The 1000th column: Looking back at 20 years of Successful Aging
Editor’s note: Here, Helen Dennis has written her 1000th Successful Aging column, a feat of perseverance, persistence and hard work that we are proud to share with our readers. We’re grateful for all we’ve learned from her over the past 20 years, we salute this amazing achievement and we look forward to more to come.
It’s hard for me to believe this week’s column is number 1,000. For the past 20 years, I have committed to turn in a column each week, which feels similar to turning in college assignments except this time no one is grading my papers. As soon I submit one weekly column, it seems that another is due.
I am fortunate to get some feedback regarding how and where the columns are used. They have been forwarded to friends and family members, used in community discussion groups, reprinted in newsletters and placed on LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Some have been part of a college reading list, others posted on professional association websites while others have been placed in readers’ files for later use.
I also receive some in-person feedback which might occur while buying coffee at Trader Joe’s or bananas at Ralph’s. I recall going for a run when someone in a passing car shouted, “I liked your column this morning.” Feedback also comes when I am speaking to groups attended by many of our readers.
I recall a conversation with a woman who came up to me after I spoke to a large group and asked, “Do you remember the column you wrote when your husband passed away? My husband passed away at the same time,” she said, “and I will never forget what you wrote; it meant a lot to me.” That column had been written 14 years ago and she remembered. We actually both held hands and cried.
Aging affects all of us regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or background. Fortunately, we know a lot about aging. Some of it is in journals, research reports, government documents, books and periodicals that often don’t find their way to what I call “we the people on the street.” My column serves as a platform to transfer and translate some of that knowledge to our 1.2 million readers (that’s digital and print combined), addressing their concerns as well as opportunities. The core of my column is based on knowledge, evidenced-based information with some professional/personal perspectives thrown in for good measure.
Perhaps after 20 years, it’s time to share some of my background. I entered the field of aging in 1976 after completing a master’s degree in clinical psychology. This was in the early years of the field when folks thought gerontology was like a skin disease related to dermatology. I made my career at USC’s Davis School of gerontology teaching and directing projects. After about 20 years, I became self-employed, kept USC as a client and engaged in a number of age-related endeavors. I presented retirement education seminars on non-financial issues to about 25,000 mid-life and older employees across the country, completed expert witness reports for class-action age discrimination cases, developed employment opportunities for older adults and did lots of public speaking. And there were over 100 published articles, several books, book chapters and more. My current volunteer work with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Village, the Encore Network and the American Society on Aging continues to enrich my knowledge, thinking and collegial connections and relationships. I share this information because my professional and volunteer experiences in the field of aging inform my columns. I consider my engagement in the field, both past and present as a prerequisite to writing Successful Aging.
I occasionally say to myself, “So, why do I continue to write a column every week?” That’s a lot of deadlines while facing an empty screen. The reason is simple: to make a difference, to have the opportunity to enhance the lives of our readers and their families when it comes to the subject of aging. Additionally, my hope is that the columns give our readers a realistic feeling of hope, the resources to address needs and an occasional smile and chuckle.
One does not get to column 1,000 without lots of help. I am grateful to Jean Adelsman, former managing editor of the Daily Breeze who invited me to write the column; to Leo Smith, former features editor of the Daily Breeze who was my editor for many years; and to Erik Pedersen, who is my current editor. A final thank you is extended to the Southern California News Group management who syndicated the column, providing the weekly opportunity to reach those 1.2 million total readers.
So dear readers, thank you for your loyal readership. Stay well, stay strong and together we will get through 2022 with resilience and age successfully as a community. And as a reminder, do good deeds and be kind to yourself and others.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity