Posts Tagged ‘nonprofit’

Get Medicare Answers Aug. 11 at Florence Sylvester Center

Thursday, July 28th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

The year my late dad turned sixty-five, he went to an office in downtown Bangor, Maine, and enrolled in Medicare, which, at the time, was only three years old. I don’t recall that he had much of a hassle with Medicare in the ensuing years, even when he had a series of operations.   Maybe he was just good at navigating the treacherous waters between the Scylla of health care billing offices and the Charybdis of government bureaucrats.  Or maybe — probably — it was because Medicare was just simpler then.


Some questions about Medicare have always been easy to answer — such as who were the first two people to enroll. (Harry and Bess Truman, but of course you knew that.) But since my dad’s time, the program has become a lot more complicated, which is why the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and UnitedHealthcare are hosting a community meeting to educate Medicare beneficiaries and their loved ones about their health-care choices. The meeting is designed for any of the following — and more:

• People who are confused by Medicare

• Seniors who are not sure how to find the coverage that best meets their health and financial needs

• Anyone who is curious about how health reform could impact his or her Medicare coverage

• Family members and friends who are trying to help a loved one with health-care decisions but are not sure where to start

You can get simple answers to hard questions like these at Making Sense of Medicare: What You Need To Know About Your Health Care Choices. The event will be held August 11 at 1 p.m. at the Florence Sylvester Memorial Senior Center, 23721 Moulton Parkway, Laguna Hills.

The meeting is designed to help beneficiaries and their caregivers understand the basics of Medicare as well as some of the complex details,” says an NCOA spokesperson. “It’s all designed to help people better navigate Medicare successfully.” Following the presentation, the presenters will respond to questions from the audience.

There is no charge for this event, but registration is required. Please RSVP by contacting the Sylvester Center at (949) 380-0155. This event is only for educational purposes and no plan-specific benefits or details will be shared. Refreshments will be served.

Making Sense of Medicare: What You Need To Know About Your Health Care Choices is part of a series of education programs that NCOA and UnitedHealthcare are hosting across the country this summer and fall to simplify the complexities of Medicare and help beneficiaries make informed, personalized health-care decisions. For more information, visit and

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar

August 11.  Making Sense of the Complex Details of Medicare.  An important presentation by National Council on Aging, Washington, D.C. 1 p.m. at the Florence Sylvester Senior Center, 23721 Moulton Parkway, Laguna Hills, CA 92653. Call (949) 380-0155 to reserve a space.

August 11.  The Annual Founders’ Tea Dance at the Ritz Carlton, Dana Point.  The event will be in the Pacific Promenade featuring the Ritz-Carlton High Tea. Cocktail Reception 4:00-5:00 p.m. Tea & Recognitions 5:00 p.m. Dancing 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. to the Sam Conti Band. $45.00 per Person/Limited Seating No-host Bar.

Music — Our International Language

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Sunday in Laguna Beach Mrs. McD and I bought two cups of ice cream. It was a simple commercial transaction: we got butter pecan and cookies-and-cream, and the gal behind the counter got nine bucks.  I doubt that the gal behind the counter had anything emotional invested in the deal.  Before she had even finished handing me our cups she was shouting, “Next!”

Not all transactions are like that. An artist I know takes great delight in transferring ownership of something he has created to a buyer, and not just because money changes hands. He doesn’t paint just for himself.  He wants others to enjoy his work. 

And what kind of transaction is a musical performance? Nineteenth century German novelist Berthold Auerbach said, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” The temptation, of course, is to assume that the soul that Auerbach was referring to is that of the audience member. But that’s only partly so.  In a bravura performance by any orchestra, the audience is uplifted, but so are the musicians.  It is a communion between the two, not a one-way transaction.  When it’s over, the musicians don’t shout, “Next!” They can be as much in love with the performance as the audience.

On July 8 about 80 guests as well as the Laguna Woods Symphony and members of the Saddleback College Emeritus Institute Symphony Orchestra experienced this kind of communion at the Sea Country Community Center in Laguna Niguel, the site of the Age Well Senior Center. It was a concert and luncheon billed as ”Tea and Symphony.”


