told. Otherwise they'd never guess.

The diminutive centenarian belies her age. She's in excellent health but for a little arthritis in her leg. A few years ago a dog jumped up on her and knocked her down, causing her to break her hip. Her hip mended well, but is now prone to arthritis.

She continues visiting teaching – which she has done for the past 65 years – and occasionally delivers a bowl of hot soup or a custard to an ailing neighbor.

Her services are important to her and help keep her mentally alert, said her daughters.

"I try to walk as much as I can," Sister Webster said. "But I can't do much in the heat."

Born Aug. 12, 1891, in Seraing, Leige, Belgium, she immigrated to America at age 15 with her parents, converts to the Church. Her husband, Wilford H., died in 1955. They had nine children, seven of whom are living.

Work has been an important part of Sister Webster's life. She made all of her children's clothing for years, and her children recall coming home to the aroma of freshly baked bread, cinnamon rolls and other goodies. Today, she doesn't like to watch television unless she can do so while crocheting or making quilt blocks.

She has 14 grandchildren and 39 great-grandchildren who call her "little Grandma."

Asked if she yearned for an earlier, more youthful age, she said, "Well, I wouldn't mind being 70 again." – John L. Hart

He serves in ward, maintains garden

WILLAMINA, ORE.\ Elgin Stewart Campbell can't do quite as much as he used to, but he still holds to the adage, "It's not over 'til it's over.

"There's always something you can see to do if you look," said Brother Campbell, 90, a member of the Willamina Ward, Dallas Oregon Stake. "The biggest trouble now is it's getting hard for me."

He received an artificial hip five years ago, which severely limited his activities, including the travels he and his wife, Arvilla, 87, used to enjoy. But he stays active by carrying on the family tradition of raising a garden every year and is currently serving as second counselor in the ward bishopric.

Born in Ogden, Utah, and reared in Preston, Idaho, just north of the Utah/Idaho border, Brother Campbell said he remembers helping in the family garden when he was a small boy. "My father was a commercial gardener in Ogden and Preston."

His father's example paid off. Brother Campbell said he works in his garden daily for two to three hours. "It just gives you satisfaction in doing something and seeing the results of what you do. When you retire, you need to do something besides fish and hunt. I feel like I ought to be doing something so I'll go out and hoe some weeds."

In addition, Brother Campbell estimated that raising a garden saves he and Sister Campbell about $500 a year in food. The kinds of foods raised in a garden is dependent on the climate, he explained. But he grows such foods as raspberries, strawberries, corn, potatoes, radishes, onions, cabbage, peppers, broccoli and zucchini."

And he shares some of the surplus with friends in Willamina.

When he was called to the bishopric five years ago, he accepted with no serious concerns as to his age. "I've been in Church positions nearly all my life. I don't know why in the world they picked me."

He feels his greatest contribution has been in relating to the elderly in the ward. "We understand each other. They have a tendency to confide in me about some of their problems."

Brother Campbell attributed his determination to remain active in life to "orneriness." But in actuality, he has always shown an interest in life. Following his retirement in 1958 as a bus driver, he held several local public offices, including mayor of Willamina in the late 1960s.

And even up until last year, he and Sister Campbell traveled widely with a camper or trailer. He said they have visited 10 to 12 states.

Brother Campbell shared several memories with the Church News, but especially remembers attending high school in Preston, Idaho, with President Ezra Taft Benson, who turned 92 on Aug. 4. (See Church News, Aug. 3.)

"I remember his family. I used to dance with his sister at public dances we held in the stake house every Saturday night," recalled Brother Campbell.

With all these memories and his current activities, he expressed, "I enjoy life." – Julie A. Dockstader

Serving when 80 `not so remarkable'

Norinne Richards Callister, who will be 80 on Aug. 18, has been Relief Society president in the Eighteenth Ward, Salt Lake Eagle Gate Stake, a little more than a year.

This is her second tenure as Relief Society president in recent years. About seven years ago, when she and her husband lived in the Arlington Hills Ward, Salt Lake Emigration Stake, the bishop, after initial misgivings that she might be too old, called her as Relief Society president of that ward.

"Some people seem astonished that I am serving as a Relief Society president when I'm almost 80," she said . "But if you think about it, that's not so remarkable. There are a lot of people as old as I am, and older, who are serving. Just look at the Brethren who are my age and older; people a lot younger can't keep up with them.

