Students from several classes at Standing Stone Elementary School were asked to consider the question, “What is old?,” during a visit from residents and staff from Westminster Woods in Huntingdon Tuesday in an effort to address perceptions of aging within the greater Huntingdon community as part of their Masterpiece Living philosophy.
Residents, Estelle Yelnosky, Lester Burdette and Diana Chase, and staff members, Sue Deobil, Linda Shultz-Long and Chad Evans, came together with the fourth and fifth graders and had many thoughtful discussions about what it means to be old.
Deobil offered a brief introduction for each of the participants and shared their purpose behind their visit.
“To make this a little more interesting, we’re going to each give you information about ourselves, so listen for the clues,” she said. “And then, you’re going to guess our ages. The one who gets the right age or closest to the age will get a prize.”
Yelnosky began the discussion by showing the children a photograph of herself from her own school days.
“I thought I would tell you a couple of things that were different then. The other thing I want to tell you is that we didn’t have any school buses when I was in school. We walked to school and back every day and we walked home for lunch because we didn’t have a cafeteria,” she said. “We got a lot of exercise.”
That habit of walking continues as Yelnosky walks two and one-half miles about three times a week.
“I worked as a biologist at a pharmaceutical company that made antibiotics and vaccines and that is where I met my husband. When I got married, I was a stay-at-home mom mostly,” said Yelnosky. “I have five children, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.”
When Yelnosky posed the question, “How old do you think I am?,” each of the classmates were given the opportunity to answer, with guesses ranging from 71 to 89.
“I’m 89,” she announced. The students then had to vote to determine whether or not they deemed Yelnosky “old.”
After teacher Dawn Lynn assured them they would not hurt her feelings, a majority of the students asserted that they did believe she was old.
Chase told the group that she has three children, eight grandchildren and that she grew up in South Carolina.
“After college, I went to New York City and was with a dance group in Radio City Music Hall — not the Rockettes — I wasn’t tall enough,” she said. “But then I was in the original Broadway musical, ‘My Fair Lady,’ for six years. Then, I was a stay-at-home mom.”
She moved to Westminster Woods with her husband a few years ago and enjoys volunteering, playing bridge and ping pong.
“I still downhill ski, but last year I had a nasty fall,” said Chase. “I still ski, but I stick to the bunny slopes.”
Guesses as to Chase’s age spanned from 73 to 86. She is 85, and the students were increasingly divided on whether or not that meant she was old.
“I grew up in a different environment. We got electricity when I was 8 years old. I went to a one-room school in the country, with eight grades and one teacher who taught everything for all grades,” Burdette said. “I was the first one on either side of the family to go to college. I went to Penn State and eventually got three degrees and ended up being a professor at Penn State in agriculture and animal science.”
He told the children that he continues to walk and work out in the fitness center regularly despite the fact that he utilizes a cane for support. His age was gauged to be between 80 and 94. Burdette is 88. Laughter ensued when the children nearly unanimously agreed that he was old.
Deobil, Shultz-Long and Evans each shared their own accounts with the children, had their ages guessed and judged as to whether or not they were “old.”
“What do we mean when we say someone is old?” Deobil asked. “Is that bad? How do we describe old? What does old mean to each of us?”
Responses included, “It means you’ve been around longer than other people,” “It means your age is a high number” and “You have wrinkles.”
Chase’s response was that to be old to her meant someone no longer enjoys the little things in life, like laughing, playing, singing and dancing.
“You may think that your grandparents and other members of your family are old, because that is the only way you’ve really known them,” she said. “No wonder we try to stay young as long as possible, but there comes a day when we have to accept our age.”
When asked if they wanted to be old, the children unanimously responded “no.” Burdette explained that aging begins at birth and simply means that life experiences impact the body in different ways.
“I use a cane to get around because my joints have worn out,” he said, adding that even so, his physical activity and fitness goals remain steady because of a healthy mindset.
In addition to exploring the students’ perceptions of aging, a proposed addition to the PA Educational Curriculum was submitted to Huntingdon Area School District superintendent Fred Foster, which addresses the concept of aging successfully.
For additional information, visit www.westminsterretirement.org.