The group’s intergenerational violin section

“It was a wonderful afternoon for the guests and the orchestra,” said Robin Trexler, Site Manager of Age Well Senior Services. “The music was from some of our favorite musicals — Man of La Mancha, West Side Story,  Gigi and  Cabaret to name a few.  Maestra Valerie Geller conducts the Laguna Woods orchestra and the Emeritus orchestra.

The group has performed at the Disneyland concert series, at the SOKA International Music and Arts Festival, and at the sing-along and play-along Messiah each year. They number about 60 in the fall and the spring, and about 40 during the summer.

They range in age from twelve to ninety. “We have three twelve-year-olds — a violinist, a saxophonist, and a percussionist. The orchestra has a wonderful intergenerational and mentorship aspect. “ Shelby and Tony Wong, daughter and father, both play in the violin section.  Ian Hoaglund and his dad John play saxophone side by side.

The orchestra plays a pops series in the summer and a more classical repertoire during the fall and spring semesters. Valerie says they performed their first full symphony only four years ago.  Last fall they did Saint-Saens Third Symphony — the Organ Symphony — a challenge for the most accomplished ensemble, and in the spring Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” This fall they’ll perform Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique.”

“We are not just about trying to sound better than anyone else,” Valerie says. “We are completely about working really hard for the love of making music.”


Maestra Valerie Geller and musicians: “We play for the love of music.”

Valerie, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and is a professional violinist and conductor. She played with the L.A. Philharmonic for a number of years, and is currently concert master with the South Coast Symphony, the Disneyland Symphony, and the private symphonic band, J.T. and California Dreamin’.

Each summer Valerie organizes an overseas trip for some of the musicians.  This year about 22 of them will go to Eastern Europe and literally play along the Danube.  Next year they will travel to the top of the world — Tibet.  In 2009 they journeyed to the Great Wall of China.

“It was one of the more remarkable moments of my entire life,” Valerie said.  “We were surrounded by an international audience because the tour buses were there with people from all over the world. We were playing primarily American movie and Broadway music and when we played Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music, the entire audience spontaneously broke into voice. It was one huge international chorus. As I was conducting there was just this wave of language, this homogeneity of voices singing this song.  It was very emotional and truly wonderful. Music — it’s our common language.”

Do you play? Valerie Geller and her musicians want you to join them.   “We want all the closet musicians of Laguna Woods Village to join us,” she says. “We play for the love of music. We can find a place for everyone who plays.” She thought about that a bit.  “Well maybe it’s hard to find a piece scored for harmonica, but generally, we can find a place for everyone.”

We’re Gone…

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Mr. and Mrs. McD are taking a few days off to celebrate our country’s grandest holiday and to give our word processor a well deserved rest.  We, and the blog, will return the week of July 11.


Timothy (right), the McD’s youngest grandson, gets a closeup view of a real hometown Independence Day Parade in Steilacoom, Washington

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar

July 8. Tea & Symphony. The Laguna Woods Symphony and members of the Saddleback College Emeritus Institute Symphony Orchestra will perform at Sea Country Community Center, 24602 Aliso Creek Road, Laguna Niguel.  Time: 11:30 a.m. Call 362-2807 for reservations. 

August 11.  The Annual Founders’ Tea Dance at the Ritz Carlton, Dana Point.  The event will be in the Pacific Promenade featuring the Ritz-Carlton High Tea. Cocktail Reception 4:00-5:00 p.m. Tea & Recognitions 5:00 p.m. Dancing 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. to the Sam Conti Band. $45.00 per Person/Limited Seating. No-host Bar.

Casino Night Draws More Than 300

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods Village is normally the site of some traditionally sedate activities: Sunday morning church services, ladies’ luncheons and teas, meetings of various community clubs and organizations.

But you can forget all that when the vans bringing the gaming team from Vegas Knights pull in the gate a few hours before Casino Night opens. By the time they’ve finished setting up, the normally taciturn Clubhouse 5 auditorium is transformed into Las Vegas without the smoke: tables for craps, blackjack, roulette, and all kinds of poker — Texas Hold ‘em, Let It Ride, Three Card, and Pai Gow. In another room, you can even play bingo.