"I was next to the oldest member in that ward. I missed the fact that we didn't have a lot of older people. When we moved into this ward, the picture almost reversed. We have a few young married couples, but most are older members."

And most are also widows, as is Sister Callister. Her husband, Reed, died two years ago.

Sister Callister seems to always be in perpetual motion, going the extra mile in her Relief Society responsibilities. In addition to the usual duties she drives others to doctors' offices and grocery stores. She recently helped a young married couple set up housekeeping by driving them to a Deseret Industries store and hauling some of their purchases home in her car.

Among her more frequent activities is visiting people who are confined to their homes, either because of brief illnesses or long-term disabilities.

"I think loneliness is one of the biggest problems the elderly have," she said. "A lot of our older members in the ward don't have any family close by. Our visiting teachers are very diligent, and many visit more than once or twice a month, but they can't fill the need people have for daily personal contact. For too many people, the days are long and lonely."

Of staying active and involved in life, she said, "You have to make an effort at any age. The picture changes through the years. A few years ago, I had a husband; now I'm a widow. I've had to make some changes in my daily life.

"Our Relief Society sisters look after each other. One reads to another, some visit and make telephone calls. We have several apartment buildings in the ward; the sisters have pot-luck dinners for their buildings. That helps them have some social activity and recreation in their lives."

Sister Callister said she has no plans to slow down. "Each year I find something more wrong with me physically, but I can live with that," she said. "I plan to keep as active as I can for as long as possible. I always think of my father [Elder LeGrand Richards of the Council of the Twelve]. He said he would rather wear out than rust out. I feel the same way." – Gerry Avant

She will serve `as long as I live'

People who want to talk on the telephone to Beatrice Ford during the day should have lots of patience; they're likely to have to dial her number about 10 times before they find her at home.

Sister Ford, 85, said she doesn't have time to stay home and wait for the phone to ring. "I have places to go, things to do," she said. And, since she doesn't drive any longer, she walks to a lot of those places. She figures she walks a mile to a mile-and-a-half every day.

She is Relief Society president in the Escalante Branch, Salt Lake Rose Park North Stake. The branch consists mainly of older members who reside in a large apartment complex.

Sister Ford said she doesn't hold much claim to fame just because she's an 85-year-old Relief Society president, since Hendrikus (Henri) A. Van Oostendorp, 95, is the branch's Sunday School president. Brother Van Oostendorp, who resides in an apartment with his wife, Pieternella (Nellie,) 93, conducts the branch's Sunday School opening exercises nearly every Sunday.

"A lot of our sisters need help with a lot of things," Sister Ford said. "Most are widows who live alone. I try to see what I can do for them. I can't do as much work for them as I could when I was younger, but I keep trying. Some need a lot of help, others need little things, like having someone bring in their mail. We have several sisters who aren't active; we're trying hard to get them to come to Relief Society and other meetings."

She has responsibilities other than Relief Society. "I have some names in the temple I'm trying to get done; I usually go to the temple on Wednesdays for sealings," she said. "I also go to the Family History Library to do research. I spend as much time in the library as I can."

She said she has been busy and active all her life, ever since she joined the Church at age 14 in West Virginia. She came to Utah in 1948.

"Every once in a while, I run into people who feel they've done their share of serving," she noted. "I went with my counselors to visit some elderly people one day and tried to encourage them to reach out beyond themselves a little through serving others. They said they had already served, and that the Lord didn't expect anything of them now. I don't understand that. How can we ever get through serving the Lord?

"I want to keep on serving as long as I live. I don't feel I'm ever done." – Gerry Avant

Asian elderly `easy to teach'


Traditionally, in Asia the "youngers" learn from their elders.

So it was a reversal of roles when six people in Surakarta (Solo), Indonesia, and one man in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, all between the ages of 75 and 104, learned from the examples of their "youngers," and accepted the gospel.

Robert W. Houghton, recently released as president of the Singapore Mission, shared with the Church News the story of how a missionary couple, Elder Quinn and Sister Wilma Washburn of Mesa, Ariz., went to fellowship less-active members of the Church in Surakarta on the island of Java this year, and ended up sharing the gospel with the elderly of the households.

"These people had seen the Church and what it was doing for the `youngers.' Everyone assumed they weren't interested," related Brother Houghton of the Emmett 2nd Ward, Emmett Idaho Stake. "Elderly people in Asia are greatly valued because of their wisdom and experience. It is part of the culture that the elderly are to be taken care of. There would be no such thing as a rest home for the aged there. The only rest home is the family home where they are made welcome and loved, and are a very integral part of the household."

