We have embarked on the next stage of the Legacy Project: Interviewing hundreds of elders across the country for their advice about love and marriage. The Harrisburg ABC affiliate did a great story about my interviews at several Country Meadows retirement communities. Thanks to reporter Megan Healey for a sensitive and uplifting report.
Below is the article that accompanied the broadcast. And you can enjoy the video here.
Alma Bobb has been a widow for more than 30 years and when she talks about her late husband Jim, it’s obvious how much she still loves him.
“He was very special and I still miss him,” she said.
At nearly 100 years old, Alma has always had a lust for life and love. She met Jim seven years before she agreed to marry him, and says her time spent away from home as professional dancer in Europe helped her realize where she truly belonged — in Hershey with the love of her life.
“We were married and I quit my career cold turkey,” she said. “We were married for 44 years — too short. Some people are making it to their 60th anniversary these days.”
“You might call this the triumph of hope over experience,” Dr. Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University, said.
Pillemer says people like Alma are walking Encyclopedias on love and marriage, so he’s using their advice to spread the good, the bad and the downright ugly truths of relationships by interviewing seniors all over the United States. He met Alma while conducting interviews at Country Meadows of Hershey.
“We’re trying to convey it’s lessons for loving from the people I call the wisest Americans who are the oldest Americans,” he said.
Pillemer used that idea as inspiration for his first book “30 Lessons for Living,” in which he spoke with thousands of people, ages 65 plus, about their life successes and biggest regrets. He says this project was inspired by questions that popped up from the book.
“Lots of young people said ‘what I’d really like to know more about is how do people stay married for 60-70 years, happily?’ So they really like guidance.”
Sometimes, Pillemer says, the guidance may surprise you.
“I might get some flack for this, but not to just marry the first man who came along just because she wants children badly,” Alma said during her interview.
Pillemer says he often hears things that seem obvious, but so often don’t happen in relationship.
“To have different experiences before you’re married, to see what kind of person they are — if they stand up to responsibility,” Alma said.
Alma says she hopes her marriage advice isn’t outdated.
“I’m sure that young people today have different questions,” she said.
Pillemer says while that may be true with specifics, when it comes to the big picture, a 99-year-old like Alma is just perfect.
“I think really a lot of us are hungry for more positive images of aging and this is one way of getting it,” he said. “You can see beyond ‘oh that just looks like an old person who doesn’t seem useful to me,’ if you start asking them their advice about living.”