Monday, February 14, 2011
An inspiring new documentary looks at men and women who are living life to the fullest, well into their 90s. We'll talk with filmmaker Susan Polis Schutz and some nonagenarians, including a local artist and writer.
An inspiring new documentary looks at men and women who are living life to the fullest, well into their 90s. We'll talk with filmmaker Susan Polis Schutz and some nonagenarians, including a local artist and writer.
Susan Polis Schutz is a documentary filmmaker. Her film "Over 90 and Loving It" is screening at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival.
Laura Simon is 105 years old and lives in San Diego.
Dr. Ernest Rogers and his wife Annell join us by phone from Alabama.
"Over 90 and Loving It," is screening tonight at 8pm at the Clairmont Reading Cinemas as part of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival. Director Susan Polis Schutz will be at the screening for a talk back session after the film.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh , and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Attaining a great age has always been looked at as an enviable achievement. But in our time, it's not just how long you live, but how much you're able to enjoy it that makes all of the difference. As America's population age, we'll be looking to the oldest among us for tips on how to do this old age thing, and now there's a documentary out about how men and women can live to the fullest into their 90s and beyond of it's called over 90 and loving it. Of and it's creeping at the San Diego Jewish film festival. I'd like to welcome my guests, doctor [CHECK AUDIO] and Susan, good morning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Hi. Laura Simon is a writer is artist, and she's also 105 years old. And she lives here in San Diego. Laura, good morning, thanks for coming in.
DEBE: Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And [CHECK AUDIO] they married when both were over 90 years of age. They'll be joining us later in the program. Now, I want to let everyone know if our listeners would like to join the conversation, and they are most welcome to us, if you're over 90 and loving it, please give us a call, the number is 1-888-895-5727. Or if you know a very senior citizen and you'd like to tell us about it, that number once again, 1-888-895-5727. Susan, you have interviewed quite a number of men and women now all over 90 from all walks of life. Are you able to tell us what their secret is?
BOBROW: Well, yes. I think I can. I went -- when I first interviewed them, I asked them all the same 50 questions. And after studying the transcript, it was fascinating to find that there were ten steps that every one of them adhered to in order to age gracefully and lead a fulfilling life. And do you want me to go through them?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, I know one of them is exercise because that's part of your documentary right?
BOBROW: Well, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and exercising, maintaining a positive attitude, focussing on the positive, don't worry about anything. And in fact the Rogers can talk about that because I had an incredible discussion with them about that. Embracing maturity. . I don't think about how old you are. Forget about it. Keep doing things, work hard following your passions, stay curious about the future. Make a difference in the lives of others, don't focus on yourself or your health problems.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a good one.
BOBROW: And I have a really good story about that. But it's probably too long for right now. Keep physically active, maintain a healthy lifestyle, choose to be around people who are positive and avoid people who are negative. And don't be afraid of death. Think of it as it is, something very natural and inevitable, and every single one of the people I interviewed had these characteristics.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's amazing. So did -- are there things that surprised you while you were making this documentary?
BOBROW: Pretty much just how wonderful and how sincere these people were, and what they were doing in their lives. And you know, every one of them told me they had no health problems or debilitations, and yet every one of them had major health problems but they wouldn't even talk about it. They just continued on with their lives.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now as I say, you've made a number of documentaries. I wonder what inspired you to make this film.
BOBROW: Exactly what inspired me was my husband Steve's sisters invited us to a saxophonist [CHECK AUDIO] looked about maybe 70, and he played the pick low, and he was the MC, and he was telling jokes. It was an incredible concert. And I went up to him afterwards, and it turns out he was 96 years old. And I started talking to him of course and he was so vivacious and creative, and I thought, if this man can be like this, I bet there's a lot of people over 90 who are like him. And I wanted to delve into what made him be so passionate at that age. And I ranged to interview him. This is even before I thought of the film, and he was so fascinating and that led me to somebody else, to somebody else. Then I ended up interviewing about 20 people.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The saxophonist is one of the subjects of your film.
