'The Best Years of Their Lives.' (Black Senior Citizens)

By Poinsett, Alex | Ebony, November 1991 | Go to article overview

'The Best Years of Their Lives.' (Black Senior Citizens)


Poinsett, Alex, Ebony


MANY people, including a lot of senior citizens, believe life ends at 60. But growing numbers of the nation's 2.5 million elderly Blacks know that the mortgage-paid, children-out-of-the-house, now-or-never autumn years can and should be the richest and most rewarding of their lives. Shunning conventional wisdom, they live active and exciting lives that would challenge the physical and mental prowess of people half their age.

Take, for example, Eloise Pleasant Ellis of Washington, D.C., who, at 70, is still in the game and still looking for another Mr. Right.

"If she told you she was 70, you'd have to ask for her I.D.," says an admirer of the registered nurse, citing her passion for health care, her frequent dating, and her generally youngish demeanor.

Ellis' work load is staggering. As an associate are vice president of the American Assn. of Retired Persons, she frequently speaks around the country on health-care reform and spends several days each month promoting AARP regional activities. As a counselor, she often conducts sex education workshops for seniors in nursing homes to help them feel comfortable with their sexuality. As the public affairs director for Chi Eta Phi, she handles publicity for the nursing sorority. And as a part-time nurse for the Center for Aging, she evaluates the health needs of about 20 seniors a month. "Friends tell me they get tired just hearing what I do," Ellis says.

Although as busy now as she ever was before her "retirement" in 1981 from the District of Columbia's health department after 34 years of nursing, Ellis does not neglect her social life. "I have no problem getting escorts who are delighted to go with me wherever I want to go," she says, including travel around the country if those opportunities arise. "I'm for whatever makes you happy," she says. "I can enjoy whatever it is that you want to do and not have to worry about what other people think."

The mother of Anita, a New York fashion designer, and Gail, a Los Angeles schoolteacher, Ellis lost her husband five years ago when he died at age 68 of diabetes complications after 31 years of marriage. "I haven't found a person who I want to spend the rest of my life with yet," she says, "but I'm open-minded about marrying again."

Lawrence Young, a 62-year-old graphics display artist for the city of Chicago, has an equal zest for life. Married for 37 years, he says his wife, Yvonne, is largely responsible for successfully rearing their two children, Lawrence III, 34, and Pamela, 30, and creating a climate that has made the autumn years the least stressful and the most enjoyable of their years together.

Young believes a fruitful life, like a good golf game, is a matter of patience, mental discipline and a perpetual effort to keep the ball on course to the next hole while avoiding hazards and sandtraps. "As I get older," the avid golfer says, "my world gets simpler and smaller. Basic things satisfy me. I go to my job and enjoy it. I have a couple of drinks with the boys at the neighborhood joint and enjoy the fellowship. I come home and have dinner with my wife and do the things necessary to maintain my home. And I golf."

Unlike her husband, Yvonne Young's world is expanding as she nears retirement in 1992 after 41 years as a kindergarten teacher. Playing tennis from two to five times a week, she regularly competes in national tournaments. …

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