The late Dr. Gene Cohen was known as the go-to expert on the mature brain and its lifelong capacity for learning and creativity.

In a national three-year study, he found that older adults participating in professionally conducted arts programs used less medication, had fewer visits to the doctor, experienced an elevated mood, showed an increase in the level of independent functioning, and were less depressed and lonely.

Recognizing these and other facts, the National Endowment for the Arts has developed an interagency task force of 13 federal agencies and departments to encourage more and better research on how the arts help people reach their full potential at all stages of life.

Lia Miller, executive Director of the Creative Aging Network-North Carolina, is bringing these developments and other studies to the attention of groups throughout the state, encouraging them to sponsor activities associated with the arts in May during Older Americans Month.

However, many seniors need no encouragement in their pursuit of the arts. This issue of the Triangle Retirement Resource Guide features seven seniors who live in Triangle communities who are fully invested in the arts. Some came to the arts after retirement while others continued a lifetime passion. Still others are like John Harris (shown on the cover of the Spring 2013 issue) who adopted gardening as a hobby in order to pay his way through NC State during the Depression. However one comes to the arts, its benefits are lasting.

Choir Director Extraordinaire

Featured Articles - Spring 2013 - Triangle Seniors Practice Their Art - Betty Jean YoungBetty Jean Young

Betty Jean Young and her husband, Claude, were among the first residents when they moved into Galloway Ridge in November 2005. She immediately set about organizing a choral group as she had done innumerable times at the Methodist churches where her minister-husband had served as pastor. “We have three goals,” she says. “To have fun, to share our talents and to perform on patriotic and other special occasions.”

In less than a year (July 25, 2006) the group gave its first concert, and they have been performing regularly ever since. “We sing the old favorites, including WW II songs,” Betty Jean says; meanwhile, she has added skits and dancers who perform in costume to the music.

Claude shares credit for helping to launch the choral group and still lifts his strong baritone in song while Betty Jean continues to serve as planner extraordinaire, facilitator, and director. “Every day has been a happy day at Galloway Ridge,” says Betty Jean. At 82 years of age, both are looking forward to many more happy days.

Painting Is Her Passion

Featured Articles - Spring 2013 - Triangle Seniors Practice Their Art - Shirley TaggertShirley Taggert

Art has always been an important part of Shirley Taggert’s life, and it continues to be so since moving to Preston Pointe in Morrisville. Growing up in a small West Virginia town, Shirley began painting at an early age, then majored in art, graduating from Marshall University in Huntington. She taught art in Mullins for several months before getting married and raising a family. Following the death of her husband, she married a widower with five daughters; they spent the next 34 years in Lewisburg, WV, until his death three years ago. She found that maintaining a 10-room house for herself was not much to her liking so with a daughter and step-daughter in Raleigh, she chose to move to The Manor Village at Preston. Keeping her art supplies with her, “I moved into a two-bedroom apartment so I could use one bedroom as a studio,” she says. It has worked out very well judging by the number and quality of her watercolors which are exhibited in Manor Village’s lobby and the Fireside Lounge. Residents, who already have a houseful of art after downsizing, still have purchased several of her works, but she does not try to sell them. “I paint when the spirit moves me,” she says; however, devested of caring for a 10-room home, she is frequently moved to take brush in hand when not engaged with new friends in her new life.

Poet in Words and Pictures

Featured Articles - Spring 2013 - Triangle Seniors Practice Their Art - Jane Penland HooverJane Penland Hoover

Jane Penland Hoover woke up five years ago in her Croasdaile Village home and decided to write poetry. Checking out My Space, she found a teacher in Alabama who gave her long-distance guidance. She began awaking early to write four or five poems each day which she posted to her Alabama mentor, then awaited a critique which would arrive in the evening of the same day. Two years and a thousand poems later, she awakened one morning and decided to become a photographer. Today she is a familiar sight, walking Croasdaile’s manicured acres, snapping thousands of pictures which are now stored on a Flash Drive. Again two years passed when she awakened one morning and decided to paint. Today her watercolors and photographs are a changing panorama in a gallery lining Croasdaile’s long hall.

The fact that Jane had been a wizardly accountant, and, in fact, the first woman in the southeast to serve as auditor in the defense department, makes her a stunning example of what happens when one Unleashes the Power of Age which happens to be the theme of Older Americans Month in May.

PS. Jane (now 70) continues to write poetry, take pictures and paint watercolors.

A Sculptor Born at 78

Featured Articles - Spring 2013 - Triangle Seniors Practice Their Art - Madge ConfreyMadge Confrey

Madge Confrey, a resident with husband Gene at Waltonwood, began sculpting at 78 years of age when she read about a class offered in Bainbridge Island’s arts activities brochure. She enrolled and soon found she had an unusual talent for sculpting. It became a major pastime until she began to suffer from macular degeneration.

Later, she was given a prescription that was totally “unsettling.” She explained that she had such a violent reaction, they felt they should move to an adult community. “Since our daughter was teaching at NC State University, we chose Cary as one of the best places as the destination. It has proven to be a wise choice since the community and the Waltonwood facilities are special and oriented to our needs.”

Gene, a retiree of the National Institutes of Health, does research on a home-computer, and plays music on an electronic keyboard.

And so they moved from Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle cross country to Waltonwood in the fall of 2011. North Carolina puts them closer to their five grandchildren including one, a student at NC State, and two who are in their medical residency in Dallas. Meanwhile, canceling the prescription that had caused such a problem, her life and health have returned (thankfully) to normalcy. Although they sometimes miss their life on Bainbridge Island, they find Cary and Waltonwood gratifying.

An Artist in Film

Featured Articles - Spring 2013 - Triangle Seniors Practice Their Art - John EllisJohn Ellis

John Ellis began taking pictures at age 16, beginning in high school in Falls Church, VA, and at Virginia Tech where he received a BS in Engineering. He continued taking pictures through 34 years in the Defense Department’s Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia while receiving his MS degree in Computer Science, and then at Croasdaile where he moved in 2008.

“You might call me an advanced amateur photographer,” he says, “because I have never sold a picture,” but his artistry is evident in Croasdaile’s gallery where ten photos were hung in January and seven in a February exhibition. He takes four or five trips a year like the Norfolk OpSail 2012 when hundreds of tall ships converged off Virginia’s coast (see photo above). His broad scope of activity is somewhat remarkable in view of the fact he lost a leg (to sepsis) in 2007 which is when he moved to a Durham Assisted Living center for rehabilitation to be near his four cousins. After one year he moved to an Independent Living apartment at Croasdaile Village.

“I’m limited nowadays to where a wheelchair can go,” he admits. Which eliminates mountains and beaches but otherwise, the world is his kingdom to photograph magnificently, and he does.

Still Lifts Her Voice in Song

Featured Articles - Spring 2013 - Triangle Seniors Practice Their Art - Eleanor SableskiEleanor Sableski

Eleanor Sableski lifts her second soprano voice in song frequently at the Durham Regent senior living community, both for her own pleasure as well as the appreciation of those for whom she performs.

Growing up in a musical family in Vermont (her mother was a pianist, her father, a bass-baritone), she attended Smith College on a fellowship “but I had to drop out after two years because,” as she admits, “my grades were not good enough to keep the fellowship.” However, after moving to Durham Regent and continuing her studies in classes at UNC, she found grades were no problem.

Currently Eleanor is singing in her church choir and performing with the Village Review, a semi-professional group that presents an hour-long program for various groups including seniors as well as the disadvantaged. She is planning to contact another group, the Threshold Singers, who perform at bedside in hospices and hospitals, thus sharing her joy in music with others who may not be able to sing.