DEFENDANT: Lesley Burk.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes. Right. Now, Laura Simon, you have been on this program before.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When you published your book.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about your book.
DEBE: I am still here is the title of it. And it gave me great purpose for my life. I had a goal to achieve. I wrote this book by talking into a tape recorder, because I'm legally blind, and I could hear a little better because during the Spanish INFLUENZA when I was a child, when everybody was dying, I was left with a hearing problem. My book, I am still here, I wrote it, but again by speaking into a little tape recorder. I talked into a little tape recorder for nine years.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nine years.
DEBE: And professor Charles claim bedroom of UCSD in La Jolla, all those nine years, he was my editor and my assistant. Charles, your you doing this? He says because I get pleasure out of it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Lauren, you are in this documentary, over 90 and loving it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You are the oldest person in this documentary.
DEBE: I am. Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think so.
BOBROW: We have two other people in their hundreds.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In their hundreds. But Laura's a hundred and 5.
BOBROW: Laura's the oldest.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And did you like participating in this? I know you're legally blind, but have you seen your part in this documentary?
DEBE: It gave me great purpose, and it's helped me in my goal to achieve what I was trying to achieve. I don't have to ask anymore what is the purpose of my life because I've already done it. And I don't have to ask who am I. I now know who I am. And it took a climb of a hundred and 5 years to find this out.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the things we see in the documentary besides that cassette recorder that you were talking about was all your paintings. When did you start to paint?
DEBE: I think I started to paint as a child, and I was always painting, but when my husband became ill, he was sick for about 13 years, and I took care of him. I did it to have some pleasure out of life and to help me to cope with my problems. Susan mentioned the word don't worry, you know? And if you try to avoid worry so that you can perceive what you want to do, otherwise you're handicapped again, and tied up with your worries, which we all have, of course.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking --
DEBE: In one way or another.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Indeed. I'm speaking with Laura Simon, she's a writer and artist, she lives in San Diego, and she's 105 years old. She's one of the people in over 90 and loving it. The new documentary by my other guest, Susan Polis Schutz. She is the film's director. Did you find it -- you went through that list of ten items, but tell us about the fact that all of the people that you came in contact with and are subjects of your documentary are quite busy.
BOBROW: They're extremely busy. They all have passions that they follow. And I try to show an array of different passions from music to art to helping others, giving free concerts to help causes, to being a waitress. Everyone just loves what they're doing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, speaking of the waitress, you interviewed one woman, she's 91, and she gets up early every morning and she goes into the Cinnabon restaurant, bakery. Tell us about her.
BOBROW: Beautiful woman. She loves to work, she loves to be around people, she gets up, she goes into the shop, she makes the cinnamon rolls, and I saw her make them, and then people come in, and she serves it to them, she talks to them, she's a one man shop, one woman shop.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's really great. And those sin bones look great by the way. Her name is Katie brown, and this is a scene from the film every 90 and loving it. She drives herself to work every day. In this scene she talks about why she still is driving at age 91.
NEW SPEAKER: I've been driving since I was a little girl. When they took my car away from me, then I might as well go too. I can drive a stick shift, I can pull a trailer or a boat, or drive a big -- big truck.
NEW SPEAKER: How fast do you drive?
NEW SPEAKER: If you're going 80, I'm going 80. But I am very careful because of my age. And I really do watch the speed limits. And I do watch the stop signs, and I do use my blinkers, I do everything I'm supposed to do because I don't want to lose my license.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was a scene from over 90 and loving it, and that was from Katie brown, the over 90-year-old woman who works at the sin bon. And I must say, Susan, one of my favorite people in this, [CHECK AUDIO] Harry Raycov. Tell us about him.
BOBROW: Oh, that is actually my husband, Steven's uncle. And he is a taxicab driver in Manhattan.
STANLEY: At 94.