Every year the atmosphere is made festive by the music of the Silver Foxes, and thanks to a bountiful snack table, nobody goes hungry at Casino Night.

Silver Foxes

The crowd loved the music of the Silver Foxes

Age Well’s Becky Lomaka had an early indication that this year’s Casino Night was going to be extremely well attended.  “When we drove up at six o’clock,” she said, “the parking lot was just about full.”

And indeed there was a terrific turnout. “At least 300 people,” said Shirley Witt, director of the Florence Sylvester Memorial Senior Center. “It was easily one of our better Casino Nights.”

It was a full house, in the room and at some tables

“Look at this!” a fellow standing in the middle of the crowd said to no one in particular.  He was holding two handfuls of chips out in front of him.

“How much is it?” I asked.

“Hundreds!” he said.

Okay, not everyone was that fortunate, myself included.  I left most of my chips at a Let it Ride table.  But of course it was house money. And even some of those who didn’t win much at the tables took home some great prizes from the after-gambling raffle.

As skilled as the Vegas Knights’ dealers and croupiers are — and they are very, very skilled — most of them do not work in professional gaming rooms.  “I’ve worked these events for 15 years — private parties, charity events,  grad nights — all kinds of functions,” Allen told me. His day job? “I’ve been at Knott’s Berry Farm for 37 years.  Now I’m in the printing department. “ But you’d never guess that after seeing the way he handles a table. “Most Saturday nights I do this,” he said, gesturing to the room.


The Vegas Knights’ dealers were terrific crowd pleasers

“We’re here to entertain and make sure people have fun,” one of Allen’s colleagues said.

But of course Casino Night has a back story to it.  It is the single biggest fundraiser in support of the Sylvester Center, which is vitally important in the lives of so many seniors. “For a lot of seniors it’s a home away from home,” Shirley Witt says.  “It’s a friendly place whether you come for coffee or for a class. The staff are friendly, the volunteers are friendly, and the seniors who come there are friendly.”

Casino Night couldn’t happen without the generous support of individual and corporate sponsors who underwrite the event. “Gaming tables,” Shirley points out, “are very expensive for a single evening.”

The single biggest individual sponsor is Dody Hohnstein, a strong supporter of the Center. The corporate sponsors include Bristol Park Medical Group, Bryant Investments, Marlene Bridges Realtor, and Monarch Health Care.

A few days after the event, Mrs. McD was playing bridge with her regular weekly foursome when one of the members, a newcomer to the Village, began describing this wonderful event she and her husband had gone to the previous weekend.  “Casino Night,” she said. “It was so much fun.  And everyone was so social.” She said her husband was even more delighted — he won three prizes in the raffle.

“How come I hadn’t heard about this?” another player asked.

As my ex-boss in the security business was fond of saying, there’s always someone who doesn’t get the memo.  So next year we’ll just have to work twice as hard to make sure everybody hears about Casino Night.

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar

August 11,  The Annual Founders’ Tea Dance at the Ritz Carlton, Dana Point.  The event will be in the Pacific Promenade featuring the Ritz-Carlton High Tea. Cocktail Reception 4:00-5:00 p.m. Tea & Recognitions 5:00 p.m. Dancing 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. to the Sam Conti Band. $45.00 per Person/Limited Seating No-host Bar.

Seniors Helping Their Neighbors

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

“Did you see this?” Arnie said, in a tone suggesting that whatever it was, he didn’t much like it.  At the time he was standing by his mailbox holding a bunch of mail in one hand and waving a letter in our faces with the other.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s someone else who wants a donation.  Something called the Foundation of Laguna Woods Village. You know I’ve given to the Leisure World Foundation and I give to Age Well. They all do great work.  But now this too?”

“Shall I tell him or will you?” I said to Mrs. McD.

“You better,” she replied.  “You’ll be a lot kinder to him than I would.”

“Arnie,” I said most patiently, “there is no more Leisure World Foundation. It’s now called the Foundation of Laguna Woods Village.”

“How come?” Arnie said.

Mrs. McD couldn’t hold back any longer. “Because there’s no more Leisure World, you dodohead!” amply proving her point that she’d be tougher on him.

