Indiana University       Research & Creative Activity      September 2001 • Volume XXIV, Number 2

'The Best Is Yet to Be' by Nick Riddle

What’s the secret to aging well? The recipe—eat right, save money, exercise body and mind—seems too simple. As these Indiana University faculty emeriti attest, there are other elusive ingredients in making old age the best that is yet to be.

Henry H. H. Remak
Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature, Germanic Studies, and West European Studies
Remak was born in Germany and studied in Berlin and France before coming to IU in 1936; he has been a faculty member at IU since 1946. Remak translated manuscripts for Alfred Kinsey and served as dean of faculties and IUB vice chancellor during the 1970s. He retired in 1987, became director of the Institute for Advanced Study in 1988, and retired again in 1994. He continues to teach for free and has taught longer than any other IU Bloomington faculty member. Remak has appeared in seven IU operas, but he was forbidden to sing in any of them.

"Lack of stimulation and lack of company can have a terrible effect. The great fear in aging is that you'll be forgotten."

My philosophy of aging is that I haven’t thought about it much! Americans in particular like to think there’s a solution to everything. So, for instance, they ask what are the “tricks” to retirement and aging? But there’s so much luck involved. Genes, for instance. Both my grandfathers lived to be 80, which in their day was something remarkable. And my generation went through the Depression, the Third Reich, the Second World War. After that, you know that life and enjoyment are to be valued. Life produces this attitude in you.

Retirement made me very apprehensive. I never considered it, but deep down I knew some day it had to come. I still teach, because I love teaching. My class meets at four in the afternoon, which isn’t an ideal time—the energy levels are low. Often I wonder how I’ll get through it without lying down. But something extraordinary happens. I feel the adrenaline flowing. Afterwards, I feel much brisker.

I like to deal with people. The idea of being cloistered depresses me. Having a stimulating environment helps to take the tension away from your own problems. I need time alone, too. Scholars always need that. And I still have dark hours, some introverted moods, because being an academic I analyze all the time.

I’ve noticed that some students have a little problem with me. They see an old guy who has no business sitting in a classroom. They don’t want to ask me too blatantly how old I am, so they ask questions like “When did you graduate?” I tell them 1936. They start counting backwards on their fingers, and begin laughing and whooping! Many of them come to my office now. Often it’s because they want to see the piles of books and my collection of bottles. Then they come because it’s informal, and they know I’m not part of the establishment. I don’t want students with complaints. That would be too negative for me. I have peers who work in the Student Advocates Office, and I admire them enormously. I couldn’t do it.

Committees are another matter. I’m no longer required to serve on them, but I’ve been asked onto some very interesting ones. And my experience helps sometimes. I can remember when there was a case 30 years ago that was like this one, and so on.

My family are big walkers. We move a lot, talk a lot, travel a lot. It gives you less time to think about your ills. What else? I love siestas, and a glass of wine in the evening improves the circulation. I’m not that strong a spectator of sports, but I like to move around. So my advice would be to get out of the house. Walk for the sake of walking! Lack of stimulation and lack of company can have a terrible effect. Professors who seem to be in good health when they retire sometimes don’t stay active, and they start to decline rather quickly. It’s a case of ‘use it or lose it.’ It’s good to have a lot of interests outside your profession. One day I’ll have to quit teaching, but I’m comforted by the thought that I have music.

I still get letters from former students, which thrills me. The great fear in aging is that you’ll be forgotten.

Phyllis Klotman
Professor Emeritus of Afro-American Studies
Klotman came to IU in 1970. She was the first affirmative action director at IU Bloomington, serving from 1974 to 1979. From 1986 to 1993, Klotman was dean for women’s affairs. She founded IU’s Black Film Center/Archive in 1981 and served as its director until 1999. Klotman retired in 1999. In 2000, Choice named her book Struggles for Representation: African American Documentary Film and Video, co-edited with her daughter Janet Cutler, as an outstanding academic title.

"I'm happiest when I'm learning something and when I'm with people who feel the same way. It gives you something to talk about besides aches and pains."

I never liked the word retirement. I’m not the retiring sort. I’m much more like Dylan Thomas—I don’t plan to go gently into that good night.

A friend some 10 years younger than I is considering retiring. She says the thing that annoys her most is that you start being invisible to others. We don’t have the tradition of respect for our elders, as in some other cultures. Maybe we used to, but the ’60s, when tradition and anyone over 30 were suspect, changed that. Among African cultures, there’s a sense of the continuity of life: we’re linked to the past, the present, and the future.

I know people who made great plans for their retirement. Some worked out, some didn’t. I plan from project to project. I was dean for women’s affairs for seven years, which was very gratifying work, but it meant that I lost seven years of research time. You could say that I’m making up for that now. I have a big project at the moment: producing a CD-ROM called “African Americans in Cinema: The First Half Century” for the Archive. We had trouble getting private funding, so just before I planned to retire as director, I wrote a grant to the National Endowment for the Humanities, expecting to be refused. But we got it! There I was, walking out the door, and the project was suddenly funded. I hadn’t written in a salary for myself, so I’m doing it pro bono.

Our children live in Manhattan, and they made me promise them that we’d move there eventually. But I need to finish this project. Then maybe we’ll move, and I’ll think about what I want to do next.

