The Scroll: Life Over 65 Can be Fulfilling and Fragile

The dinner earlier this month in the Anderson Student Center for the 40th anniversary of a lifelong learning program – classes or short courses for “older folks” – was meant as a celebration for the Selim Center for Learning in Later Years and a tribute to its founder, Mo Selim.

What happened that evening was a poignant reminder that life for those of us over 65 can be fulfilling and fragile, an acknowledgement that older bodies frequently get nicked by paper cuts that accumulate.

Dave Nimmer

Dave Nimmer

Featured speaker and former WCCO-TV anchorman Don Shelby was about 20 minutes into his talk when Selim slumped over at his table; he was eased to the floor and attended by family members and a physician at the dinner.

Shelby had just finished telling the group that retirement didn’t mean game over. The veteran anchorman appeared ready for extra innings – bringing his good stuff, a game face and a closer’s attitude.

I had introduced my former WCCO colleague to the 120 dinner guests, 50 and older, who have taken classes and courses at St. Thomas in the Selim Center, founded in 1973 and recording more than 76,000 registrations for the short courses it offers every fall and spring.

Shelby, now eligible for Social Security and Medicare, certainly belonged at the table. Out of fairness in my introduction, I noted that Shelby – a stroke survivor – could still jack a canoe on his shoulders, lug it a quarter of a mile across a rocky portage in the Quetico Wilderness and unerringly find the next trailhead two miles across the lake.

“The time we have as we grow older,” Shelby said, “gives us a sense of reflection, a kind of self-analysis to say, ‘That’s something I don’t know. I’d like to pick that up.’ I like the idea we will always be seeking answers, finding out what we don’t know.”

Shelby talked about his father, C.T., who’d been walking in the woods near his home in Muncie, Ind., at the age of 65 when he tripped and knocked himself unconscious. After he recovered, he never walked in the woods again and his life got smaller, Shelby said, though his dad never lost his thirst for learning and reading.

His son vowed to live his retirement with passion, purpose and possibilities. Shelby told the group he’d suffered a major stroke a decade ago and struggled for a month before he could get back on the air.

“When I started the rehabilitation,” Shelby said, “my math skill was testing at a sixth grade level. It looked like my career was over.” But he didn’t quit working in rehab. He read. He talked. He solved puzzles. He answered questions. Slowly, surely, he recovered his ability to reason, respond and recall.

For a while on the newscast, Shelby said he kept both hands under the anchor desk holding on to the edges to keep his sense of balance. As time went on, he regained his balance and his confidence.

He didn’t finish his speech at St. Thomas, but he did talk to Mo Selim before the EMTs carted him away for an overnight stay in a hospital, where doctors diagnosed a circulation problem he’ll have to live with. Selim said he had enjoyed the evening and even joked with Shelby about an interview he’d given for the video about the center’s history. He is recovering at home.

And Shelby? He’s still gallivanting about the Twin Cities with a dozen causes and twice as many requests for speeches and appearances. As I said in his introduction, when the final bells tolls, Shelby intends to be busy – previously occupied.