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71-Year-Old Grandma Puts Her Vast Energy Into Aerobics

June 25, 1985|TIA GINDICK | Times Staff Writer

VISALIA — June McClean not only tells you her age, she virtually begs you to ask it.

She's 71 and healthy, as energetic as a 4-year-old, looking fitter than many women half her age. Her stomach in her turquoise-and-white-striped leotard is flat; her legs, trim and firm. Her skin is glowing and free from wrinkles or, to use the more fashionable term, character lines.

June McClean is out to do for her age group what Jane Fonda did for the 40ish set.

Yet another exercise cassette? Sure, there are Debbie and Jackie and Richard and so many others that some people, confused by the choice of instructors, let the music be the deciding factor.

One of a Kind

But McClean--who doesn't actually have a professional cassette made yet--is certain there's no one like her: a 71-year-old, white-haired grandmother of 12 who teaches aerobics.

The McClean system of exercise: It's not particularly innovative; it just works, she says. It's what she learned from watching Jack LaLanne when he had American housewives stretching and breathing and running and jumping early mornings in front of the television through the late '50s, '60s and '70s. When LaLanne left the airwaves, McClean pushed on by herself. No gyms for her. No classes. And they didn't have videotapes in those days. No, her routine was and is 10 minutes on the trampoline and 20 minutes of stretching exercises. Every day.

And that is her secret. Even when traveling, McClean does her exercises (although sometimes the trampoline has to stay home). Even when she has a busy day. Even on Sundays. Even on Christmas.

"What's 20 minutes in your life when it makes you feel so good?" she asks.

Nevertheless, exercising for profit is a rather new development in McClean's life.

Her first career--begun at 54 after her children were grown--was a stitchery business run out of her home in Pasadena, where she and her husband had moved after years of traveling around the San Joaquin Valley to accommodate John McClean's career in supermarket management. However, this wasn't just a pleasant little cottage enterprise.

Sense of Publicity

McClean, who was born in Australia, was reared in a convent there and came to the United States just after graduation from St. Patrick's College "to find an American husband and become the next Lucille Ball," has the drive and publicity sense of a Pia Zadora. She became "June of California"--teaching, designing patterns for yarn companies and promoting herself so effectively that stories about her business appeared in a number of national magazines and she herself made the talk show scene, including the "Today" show.

But the limelight stays bright for only so long. Moving to Visalia in 1981, McClean discovered that women there were not very interested in stitchery. Then the gourmet market that she and her husband established succumbed when a big chain grocery opened across the street.

McClean was frustrated. (It's all this energy, you see, she confided. "I do have a hard time slowing down. With my friends, I think I drive them crazy. Like today and having you here, I have to force myself to calm down.") She did some modeling at a local restaurant and opened a small boutique with a friend, but was still looking for an angle.

What's in? What's hot? Fitness--it was obvious. And who could be more qualified? Not only does McClean look good, but she feels good. She's always watched what she eats; she's big on fruits and bran. "But being in the grocery business, I would never knock meat." Sure, she had plastic surgery. "Fifteen years ago, and I had an eye tuck three weeks ago. I believe anything that will improve you, make you feel better, you should do."

Young and Old

Then checking her idea out with her granddaughter, Jolene Gaffney, 23, an exercise instructor in Sacramento, McClean realized she had the kernel of something big. Between her and Jolene--"call us the J-team"--they could appeal to young and old.

And Jolene, why she wasn't just another pretty face and body. Jolene too has a story. A former gymnast, she'd come back from a near-fatal car accident several years ago. Even now, she has an artificial ligament in her knee.

A videocassette, as they see it, is only a matter of time--actually of money. J and J did make one, but it was more akin to a home movie, they said. No, they need to go professional. What they need, said McClean, whose personal philosophy is "the wheel that squeaks the loudest. . . ," is a sponsor. Maybe link Jolene to a diet drink and "I could do bran."

Middle-Aged Women

In the meantime, McClean started teaching this spring at the Visalia Aerobics Center. With typical astuteness, she's zeroed in on her market, out-of-shape, middle-aged women, and has been spreading flyers--not to mention the word--around town.

She acknowledged she had to slow her pace. "If you haven't been exercising, you have to do it very slowly, then build up very slowly. The people on the TV don't always tell you to do that."

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