“Okay.  That makes sense.”

“But they do the same great work,” I said. “They provide temporary emergency financial assistance to residents of Laguna Woods Village. Specifically, the Foundation provides interim assistance with food, medication, utility bills, medical or nursing care, caregivers and respite care. “

“So if somebody’s a little short, they send them money?”

“They don’t send the person any money,” Mrs. McD said.  “If somebody’s in a real financial squeeze and can’t pay a bill, they can apply to the Village’s Social Services Department for assistance.  Once all other avenues of assistance have been exhausted, Social Services sends the request to the Foundation for consideration. It’s done confidentially. Social Services codes the requestors’ identities so the Foundation people never know who they are.”

“If the Foundation approves,” I added, “then the Foundation sends a check directly to the vendor —  Edison or the pharmacy or whatever.  In some cases they’ll send people scrip cards for groceries. It’s just for temporary help.  And it’s only for Village residents. And you know who else they help?”


“Allow me,” Mrs. McD said.  “They send $12,500 every month to support activities of Age Well Senior Services — $5,000 for Meals on Wheels …”

“Which I deliver,” Arnie said proudly.

“…$3,500 a month to the Florence Sylvester Center for the congregate lunch program, and $4,000 to the Adult Day Care Center.  And every bit of that goes to help Village residents.

“Gollee,” Arnie said in his best Gomer Pyle imitation.  “I think I should send them something”

“You certainly should,” Mrs. McD said. 

Then she went on to explain how the foundation gets it funds.  Last year it had income of $101,582 — $57,276 from donations by 1,271 individuals and $20,865 from Village clubs and organizations.  Another $10,000 was a grant from the city of Laguna Woods and the remainder from the invested reserve fund. They were able to disburse more than twice that — $219,206 — thanks to the generosity of several residents who had in years past remembered the Foundation in their estate plans. Individual donations range anywhere from ten dollars to several hundred dollars at a time.

“Your daughter in Vienna — what are you going to get her for her birthday?” I asked.

“Gosh,” Arnie said, “it’s such a hassle sending stuff to her all the way over there in Australia.”

“Austria, Arnie,” Mrs. McD said. “Austria.”

“Right.  Anyway sending her stuff overseas is such a hassle. And besides she’s got just about everything she could want or need.”

“So here’s what you do,” Mrs. McD said.  “Sit down and write a check to the Foundation.  When you send it to them, tell them it’s in her name and give them her address.  They’ll send her a nice card, and she’ll be delighted to know that her present went to help seniors who really needed some financial first aid.”

He thought about that a bit.  “That is sooooo cool,” he said at last.

“And Arnie, when Mrs. McD called you a dodohead…”


“With her that’s a term of affection.  She calls me that all the time.”

You can help Village seniors by donating today. To reach the Foundation, please call 949-268-2246. Also you may email them at the Please check their website for more information:


Photo caption:
The volunteer board members who make the Foundation of Laguna Woods Village work:
Back Row (left to right): Charles Little, Mike Straziuso, Jayson Rome, Eliot Brody (Secretary), Pat Wilkinson (Vice President), Marvin Walts, Jerome Radding (Asst. Treasurer).  Front Row: Marion Levine (President), Beth Perak, Ruth May, Clara Baker (Treasurer), Ruth Bailey

The Seniors Who Never Were

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
By Riley McDavid Riley McDavid

It was an ordinary Sunday afternoon in December at our home in Bangor, Maine. We had all been to church. My dad was reading the Sunday Portland Press Herald, my mom was starting to cook a huge mid-afternoon meal and I was playing with a train on the living room floor. Then a radio announcer said something about Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor.  It was a mystery to me — living in Northern New England I didn’t know anything about Japan or the Japanese, and I had no clue what or where Pearl Harbor was.

I remember my mom asking, “Does that mean we’re at war?”

I don’t remember my dad’s words but he seemed to say that, yes, we were at war, whatever that was, and whatever it was, wasn’t good.

