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Their New Retirement Community: The Net


Computing and surfing the Internet are generally thought of as a young person's pursuit, but don't try floating that notion at the Leisure World retirement community in Laguna Hills.

"It's unbelievable how these elderly people take to computers," said Joe Schwarz, 76, president of the Leisure World PC Users Group. "It keeps them doing something interesting, keeps them from being lonely."

And lest you're thinking, well, he would say that, consider the numbers: Schwarz's group boasts more than 900 members, and the community's Macintosh users group has in excess of 200 enthusiasts.

Computer experience ranges from the "just curious" with no computer background to full-fledged nerds who have a computer at home, a laptop in the RV and another computer in their second home.

"One resident [couple] has a dual setup, with 'his and hers' computers," said Norm Salzberg, 69, publicity director for the PC Users Group. Some have parlayed their knowledge into lucrative sidelines, including publishing newsletters and creating greeting cards and invitations for local residents.

With a full complement of classes, special interest groups, a computer lab and two learning centers, the group's teachers and officers--all volunteers--are hard pressed to keep up with the demand.

"It's a labor of love," said Shell Weinberg, 66, who became interested in computers through the Leisure World Mac Users Group and is now manager of the Macintosh Learning Center.

Love sometimes plays a role in other ways too. Newlyweds Charles Nahas and his wife, Robin, co-teach beginning computer classes. One recently married member met his spouse when he called a computer help line and hit it off with the technician.

Every age group is represented, from people in their 50s to several members in their 90s. Most are in their 70s and 80s, according to group officers.

These active seniors use the Internet to connect with others with common interests through SeniorNet (, make travel plans at the Elderhostel ( site, take classes through Virtual University (, get involved in political activism or get local information from the "Electric Village," a site for residents.

They communicate with their children and grandchildren by e-mail; track their retirement funds and stock portfolios with money management software; create graphics for posters, greeting cards and family photos; and write letters and family histories with word-processing software.

Genealogy is a big draw for many of Leisure World's computer users. Dale Gibson, 91, uses the Internet and e-mail, along with more traditional forms of communication, for a family genealogy project.

Ann Hairfield, 69, PC Users Group secretary, connects with others who have systemic lupus, which she suffers from, and learns about the latest medical news via the Internet and e-mail.

"I kept in touch with my granddaughter on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt air carrier in the Persian Gulf" recently, said John Fuller, 76, a vice president of the group. "She even sent me some photographs she took on shore leave by computer that I can download and print here."

Ilse Wolfson, 72, a member who is visually impaired, has enlisted the computer as an aid to help her overcome her disability.

"I could no longer read what I had typed. [Now] I have a 17-inch screen and I can enlarge the type to whatever I need at any particular time and print it out at a regular size" for others to read, she said.

Using the technology also helps to alleviate the isolation of homebound seniors.

One of the newest members joined just a month ago.

"I gave myself a computer for my 88th birthday," Isadore Markin said. "I'm a babe in the woods now."

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