Persistence in the Face of Adversity

Last month Linked Senior had the opportunity to interview 96-year-old Marilyn Joyce (Hearl) Nowak, one of the original “Rosie the Riveters.” In 1943, she was living in Michigan and just out of high school when at 18 years old she answered the call for women to enter the workforce as part of “The War Effort.” Before that time, her friends and family all called her Joyce and so she almost didn’t answer to Marilyn when they called her name on her first day as she waited in line for her toolbox. At that time she went to work on the assembly line making B-24 Liberator Bomber planes at the Ypsilanti Bomber Plant which was the largest defense plant in the world and owned by the Ford family during World War II. She shared with us that the women at the factory had to wear coveralls and cheese cloth bandanas over their hair while working. She shared that, “My Dad’s farm was only six miles from the factory and my youngest brother, who was 14 years old at the time, remembers the planes flying over the farm. A lot of those pilots testing the planes were actually women.” 

In March 2016, the Ford Motor Company paid for 30 “Rosie the Riveters” to travel to Washington, D.C. as a way to honor them for their service during World War II. Marilyn shared that is was a very special trip and that they were welcomed at the airport by hundreds of people. They visited the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” in Arlington cemetery, had lunch at the Library of Congress and were interviewed by reporters about their experience.

When asked about what advice she would give to Americans today who are living through the COVID-19 pandemic, she focused on the importance of facing adversity head on and most importantly continuing to move forward even when times are difficult. During the War, Marilyn’s family (she had 11 siblings at the time) was unable to get sugar, coffee or butter and many items were rationed at that time. But she said, even with those difficulties, everyone did their part! Of her work in the factory she said, “It was a job that had to be done and we did it.”


Are You “Dyeing” to Get that Job?

By: Penny Cook

I recently gave a presentation in Pittsburgh titled, “Living up to our Ideals- Taking on Ageism.”  It was a diverse audience of people, all of whom work in the world of aging whether pertaining to policy, housing, education, care or support.  What differentiated it wasn’t the areas people came from but rather the broad age range of people in the room and the equal composition of women and men.

I began with outlining some foundational ideals that we could all agree upon and then moved into depictions of products and ideas that I find ageist.  I showed images of greeting cards (can you really find a humorous birthday card that doesn’t make fun of someone’s age?), skin care products that use the words “anti-aging” and “ageless” in their marketing (doesn’t that mean we’re dying?), and the now infamous, diaper birthday cake.  Yes, this is really a thing.

And then I got to the video.  It reminds me that we say things all the time without really thinking of the impact.  The video was developed by AARP and the title is, “Why You Should Stop Giving This “Compliment.”  Maybe you’ve seen it.  It asks people to say something about a picture of a person and then add, “for her age.”  All are what we would call celebrities who look vibrant and attractive.  The participants then read phrases that describe people in a way that we would say is demeaning.  An example is, “she looks pretty for a thick girl,” and “she drives well for a woman.”  People began to be appalled at what was being implied, both in the video and in the audience.  And then the last statement was read, “She looks good for her age.”

The question becomes, why do we have to add that?  Why do we have to qualify it?  Can’t we just say, she looks good?

I asked people to spend a few minutes talking about their reaction.  Many of the comments were ones I’ve heard before- “I never thought about it that way,” I’ve said that so many times,” “I thought I was really giving a compliment.” And the one I love to hear, “I’ll never say that again.”

But there was one comment that was surprising.  A male said, “this was all based-on women, the participants and the pictures. What about men?”  He was right. 

I realized that so many of the presentations I give are to a mostly female audience.  And being a woman myself, I look at aging through that lens.  But his question resonated with me because that same week I was talking to a male friend of mine.  He has 59 years of life experience and was recently laid off from his job of 25 plus years in the technology sector.  He lives in a very tech-oriented city.  As he began seeking other employment opportunities, he was faced with a conundrum that he never thought about- does he look too old?  He knew he would be competing for jobs with people younger than himself and though he has tremendous experience, he was afraid he would be seen in a certain way…as too old to do the job.  What did he do?  He dyed his hair. He covered the normal signs of aging.

I told this story in Pittsburgh.  And when I did, I noticed some of the males in the room nodding.  I also observed that some of them were probably dyeing their hair. 

The issue of ageism isn’t one that can be separated by gender.  It is not directly one that can be divided between race or ethnicity.  No, the thing about ageism is that it’s universal.  It affects all of us.  We’re all growing older, every day. 

What should we do?  Let’s celebrate it, let’s embrace it, let’s shout it loud and far that “Old People Are Cool”!

Penny Cook is the President & CEO of Pioneer Network

Featuring: Helen Gagel and Pam Butterfield


Helen Gagel (L) and Pam Butterfield know that singing is not only cool, but also a healthful pursuit for older adults.  They sing with the Encore Chorale in Evanston, IL.  They are pictured here at the 25th annual Aging Well Conference, where Encore entertained the attendees.