For the next three-and-one-half years — some of the most formative years in my life — I grew up learning more and more about the war.  It was front page in the Bangor Daily News every day that I can recall.  On Saturdays at the Park Theater my friends and I regularly saw newsreels of battles in Europe and the Pacific. We had blackout drills, food and gas rationing, and we saved fat drippings from the food mom cooked.  That’s right, fat drippings.  We put them in cans the size of today’s coffee cans and took them to the butcher where some government functionary collected them. Housewives were reminded that glycerin, made from waste fats and greases, was one of the most critical materials needed for the war effort. Three pounds of fat could provide enough glycerin to make a pound of gunpowder.  Nearly 350 pounds of fat were needed to fire one shell from a 12-inch Naval gun. So we saved fat.

Bangor was home to Dow Army Airfield, which was a jumping off point for service personnel going to the European Theater of Operations. We knew some of them — I caddied for a few at Penobscot Valley Country Club in nearby Orono. My cousins, the four Allen sisters, each married a soldier or an airman.  All who married into the Allen family survived World War 2 (and the subsequent Korean and Vietnam wars),  but hundreds of others who flew to Europe from Dow never returned. We had constant reminders of this.  One was the report of Maine’s war dead in the Bangor Daily News. Another was the sad emblem hanging from some living room windows around town — a single gold star in the middle of a simple flag signifying that a child from that family had been killed in action. Sadder still: a window with two gold stars.

The fellow who personified World War II to me was Walter Czbulski (or Cybulski or some such spelling). Walter, who was from Ohio, was a military policeman at Dow’s main gate.  When I was ten and the war was in its last year, he showed me around the base on one of his days off. Walter was, in today’s parlance, a cool guy. Eventually I believe he too got shipped off to Europe. I have no idea whatever happened to him.

On the night of January 26, 1945, when the temperature dipped to eleven degrees below zero, Bangor’s Penobscot Exchange Hotel burned. Firemen poured thousands of gallons of water on the structure, and the next morning what remained was a glorious five-story ice sculpture. The government sent in dozens of German POWs who set about chopping the ice bit by bit. My dad took me down to see them, and across the barricade hundreds of gawkers gathered to see what Germans looked like — we had been heavily propagandized. It felt really strange to be looking at the enemy. To this day I remember the look one of them gave as he stopped — no emotion really, but not too far from fear. Did he have a family back there? Had they been bombed out maybe?

A few months before the war ended I discovered the wonderful prose of war correspondent Ernie Pyle.  Pyle didn’t write big picture narratives of troop movements and battalions storming enemy positions.  He wrote intimate stories about individual guys in the trenches.  Then in April of 1945, not long after I had adopted him as my own, Japanese machine gun fire took his life on a small island off Okinawa. Of all the deaths that occurred in the war, his was the most personal to me.

In August of 1945 our second great war came to a sudden end.  That evening my dad once again took me down to a square not far from the Penobscot Exchange. The streets of downtown Bangor (population only about 29,500) were absolutely jammed with jubilant civilians and servicemen and women. The subsequent pictures in the Bangor Daily News looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

According to the U.S. Military History Institute, just over 1.3 million Americans have died fighting our wars. The Civil War was the deadliest in our history — more than 623,000 killed on both sides. World War I: 116,708; World War 2: 407,316; Korea: 36,914; Vietnam: 58,169.  And as of this past December, 5,853 in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Normally in this blog we celebrate the lives and accomplishments of seniors. But this Memorial Day week we look in the other direction and honor all those who never got to be seniors because they died at a young age in our wars.  Theirs are lives forever unfinished — weddings that never took place, infants they never got to hold, graduation ceremonies for their kids that they never got to attend. They died young so that we could live out our senior years in freedom.

All’s Well That Ends Well at Age Well

Monday, April 4th, 2011
By Riley McDavid Riley McDavid

For privacy reasons we have substituted the pseudonyms Daniel and Mr. and Mrs. Anderson in these two narratives, and we have omitted the names of cities where they live. However, Enrique Ramirez and Shelli Mire are the very real names of the Age Well staff member and Meals on Wheels volunteer involved.

Here are two stories — real life incidents — that started out very badly and could have ended even worse were it not for the interventions of two people: Enrique Ramirez, a driver in the Age Well Transportation Program, and volunteer Shelli Mire, a Meals on Wheels driver.

