Last week with deadlines staring me in the face, I fled to the drugstore for food and rental videos. But this column was still on my mind. So when Henry, my professor friend, spotted me enjoying a surreptitious ice cream cone, I spilled my guilty journalist's guts.
"Henry," I said, "did you know that the American Assn. of Retired Persons is considered the country's oldest and largest organization? It has over 32 million members." He was impressed.
But, like many people, he doesn't really know what the AARP is. So Henry, who is in kissing range of 50, took a step backward when I suggested he could benefit greatly by joining.
"I get material from them regularly," he said. "But I tear it up because I just don't see myself as retirement age."
Unfortunately Henry's reaction is not unique. Despite the word "retired," many activities of AARP are designed to benefit people in midlife. Anyone 50 or older may join, and one-third of AARP members are still working.
Many useful publications can be ordered from the AARP free by non-members. But there are many advantages of membership. Programs and services include discounts on travel, auto and homeowners insurance, and prescription medications by mail. The AARP Federal Credit Union offers a low-cost VISA card and other financial services.
AARP promotes research and education in the area of aging. And it takes a stand on issues, including age discrimination in employment and mandatory retirement, care-giving and health care, social security, Medicare and generic drugs. In addition, it is involved in widowed and volunteer services and environmental concerns.
"AARP/VOTE," the organization's voter education program, informs and involves voters on issues of concern to older Americans through the AARP Bulletin. AARP predicts that people age 65 and older will represent 13% of the U.S. population by the year 2000. By adding those age 50 and older, a powerful voting bloc is possible.
Members also receive the monthly Modern Maturity, the largest-circulation magazine in the United States, and possibly the world, according to Editor Ian Ledgerwood. "The Reader's Digest and TV Guide take turns in the No. 2 position," he said. Modern Maturity's circulation of more than 22 million is less than AARP membership because member-couples receive only one copy of the magazine.
Few people realize the important historical connection between the AARP and Southern California. The organization's founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, was a prominent educator and California's first female high school principal at Lincoln High in Los Angeles. She was born in 1884 in San Francisco, attended the University of Chicago, earned her Ph.D. at USC in 1930, and taught English and history at Santa Paula Union High School.
John Fay, Andrus' attorney, was instrumental in drawing up the charter for the AARP. He said, "her greatest accomplishments came after retirement in 1944."
Grey Gables Retirement Community in Ojai is considered the birthplace of AARP, which was formed in 1958 as an outgrowth of the National Retired Teachers Assn., founded by Andrus four years earlier.
Today, Grey Gables still operates without any link to AARP or the NRTA. But Director Joy Mason showed me the rooms where, as AARP's first president, Andrus held meetings and prepared the first issues of Modern Maturity with the aid of a few retired teachers.
Andrus occupied an apartment at Grey Gables until a few years before her death on July 13, 1967. She is buried at Ventura's Ivy Lawn Cemetery.
AARP membership is $5 for one year, $12.50 for three years, or $35 for 10 years. The Retired Teachers Division is open to former members of the NRTA and soon-to-retire teachers, administrators, and other education professionals. They also receive the NRTA Bulletin. To join the AARP or NRTA, use this address or phone number: AARP Membership Division, 601 E St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20049, (202) 434-2277.
Next week: Meet Camarillo's Anne Anderson, newly appointed state director of the AARP, and learn about AARP chapters and activities in Ventura County.
On Saturday from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., a "Grand Opening Ball," featuring Buddy Greco and the Stardust Big Band will celebrate the long-awaited opening of the new Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, next to the Thousand Oaks Library. Tickets cost $8.50 for people 50 and older, and can be purchased in advance at the center's old location at 110 S. Conejo School Road in Thousand Oaks. For information on tours and orientations for newcomers, call (805) 497-1639.