To Stay Youthful, Stay Useful

“My love of people sustains my happiness,” observes 90-year old Florence Wesley, smiling as she peeks through a jazzy Mardi Gras mask she designed earlier that day in an art class. “If I weren’t so sociable, I probably wouldn’t be content living here.”

Florence is referring to her status as the only African American in the apartment section of an otherwise homogeneous suburban Cincinnati retirement community to which she moved three years ago. Having had to rebound from the losses of three husbands and an adult son, she is imbued with an extraordinary level of engagement – including creative outlets and a devotion to family, friends, and church -- that have kept her youthful and upbeat.

In April of 2005, Florence made the decision to move from her ranch home into a condo at the Twin Lakes Retirement Community, a decidedly happy change for her.

“I’m so involved in things you just can’t believe it,” she exclaims. A competitive Scrabble player for forty years, Florence has started a Scrabble group at Twin Lakes and is also an established member of another Scrabble circle of eight friends who gather for lunch and a round of games. She plays duplicate and regular bridge, and every day solves the mentally challenging Cryptoquik word puzzle and Word Scramble. Macular degeneration has slowed down her reading but hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm: she regularly pours through the Cincinnati Enquirer and her favorite magazines.

As a teenager she wrote personalized poetry for her family and friends. Now at Twin Lakes she looks forward to participating in the Poetry Hour, one of the many diversions available for residents. Florence is delighted with the range of services and activities the retirement community offers, including the Tai Chi class for which she plans to sign up. “You needn’t be lonesome,” she observes.

For over twenty years, Florence has been known by friends and family for her creative zeal in making special birthday cards and tributes for church members and pastors. An accomplished calligrapher, she uses “words to live by” -- inspirational quips, quotes, and favorite scriptures – in designing beautifully scripted cards with aphorisms such as her favorite, “To stay youthful, stay useful.”

Although Florence quit playing golf in her late eighties, she remains a huge Tiger Woods fan, preserving news clips about her golf hero. At 90 she still drives but has been contemplating giving it up. She knows that if she needs transportation she will either ask her daughter, Gwen, or simply call for the church van or take a bus.

Gwen and she are extremely close. “She’s a lot like me,” Florence says. “We’re outgoing, giving, and involved.” Every Mother’s Day weekend they take a special trip together with Florence’s sister, Joan, and her daughter, Beverly. “My mom is easy-going and lots of fun to be with,” Gwen reflects.

Travel has been a source of great joy for her. Florence has cruised the Mediterranean; toured the Dominican Republic, Hawaii, Aruba, the Bahamas, the Panama Canal, England, Holland, and Italy; and with Joan has explored the entire west coast of Africa. Over a decade ago, Florence’s niece, Jeanna Heater, won a trip to Egypt and asked her to accompany her. “Indeed I will!” Florence replied without hesitation.

Although Florence says things became a bit harder after she turned 90, she adds that she is in fairly good shape both in body and mind. “Doing calligraphy has been a great help mentally,” she adds, “but the computer is still baffling!”

Acknowledging that one can become depressed knowing one’s time isn’t as long, she tries to keep a positive outlook and stay focused on the present. She is a resolute church-goer and until recently was active on the church’s Trustee Board and with the Lay Organization, Class Leaders, and the Missionary Society.

Her caring family (which includes daughter Gwen and son-in-law Bob; two grandchildren, Robby and Cheryl; family in Kenton, Ohio; her daughter-in-law; and many nieces and nephews), her comfortable environment, and her church involvement are all her glue, and she feels blessed.

At the same time she hopes she has also made an impact on others. She practices the Golden Rule, she says. “I extend myself. That’s what makes me feel connected to so many people.”

Florence believes that life is pre-ordained, that she is on earth to serve a certain purpose. Her purpose, she envisions, is to remain devoted and “keep pressing on, one day at a time.”

Florence Heater Wesley