Where credit is due

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

It is the season of giving, of charity and goodwill (peace on earth to men of goodwill), it’s an apt time to remember someone who changed things for the better, in several ways.

Sixty years ago, in 1958, a retired teacher, a woman of goodwill named Ethel Percy Andrus, founded the American Association of Retired People. Since January of this year, AARP has been celebrating her remarkable idea of a lobby to our representatives in Congress to pay attention to the Americans ageing into the sunset of their lives.

In the late 1940s, Andrus started the National Retired Teachers Association. A decade later, in 1958, she founded AARP for the rest of us who were not teachers. These two organizations, along with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Administration, altered the landscape of retirement. For many who had to retire because they were let go or because they were tired, life without a paycheck was meager. Plenty of folks who had no savings sank into poverty.

Andrus convinced an insurance company to set up group plans for people over 65. She established a conduit of mail order discount drugs through AARP pharmacies. She started the Institute of Lifetime Learning in DC, which eventually spread across the country, offering classes from art to international affairs. Next, she organized group travel for retirees so they could see the world once they were no longer working and had the time – and within a group could afford the trips. She started a residence for retired teachers in California that combined good housing with both physical and intellectual pursuits for the residents – a blueprint for retirement communities across the nation. She eventually established a nursing home near that California residential facility.

And then she sponsored a booth at the1964 New York World’s Fair that spread the word about the importance of a life of dignity and purpose for the oldsters among us who needed help from the federal government as well as from their own communities. She transformed how Americans looked at and took care of their parents.

She said, “If we are not content with things as they are, we must concern ourselves with things as they might become.”

Not a bad thing to remember as we slip out of the goodwill week and stumble into another new year of strange politics and a pervasive ill will around the globe. The Ethel Percy Andruses of this world – and there are plenty of them – are the ones who should be the front page headliners.

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