BOBROW: At 94. And we went in his cab, and he drives beautifully, and it was really funny because he was picking up passengers that were, like, in their '70s with walkers, carrying a walker, putting it in his drunk, and then driving off. And he has such a young, incredible attitude. He was walking at coney island eating hotdogs and all kinds of junk food, and he exercises. He has a lot of fun in life.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And he never tells any of his passengers how old he is.
BOBROW: He refuses.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I really like that very much. Driving is one thing. But sort of using computers and electronics and modern equipment is another one. Did you find many of these quite elderly seniors, 90s and hundreds, use computers?
BOBROW: Actually, most of them use computers, most of them are very up on technology. Not that that's absolutely necessary. But a 99-year-old woman Nola oaks, who just received her master's degree at age 99, she said she couldn't have done it without computers. She had to write her thesis on a computer. And then several people don't use computers. It wasn't that important except that people were predicting how it's amazing that you can correspond with people in India and all over the world, by a computer when you can't do it any other way.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Now, we're gonna have to take a short break, and when we return, we're going to be joined by some other guests as well as Laura and Susan. And [CHECK AUDIO] in your movie, over 90 and loving it, and we're also inviting our listeners to give us a call and tell us what it's like with their relatives and friends who are over 90 and loving it, and if you're over 90 and loving it, please do give us a call and tell us about it. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. We'll be back in just a few minutes here on KPBS.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Susan Polis Schutz, she is the director of the film over 90 and loving if. And we're speaking with some of the people who are in that movie. Laura Simon is a writer and artist, she's 105 years old and lives in San Diego. Joining us on the line now from Alabama is doctor Ernest Rogers and his wife, Anel. They married when both were over 90s years of age. And Ernest and Anel, good morning and welcome.
RIH2: Good morning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, you got married when you were in your early 90s, and you tell the story in the documentary. Ernest, when did you know you wanted to marry Anel?
ERNEST ROGERS: Well, it was a [CHECK AUDIO] of one of our friends who were celebrating her fifth birthday. It was then that Anel was working as an usher in the -- in that -- for that occasion. And in the process of seating me, she stretched both her arms, and she had on a blue dress that blended perfectly with her cocoa brown complexion. And I saw her not as Mrs. Right, but she had become to me then an angel of delight.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Anel, do you love to hear that story? Some people at your age might think, why bother getting married? Why did you want to make it official?
ERNEST ROGERS: Anel is going to answer.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, Anel?
ANEL ROGERS: Well, really, I didn't have it in mind at that time getting married. I had earlier, I left it up to the lord. And the lord [CHECK AUDIO] that we should go ahead in holy matrimony. And that's what we did.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Anel, you had a beautiful church wedding which we see in the documentary.
ANEL ROGERS: Yes, we had a church wedding. He had mentioned we could go to the [CHECK AUDIO] office, and say our vows. But I told him no way. I'm going to have a wedding. And of course, our kids got together, and that's what they put together, whatever you saw is what they put together.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're talking about the wedding that we saw in the movie, over 90 and loving it, and go Ernest Rogers and his wife Anel are among the subjects in that movie. You know, Ernest, you've both seen an awful lots of history unfold in your time. How old are you now, Ernest?
ERNEST ROGERS: I am 94. I will turn 95 on the seventeenth of June of this year.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And some of that history is the end of segregation. You talk in the movie about the way it was when you were growing up in your town, things were really, really bad. And then to see the election of a black president all in your lifetime, what kind of meaning does that hold for you?
ERNEST ROGERS: It is -- it is devastating. In fact, words cannot express it, because it's something that I didn't think would ever happen in my lifetime. To see a black man as the president of a nation as great as our nation. It is something that one cannot express in words.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, Anel, I guess I want to ask you sort of your same reaction to this long span of life that you've seen, and so many changes issue historical changes. But also I want to know did you ever think that you would live this long?
