Sound Generations is thrilled to widely announce the recipients of the 2019 Inspire Positive Aging Awards that exemplify positive aging in King County. Monique Ming Laven of KIRO7 was on hand to assist in acknowledging the accomplishments of 49 amazing older adults who have been instrumental in modeling how to lead one’s best life in a society that often overlooks and minimizes the contributions of aging adults in the greater community.
Seven individuals were recognized for their ability to inspire those around them to age well. They represent the resilient energy, creativity, and drive that exists when people choose to define how they will live instead of letting their age define them. When these attributes are coupled with encouraged peers, intergenerational collaboration, and engaging senior centers and community resources, some remarkable individuals shine through. They have all made their communities better through one of six award categories: Advocacy and Activism, Community Service, Defining Inspiration, Health and Wellness, Intergenerational Impact, and Lifelong Learning.
Advocacy & Activism: Diana Thompson, 79 (co-recipient)
Diana is a change agent. In 2018, her advocacy helped ensure that adults in Washington state who are covered by Medicaid can receive hearing aids. This year, she was instrumental in raising awareness and garnering support for legislation ensuring that audiology patients are informed about the benefits of hearing technologies such as telecoils and Bluetooth. Her methodical, persistent, diligent, and strategic advocacy has resulted in raising awareness about Medicare Observation Status, a little-known coverage gap that can cost older adults thousands of dollars in unexpected hospital bills. As a role model for advocacy, Diana mentors her peers and advocates of all ages, providing them with the information and strategies to help them be successful. She is well-known and highly regarded by her state and federal legislators, city and county policymakers, and statewide aging, hearing, and healthcare advocacy organizations. [Editor’s Note: Diana also serves on the Seattle-King County Advisory Council for Aging & Disability Services, which publishes this e-zine.]
Advocacy & Activism: Janet Jones-Preston, 71 (co-recipient)
Janet is a grandmother who raised her children and fostered others. Although retired, she is (in the words of Seattle Times Pacific NW magazine writer, Susan Kelleher) “a super volunteer.” Janet and her son, who emigrated to Ghana for graduate studies, built a home ostensibly for herself; however, upon encountering a homeless family of eight, she invited them to live in the home rent-free. Upon learning that education is not a basic right in Ghana as it is in the United States, she mortgaged her home and provided funds for her son to start a school that is flourishing and now serves 260 students. Janet visits Washington prisons twice a month, taking along fellow educators, student teachers, district superintendents, and school staff at all levels. To the Ghanaian students, she represents hope; and to the prisoners, empowerment, and encouragement.
Community Service: Sidney Rouse, 83
For the past eight years, five days a week, Sid has arrived at the Shoreline-Lake Forest Park Senior Center at 6:30 a.m. to assist in the kitchen. He stands by his kitchen comrades, dishing up hugs and happiness along with the food. Despite suffering from an eye disorder, Sid appeared each morning for duty, sporting a patch on one eye. When encouraged to go home, he takes the moment to teach his peers: “When you slow down, your body and mind slow down. At home, I would just feel sorry for myself, but here, I have a job to do and a cook to annoy.” What is most inspiring is Sid’s humility in performing tasks. It’s stirring to see an accomplished Boeing test engineer and WWII decorated veteran find satisfaction in performing the most basic tasks for a nonprofit. He takes as much pride and professionalism in his kitchen duties as he did in the aerospace industry.
Defining Inspiration: Marilyn Valentine, 84
Marilyn is a unique, creative, and engaging person. She integrates creativity into everything she does. Marilyn models bravery, showing up as her whole self, which creates the space for others to do so as well. She was the first person at the Lake City Seniors program to openly share her partnership with a woman. Marilyn connected to Lake City Seniors through her Enhance Fitness classes. Asked to co-facilitate an LGBTQ support group, she thought about it and agreed to help start a group, but she wanted it to be open to anyone. It was called “Connections.” For two years, Marilyn co-led a highly successful and diverse peer support group. She was the heart and soul of the group, welcoming new members and fostering deep and meaningful friendships and connections that continue to reverberate throughout the center and community.
