The average human life expectancy has jumped 20 years over the past century, meaning a large number of people over the age of 60 are either still working or are retired and pursuing other passions. For many, age is just a number, and the golden years are a time to throw caution to the wind and step out of comfort zones. Profiled here are seniors living large.
In 2007, a few years after 83-year-old Jack Kaneft’s wife of 54 years, Mary Anne “Cap,” died of cancer, he decided to pursue an interest in art. His inspiration was not just a life-long fascination with drawing and painting, but one particular artist.
Betty Kornegay, 78, lost Jack, her husband of 47 years, in the 2004 ice storm that paralyzed Columbia. The couples had known each other for many years through church, their sons were good friends, and Cap and Jack Kornegay had even served on a committee together. After her first husband’s death, Betty began giving adult art classes, and although she says she wasn’t interested in a late-in-life relationship, she allowed Jack into her class. “It was all ladies in the classes – and me,” he laughs. She says he was a challenging student, but he charmed her. “She told me that if I didn’t start blending colors, she would get me a box of crayons,” he says. And so he learned to blend colors and inched his way into her life.
“I had always sketched … doodled,” says Jack, who was a naval aviator in the Korean War, worked in the auto industry, and still assists his son in a packaging business. “But it was because of Betty that I really became interested in art.”
Betty says she doesn’t remember a time when art wasn’t part of her life. Despite the fact that few women went into the field of art at that time, Betty took all the art classes she could during her younger years. She mostly used her skills to paint and sketch art to decorate her home or to give as gifts to others. After her oldest child moved out, she turned his room into her first art studio, and she began painting more seriously and gained recognition for her architectural watercolors.
Betty and Jack Kaneft were married five years ago. They moved into the home she purchased next door to her son after her first husband died. There, they each have their own art studio space. He has learned to “blend colors” to such an extent that 701 Whaley asked the couple to present their work at a husband and wife show in the community art gallery this past summer. All but two of the 40 pieces sold, with proceeds going to Savannah College of Art and Design’s Reformed University Fellowship, where Betty’s granddaughter serves. Another art show is scheduled for April and May 2013 at Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Community.
For the summer art show, Betty painted a portrait of Jack, and he painted one of her. “She told me I painted her nose a little too long, so I fixed it. When I asked her why my nose looked the way it does, she said, ‘Because that’s the way it looks, Jack!’”
Jack says he is still a student, while his wife is accomplished. “Like a golfer watches the pros and learns what they do, I study her. I appreciate her as an artist.”
Betty and Jack point out that while they enjoy their union, they cherish the memories of their first spouses. Jack likes to tell people they’ve been married 107 years total, and between them, they have seven children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Besides their art, they are active in other ways. Most recently, they taught a summer art class and have become weekly tutors for inner-city children in the Prosperity Project after-school tutoring program. “She gets me involved,” he says. “When she asked me to tutor with her, I thought, ‘Me?’” She adds, “He keeps me laughing. I’m so happy God brought us together.”
Florence Fowler, 75, completed a sprint triathlon this past summer, with her family cheering her on.
In the spirit of Field of Dreams – “If you build it, they will come” – when the word spread that Still Hopes was offering a triathlon training program to those age 55 and up this past spring, they came. Eleven people, with an average age of 68, joined the team. Six ended up finishing the target race in July; one of those was Florence Fowler, 75.
Florence says she once watched a friend compete in a triathlon, and it had always appealed to her. So she thought, “Why not?”
To train for the event, Florence had the choice between a 20-week training program for people who did little exercise (20 minutes of brisk walking or more), or a 12-week program for those who were already proficient in at least one of the three sports and exercising regularly. Even though she kept herself in shape and had done some running, she chose to prepare for the triathlon with the 20-week training program.
The goal of the training was to make everyone ready for the Tom Hoskins Memorial Sprint Triathlon at the Irmo YMCA, which consisted of a 350-yard pool swim, a 13-mile bike ride, and a 3.1-mile run.