ANEL ROGERS: No, I didn't. My mother died at 62 years old. And of course of course was grown when she died, and for me to live to be 92, it's amazing. And I praise the lord. Of course my husband -- [CHECK AUDIO] we're vegetarians, we don't eat flesh, and we exercise and eat vegetables and fruits, and we have a happy attitude. And we praise the lord for it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, you must say, in this movie, both look absolutely spectacular. Well, and I want to thank you, I know you have to go, but I want to thank you so much for joining us. Thank you, Ernest and Anel, thanks so much.
ANEL ROGERS: Thank you for calling us and having us to participate in your program.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. You're more than woman. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. In you know anybody who's 90 and beyond, and loving it, to give us a call. Let's hear from Daniel calling from Clairemont. Good morning, Daniel, and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you so much, Maureen. I -- it's just so amazing to hear this, it's so beautiful to hear it. I'm just wondering if there was any point within these seniors' lives that just made them kind of change and have more of this exuberance for life, and maybe some recommendations they have for us.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. You must be asked this all the time, Laura. But do you have any tips about staying young and staying enthusiastic about life?
DEBE: Yes. Many.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay.
DEBE: To stay enthusiastic about life, as when mentioned history, you mentioned the history, I went through the great depression, and it's with me today by our outside world, that I found very closely. During the depression, there were hundreds and thousands of people in the streets, homeless and without work, heating their food from tin cans along the curbs in candle light, a little water or something that they had with them that they could put into their can. And Hoover had said, if you vote for me, there'll be a chicken in every pot, and Roosevelt came, Delano Roosevelt, there was great chaos. But I compare it to today with the revolution we see, and we celebrate this week.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In Egypt.
DEBE: From Egypt. And celebrate with them that they celebrate freedom. And we didn't have that as we see in Egypt. I think we cope with our problems and our worries, and for a dollar a day, I fed four people, my two little children and my husband and myself.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wow.
DEBE: And we woke up in the morning, I didn't want to be depressive. Optimistic as you say. Because the optimism is what keeps you alive and keeps you going, and working always toward a goal, and knowing that it's bad today. But there's always, as I learned in physics, first there's disorder, and then there's order. And there's great disorder, and there's order and there's great hope when you live in a free country as we do.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Indeed, you know, Susan, you must have seen this ark of history in all of these lives that you talk about in your documentary, this great range of experience that people have -- people who are over 90 have inside of them.
BOBROW: You know, we keep saying over 90. But actually, you have to start living this way when you're way younger than that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, of course.
BOBROW: And that's what's so interesting about this movie. Laura didn't wake up at a hundred years old and develop this philosophy. One of the things with the Rogers, I asked everybody, what do you worry about? And the Rogers said what do you mean? I said well, what do you worry about? Aren't there things that really upset you and they looked at me and they absolutely didn't understand what I was talking about. So I said, well, I worry about everything. Isn't there anything you worry about? And they said no, of course not. You can't control anything by worrying so we just don't worry. And they didn't just develop that at 94. That that's how they live. And that's a very, very healthy way to live.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the congressional medal of honor winner, pearl harbor hero also said the same thing.
BOBROW: They all said the same thing. They don't worry. It's phenomenal. In fact, after I interviewed the Rodgers, I hugged them, and I touched them, and I said I wish your philosophy would just melt into my being.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just by osmosis, right? We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. I do want to talk about another person who's featured in your documentary that's 94-year-old Don pel man, he's a senior Olympic gold medal winner. What is his story?
BOBROW: Well, he's in phenomenal shape. He walked about ten times faster than I walk. He doesn't eat that much. No specific diet. He doesn't worry any anything. He's not worried about death. He says he's gonna die soon. He expects temperature he's had a great life. He enters -- he practices for the Olympics every day at least three hours. And he -- in the movie you see he actually pole vaults and wins an award for the highest jump. He's amazing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the other woman that you mentioned a little while ago who did her masters degree on computer, Nola, she got her masters degree in her 90s. We have a clip of her, she's talking about her studies. She's always talking about -- to her thesis advisor about her work.
