They're typical graduates: enthusiastic, idealistic, challenged and challenging, eager to get out and leave their mark--for the better--on the world.
The only clue that they are a bit unusual is their class motto: "OLD AGE & TREACHERY Will Overcome YOUTH & SKILL."
They are 12 persons from 54 to 72 chosen for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Coro Foundation's first program in Los Angeles for older adults. Called Reinvest, the 10-week program is designed to "channel the wisdom and abilities of older Americans back into the community." Reinvest is modeled on the regular nine-month Coro program to train young people for leadership in public and private sectors, "practical idealists" in Coro's terms. Most members of the Reinvest program's pioneer Los Angeles class--two similar programs have been conducted in St. Louis--already are active in the community, according to Sharon Butler, director of training and leader of the program.
Their dossiers reflect that: a former elected official, arbitrators for the Better Business Bureau, members of the California Senior Legislature, people working in organizations such as United Way and Victims for Victims, people involved in the Chinese, Jewish and Latino communities, people who are advocates for children, libraries, education, health care and for the elderly.
Their goals are serious, their commitment unquestioned. They are also an exceptionally witty bunch, and "the Reinvestors," as they are called, sparkled last week at their graduation ceremonies and reception at California Primary Physicians, a downtown medical center that was host for the event.
Mary Jimmie McLaughlin, 63, spoke first for the class, each member later adding his or her remarks. McLaughlin began by citing the criteria for selection for the Reinvest program:
"Commitment to public service and involvement in public decision-making while in retirement; demonstrated leadership ability, intellectual curiosity, self-discipline, flexibility, stamina and the ability to work with others."
She took a breath, then said:
"We soon found out why stamina was included."
McLaughlin told of an assignment to examine Broadway from 3rd to 7th streets--the people, the businesses, the milieu, the architecture.
"The day we did it," she said, "we couldn't see the architecture and the people weren't the usual users of Broadway. It was the day of the Lakers' parade."
McLaughlin, who is a docent at the Maritime Museum, a Better Business Bureau arbitrator, retired manager of the Housing Authority of Los Angeles and active in the Retired Public Employees Assn. and Zonta Club, then called on each of her Reinvest classmates for comments.
Louise Davis, 61, former mayor of Monterey Park and president of its Sister City Assn. (and a member of a number of community organization boards), told of the Reinvestors' assignment to assess "the logic of Pershing Square."
"I will never, never forget going to Pershing Square," she said. "I wound up singing a song with a preacher who had been coming there for 51 years. I asked him, 'Doesn't it bother you that no one is paying any attention to you?' He said, 'I'm giving them The Word. If they're not listening, that's their problem, not mine.' "
Les Wagner, 63, retired supervisor of pupil services and attendance for the Los Angeles Unified School District who now works as a volunteer for the Los Angeles Roundtable for Children and the USC School of Social Welfare, added a personal note.
"The wonderful thing about having children," he said, "is that they always have an answer. My son said, 'Yeah, I know what Coro stands for: Controlling, Opinionated, Retired and Over the hill.' "
Milton Tepper, a retired sales manager active in causes for the aging, grabbed the audience's attention with a line he knew it couldn't resist.
"Hello," he said. "I am Milton Tepper and I am 71 and as of 7:30 this morning my blood pressure was 130 over 64."
He paused for the laugh like a pro ("People always love to know your blood pressure," he had said earlier), then alluded to the certificates of completion the Reinvestors were about to receive and told a story about Jack Benny getting a prestigious award.
"Benny said, 'I am not sure I deserve the certificate I am about to receive,' " Tepper said, " 'but on the other hand I have arthritis and I don't deserve that either.' "
Rose Torrealba, at 54 the youngest of the Reinvestors, used a riddle her grandfather asked her as a child to illustrate her Coro experience--and its nudge to probe beyond the surface of things.
"He asked me 'What hangs on the wall, is green, wet and whistles?' " Torrealba said. "I told him I didn't know. He said, 'A herring.' I said a herring doesn't hang on the wall. 'So hang it there,' he said. I said it isn't green. 'So paint it,' he said. Then I said it isn't wet. He said 'If you paint it, it will still be wet.' 'Well,' I said, 'it doesn't whistle.' 'Oh,' he said, 'I put that in to make it hard.' "
Degree in Gerontology