All about seniorsSWIF hosts forum to discuss ideas for residents age 55 and older
By: Laura Grevas, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Representatives from the Southwest Initiative Foundation have heard some of it before. But that’s OK. The organization is looking at both familiar trends and fresh ideas when it comes to keeping senior citizens in the region — and keeping them happy.
A small group of area retired people and businessmen met with SWIF representatives at the Travelodge Hotel Friday to share their thoughts on programming and opportunities for the 55-plus crowd in the region.
SWIF consultant Sarah Libbon began the “Community Experience Listening Session” with statistics the group found surprising.
“By 2030, older people will represent over 20 percent of the state’s population, and the reality is we’re living 2030 demographics today in rural Minnesota,” she said. “We’re already there. They’re talking about (those statistics) in the metro area, but that’s the way it is already out here.”
“Between now and 2035, that age group of 60 and older is really the group that’s going to dominate the demographic landscape, so if we’re not sure that we have ways for people to remain actively involved in their communities and accomplish they things they want to do with their life, our communities are going to be hurting a little bit.”
Libbon asked the group about civic engagement — ways to get seniors involved in volunteer, learning and work opportunities.
“You’ve got to have the organizations to be engaged into,” said Lorry Bullerman of Adrian. “When the retired people are moving, there’s nobody left to engage.”
Others also spoke of the need to have programming available to keep seniors in the area. Bruce Heitkamp, the Adrian city administrator, spoke about what he called an emotional encounter with an older man who had decided to move to the Twin Cities after spending his entire life in the area.
“He said ‘I just can’t do it anymore. I’m going to have to move up to the Cities. My sons are up there. All I have for entertainment or things to do is the local library that’s downtown and I’ve read all their books. … I can’t golf anymore like I’d like to, and I’m basically going to have to move into a retirement home,’” Heitkamp recalled.
The man was moving to a home with opportunities similar to those he experienced on a trip to Phoenix, Ariz.
“When he went down there he had that sense of ownership in the community even though he didn’t know what the community was,” Heitkamp explained.
Many liked the idea of a senior college, where seniors can take courses in topics of interest, and said technology could be an especially useful area of instruction.
“Seniors will not gravitate to technology for technology’s sake, but if we can show them what technology can do for them, like keeping in touch with family,” said Darrell Stitt, a recent retiree.
Others suggested a different type of education, in which seniors — former businesspeople, for example — would mentor young entrepreneurs or train new workers in their former jobs.
As for work, some seniors may want to become entrepreneurs themselves, starting a business with the time and money they may not have had in their younger years. Others said they would look for something productive but simple after years of working under pressure.
“I may go and stock shelves at Wal-Mart, and I will go and line things up, but I’m not interested in a lot of responsibility,” said Wayne Freese of Prairie Holdings Group.
Stitt pointed out that older folks may also leave the area to be with family, and there’s not much the community can do about that — except, as many others said, entice young people to stay.
Heitkamp commended the Worthington Regional Economic Development Group for “trying to develop a niche (bioscience) in this area so we can keep our best resource, which is our graduating people from the college, and create an employment base here.”
Many also said it is vital to develop a sense of investment in the community early in life.
“Somehow the community has to interact with its citizens, I feel, but it’s a two-way street,” said Stitt, “We’re going to continue to build the community and contribute to the community only if we have that interest. And I don’t think that interest starts after retirement.”
“Even though (seniors) have stopped going to work every day,” First State Bank Executive Vice President Greg Raymo added. “They do not stop doing things that make them of value to the community.”