By Brian Goslow
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning from April to October, just like their counterparts in Major League Baseball, 70 or so Worcester-area residents 55 and older — including three women — get together on Rockwood Field to continue pursuing their sporting dreams.
These individuals are examples of people who’ve found ways of making the second half of their life as rewarding, if not more exciting, than the first.
Construction company owner Ray Lauring founded the Worcester Country Softball Association (WCSA) in 1992 after a group of friends first got together to play on the Jesse Burkett Little League field. They haven’t stopped since, keeping each other young through playful competition.
Most of its players, whose professional ranks included police officers, firemen, bank presidents and city workers, are retired; some are well into their 80s. Lauring, 84, still plays the outfield.
The WCSA gatherings are run at a leisurely pace, with 45 minutes for batting practice and slowly getting game legs and arms loosened to lessen the risk of injury. There’s a second first base and home plate to avoid unnecessary collisions and a screen in front of the pitcher. Sliding is forbidden.
“Taking care of yourself is the key,” said Jim Brigham, 74, of Worcester, who played baseball in high school and the service. “I gave it up till I was 60, when I started doing it for the exercise and camaraderie.”
The league is always looking for new players. Sister Anne Marie Wildenhain, SSJ, 81, who grew up playing baseball with her five brothers, noticed a listing for a men’s softball tournament at Rockwood Field. “I came here and asked if there were women’s teams as well,” she said. After being told there wasn’t, she said, “They said I could play with them.”
So Sister Wildenhain, who still works part-time at St. Richard’s Parish giving communion to the elderly, returned to the field as a catcher. She’s since moved to second base, where she can be seen easily handling a ground ball, tossing it to the shortstop to end an inning — and earning loud applause from players on both teams. “I go all out,” Wildenhain said. “That’s what I did when I was younger. I’m not afraid of the ball.”
Leaving the field after a recent gathering, the players exchanged playful comments on the just completed contest. “The older we get, the better we used to be,” joked Frank Birch, 69, a retired City of Worcester health inspector.
Learning to laugh at diminishing physical skills is an opportunity to loosen up spiritually, and avoid falling into negativity about the days ahead, said Dr. Nancy Mramor, a Pittsburgh-based health psychologist and author of Spiritual Fitness (Llewellyn Publications).
“As you move from mid-life, if you haven’t developed some sense of humor, now is the time,” Mramor said. “You have to laugh at the various changes going on in your body.”
Participating in a sport league — or any organization or group that brings people together — or exploring an interest or career put aside for family obligations, helps people live a happier and longer second-half life too.
“We have the option at mid-life to say, ‘Have I done everything I’ve wanted to do in my life?’ ” Mramor said. “If you haven’t, you still have time to do it.”
Chances are high that someone reaching 50 or pondering retirement is asking a lot of “what if?” questions. “There are those who think, ‘I never followed that dream,’” Mramor said. “They have to find out was it really just a dream or something they really wanted to pursue. You don’t want to have to live with the thought, ‘I always wanted to do that and never came close to getting to do it.’ That will be a distraction for the rest of your life.”
Mramor suggested, for example, that someone who’s still working and has always wanted to run a business could start one part-time to see if it’s really something the person wants to devote a good part of the rest of his or her life doing.
Similarly, if there’s a profession someone has always wanted to investigate, create the opportunity to do it. Mramor has a friend who was a doctor but had always wanted to be an architect. “When he bought an old house that needed a lot of work, he used it as an opportunity to learn some architecture and design skills and is getting first hand experience on the logistics of reconstructing a house,” she said. His project caught the attention of a local professional architect, who subsequently asked the doctor to assist him in the planning of the renovation of his own house.
Others, having evaluated their lives, will confirm they did indeed follow the path they wanted to take in life and decide to stay in that position until retirement.
That’s precisely what “Kenneth “Sonny” Hewitt has done for the past 47 years at MIT, where he’s working with no expiration date. The 69-year-old, currently the assistant human resources and facility director for MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science, has worked at the Cambridge campus since 1964.
