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Area seniors exemplify 'second wave' benefits for retirees

OLLI at Bradley University / Facebook

Two members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Initiative chapter at Bradley University point to the benefits of an active retirement as advocated by Harvard professor Arthur Books in his new book, “From Strength to Strength.”

John Amdall, the former director of research and technology at Caterpillar Inc., and Gary Nelson, a former Peoria attorney, agreed with Brooks that retirement offered the opportunity to explore new territory.

“One thing he mentions in the book is the need for structure in your life. The biggest struggle in retirement is what time am I going to get up? When you’re working, you have a cadence. It’s set up for you. But when you retire, all that goes away,” said Amdall.

Nelson, who spent 40 years as a lawyer in Peoria, said retirement provided the opportunity for talents and interests to re-emerge. “Different intellectual exercises have come to the fore as I ceased to work the logical thinking of a lawyer,” he said.

In “From Strength to Strength,” Brooks said the decline in ability as we age is “unavoidable.” “Great gifts and achievements early in life are simply not an insurance policy against suffering later on,” he stated.

Decline in performance is unavoidable, said Brooks, using his own life as an example. He played the French horn professionally but as a young man in his early twenties, performing with the City Orchestra of Barcelona, Brooks said he saw his abilities decline.

“My technique began to suffer, and I had no explanation for it. Nothing helped. I visited famous teachers and practiced more, but I couldn’t get back to where I’d been. Pieces that had been easy to play became hard; pieces that had been hard became impossible,” said Brooks, who later walked away from a position as the head of a Washington think tank for academic pursuits.

He provides three options for those who see their talents decline.

“One, you can deny the facts and rage against decline—setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment,” he said. “Two, You can shrug and give in to decline—and experience your aging as an unavoidable tragedy.’

“Three, you can accept that what got you to this point won’t work to get you into the future—that you need to build some new strengths and skills. If you choose door number three, congratulations. There’s a bright future ahead but it requires a bunch of new skills and a new way of thinking,” stated Brooks.

Amdall said he makes it a point to try to learn something new every year. “I’m excited about teaching a materials class at OLLI. Exploring the stuff around us for a class is just the structure I need,” he said.

Nelson, an OLLI member since 2016, said his present interest is in writing. “I’d like to finish some of the stories I’ve started,” he said.

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Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.