Friday, 24 May 2019

55 PLUS: These thriving local seniors stay engaged with life – Times Herald-Record

She’s 90 years old, and she recently returned from an all-day trip to Albany.

That’s where Grahamsville’s Priscilla Bassett did what she has been doing for most of her nearly one century of living. She fought for the rights of her fellow Americans.

This time, she was lobbying for the passage of a law – the New York Health Act – that would guarantee universal health care for all New Yorkers.

This, after she spoke to the New York City Council, and the Sullivan County Legislature, and urged them to support the bill.

“This is what gets me going,” Bassett says.

Donna Kushner is 62 years old and teaching private violin and viola lessons to 28 students, ages 7 to 86, in her Monroe home on Mondays and Wednesdays.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she drives to New Paltz to teach the violin and viola to students in grades 3-8 at the Mountain Laurel Waldorf School.

She’s also the principal 2nd violinist with the Greater Newburgh Symphony, which can mean rehearsals at 7 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Oh, and Donna Kushner performs with the Hudson Opera Theatre – and cooks all her meals, spends plenty of time with her grandchildren, and swims a mile at least three days per week.

“I haven’t slowed down; I’ve sped up,” Kushner says about getting older.

Steve Serkes is 55 and standing on his sneakered feet in front of a hot grill up to 12 hours a day at least four days a week in the restaurant he’s owned since 1991.

You can also find Serkes in Catherine’s restaurant in Goshen on his other days “off’’ – prepping meals, checking the books and stocking the produce he’s just bought at local farmers markets.

“I love what I do; I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a dream come true,” he says.

Bassett, Kushner and Serkes have one thing in common – besides their busy-to-the-brim lives.

They’re at least 55 years old, like about one-third of all the residents in Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties.

That’s why they’re featured in this debut of a new weekly feature, “55 and Over,” that starts this week and will run every Tuesday.

But as much as this weekly feature will focus on local people who are at least 55 and the issues they may be facing – from what to do about health insurance that costs the families of non-Medicare-eligible folks like Serkes $36,000 per year for his family of five, to coping with the rural isolation of older folks like Bassett – the stories will also be about why they don’t let that age define them.

They don’t shrivel up just because they’re aging. They learn how to live with life’s changes and challenges.

For instance, Bassett’s home overlooking the Catskills in the eastern Sullivan County hamlet of Grahamsville is two miles up a mountain, with a driveway that’s one-third of a mile long – a challenge in warm, sunny weather, let alone Sullivan’s snowy winters.

So when an apartment became available in her daughter’s New York City building, she dipped into the money she had saved and bought it. She’s spent much of her time there this winter.

“I have been forced to rethink my life,” Bassett says.

But, she’s quick to add, that doesn’t mean she’ll give up her life’s work fighting for the rights of others.

She’ll still travel to Albany to fight for causes like universal health care.

She’ll still speak about the issue in front of her local community board. And she’ll still get her exercise by walking her 13-year-old standard poodle Tondi (“91 in human years,” she says) three times a day.

Kushner may feel tired, when, after a full day of teaching violin and an evening of rehearsal, she gets home at 11:30 p.m., and doesn’t make it to bed until 1 a.m.

But then she awakens at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and swims for a mile at the Union Avenue Community Fitness Center in New Windsor.

“And I feel refreshed. I find time for my friends, my family, my music and I still don’t feel 62.”

When Serkes reached his late 40s, he started to feel the aches and pains of standing on his feet all day when he awoke each morning.

“I couldn’t even walk,” he says.

Then a friend suggested working out in the gym.

Now Serkes awakes before dawn and exercises five days a week, doing cardiovascular exercises, running on a treadmill and lifting weights – along with going for a bike ride on Sundays, and making sure he eats the fresh local food he chooses for his restaurant.

“Now I feel great physically, and it helps me focus,” he says.

Bottom line for the folks over 55 who’ll be the focus of this feature?

We’ll leave the last word to the first born, Bassett, who could be speaking for Kushner and Serkes when she says:

“Stay engaged with life.”


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