NEW SPEAKER: I'm working on a masters. And I'm writing a research paper, causes and consequences of World War I. I work until late in the evening, almost midnight lots of nights. I want to write well.
NEW SPEAKER: Are you gonna be receiving your masters here in the spring of 2010 and be the oldest woman in the world with a masters degree.
NEW SPEAKER: Unbelievable, isn't it? I've enjoyed the students and the professors immensely. There is satisfaction from having done my assignment well. And I would encourage people to put forth an effort to do what they want to do.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's Nola, another of the people featured in the documentary over 90 and loving it. Let's take a phone call. Kathy is calling us from Poway. Good morning, Kathy and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, what's your question?
NEW SPEAKER: Well, actually I just had a comment. I've just become acquainted with a lady who's almost 95, will be tomorrow, I think. Her name is Dorothy Hildreth from Poway. And he's she's just great. I'm her personal assistant and she's an inspiration and has lots of good stories, and is very kind, and has the same attitudes as some of your guests and author talks about.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kathy, how does she inspire you?
NEW SPEAKER: Oh, she's just got so much energy. I'll pick her up in the morning to go to this or that appointment. And she's out picking weeds in her garden. And she's great. She makes cookies, and she was driving up until a few months ago. She's reads and she e-mail, and she's just great.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you so much for the call, Kathy. Laura, did you have think about just putting your feet up, and saying, I'm a hundred years [CHECK AUDIO] I should relax?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why?
DEBE: I have so much work to do. I am so curious about the outside world. I never followed politics. I do today. And I -- because this is my country, and I want it to prosper. And it will. As I said first is disorder, and then comes order. But I -- I think of how you get to 105, it's not that easy. I didn't get there that easy. It was like climbing mount Everest to get to 105.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And are you at the top now?
DEBE: Never. As Susan said, we never think of death. There is no such thing. We are like, as I say in the documentary, we are like the flowers. When the time comes, we turn over and we fade away. But we have our tomorrows. We recede, we have our ancestors, hopefully, we have our children and grand children. And I have great grand children in college. And I feel myself that I'm not over 65. And nobody's gonna push me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There you go.
DEBE: And I just keep at it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I wanted to ask Susan, one of the celebrities that you have in your movie is Pete Seger. And of course most people know him from his younger days as a folk singer. He's still a musician.
BOBROW: He still goes all around the world singing mainly for charities, cleaning up the Hudson river. As he's, he lost his voice a little bit. But he still can get people to sing, and he's just a wonderful man, totally devoted to helping the world get better.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Susan, I'm interested, what did you learn from this documentary?
BOBROW: I learned all those ten things that I mentioned. In particular not -- trying not to worry. Not to focus on yourself. To help others. Choosing to be around more positive people and not have your negative thoughts dominate. I've always been very passionate about my work. So that's one thing I do do. Just being around these people is so uplifting. And I can see that's why they're having such a great time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly, because that's the part of your documentary that's crucial of it's not just living to at a great age. It's also having a wonderful time. And every one of the people that you feature in this documentary is sincerely loving life.
BOBROW: Yeah. I don't know if you saw, nolo was the one who was 99 who just got her masters of she sails off on her motorcycle right after she gets her masters.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's just remarkable. Well, we have to wrap things upright now. But I really want to thank you so much for coming in and talking about the documentary. Susan Polis Schutz, thank you so much.
BOBROW: Thank you very much Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Laura Simon, thanks for coming in again.
DEBE: Thank you. May I say there's only with your own strength -- it takes only -- it's only with your own strength that counts.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I really thank you for speaking with us. You've been here before. We're gonna expect you back next year okay?
DEBE: Thank you for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right. And we were speaking with doctor Ernest Rogers and his wife, Anel. They joined us by phone from Alabama am over 90 and loving it is screening [CHECK AUDIO] will be at the screening for a talk back session after the film. If you'd like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. You've been listening to These Days on KPBS.