Elder and Sister Washburn didn't speak Indonesian so three local Relief Society sisters, including Endang Prihatini, accompanied them as translators while visiting the less-active Church members.

During one such visit to the home of a 16-year-old, less-active member, the Washburns and Sister Endang met the member's grandmother, Surip Sastro Pawire, 86. Sister Endang invited the elderly lady to hear the discussions and she agreed.

Sister Surip was baptized soon after. "She walks to Church and has been there every Sunday since we first met her," added Elder Washburn.

Sister Endang's own 101-year-old grandmother was among the elderly touched by the gospel. Elder and Sister Washburn accompanied Sister Endang to visit her ailing grandmother, Yamsini Atmo Witono, whom she hadn't seen in eight years. Sister Witono accepted the gospel and was also baptized.

Other conversions the Washburns took part in or witnessed included Joyo Sumarto, 86; Waginem Wirodiharjo, 80; Sutini Laksono Pinileh, 78; and Suwarni Sudarmo, 75.

In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 104-year-old Wong Fok Seng watched the effect of the gospel on his grandson, Raju Sevaragu, and Brother Raju's family. Desiring to know more about the gospel, he took the discussions from sister missionaries and was also baptized.

Brother Houghton commented that all the elderly were "receptive, easy to teach." – Gerry Avant and Julie A. Dockstader

He affirms value of exercise, service


High priests in the Hemet 2nd Ward of the Hemet California Stake are more than enduring to the end. They're "on the run" to keep up with their group leader, W. LaGrand Nielsen.

Brother Nielsen, an 83-year-old retired U.S. Army colonel, schedules the high priests to visit the nursing homes in the Hemet area twice a week; organizes semi-monthly trips to the Los Angeles Temple, 102 miles away on heavily trafficked thoroughfares; and keeps his group striving for improvement in home teaching and scripture reading.

And early each morning Brother Nielsen runs between five or 10 kilometers (three or six miles), rides his bike for 10 to 15 miles, and swims between 150 to 200 yards. He credits his good health to special blessings from trying to serve the Lord and from following a rigorous exercise program.

He preaches the value of exercise to his fellow quorum members in the Melchizedek Priesthood group and to others. He tells them, "You're never too old to exercise." Nearly every day of the week he visits the shut-ins at nursing homes and encourages them to walk if they can or even move their arms slightly or wiggle their fingers.

"Most of us don't realize how lonely people in nursing and rest homes are," he said. "They need someone to look at, to talk to and someone who'll listen to them. Conversation is so important to them."

The importance of visiting the nursing home residents was brought forcibly to Brother Nielsen, who lost his wife a couple of years ago after a long bout with Alzheimer's disease.

"Running helped me cope with the sorrowful situation of watching my wife and sweetheart wither away and die," he reflected. "Running out in the open where the air is clear and sometimes nippy, helped me get over that `me' syndrome and started me to think about others whose problems were much worse than mine."

Nielsen loves to set goals for himself in his Church work and in his running. His high priests have notched up a 98 percent home teaching mark, but he is shooting for 100 percent and sees no reason why it can't be attained. He wants more of his brethren to join in the trips to the temple and in visits to the less-fortunate. And he was astounded to learn many of his group were not daily reading the scriptures. Improvement in that category is on his must list.

During the past few years he has run in foreign lands as well as in the United States.

He ran in the 1991 World Veterans Championships in Turku, Finland, July 18-28. Brother Nielsen also ran in Moscow in the Soviet Union in late July and early August. He came home from these competitions with four gold medals and one bronze.

He has been decorated with medals from many countries including Australia, China, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, England and the United States. Overall, he has won more than 80 gold, silver, and bronze trophies, plaques and medals, 90 percent of which were for first place.

While he definitely knows the thrill of a "runner's high," he finds greater satisfaction in other avenues, having served three missions with his late wife.

"The exciting thrills come when a brother who has drifted away comes back into Church activity or when the gospel message can be explained to some soul who has never heard of it or had it explained to him. Those thrills top them all," said Nielsen, who was labeled by a California writer as "America's oldest living teenager."

Many thrills have come Nielsen's way through his Church work and his running. – Quig Nielsen, Church News contributor