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A New General : A Camarillo woman is state director for the American Assn. of Retired Persons. She oversees an army of volunteers.

July 18, 1991|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To serve, not to be served.

Motto of AARP

When Ethel Percy Andrus established the American Assn. of Retired Persons in 1958, she sought to improve the quality of life and the role of older people in society.

And events since the educator's death in 1967 have refuted Shakespeare's dictum--the good that people do "is oft interred with their bones."

For like Sparti sown from Cadmus' dragon-teeth, an army of 350,000 AARP volunteers nationwide has sprung from the seeds of Andrus' early efforts on behalf of seniors. About 150 of these dedicated volunteers live in Ventura County, and Anne Anderson hopes that number will increase.

The 67-year-old resident of Camarillo was named state director for AARP in January after serving a year in an acting capacity. During her four-year term, Anderson is responsible for all volunteer activities of the 230 AARP chapters in California.

"But I couldn't do it without the help of my friends, plus four associate and 28 assistant state directors," she said.

Anderson's unpaid volunteer position translates into a 50-hour week that requires frequent travel, for which she is reimbursed. "For every day I'm home, I'm gone five days," said Anderson. Besides giving presentations to AARP chapters all over the state, she attends bimonthly meetings of the California State Legislative Committee of AARP in Sacramento, where members work closely with state legislators on issues of concern to the organization.

"Our biggest effort now in AARP programs and chapters is health-care reform and long-term care," Anderson said.

But her personal goal as an AARP leader is to increase membership in the county's seven local AARP chapters and to create new ones. Anderson wants more people aged 50-60, and those who are still working to get involved. So she is pleased about a new policy that became effective on July 1. Now anyone who joins or renews membership in the national organization will automatically receive information about their nearest chapters.

"Anyone 50 or older may join the national organization and dues are $5 a year for one person or a couple," Anderson said. "But in order to join a local AARP chapter, they must be first a member of the national organization. Annual chapter dues are $3 to $5 for individuals, and most chapters produce a newsletter."

Local AARP chapters with active volunteers are vital because they implement nationally sponsored AARP programs and services in the community. As an example, Anderson cited a free insurance seminar last month in Camarillo. Representatives from the three national insurance companies that offer programs for members of AARP discussed coverage ranging from health to mobile-home insurance specially designed for seniors.

"The AARP does not sell insurance. It makes insurance available for those members who don't have a better source," said Anderson. She emphasized that consumers should always compare policies. But she identified an advantage of getting insurance through AARP. "As long as people keep their premiums and dues paid, they can't be dropped by the insurance company. That's written into the contract."

Of course, insurance isn't the only reason for the existence of AARP, said Anderson, who then reeled off a variety of other programs and services sponsored by AARP on the national and local level.

Because chapters are chartered independently in California, they don't all do the same things.

"Some of the chapters spend a lot of time on existing services like the nutrition programs and the Council on Aging. The 55-Alive Mature Driver Program is our biggie in the county. And it is enormous in California." Anderson said the driving program, an eight-hour defensive driving workshop designed to sharpen the skills of older drivers, will require an additional 1,500 trained volunteer instructors in the state by the end of 1992.

Anderson has been an AARP volunteer for nearly five years. And a list of her other job and volunteer activities could fill a book.

After leaving Illinois to join the Navy in 1944, she married a Navy man in San Diego, had a son, worked, and earned a bachelor of science degree in accounting on the GI bill. In 1967, as the first female civilian instructor ever hired by the Marine Corps, she created a special manual and taught combat-ready Marine communicators to type code accurately.

On a dare at a poker game that same year, Anderson re-enlisted in the Naval Reserves at age 41. She was a "weekend warrior" for 17 years. As immediate past national president of WAVES National, she is currently president of the Navy Women's Foundation, a group aiming to build a Navy women's museum at the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Fla., which is currently the only base where the Navy sends women to boot camp.

"I want my granddaughter to know that her grandmother was in the Navy and very damn proud of it," said the grandmother of three.

Anderson's favorite job was as dean of adult education at Craven Community College in North Carolina. She moved to Camarillo during the 1970s, after meeting her third husband. A widow, Anderson retired in 1986 as public affairs specialist at Point Mugu. Yet she is probably busier than ever, and will serve as grand marshal of the Camarillo Fiesta Parade in October.

In nearly five years as an AARP volunteer, she said her current work is the most satisfying. "If I didn't have people around me, I couldn't handle it."

* FYI

The AARP chapters in Ventura County are located in Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Port Hueneme. For information, call (805) 482-0684.

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