Enrique’s story began when he arrived to pick up a fellow named Daniel at his home.  Daniel had requested a ride to a medical appointment. Unfortunately, when Enrique knocked on the door, there was no answer.  So he tried calling Daniel’s phone.  Still no answer.  So Enrique made a second call, this time to Transportation Director Ben Corona.

Ben in turn called the police department in Daniel’s town and asked if someone could check to see if Daniel was okay. As it turned out, he wasn’t. When the paramedics arrived, they found Daniel on the floor but responsive.  They administered first aid and took him to the hospital.

At last report, Daniel was back on his feet and recovering well, thanks to the intervention of Enrique, who triggered a chain reaction of actions that may well have saved Daniel’s life.

“Enrique and the Age Well program managers did an excellent job of assessing and managing the situation,” said Chief Operations Officer Dan Palumbo.

Shelli’s incident began when she attempted to make her MOW delivery to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, both of whom suffer from varying degrees of senility. She knocked on their door, but got no answer. So she went inside, immediately smelled gas, and went to the kitchen. “Mrs. Anderson was in the kitchen and Mr. Anderson was outside on the patio,” Shelli says. “So I got Mrs. Anderson outside there as well.”

When Shelli came back inside, she discovered three of the gas stove’s burners were turned on, but not lit.  She turned them off, and then went about the house opening doors and windows to let the accumulated gas fumes escape. Eventually the gas company was called and a representative came out to check for gas leaks and the like.

This incident caused some family members to see they needed to be more involved with their parents. One of the sons, who lives a few miles away, works out of a home office.  He packed up everything and moved his workspace to the parents’ home, where he now works every day and provides considerable support as well.

Meals on Wheels drivers receive regular training to help cope with situations they may encounter “You don’t just sign up and immediately head out on a route,” Assistant Site Manager Sharon Williamson said. The volunteers are trained to spot situations that may require an intervention — signs of illness for example, and indications of elder abuse.  And if you have a healthy allotment of common sense, which Shelli Mire obviously does, you can handle a whole range of unexpected developments.

Shelli has been an MoW driver for twelve years and says some of the people on her route have literally seen her children grow up. “I love doing it,” she says, and it’s safe to say that several generations of the Anderson family are very glad that she does.

The Last Doughboy

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

In the movie “Up in the Air,” Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a twenty-ish entry-level exec, and career businessman Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) are on a marathon trip for their employer, hop-scotching from Omaha to St. Louis to Miami to Wichita and beyond.  At one point Natalie is on the cell phone with her boyfriend, who is apparently jealous of his girlfriend’s long distance trek with Bingham.

“No,” Natalie protests to her boyfriend. “I don’t even think of him that way.  He’s old.” In the background, Bingham, who certainly doesn’t think of himself as old, grimaces as Natalie’s unintended dart punctures his ego.

Moral: Old is a relative term.  When you’re ten, anyone over fifty is ancient.  But when you turn fifty, you refer to yourself as middle aged, not old.  For several years, I played golf with six guys in their seventies and eighties, plus one guy, Fred, who was ninety-four.  We referred to him as “the old guy.” Presumably the rest of us were kids.

Just this past week I came upon some startling statistics about what constitutes being old. CTV, the Canadian English-language TV network, says that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about half a million centenarians in the world. Really! Half a million!  Of those, nearly 100,000 live in the U.S., and by 2050 that number will jump to 1.1 million.  Are you a baby boomer?  Then here’s an even more mind-blowing stat. Researchers at Boston University predict that some three million of you boomers will live to be 100 or older.

This week’s blog is about a centenarian, and before getting to his story, I wanted to make the point that simply living to one hundred isn’t nearly as amazing a feat as it once was. In the 20th century the average life span increased thirty whole years, which is greater than the increases in the last 5,000 years of human existence.  So let us celebrate this week’s centenarian not just for living long, which even a heel can do, but for living a full and admirable life. 

Frank Woodruff Buckles was born into a Missouri farming family on February 1, 1901, and died at his Gap View Farm in West Virginia on February 27, 2011. If the name is familiar it is because his recent passing received considerable publicity in local and national newspapers and on network TV. Mr. Buckles was the last surviving American soldier who fought in World War 1.

