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'Late Bloomers' of December Rose : Organization Helps Seniors Nurture Old or New Talents

May 23, 1986|PENELOPE MOFFET | Moffet is a local free-lance writer. and

Even before the meeting began, Vance Price's feet were tapping to a private beat. "I had 31 dance teachers before I was 65," he said, for in younger years he spent most nights at public dances or private classes. "I wore my Capezios (dancing shoes) today."

Price and his wife, Teleta, had come to downtown Los Angeles for a meeting of the December Rose Assn., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping seniors pursue talents in writing, art, music and dance. The Prices' bus trip from their Long Beach home took more than an hour, but the journey was worth it, they said.

A ballroom dancing session was scheduled to follow the association's business meeting. So Vance and Teleta were ready and waiting.

Vance is 83 and Teleta is 76, but they don't seem to have slowed much with age. They said they spend three or four days a week at a Long Beach senior center, taking tap-dancing and singing lessons, and each summer they teach a six-week course in ribbon flowermaking at the center. Vance, a former maintenance electrician, belongs to two writers' clubs. He wrote and self-published a book of poetry from which he likes to recite, and sometimes he gives performances at convalescent homes and retarded children's facilities.

Incentive to Travel

The Prices said they've attended December Rose special events for the last year and now that the new Heart of Los Angeles chapter is holding regular meetings, the couple may travel north often.

"We're terrible housekeepers because we're on the go all the time," Teleta confided.

"People who are active and creative are so much happier and healthier than those who just sit around," said Verna Harshfield, who founded December Rose in 1983 and is now its national president. She considers December Rose a "wellness concept."

Harshfield, 71, is a former nursing home administrator for the Retirement Housing Foundation, a company that builds and maintains retirement homes. RHF, which is directed by Harshfield's husband, Clark, provides most of December Rose's funding as well as its office space within the Angelus Plaza.

Geographical Spread

Until recently, the Los Angeles December Rose office principally handled the organization's national contests and publications. In January, however, a separate local chapter was formed and chapter officers were elected. Chapters also exist in Orange County, in Kissimmee, Fla., and Clarksville, Ind. The organization's membership includes about 900 people in 45 states, England, Canada and Japan, Harshfield said.

About 200 December Rose members live in the Los Angeles area. Many are residents in the Angelus Plaza senior housing, but others live in the San Gabriel Valley, Westwood, Eagle Rock and North Hollywood as well as Long Beach. Heart of Los Angeles chapter meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Ernest Fowler, 72, the Los Angeles chapter president, said he became involved with December Rose mostly through his job, which includes photographing and writing about RHF properties and residents.

Harshfield, who considers herself a "late bloomer," said she did some writing in her younger years but most of her energies went into caring for a quadriplegic son and, later, working for the RHF. About 13 years ago, with her son married, she started writing more seriously, she said.

Arkansas Childhood

In 1976 and 1977 she produced "Totty," a somewhat fictionalized memoir of her childhood years in a small Arkansas town, after a younger cousin "asked me to write down some family stories." In 1984 the December Rose Assn. published the book. So far, 1,500 copies have been sold, and Harshfield said the proceeds belong to the association.

Harshfield also occasionally writes for "December Rose." This publication, which premiered last year, is the association's biggest expense. In 1985 it was underwritten up to $25,000 an issue by the RHF, money supplemented by revenues from subscriptions and advertising, according to Harshfield. The magazine is sent free of charge to many nursing homes and senior centers as well as to association members.

Membership in December Rose costs $10 a year, although those who join are encouraged to become "active" or "supporting" members by giving $25 or $50. "Membership in December Rose is suggested but not required" of those who submit work to the magazine, Harshfield said.

December Rose has sponsored several writing, art and photography contests. The winners' work has been published in the magazine, which regularly prints articles, poems and stories by and about association members.

Contributing Editor

Gail Kirschner, Angelus Plaza emergency director and a December Rose board member, is a writer who "wrote a novel when I was 12--of course, you can't read it; it's in Swedish." (Born in Sweden, Kirschner came to the United States as an adult.) Now in her late 60s, she produces the Angelus Plaza News and is a contributing editor to "December Rose."

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