About Encore:  Washington, DC-based Encore Creativity was born of the Creativity and Aging Study at George Washington University in 2006.  The study measured mental, physical, and social benefits for older adults who had the opportunity to sing under a professional conductor. Encore’s Founder and Artistic Director, Jeanne Kelly, built on the results of that study to establish choirs for older adults in the Washington, DC area.  More information:

Jonathan Miller, founder and artistic director of Chicago a cappella, a professional vocal ensemble that enjoys high praise from both critics and audience, brought Encore to the Chicago area, initially as an affiliate of the national organization, now independent.  In just over two years, he has seeded seven choirs involving more than 350 older adults. This year, with his wife Sandra Siegel Miller, Jonathan launched the Good Memories Choir, serving people with early-stage dementia. More information:

Helen Gagel, who has served on Chicago a cappella’s board of directors for 12 years, was eager to help Jonathan Miller launch Encore in Evanston, not only as a singer herself, but also based on her experience leading North Shore Village, an aging-in-place community organization, and her service on the Age Friendly Evanston Task Force.  Helen called on her Evanston network to help find rehearsal space for Encore and to publicize the chorale, now in its third season.

Pam Butterfield, a former school social worker, joined Encore in its first season.  About the experience, she says, “Singing with others is cool because the joy that you experience in hearing your song internally is made more glorious by sharing the music.”



The photo above shows eight people who served as VISTA volunteers in Reserve, LA in 1968.  We gathered in New Orleans to celebrate our 50th anniversary.  (VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America, which was founded in the early 1960s as the “domestic Peace Corps.”  The program is now part of Americorps.)  At the time, we were fresh-faced kids just out of college who thought we could save the world.  Fifty years later, we are not quite so fresh-faced, but we still believe that we can—and should—make a difference in the world by being involved in community service and political and social action.  We all agreed that we are still cool after all these years.

Another Look at “Successful Aging”

Author Jeanette Leardi has allowed Old People are Cool to repost this blog contribution which originally appeared on the website ChangingAging:

Another Look at “Successful Aging”

We need to replace that unproductive and discriminatory paradigm with one that is realistic, compassionate, and fair –– one requiring an equal commitment between the individual and society.


Featuring Joyce Williams, Blogger

Today it is our pleasure to share insights from blogger extraordinaire Joyce Williams! Joyce began her blog one year ago ( and has used her platform to challenge ageism in the main stream media and greater society. Last year, Joyce’s journey to blogging was featured in this inspiring Daily Record article. Below is an excerpt from our conversation:

Linked Senior: What are you most passionate about?

Joyce Williams: Being curious…anything and everything. Going for a walk and exploring, meeting people and asking questions, reading all things in print. The internet is amazing.

(LS): Do you have words of wisdom for younger generations?

(JW): Don’t be afraid of old age. It is truly a great time of life…when you are free, you know what you like, you know looks don’t matter a lot, but laughter, joy in life and sharing happiness is delightful. And sex is even better!

(LS): What are a few of your favorite memories from your childhood and young adulthood?

(JW): Building fires in the woods and making ‘dampers’ (twists of dough made from flour and water to cook on elderberry sticks). We were out all day, no one cared where we were or what we did so long as we were home for tea.

(LS): What accomplishment in your life so far are you most proud of?

(JW): Probably creating this new career at 80+! I enjoyed learning to blog and reaching out to and meeting the world. Great to feel that maybe the blog and my alter ego Grandma Williams are doing something to change the current sad, unhelpful image painted of later years. And amazed to find myself a finalist in the 2018 UK Blog Awards. Wow! That would change the image of later years.

Wear Your Years With Pride

You’ve probably heard the saying “Getting old is not for sissies.” But, did you know who is credited with originating that sentiment? It was the actress Bette Davis. If that’s a new fact you’ve just learned, then it’s a good example of why getting older is so wonderful.

We keep learning, and growing, and discovering all kinds of interesting things. Celebrate the miracle of each new day as the gift it is meant to be.

“Old people are cool” is the name of a campaign recently embarked on by our friends at Linked Senior. This initiative is focused on promoting the positive experience of growing older by celebrating all that people are and do as they age. They have initiated a crusade against ageism, and we are happy to join in.

A great deal of thought was put into using the word “old.” After all, most of us fight looking and feeling old. Those first gray hairs, wrinkles, or aches and pains herald an all-out war in the form of dyes, creams, and medications. Most people don’t like to think of themselves as old, but the truth is we should wear our years with pride. The experiences lived, the lessons learned, the wisdom gained—all add up to a better self. And then there’s the issue of time, and as we age, there seems to be more of it every
day—time to stop and smell the roses as they say.

So, instead of getting up early and dragging yourself to work—sleep as long as you want, get dressed at your leisure, do the things you want to do, and, most of all, be at peace with yourself.

Let’s celebrate the word old and embrace all the wonderful things our many years have given us.

– Excerpt from Activity Connection article