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Convention Runs on Senior Power : Politics, Health, Leisure Generate Interest With Retirees

May 29, 1986|URSULA VILS | Times Staff Writer

Two months ago, the American Assn. of Retired Persons said--to the skeptical raised eyebrows of some--that 25,000 people would attend its national convention, which opened Tuesday in Anaheim.

It does indeed appear that the estimates were wrong: 20,000 had shown up by noon Tuesday, some arriving as early as 7 a.m. despite the fact that activities did not begin until 9. By 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 23,651 had registered, and the early prediction surely will be topped by the time the convention closes today.

Talk by Shirley Chisholm

Some headed for the association's business meeting and a keynote address by Shirley Chisholm, a pungent call to action that brought a rousing, standing ovation for the former New York congresswoman, the only black to have served on the House Rules Committee.

That was just the beginning of a day that drew standing-room-only crowds--in rooms that accommodate 4,000--to hear psychologists Ruth Westheimer and Joyce Brothers. Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jeff MacNelly took a look at politics and other experts addressed Medicare, Social Security, pension benefits, health, alternatives to nursing homes, wills and estate planning.

Similar programs Wednesday were highlighted by a discussion on health-care costs by Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Calif.).

George Burns' show Tuesday evening--as well as Andy Williams' tonight--were marked "sold out" on brochures mailed weeks ago to the association's 22 million members 50 or older.

Meanwhile, conventiongoers and drop-in visitors (parking was $3 but there was no admittance fee) thronged the Convention Center's cavernous South Hall to view exhibits.

Variety was the keynote. Exhibits spotlighted recreational vehicles and food processors, dream vacations and home security, Apple Computers (its promoters think every senior citizen should have one "to keep up with the grandchildren") to the Peace Corps ("9% of volunteers are seniors").

Community organizations' booths offered information for minority elders (Latinos, American Indians) and literature and advice on specific illnesses (Alzheimer's disease, arthritis and blindness).

Health Information

Around the corner from the exhibit space that Winnebago RVs rented for $6,000, the United Ostomy Assn. occupied a booth at $250. The pitch about seeking information before ostomy surgery starred two naturals, the Wallace twins, Albert and Arthur, 68, of Newton, Iowa.

Albert, dressed like his brother in a gray suit and gray-striped tie, smiled broadly, pointed to a sign asking to pick out which twin had had the ileostomy, then confessed with apparent pride that it had been he who had ileostomy surgery 27 years ago.

"Oh yes, I wanted to die at first. I considered suicide for three days," he said. "Then a young fella in a tennis outfit, a really healthy and active-looking person, came by and we struck up a conversation. He asked me what was wrong and I told him. He smiled and said, 'Touch here,' and I felt the ostomy pouch on his side. That changed my life."

Arthur Wallace also has had surgery, to remove polyps, but did not require ostomy surgery. So, in addition to working with his brother as a funeral director, he helps Albert in his efforts for the United Ostomy Assn.

"I do a lot of speaking," Albert Wallace said, adding that he travels a great deal to do so.

"But Arthur helps me, particularly with the mailings."

And the ostomy group paid their expenses to come to the retirees' convention?

"Oh no," they said, virtually in chorus. "We paid our own way."

The crowd came from far and wide, the majority from Southern California (Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Long Beach, Simi, Studio City, Ventura) and from other communities throughout the state: Tehachapi, Visalia, Livermore, Watsonville, Indio. Others came from as far away as Virginia, Michigan and New Hampshire.

The people were nicely dressed, some obviously affluent, the majority at least comfortable financially. They were quiet, mannerly, almost subdued--but not humorless as evidenced by the large numbers sporting red junior fire marshal hats being handed out free at the Hartford Insurance booth, which was mobbed.

Hugh Martin of Burlington, Conn., assistant director of the American Assn. of Retired Persons' auto and homeowners insurance program, administered through the Hartford, took a breath and a wild guess.

"I'd say we've given out 5,000 fire hats already," he said about noon on the convention's opening day. "The first people started coming at 7. . . .

"Yes, we have been giving out insurance information also, and I have taken numbers of those whose policies are about to run out so that our people can call them back."

Martin glanced around at his staff, swamped with requests for hats, and excused himself to return to hand-out duty.

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