By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Newton – Now 78, Marian Knapp has spent much of her life serving others in different capacities such as a counselor, caretaker and consultant. She is also a woman who has always highly valued education, so much so that she pursued a Ph.D. which she was awarded just after she turned 70. She is also a staunch advocate for senior citizens, serving as the chair of the Newton Council on Aging and a frequent author on issues relating to seniors.
Knapp was born and raised in Rhode Island, where she said her parents were of “the working class.”
“There were not a lot of expectations for girls,” she said, “but they wanted me to go to college.”
Knapp attended Boston University, where she got her degree in English literature, with a minor in fine arts.
Her first job, like many women of that generation, was as a secretary. Later, as she was raising her two sons, she took classes at Hunter College in New York, eventually getting her master’s degree in anthropology.
“I was not necessarily a naturally good student, but a determined one,” she said modestly.
Knapp first volunteered with Planned Parenthood and then became a counselor there. She also ran a few political campaigns and then became a consultant for Partners Healthcare.
“I really wanted to use my experience to help the community,” she said.
In her 60s Knapp also found herself in another position – that of caretaker for several family members. Over the course of 16 years, she helped to care for, with different degrees of intensity, five different relatives, including her mother, until their deaths.
“At some points I found myself going from hospital to hospital, making decisions,” she said.
It was when she was 64 that Knapp also had an important conversation with herself.
“I asked myself ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’” she said. “‘What would I regret not doing?’”
Her son, Daniel, who had received a degree at Antioch University New England, suggested she pursue one there as well. So she did, and on the advice of her advisor, did her thesis on the total environment in which people age. She received her Ph.D. shortly after she turned 70.
For the past six years, she has published a weekly column in a local newspaper, Newton Tab. There, many readers have not only enjoyed her work but found themselves personally drawn to her elegant way of saying what they feel and think. She also blogs on her own website, voicesofaging.com.
Topics include such things are caretaking, the meaning of “olding,” moving from a longtime residence, age-friendly communities and the importance of speaking up when its seems like you are being ignored by the world at large.
She has also written a book, “Aging in Places: Reflective Preparation for the Future.” Part memoir, it also, as the jacket describes, “helps readers expand ideas about their future and offers a way to prepare in a constructive, mindful, and creative way.”
Age-friendly communities is an issue that is of great importance to Knapp. As the chair of the Newton Council on Aging, she has been a member of an advisory group that has worked on developing a strategic plan for the city on that issue.
Currently close to 87,000 people live in Newton, Knapp wrote on a blog post, with projections showing that by 2030, 30 percent of the city’s residents will be 60 and over.
“A livable community for all citizens — including its elders,” she wrote in a blog post, “is a place where there is opportunity for civic engagement, appropriate housing, good transportation, a way to meet new people and retain old friendships, a sense of safety and security, connection to the natural world, employment, intergenerational venues, and access to arts and culture.”
The reports, “A Needs Assessment by the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging, Gerontology Institute” and the “Housing Criteria for a Livable and Friendly Newton for Everyone,” are both available on the city’s website.
In 2015 Knapp was awarded the Louis Lowy Award by the Massachusetts Gerontology Association for her contributions to the community.
“It was a great honor and great surprise,” she said.
To learn more about Knapp and read her blog posts, visit voicesofaging.com.