“I always knew I’d be one of the last because I was one of the youngest when I joined,” Mr. Buckles told the New York Daily News in 2008, when he was 107. “But I never thought I’d be the last one.”

After the war began, Mr. Buckles tried to enlist in the Marine Corps and the Navy, but was turned down by both.  The Marines said he was too young — he was sixteen — and the Navy complained that he was flat-footed, a fact which he disputed his entire life. In spite of his small size and youthful age, he managed to enlist in the Army and was soon sent to Europe.

He served as a driver in England and in various locations in France, driving military autos and ambulances. The war’s effects left a lasting impression on him. “The little French children were hungry,” Mr. Buckles recalled in a 2001 interview for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. “We’d feed the children. To me, that was a pretty sad sight.” He never got close to the action. But, as he told columnist George F. Will in 2008, “I saw the results.”

After the war he went to business school and worked for many years in the steamship industry, eventually being posted to Manila. In an ironic twist, the man who never faced a bullet as a soldier in World War 1 became a civilian prisoner of war in 1942.  He spent the next three and a half years in a Japanese POW camp.

“He was only a corporal and he never got closer than 30 or so miles to the Western Front trenches, “ wrote Richard Goldstein in the New York Times, “but Mr. Buckles became something of a national treasure as the last living link to the two million men who served in the American Expeditionary Forces in France in ‘the war to end all wars.’

 “Frail, stooped and hard of hearing but sharp of mind, Mr. Buckles was named grand marshal of the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington in 2007. He was a guest at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day 2007 for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He was honored by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Pentagon and met with President George W. Bush at the White House in March 2008.” Early in life he met General John Pershing and in his later years he was presented with France’s Légion d’honneur by French President Jacques Chirac.

When he died in February, Mr. Buckles was 110.  On Tuesday morning, as a line of mourners passed by, Mr. Buckles body lay in repose in the Memorial Amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery. Later in the day, he was buried there with full military honors..

The McDee Awards

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

“Who the heck is Justin Bieber?” I asked Mrs. M. as we were reading the Sunday paper last weekend. “His name is everywhere.”

“He’s a 16-year-old millionaire who makes his money singing songs to 12-year-old girls,” she said. 

“First Miley Cyrus, now this guy. Whatever happened to kids just going out and getting a paper route?”

“You’re jealous,” she said.

“I am not,” I lied. But I was inspired, in a way. I got to thinking that people at the other end of the life’s age span should be getting as much publicity as youngsters.  So I hereby announce the establishment of the McDee Award, an honor reserved for people no younger than seventy who have made notable accomplishments.

The first McDee goes to Ann Timson, a 75-year-old grandmother from Northampton, England, who proves that some people will still get involved regardless of the potential danger to themselves.  Ms. Timson was in a Northampton shopping district on February 8 when she noticed a commotion across the street involving a half-dozen or so young men.

“At first I thought one of them was being set upon by three others,” she told the Daily Mail. “I was not going to stand by and watch somebody take a beating or worse so I tried to intervene.” But when she got closer she realized it was a robbery. The gang was using sledgehammers to smash the windows of a jewelry store. So Ms. Timson ran up to the men and started whacking them on the head with her purse.

Sarah Jane Brown, a jewelry store employee, told Sky News, “We were terrified. We locked the door. We hid under the desk. We were really scared. And then, we looked outside and, God love her, she was running down the road, with her handbag in the air, banging them on the back of their helmets with her handbag.”

One of the gang fell off his scooter and was detained by a passerby. As of this writing, four others have been arrested. Well done, Ms. Timson.

The second McDee goes to 89-year-old actress Betty White, who on February 1 received the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) award for outstanding female in a comedy series.  Ms. White was honored for her role as the sassy Elka Ostrovsky in the TV Land show Hot in Cleveland.

What makes the honor especially noteworthy is the competition she beat out: Tina Fey, who seems to win every award in sight for her work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, and Jane Lynch, who plays Sue Sylvester, the over-the-top cheerleading coach on the hit show Glee.

