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No time for slowing down

Published Sep. 16, 2005

(ran HT, PT, NP, TP, SP editions)

I met Gloria Douglas at a meeting of the Friends of Seminole Library. We talked about the pleasures of growing older and how the younger people, the infamous baby boomers, don't understand that becoming 50 doesn't mean you become a different person. In fact, it might be the strongest and most vigorous part of your life.

Douglas said she had an answering machine added to her phone. One by one, her three grown sons, who live in other states, encountered the machine when calling their mother.

"They said, "What do you need that for?' " she said, "as if I didn't do anything."

Douglas describes herself as a resident volunteer. For 15 years, she volunteered at Heritage Park. She has been active on the County Historical Society Board and was chairman for the County Jubilee every October for four years. Thousands of people attend this event.

Then she needed new challenges. She is a volunteer for the Seminole Library and is on the Pinellas Public Library co-op board. In addition, she is active in and has been national president of the Questors, a study group that gives a Columbia University scholarship to at least one student studying for a master's degree in historic preservations.

"I'm not home much," Douglas said. "I need an answering machine. But my sons see me as taking care of Dad and sitting around knitting as I always have. (There are 11 grandchildren in the family.) They see me as Mom and Grandma, and that's wonderful. They do know some of the things I'm involved in, but it just kind of rolls off their shoulders: "Well, that's Mother.'

"You almost have to live in the house," she said, "to know the lifestyle of a person. Even if you are 70 years old, you still have a lot of activities that require attention."

There are a lot of active grandmothers and grandfathers. Douglas pointed out the people who do Meals On Wheels and the volunteers at the veterans' hospitals.

"The hospice volunteers are never home either," she said.

Jackie Shewmaker, retired USF librarian, still goes in a couple days a week to the Poynter Memorial Library on the St. Petersburg campus, "to find things that no one else can find," she said.

A friend said to her, "Now that you are retired, write down one thing every evening that you want to do the next day and then do it."

Shewmaker said, "Are you kidding? You should see my calendar. Every day is already filled." Recent escapade: riding in a hot air balloon.

Florence Carr, Masters swimmer and former movie swimmer in the Esther Williams films, took first place in her age group (70-74) for swimming the 50-meter butterfly in the World Masters Championships in England recently.

On another level, consider Charles Schulz, 74, who draws seven Peanuts cartoon strips week in and week out. Maya Angleou still writes; Ruth Bader Ginsberg still sits on the Supreme Court. Paul Newman switched from movies to hot sauce and donates the profits to charity.

Listen up, boomers. There is life on the other side of 50.

_ You can write to Niela M. Eliason, c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.