A Late Bloomer

“The older I got, the more adventurous I became,” reveals Gretchen Dodson, an upbeat blue-eyed blonde of 91.

At sixty, having raised a family of three daughters, she moved away from Ohio for the first time in her life when her husband began a new job in California. Bent on exploring her father’s Germanic heritage, she traveled frequently to Germany and also to Romania and to the Netherlands to see her father’s and her four grandparents’ birthplaces. Not only did she research her past, she connected with previously unknown extended family in Europe.

Gretchen, adamantly self-reliant, insists she’s not at all lonely, just a homebody. “I’m a Libra,” she says. “I adapt to my situation and find the best way to cope.” From year to year she considers moving to a retirement home, but she is so happy with her present situation that she can’t bear to give it up. Gretchen’s daughters trust their mother’s instincts and leave the decision about moving up to her.

Having had her own mother live with her, Gretchen insists she would never want to be a burden on her children. “I love my daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren dearly, but besides spending time with them on birthdays and holidays and an occasional visit to the Art Museum, I really don’t see them that often,” she says. “I’m independent and can take care of myself. If I need something done around here, I hire a cleaning lady!”

Gretchen prides herself in her ability to make friends of all ages wherever she goes. She has some younger friends who are Japanese, and she appreciates their emphasis on being kind to one’s elders. Regular visitors, her Japanese friends bear gifts and take her on trips to see cherry blossoms.

She used to love to entertain but now has less energy for it. “I was a meat and potato cook,” she says. “My biggest delight was to set the table with pretty flowers.”

Gretchen feels most fortunate that she was able to travel. “The highlight of my retirement,” she declares, “was finding my father’s people.” Along with her genealogical trips, she has joined Elderhostel programs, touring Germany, Romania, Hungary, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

Having an “artist’s flair,” she has painted in watercolor and enjoyed art courses at Miami University. She is skilled in both Tole painting, a folk art of decorative painting on tin and utensils, objects, and furniture, and Rosemahling, a Scandinavian traditional decorative art. With cataracts now developing in her eyes, she plans to re-explore her interest in watercolor painting.

She is passionate about reading, pouring through books, newspapers, and magazines. “I’m very interested in foreign affairs, and I like to read about history or biographies.” She is a fan of “good TV” (i.e., PBS programs), and her radio is set to the NPR station. Always active in organizations, she joins gardening and women’s clubs and plays bridge regularly with her friends.

At 90 she recorded an oral history of herself. As the last of her generation -- her brother died at 69 and her sister at 70 – she wants an accessible ancestral record for her children and their offspring.

“I don’t want to live to be 100,” Gretchen concludes. “I feel I’ve already gotten the best out of life – been there, done that.”

Gretchen Dodson