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HEARTS OF THE CITY

Oasis of Inspiration

Volunteers: At 95, David Bloom helps keep a seniors chapter running--while setting an example of active and productive old age.

November 06, 1996|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a family photo album, David Bloom has scribbled a few simple words on a scrap of paper. "The more sympathy you give, the less you need," the message reads.

At 95, when most of his contemporaries are gone or have settled into armchairs, Bloom is practicing his own brand of giving.

A rail-thin man with ruddy cheeks and a winsome smile, he has devoted the last 10 years to his fellow senior citizens at the Fairfax district branch of OASIS, a national agency that offers a variety of arts, education and other programs for people over 60.

Bloom is a do-everything volunteer who helps keep the agency running by addressing envelopes, producing fliers, keeping track of scores of other volunteers.

But co-workers say Bloom's impact reaches far beyond clerical tasks performed at his paper-strewn desk, known affectionately around the office as "David's corner."

OASIS members, 75 years old on average, look to Bloom as a fitting example of how to age gracefully--even as his hearing goes, his memory fades and his back begins to bow.

"If a 95-year-old person can participate in life the way that David does, it gives us inspiration for when we become his age," said Alice Myers, 66. "We don't know what we would do without him."

*

Ask Bloom the secret of his longevity and he offers a simple, wry retort: "Keeping active and eating peanut butter. I love peanut butter."

Whether peanut butter sandwiches consumed for lunch every day for the last 40 years have truly extended Bloom's life will probably remain a mystery. But one thing remains clear: OASIS gave Bloom a renewed lease on life after his wife of 63 years, Esta, died in 1987.

The couple arrived in New York from their native London in 1923, seeking opportunity in a new land. They moved to Los Angeles in 1948. Here, Bloom used his background in selling fabrics to launch a career as an interior decorator.

With Esta's passing, Bloom found himself alone for the first time. The couple had no children, Bloom's six siblings had died and virtually all of his remaining family lived in England.

Then a neighbor suggested that Bloom check out OASIS, located in the Park La Brea Shopping Center on 3rd Street, just a short walk from his Park La Brea apartment.

Bloom started volunteering at the center one day a week, and eventually took on full-time duties.

"It didn't take more than a few months and I was coming every day," he said.

Now Bloom spends about five hours a day at the center, Monday through Friday, mostly performing his volunteer duties but also attending classes on subjects ranging from the history of television comedy to Japanese foreign trade.

"This is my second home," Bloom said of the center. "They always ask me, 'What did you do, sleep here last night?' "

*

Center directors call Bloom an essential piece of the puzzle at OASIS, or Older Adult Service and Information System.

"We need David as much as David needs us," said Rachelle Sommers Smith, OASIS' assistant director.

"He is a very productive, positive man, a very important part of our family."

Bloom also has earned a distinction of another sort--that of an elder Don Juan among the ladies, who swoon over his dry sense of humor and his love of sweet show tunes.

"Don't forget he's the world's best dancer," said Phoebe Shorr, 69, as she and Bloom launched into an extemporaneous waltz in the middle of the OASIS office on a recent day. "David is very much in demand."

*

At his one-bedroom apartment in Park La Brea, Bloom proudly displays certificates of appreciation he has received over the years for his volunteer work at OASIS.

One of them, received earlier this year, came from the city of Los Angeles, and is signed by Mayor Richard Riordan and City Council President John Ferraro, Bloom's council representative.

Another, from OASIS, declared Bloom its Man of the Year in 1992.

But Bloom refuses to rest on his laurels. He has too much work to finish. And it is that work, he insists, that keeps him so young.

"People tell me that I don't look 95," he said proudly one recent day at OASIS as he updated file cards containing the names and addresses of 8,500 members. "I don't believe it myself."

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The Beat

Today's centerpiece focuses on a volunteer at the Fairfax district branch of OASIS (Older Adult Service and Information System), an organization that strives to enhance the quality of life for people over age 60 with cultural and educational programs. For information call (213) 931-8968.

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