Betty White began her film career in 1945, and her list of roles on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) since then is literally pages long.   She was a youthful 41 when she created the role of Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and just 56 when she began playing Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. She has won 19 awards (20 counting the McDee) and has 16 additional nominations, including four Golden Globe nominations.

She said the SAG award was “the biggest surprise I’ve ever had in this business.”

Finally, let me point out one person who will not be getting a McDee.  He is the so-called Geezer Bandit who has held up 19 banks, mostly in the San Diego area, and is giving us seniors a really bad name. His pictures make him appear to be in his 70’s or 80’s, so maybe the guy is enrolled in a senior wellness program that keeps him fit enough to perform like a youngster.

If the San Diego police really want to catch this guy, I have a suggestion. Get on the phone to Northhampton, England, and hire Ann Timson and her handbag to come over here and stake out local banks.

To see Ms. Timson foiling the robbery, go to

It’s A Tough Job But Someone’s Gotta Do It

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Mrs. McDavid and I came home from a movie after dark one night last week, and as we got out of our car we spotted our neighbor Arnie staring off into the distance. “What are you looking at?” I asked him.

“The red light out there on top of the radio tower.  It’s real pretty. How do you suppose they change that thing when it burns out?”

“I’m just guessing, Arnie,” Mrs. McDavid said, “but I suspect someone has to climb up there and change it.”

“Now that’s something I’d like to do just once,” he said.  “What a view you’d get up there.” I shuddered at the thought, but he was quite serious. ”Something else I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to be the guy at the airport that stands in front of the plane as it taxis up to the gate and holds those neon thingies telling the pilot when to turn and when to stop. That’s power! I’d be controlling a great big 767.”

 “Just once,” I said, “I’d like to be the guy at the driving range who drives around in the caged tractor with the things on the back that collects the golf balls.” 

Mrs. M. gave me a strange look, but I just shrugged. Then she got this sly smile on her face. “Here’s what I want to do,” and she paused as if waiting for a drum roll. Finally she said, “I want to referee the Super Bowl.”

“You just want power over men,” I said.

“You’re darn right. The bigger, the better. Can’t you just see me. ‘Fifteen yard penalty on number 67 for roughing the passer, and don’t scowl at me buster or I’ll give you another 15!’”

“She’s tough,” Arnie said.

“Oh, yeah. She really identified with Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.”

“Okay,” she said.  “Let me tell you a job I wouldn’t want.  I wouldn’t want to be a toll taker at a bridge.  Too boring.”

I said I just couldn’t be a CHP officer.  “Imagine having to pull somebody over on a deserted stretch of road at night.  You don’t know who could be inside. That’s scary.”

Dental“I couldn’t be a dentist, “ Arnie said. “Imagine pulling someone’s tooth. Or a heart surgeon with all that blood and everything.”

”But aren’t you glad somebody does these things?” Mrs. McDavid said. “I mean if nobody wanted to do them, we’d be in a big fix. There’s lots of jobs like that.  Being an ER nurse.  Taking care of the elderly people who come to Adult Day Care at Age Well. Working in a nursing home.  Volunteering at a homeless shelter or a battered women’s shelter or a hospice. Those people are saints.”

“Yeah, I just couldn’t do stuff like that,” Arnie said.

“Oh, I think you could,” Mrs. M. said.  “What do you do on Saturdays?

“Saturdays?  I go see my dad up in Paterson.”

“Isn’t that a five-hour drive one way?” I said.

“Yep. I’d move him down here, but he’s around things that are familiar to him up there and that’s really nice for him.”

“What do you do there?”

“I read to him.”

“Read what?” Mrs. M. asked.

“Oh, Field and Stream and chapters from Tom Sawyer, which he really used to love, and I don’t know what else.”

“Does he understand it?” I asked.

“Naw! He just smiles once in a while.  When he does that, it’s like it used to be between us.  Real friendly. But these days he doesn’t even know who I am.”

“But you still go,” I said.

“Of course!  He’s my dad.”

“Arnie,” I said.  “you’re a heart surgeon.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s okay, Arnie,” Mrs. M. said.  “It was a metaphor.  He meant it as a compliment.”

“Well, okay, thanks,” Arnie said.