“I stay here at MIT because I like the people and it’s a welcoming place for people of ages and all kinds of backgrounds,” Hewitt said. “Our age and experience is valued. They look at what you can contribute, not your age.”
From 1973 to 2000, Hewitt served as a human resources administrator. In that capacity, he frequently would tell an employee who was considering applying for a higher paid position to consider all the elements of the move — not just the promise of a bigger paycheck.
“I’d tell them, ‘If you’re already surrounded by good people, don’t leave them for money,’” said Hewitt, who left one department as computers slowly began to play a larger role in the hiring process.
He gets plenty of that human interaction — and exercise — in his current position.
He also gets a weekly workout refereeing Brockton community basketball games, a duty he’s carried out since 1977. “An official asked if I would come in on a Saturday and I’ve been going there every week ever since,” Hewitt said. “It’s a rewarding program that keeps you young and out of trouble.”
Hewitt, who spent 13 years as MIT’s men’s junior varsity basketball coach, also coaches teens in the Brockton program. Last year, the Brockton Youth Foundation honored him for his long and continued contributions to the youth of that city.
He’s frequently asked why he didn’t use his vast experience to pursue opportunities to move up the administrative ladder at MIT. “I don’t want the extra stress,” he said. “I don’t put myself in harm’s way by being in a position with higher demands and people with more control of my life.”
Jaki Scarcello, author of Fabulous and Fifty: The Best Years of a Woman’s Life, said society will see a huge change in second-half living, in great part due to the opportunities women of the baby boomer generation have that previous generations did not.
“This generation of women are healthier and wealthier, highly educated with successful careers,” Scarcello, 59, said. “They’re independent, in part because this is a more independent generation.”
Since retiring from teaching, Robin Bahr Casey, 67, of Worcester, has been anything but dormant. After serving on the board of directors at the now-closed Foothills Theatre Company, she put her name in for consideration at Worcester’s Elder Affairs Commission, where she soon found herself not only a member, but also its commissioner.
That led to a pleasurable chain of events for Bahr Casey. She was inspired to return to school to fill in gaps in her knowledge of elder issues after listening to a talk by Maureen Powers, executive director of the Intergenerational Urban Institute (IUI) at Worcester State College at an awards ceremony at the Worcester Senior Center.
Last September, Bahr Casey took her first IUI course, “Aging in a Metropolitan Society,” and a practicum overseen by Powers. As a result, Bahr Casey became a volunteer tutor, working with recent immigrants. “They were mostly elders who wanted to either learn or improve their English speaking skills,” she said.
Bahr Casey’s thinking of taking a language course. “There was a time I could speak French,” she said. “I’m thinking of sitting in on a French course. I definitely have a trip in mind (that I would be learning French for), but I also want to take the course just to do it. I’d also like to learn Spanish, or at least conversational Spanish.”
Having been an English teacher for 30 years, helping others is ingrained in Bahr Casey’s DNA. She interviews potential students for her alma mater, Smith College, and stays in touch with many of her former students.
Most recently, Bahr Casey, who’s currently serving as IUI’s outreach coordinator, has laid the foundation for yet another new career: She has completed an eight-day course to become a certified consulting hypnotist. “I’m going to go into private practice to help people who have fears, like fear of flying, or problems like trying to stop smoking or lose weight.”
The boomers’ lasting accomplishment would be if they could convince society, as a whole, that getting older means getting better, Scarcello said. “I’m on a campaign against anything that says anti-aging. It’s not a sin to age. You cannot defy it permanently. Embrace what’s unique to that stage of life — don’t use earlier standards.”
Scarcello took her edict from the words of Carl Jung. “He said, ‘We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening,’” she quoted. For boomers, growth will come from shredding their “me generation, me first” reputation. Over half the boomer generation is doing that through volunteer work.
Once you’ve gotten past raising your family and work responsibilities, Scarcello said, your life can have deeper meaning if you stop to give yourself time to look at the things in your life and evaluate what truly gives you joy.
Mramor, author of Spiritual Fitness, suggested mid-life is the time to start anew — she herself recently remarried, after meeting her now-husband through the online dating site eHarmony.com. She said it’s all about putting yourself in a position to have good things happen to you.