They’re not sitting in their rocking chairs watching TV all day. They are three friends of mine who are leading active, involved lives at 90 and more.
My oldest friend plans to celebrate her 99th birthday in June with a big party. Her blue eyes sparkle as she tells you this, but she made me promise not to mention her name. She is an important part of the Saturday morning Torah study group at Temple Beth Israel.
She reads and discusses the weekly portion with people 40 and 50 years her junior. She can keep up with them not only intellectually, but to a great degree, physically as well. A petite woman with a still-girlish figure, she walks steadily and rapidly without any assistance.
She is also part of a weekly book club, which she began with another woman in 1981. The other members range in age from 50 to 90. She plays bridge and amazingly plays four or five holes of golf in warm weather.
She married in 1939 and after 66 years of marriage, her husband died. During their marriage, she worked part time as a substitute teacher, although she had earned a teaching certificate. She also was a docent at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum.
She loves to keep busy, play bridge and read. She regrets no longer having a car, since her family decided she shouldn’t drive a few years ago. She is happy that her grandson’s children’s book will be published next year and she hopes to live to see that happen.
John Donaldson will be 91 in November. Still a towering figure notorious for wearing bow-ties, he exudes friendliness and a high interest in the world. John was a Fresno County supervisor from 1973 to 1980, and he retains an avid interest in reading about politics.
He is in his 61st year of singing bass in the Fresno County Community Chorus and plays bridge twice a week. At 6-foot-1, he was a star athlete in his youth, and won a national discus championship in 1945 while at Rice University in Texas. He also played volleyball, handball and football. It was only a few years ago that he stopped hiking in the mountains around Yosemite.
John earned a Ph.D. in physics from Yale University and later taught physics at Fresno State for 35 years. After college he was drafted and spent his service time at the Biological Warfare Laboratory in Maryland.
John wed Shirley Brown in 1951; she died in 2006 just shy of 55 years of marriage. In recent years, John reconnected with Ruth, their old college friend, whose husband Joe Reynolds, also an old college friend, had died nine years before Shirley. Both Joe and Shirley suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. John and Ruth have been partners for the past six or seven years. He is happy to be alive and enjoying life.
Bette Peterson will be 94 on Halloween. She founded Poppy Lane Publishing in 1976 and still runs the business. She concentrates on finding local authors and illustrators for children’s books. Recently, she published a book about the Armenian genocide in both English and Armenian, which turned out to be a big seller. She also has published books in English and Hmong and English and Spanish.
Bette can be seen tooling around town in her shiny red sports car, although recently she has stopped driving at night. She does her own grocery shopping and has occasional help in her home.
With a master’s degree in teaching children with intellectual disabilities, Bette taught in private schools in Visalia and Fresno for a few years and then taught sociology at Fresno City College. In addition, for many years she ran a private tutoring service focusing on children with special needs.
In 1975, she married Dr. Robert Billing, chair of the English Department at Fresno State, who died about 10 years ago.
Bette still is involved with generously funding scholarship programs for the Alliance Francaise of Fresno and the League of Women Voters of Fresno. She is happy that her publishing business has put her in a position to gain a lot of information and enhance her interest in the world.
Because she still drives, she can get where she wants to go, but is now using a cane to steady her walking due to an accident a few years ago.
There are many more wonderful people approaching the century mark these days. We need to treasure them and their stories, and hope that we are as fortunate.
Francine Farber is a retired educational administrator and a full-time community volunteer.