Stefanie Glatz Cain, Wellness Assistant at Still Hopes, put together the training program and lined up classes and seminars for the team on everything from nutritional, high-energy snacks to how to change a bike tire. Because swimming and biking were not activities many of the trainees had participated in regularly, they were given notebooks that listed how much of each activity they needed to do each week.
Training with a group was essential, says Florence. The other team members were a source of great encouragement. “I wouldn’t really have wanted to train alone,” she says. “The total is more than the sum of its parts.”
On the day of the triathlon, Florence’s family showed up to cheer her on, including two granddaughters who run high school cross country. They even came with a giant poster that read, “Our grandma’s faster than your grandma!”
“When you have family there cheering you on,” she says, “you have to finish!” And crossing that finish line gave Florence a tremendous sense of accomplishment. “I don’t want to do an Ironman,” she quips, “but this certainly gave me confidence to do other events.”
Another training program started up in October at Still Hopes, with new members and returning members wanting to get a winter jumpstart on the competition. The official training team will start in February, and members expect to complete in several races in the 2013 season, including the Tom Hoskins race again. They have expressed interest in other types of events as well, from 5k runs to bike races.
Dr. Hal H. Crosswell Jr., M.D. (far left) and a team of nurses and doctors visit Haiti as part of the Project Haiti Ophthalmology Program.
On a wall in the office of Hal H. Crosswell, Jr., M.D. is a portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee. At 77 years old, Dr. Crosswell says he tries to hold to the values portrayed by General Lee. “He was a true gentleman with admirable ideals.”
Much the same might be said about Dr. Crosswell, who, while being interviewed, excused himself to say hello to a patient he treated as a boy 40 years earlier. The now-adult patient had so admired the physician’s handling of a piece of metal in his eye so many years ago that he wanted to express his gratitude.
Dr. Crosswell has not only gained a reputation as a caring physician in Columbia, but he also has devoted a lot of time to patients 1,800 miles away in Haiti. In the 1970s, he helped start Project Haiti Ophthalmology Program as a part of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission-SC and the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. While he had traveled to the Caribbean before, it was his first visit to Haiti, considered the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, that made him realize the extreme need for eye care there.
Dr. Crosswell and another doctor perform eye surgery in the outpatient surgical facility in rural Jeremie, Haiti that he helped to establish.
Many Haitians are blind from glaucoma or cataracts – conditions that are routinely treated in the United States. So Dr. Crosswell oversaw the construction of an ophthalmology clinic and outpatient surgical facility in rural Jeremie, 125 miles from Port-au-Prince. He and 30 other ophthalmologists have volunteered their services in Haiti over the years, and his wife, Kathryn, a nurse, often accompanies him. He estimates they have performed more than 80,000 consultations and approximately 3,000 major eye operations since the program began. They have witnessed countless stories of Haitians who rejoice when they are able to see their children again or can return to work instead of begging for food for a living.
Even though Dr. Crosswell now limits his trip to about once a year – with a team of eight to 10 people – he regularly has his mind on the Haitian people. In fact, his office stays packed with supplies he collects for the Haitian clinic. “I’m just so inspired by their perseverance, their smiles,” says Dr. Crosswell. “They’re so appreciative. Even though they live daily with extreme hardships, they don’t complain.”
In 2006, Dr. Crosswell was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, and in 2007 he received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from U.S.C., his alma mater. Both awards were presented for his dedication to integrity and service.
Dr. Crosswell’s exuberant work ethic has also inspired those around him. Dr. William F. Crosswell, his brother, and Dr. Hal Holland Crosswell, III, one of his sons, work with him in his practice at Columbia Eye Clinic, and another son, Edward, will join him next summer. All but one of his five children have worked in Haiti and say that it’s one of the most meaningful things they’ve done. Nurses and physician colleagues have also been motivated to go, as have church members and friends.
“I believe God has given each of us different talents, which should be used to help others in need for as long as possible,” he says. “I don’t plan to retire. It’s not on my bucket list. I’m in good health, and I would miss what I do.”
Dr. Crosswell says the secret to his longevity has been to think of age as just a number and to love what you do. He adds: “I honestly have never ‘worked’ a day in my life.”