Health & Wellness: Asefa Tessema, 71
A former prisoner of war, Asefa exudes peace and calm that is rooted in his commitment to his faith and mind/body wellness. He practices prayer, meditation, yoga, and exercises daily. Five years ago, after eye surgery left him blind, Asefa’s daughter sponsored him to come to the United States for better treatment to regain his vision. Upon his arrival, he started attending the Ethiopian Community Center in Seattle. A few volunteers led exercise programs there for a little over a month but could not keep going. Asefa started leading the exercise. He began leading gentle yoga and aerobic exercise program two times a week to improve physical and mental health. After four and half years he eventually found and trained new volunteers that are carrying on the program. When asked about aging, he said, “Aging is not a disease, it is a blessing and a gift.”
Intergenerational Impact: Marletta Iwasyk, 80
Marletta Iwasyk is a phenomenal kindergarten teacher. She recently turned 80 years old and has taught for over 50 years for Seattle Public Schools. Over the years, Marilyn has taught more than 1,275 students and continues to teach and inspire generations. Marletta’s presence in the classroom positively influences students, staff, and parents about getting older. To the kindergarteners in her class, her presence helps them to understand that older people can do many things. To the teachers and staff, Marletta is a role model and inspiration. Her vast knowledge, boundless energy, wonderful personality, and caring nature inspire them daily. And it lets them know that age is not a limitation. To the parents, her presence shows them that age doesn’t have to limit you. Many of the parents were raised thinking you retire at 65—Marletta challenges that mindset.
Lifelong Learning: Ann Root, 92
Ann Root has been a participant and teacher at the Senior Center of West Seattle for more than four years. Ann realizes the importance of community and friendship, and her commitment to exercise and good health is evident. She inquired at the center about visiting people who are homebound and was matched with two elder friends as part of the Westside Friends Program. She visits each of them one or two times a month. Ann does not drive but walks over four miles (each way) to visit her homebound elder friends. She also walks four miles (roundtrip) to the senior center several times a week—in all kinds of weather—and has inspired several younger staffers to do the same. Ann values learning and stretching herself in new ways. She teaches weekly beginning and advanced German class at the senior center. Her teaching skills are exemplary. She’s also involved with an EnhanceFitness class and belongs to a book group. When Ann walks into the senior center, people are inspired and moved by her perseverance.
Honorable Mention: Jeanne Hayden, 95
Jeanne was nominated in two categories—Defining Inspiration and Community Service. At 95, Jeanne continues to contribute to her community. She makes and donates quilts for infants and children at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Although she didn’t learn to quilt until the 1990s, she has created over 1,000 quilts since that time. Some have been on display at Monroe Quilters Anonymous events and most recently at her local library. Although Jeanne is living with macular degeneration and other eye impairments, she is not one to be defeated. Utilizing eyeglasses and magnifiers, she continues to make quilts. Sometimes she works on miniature wall hangings that seem to require the combined artistry of a watchmaker and an artist. Jeanne is active in her church and walks every day. She has a pleasant and positive approach to some of the difficulties that may accompany aging, which inspire and show others how to age with grace.
These individuals are the reason Sound Generations exists. They remind us that the needs of older adults are ever-changing and that if we are going to support people on their aging journey through community connections and accessible services, we must ensure that those of all abilities, income levels, and cultures have what they need to age in place as independently as possible in a community that affirms aging.
Aging is inevitable and should be embraced. King County’s fastest growing population segment is the “oldest old”—those age 85 and older. And by 2040, the percentage of King County residents age 60 and older is projected to increase to 25 percent.
The annual Inspire Positive Aging Awards reflect Sound Generations’ commitment to older adults while changing the narrative and aesthetic associated with aging. Congratulations to this year’s winners!
Contributor Brittany Blue is chief marketing and philanthropy officer at Sound Generations, our largest nonprofit community partner. Established in 1967, Sound Generations supports almost 60,000 people and those who care about them each year, providing food security, transportation, health and wellness, and assistance services to underserved and marginalized populations.