How you handle aging depends a lot on the culture of your family and the way you were raised and on your personal values. It’s important to stay healthy, or get healthy—stay physically active, and don’t let your brain atrophy. You have to do something with your life.

When I was very young, I wanted to be a teacher and a writer. But as things turned out, I was a mother first, then an undergraduate when my kids were 4 and 6.

I had a passion for learning that still drives me. I’m happiest when I’m learning something and when I’m with people who feel the same way. It gives you something to talk about besides aches and pains.

I have always raged against injustice and intolerance, and I still do. Rage is a kind of passion, isn’t it?

Elizabeth Lion
Associate Professor Emeritus of Nursing
Elizabeth Lion was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in Newark, N.J. She began her nursing education at New Jersey State College and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1948. She received a master’s degree in public health nursing from the University of Pittsburgh in 1966. In 1969, she was appointed to the IU faculty. In 1990, she earned an Ed.D. from IU with a dissertation on the sexuality of the dying. Lion was named the 2001 Woman of the Year in Bloomington as part of Women’s History Month.

"There are many things I don't understand—rock'n'roll I never got—but I can express an interest. I'm not young because of that; I'm old and wise because of that."

I think I approached retirement carefully. I’m a Pisces, so I process things in my head a lot more than I’m aware of.

You really need to prepare. I didn’t prepare very well financially. I knew I would work until I was 70, and I didn’t approach anything close to a man’s salary until a few years before I retired. You have to decide what you’re going to let go of. As a nurse I knew about grieving, so I knew one of my first tasks in retiring would be to let go. I let go of my faculty involvements gradually over three years. I’ve been involved in the Affirmative Action Committee at IU since 1975 and in the Commission on Multicultural Understanding since 1981, and I decided I wouldn’t let go of the people or the work involved.

I think you need to set up activities for retirement. I continued some of my committee work; I’m one of two emeriti on the Bloomington Faculty Council. I also serve on the Student Affairs Committee and the Faculty Affairs Committee. I trained as a crisis liner and rape victim advocate at Middle Way House and with Positive Link as an HIV counselor before I retired.

Sometimes the young bother me. They think I won’t know anything about the world as it is now. But when someone is in crisis, the age gap is a very easy thing to close. I know sexual slang from my teaching about human sexuality. So if I’m counseling someone and they talk about dry sex, I know what they mean. That makes their eyes widen sometimes. My nursing education taught me how important it is to listen nonjudgmentally.

In retirement you should do what you always have done. Do things you find essential for well-being. I do the things that I think contribute to the inherent worth and dignity of all people, which is the first principle of the Unitarian Universalist Church. Do things you find entertaining—I love theater and opera. I read mysteries, not to figure out who did it, but to be with and listen to the people. I like mysteries rich in character development and language.

I’m still vain. I match my clothes intentionally. I wear lipstick, powder, and eye shadow. I dress for power, because it makes an impact. I rarely wear a flowered dress. But I haven’t stayed young. I’m an old lady, and I feel like an old lady. And my heart isn’t young—it’s old. But I want to stay in touch with the current scene. There are many things I don’t understand—rock’n’roll I never got—but I can express an interest. I’m always willing to say “Tell me about it.” I’m not young because of that: I’m old and wise because of that.

Frank Banta
Professor Emeritus of Germanic Studies
Banta graduated from IU with a bachelor’s degree in 1939. He worked in Army Intelligence in Germany after World War II and was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Berne in 1951. Banta came to IU to teach in 1964. He retired as Professor of Germanic Studies in 1988. Banta still oversees the Indiana farm that has been in his family since 1825.

"I imagined retirement as a time when I would read many novels, meet friends, take long walks. It isn't like that, and that's my fault. I have work to do."

I imagined retirement as a time when I would read many novels, meet friends, and take long walks. It isn’t like that at all, and that’s my fault. It could have been like that, but I have work to do. Maybe it’s my Presbyterian background—I feel a need to be of some use.

After my retirement I began to work as a volunteer in the Student Advocates Office. I worked in that capacity for 11 years. I’m now Assistant Director of Student Advocates. I work 20 to 25 hours a week and the occasional evening.

I’m often annoyed by the assumption that because one is old, one doesn’t know anything any more. But people in the United States, and the Western world in general, are getting more used to having more ‘old’ people around. I do see a certain amount of resentment, particularly if we’re still working. I’ve had people say I ought to move aside and let someone else get the position. But age is an advantage in this job. I know so many people here—the deans, assistant deans, people in administration. I’ve known some since they were graduate students. I know who to call to try to resolve something for a student. Work is a way of keeping in contact with people and making new acquaintances.

Time is always a factor in everything you do. With increasing age, one is increasingly conscious that one doesn’t have 50 more years. And I don’t have the energy I had 50 years ago. I have things to take care of where I live and elsewhere, and I have business affairs. I still love to read. Spare time is therefore very important. Even though I can’t imagine living without a computer now, I very rarely surf the Web—I’m afraid I’d get taken over by it, and it can eat up time.

My advice is to keep busy, keep active, and keep interested. Keeping physically active is probably important. I say “probably” because I don’t do it. I’m blessed with good health. A number of years ago, a rather overweight colleague asked me how I kept so trim and healthy. I said “I eat what I want, drink what I want, and take no exercise.” He considered this for a moment, then replied, “You are disgusting.”

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