A precious treasure of untapped wisdom and information lies hidden within our aging population, waiting to be revealed. Such discovery can occur, however, only if we alter our thinking as to what it means to be an "elder" in our society. Historically, our culture has placed a premium on attributes like speed, youth and beauty, and such emphasis has subsequently clashed head-on with our images of senior citizens. And yet, as baby boomers gray in the coming years and the generational landscape shifts dramatically, the time is right for an important conceptual transformation.
It's time to change the way we think about aging and older people.
Fifteen years ago while still working in New York City as an entertainment attorney and artist manager, Harry J. Getzov made a decision that would inevitably change his life's direction. A longtime fan and student of Studs Terkel's oral history works, he decided to try a little experiment that would allow him to pursue a rediscovered passion. "I loved spending time with older people," Harry states, "so I simply started to visit with them in my spare time. I began initially with family, friends, neighbors and business colleagues who then eagerly referred me to their family and friends. And I have been visiting with seniors ever since - lots of them."
As Harry travels around the country, he visits with, and interviews, men and women from all walks of life - all of them over the age of 70. A short series of core questions serves as a conversation jump-off point, allowing respondents to talk freely about lessons learned and wisdom gained, as well as share their feelings about aging.
To date, Harry has visited with over 1.600 people, including such distinguished individuals as Dr. Maya Angelou, Hugh Downs, Ernest Borgnine, Ernie Banks, Frankie Laine, Louise L. Hay, Jerry Vale, Bernie Brillstein, Earl Weaver, Dick Vitale, Ruth Harriet Jacobs, Len Dawson, Herb Jeffries, Arlene Bouras, Walt Bodine, Irving Fields, Lolo Sarnoff, Myron Kandel, Henry Miller, Norman Drucker, Marshall Berle, Sammy Shore and Chief Jay Strongbow. During her interview, Dr. Angelou took a moment to express the following about the project: "Your questions, your book, your work, your intent, are not only timely and important but gracious."
It is important to note, however, that Eldercation is not focused merely on celebrity profiles. The majority of Harry's conversations are with people he meets in his everyday experience - a cook, tailor, nurse, pizza-maker, veteran, mother, father, bus driver, schoolteacher or retiree. This is the cornerstone of the project: inspired and inspiring conversation with older individuals from diverse backgrounds. "My goal is to present as wide of a spectrum as possible and I am interested in speaking with show business people, politicians, journalists, business leaders and athletes for reasons that go far beyond their so-called celebrity status," Harry likes to point out. "When people are 70, 80, 90, 100 years old, all pre-existing labels seem to lose their significance. People are simply . . . people. And that discovery paves the way for some terrific learning opportunities - providing us with a chance to gain insight about the extraordinary side of growing older."
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