I made it to the Golden K Kiwanis Club of Raleigh for lunch the other day, one of many clubs in the Kiwanis universe. The Golden K's are generally for folks who are retired. Most of the members in the Raleigh Golden K have been retired for some time. The average age is about 80, and some member are in their 90s.
It's hard, face it, writing about people in their 80s and 90s without sounding patronizing: "Isn't it remarkable how well they're getting around?" is the tone you often encounter in stories about the elderly. But it's also hard to meet the Golden K crowd and not come away feeling good.
And I was particularly taken with Margaret Bishop.
Margaret, 83, just handed the presidency over to Dan Cronin, a youngster at 68. She will serve as vice president. I get the feeling that it doesn't matter much to Margaret what her title is. She operates in the same gear.
She was up until 1:30 one morning this week finishing a report on the club's monthly service hours, a lot to keep track of. The 23 members put in nearly 900 hours.
One example: Club members delivered 280 meals over two days this week. That included Margaret, who drove while another member took them to the door. (I suggested to Margaret that some folks reading this might be interested in joining her club. Have them call me, she said. So here's her number: 878-8867.)
Margaret's story is common among those of her generation, but that doesn't make it less remarkable.
When World War II came, she was a teenager in Rutherford County, a county in Western North Carolina that borders South Carolina. Wanting to do her part, she enlisted in the Women's Army Corps and eventually found herself in North Africa and Europe and dodged German buzz bombs in England.
After the war, she went to college on the G.I. Bill, $78 every month for room and board. She became a teacher and a college instructor; and after a career in education, she came to Raleigh with her sister.
Margaret did some volunteering and worked in several positions for nonprofits, and became one of those people who get things done. The free dictionaries get delivered to schoolchildren, and the meals get dropped off, and we assume that it just happens, but that's not so.
It happens because there are civic organizations and volunteers, many of them Margaret's age and older.
I wanted to learn what motivated Margaret to be so civic-minded, and she told me a story about her father.
He was the sort of fellow who would give what he could to people who were down on their luck. He taught Margaret and her sister, "When you do for others, you're doing a lot more for yourself." When he died, the crowd filled the pews and then some. "Half the people in Rutherford County were standing outside the church," she said.
Meeting Margaret made me think about life, and its stages.
Our country is beginning to experience one of the largest waves of retirements in its history, as the oldest baby boomers cascade into their 60s.
Millions of us who have been busily raising families and grinding away at careers will be searching for something to do, and there's only so much golf and so much Dr. Phil.
I think we should look to the Margaret Bishops for the answer they have found: Do for others.
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