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TENACITY: Portraits of Aging in Maine – Vol 2

T E N A C I T Y:
Portraits of Aging in Maine – Vol 2
Over the last year and a half I’ve been working in collaboration with the University of Maine’s Center on Aging, creating content for an ongoing project on aging in the state called Tenacity: Portraits of Aging in Maine

The focus of this project is to find individuals who have contributed in significant ways to the state, but also who have stories to tell that speak to different trends in Maine’s aging population. 

By sharing these individual stories, the project then also shows how these stories relate to larger trends in aging on both national and international levels. We appreciate you taking the time to learn about this project, and we hope you enjoy learning more about those who participated.
Nilda Cravens, Devoting One’s Life To Others 

Nilda Cravens has served others as a nurse throughout her career, starting
with volunteering in the Peace Corps. Later she worked for UMaine until her
recent retirement. She and colleague Susan Tardiff co-founded UMaine Nursing
International, bringing teams of nursing students to third-world countries
where they work with local doctors to supplement local health care. She also
works as a volunteer and board director with Maine Mobile Health, a federally
qualified, entirely mobile health center serving migrant workers, seafood
farm and processing workers. Cravens is aware of the keys to aging success, 
issues like maintaining good health and maintaining proper nutrition, but 
adds that being intellectually connected to the world is just as important.
“I want to continue to contribute to a larger society, working to impact
climate change and other key issues that affect every one of us.”

People have been helping others since the beginning of time. They can do it
both through serving in the helping professions (e.g., nursing and social
work) and through volunteering. For older adults, it can represent one of
the most important ways in which to stay active, engaged and connected to 
the world at the same time that it allows us to give back to those who can
benefit greatly from varying kinds of assistance. So, it represents a
productive, satisfying and altruistic use of one’s time and energy in
service to other individuals, groups, organizations and communities. And,
older adults are counted among the most inclined to volunteer of all age
groups. Maine ranks eighth among states in the percentage of residents who
volunteer - some 38.7% or 425,346 for a total of 39.2 million hours with an
estimated economic value of $947.6 million. Nationally, almost two billion
hours of volunteer service with a value of more than $45 billion is given
by adults 65 years and older.

Jack Clifford, Finding Renewed Life In Creative Ventures

Jack Clifford wants people to know that he’s never worked a day in his life.
As a lifelong musician, he has enjoyed every moment, every gig, every
assignment, which have been many and varied. Clifford was born in 1947, 
started playing guitar at eight years old, started playing professionally
just four years later, and has never stopped. “Music is what gets me going.
I love to play and I’m always listening, always learning something from 
everything I hear, whether professional or amateur,” preferably jazz or pop
music. Clifford maintains a positive outlook. “Things are going very well,”
he boasts. If his health has slowed him a bit, it doesn’t
hinder his attitude. 

Creativity is not lost as we age. Some modern views on creativity portray
it as a process of forming new or original ideas or constructing objects
of value. Through this lens, it’s understood people learn and build more
capacity for creativity throughout their lifespan. Building, doing, and
creating, especially by hand, is a strong Maine tradition. Older Mainers
are often the teachers and fonts of knowledge in their communities for 
their crafts, helping show others how they perform their craft and work
creatively using their knowledge pools. Expressing creativity has many 
benefits! This is especially true for those in later life. Beyond getting a 
sense of accomplishment from doing or creating, research has demonstrated
many benefits connected with participating in creative activities in groups
and alone. For people 60 years of age and older, singing in a community choir
can reduce feelings of loneliness and increase social connection by giving 
people an opportunity to meet others they may not normally see. Exploring 
creativity in improvisational theater showed improvements in mood and sense 
of belonging, decreased anxiety, and an attained feeling of achievement
and empowerment for actors with varying types of dementia. Creative writing, 
dance, and other participatory arts programs show potential for boosting
memory and self-esteem while reducing stress in the lives of older adults.

Bob Russo, Turning One’s Passion Into A Lifelong Career Of Developing Others

National Golden Gloves of America President Bob Russo calls himself a “freakish fan” and revels in turning others into freakish fans as well. Starting around age 8, Russo fell in love with boxing and that love has never waned.  Totally immersing himself in the sport over decades, Russo eventually established the Portland Boxing Club so that he could use his expertise to train others and serve as a mentor to young kids who need support in their lives. 

“Golden Gloves is not just boxing, it’s a youth program. They come from all over and somehow they find us. These kids are often at their most vulnerable, looking for their identity, and they gravitate toward boxing. PBC has the chance to mentor them, help them become good students and work toward ‘Making Champions and Good Citizens.’ “ A slew of championships over the years has proven their phenomenal success.

Highly satisfying jobs can become life-long ventures for which you never want to leave. When a job not only represents a source of financial compensation but also provides your life with purpose, structure, meaning, and the opportunity to be with others by providing opportunities for socialization, you may find yourself not longing, as you might have been led to believe, for the opportunity to retire. Remaining in the workforce can become surprisingly attractive when you realize it not only meets your need for financial security in the future, it also can be a source for personal fulfillment, an avenue for maintaining an active lifestyle, and a place to learn new skills. Jobs that satisfy your heart, mind, and soul make for workplaces places we want to remain a part of into the future.

Pat Wheeler, Life-Long Artist

Pat Wheeler loves her island home Downeast. She suggests that Maine’s 
natural beauty is what gives artists like her the inspiration to produce
good works. “Sometimes I look around and realize that nobody could make
anything more beautiful than what is there, but it makes a connection to
one’s creativity. Being in Maine is the time I have truly been able to 
follow my dream.” When her husband died, Wheeler built a new home next to
the family farmhouse on Deer Isle so she could continue to stay close to her
children. She chose to work with what’s there and make the house look like it
grew there. Ever the artist, she removed as few trees as possible, which she
calls “editing the landscape,” to make the whole property pleasing. As for
the future, Wheeler maintains that you “need to be present and live in the
moment. As I grow older, I continue to do my painting which quiets my brain
and keeps me hyper focused for, in the end, my art is how I know where I am.”

Building creativity into your life-long pursuits is likely to be very
satisfying. By their very nature, creative pursuits keep you engaged,
protect against boredom and prematurely burning out, and allow you to
maintain an active mind through continuous opportunities for self-
expression. Such opportunities can be especially satisfying and what many
may pursue in their later years. Creative jobs, in particular, allow you to
think “outside the box” and promote the discovery of innovative and unique
solutions to problems and challenges. Studies have consistently ranked the 
quality of creativity as one of the top ranking professional skills you can 
have, equal to or greater than administrative and management skills and
vision. Creative pursuits keep our culture vibrant. And, creativity can be 
built into many jobs that at first glance seem devoid of such opportunities--
all it takes is adding some color, customization or even a simple “quirk”
to your style and deliverables. Furthermore, a creative mindset ensures that 
every day will be different and, more likely than not, you will enjoy what
you are doing for the long haul.

Behind the Scenes
Photos: Jason Paige Smith
Text: Rick Mundy & Lenard W. Kaye, D.S.W., Ph.D.
Director, University of Maine Center on Aging
Retouching: Jeff Whitlock
Assist/Video: Larry Ayotte

Photography/Retouching links
Photography – Jason Paige Smith:

TENACITY: Portraits of Aging in Maine – Vol 2

TENACITY: Portraits of Aging in Maine – Vol 2

TENACITY: Portraits of Aging in Maine – Vol 2