Successful Aging: 17 years ago I received a call, and then this all began
Each October, I write an anniversary column to reflect what I have learned from readers during this past year. It’s now been 17 years and almost 850 columns. Before sharing what I have learned, I thought it would be a good time to let you know the backstory of the column.
Successful Aging was first published in 2001. At the time, I had worked in the field of aging for 25 years, spending most of my time at USC’s Davis School of Gerontology, teaching and directing projects and then moving on to become self-employed. I had written books, academic articles, reports and newsletters, conducted retirement seminars, led research projects and did a lot of public speaking. I had never written a newspaper column.
In September of that year, I received a call from Jean Adelsman who was Managing Editor of the Daily Breeze. She told me Hanna Samson, the Seniors columnist was retiring at age 88 and wanted to know if I was interested in writing the column. I paused and said with some hesitation, “I think so.” “Good,” she replied. “Come in with a 600-word sample of your writing that could be a column and 12 topics you think we should cover related to seniors.”
I worked hard on that 600-word piece, not only on content but also on grammar and punctuation. I met with Jean in her office with Leo Smith, who was the Features editor. As they both read the piece, I remember feeling my heart beating. They looked up and said they liked it and offered me the opportunity to write the weekly column.
I was delighted and indicated a small problem. Although I qualified chronologically as a senior, the term Seniors as the column title did not resonate with me. I suggested considering a different title, something aspirational such as Successful Aging. They said they would check with their attorneys and if they approved it was a go. Well, it was approved and the Successful Aging column was launched.
Here are a few memorable points in time for me. I recall early on walking into Whole Foods and someone said, “Oh look, here comes a journalist from the Daily Breeze.” I turned around looking at the person behind me. I had no idea who they were talking about, not thinking of myself as a columnist at the time.
Last year, I concluded an interview at the Upside of Aging event sponsored by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Village. After the interview, a woman walked up to me and said she remembered the column I had written 14 years ago when my husband died. I was surprised she remembered. She thanked me and said she found the column helpful as her husband had also died 14 years ago; she had faced similar losses and challenges. I was moved to tears by her sharing. We held hands. If my column makes a difference in just one person’s life, I consider that a win.
Seventeen years ago, I made a commitment to our readers that no one will remember except me. That is, behind every question there is a real person. Perhaps that has led to the column’s longevity. The issues and concerns are real. Questions don’t always come through email or letters. Sometimes it’s while buying bananas at Ralph’s when someone will chat with me about their mother or ask where they can find a geriatrician. And then there is always family and friends, thank goodness. When it comes to aging, we all have questions, concerns, challenges as well as victories.
The Sunday column is now syndicated in the 11 Southern California News Group newspapers. These are The Daily Breeze, Los Angeles Daily News, Orange County Register, Pasadena Star-News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Redlands Daily Facts, Whittier Daily News, San Bernardino Sun, Riverside Press-Enterprise and San Gabriel Valley Tribune. That’s in addition to the digital publication online. The print column reaches over 1.6 million readers, providing an extraordinary opportunity for public education.
Over the years, my sense is that our readers want to be heard and understood; to have current information that is relevant, reliable and valid; and to be able to relate some aspect of the column to their lives or to those whom they care about. Perhaps most importantly – they want to enjoy reading the column.
Some of our readers assume that I sit in the Daily Breeze office and write the column as a full-time endeavor. Not true. I actually write from my home office and have other interesting work commitments related to aging that are invaluable in helping to shape and inform my columns.
So that’s the back story. Next week, I’ll begin to share what I have learned from our readers – which is a lot.
Ed. note: On October 30, 2018, the P.V. Village is sponsoring its third annual Upside of Aging event. Helen will be interviewing the noted Dr. Fernando Torres-Gil, Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy at UCLA to discuss Aging, Diversity Immigration – a new national and local dynamic at the Palos Verdes Golf Club, 1:30-3:00 pm. This is a free community event. RSVP to email@example.com or 310-991-3324
Send emails to Helen Dennis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity.