What does it mean to be “old?”
The standard images are familiar: a grandma in a rocking chair, wistfully turning the pages of a photo album; retirees with time on their hands, spinning yarns at the donut shop about past glories.
But what are real people over 70 up to these days? We wanted to find out.
We photographed and interviewed twelve men and women, ranging in age from 70 to 96, all of whom are members of Ashby Village. Turns out, those standard images are seriously in need of an update.
The people we met continually surprised us. “I’m a party girl!” exclaimed Margie, the 96-year-old. Liz, a once-and-future protester, aged 87, told us that although she couldn’t tolerate getting arrested any more (handcuffs hurt too much), she still attends protests using her walker. At 76, Peter sometimes needs a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop him from shooting photos, flexing his well-honed journalistic muscles, and traveling to Paris. Ninety-three-year old Jeanne regularly drives herself to UC Berkeley to teach a class in music cognition. You get the idea. . .
Meeting and talking with the people featured in this exhibition has been surprising, revealing, funny, thought provoking, and absolutely delightful. Each of them is a vibrant, highly individual spirit. Each is active in his or her particular way, be it creative, organizational, spiritual, physical, or social. None of them spend much time looking back—they’re looking ahead with enthusiasm, curiosity, and optimism.
Not only do these people inspire us to reframe our image of what it means to be old, but they’re also models of how to live well at any age. As painter Lisa says, “I think we have to do things with gusto!”
It has been a privilege to photograph and interview the twelve Ashby Village members featured in this exhibition, and we thank them for generously sharing their thoughts and experiences with us.
Thanks also to graphic designer and Ashby Village volunteer Maria Reeves, who donated her time and expertise to design the layouts for this exhibition.
And thank you to Manuela Pegoraro and other Ashby Village staff members for helping to make the idea of this exhibition a reality.
Nancy Rubin and Cynthia Bix
Nancy Rubin’s photography exhibition, Faces of Fatherhood, is currently on display at Kaiser Richmond and has been in libraries in Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. Her work has also been shown in several local galleries. She is a contributing photographer for Berkeleyside and CAA (California Alumni Association). She created Humans of Berkeley and the Bay Area, which appears on social media.
Cynthia Overbeck Bix has written numerous books and articles for adults and children, on subjects including social history, natural sciences, and the arts, for such diverse publishers as Sunset Books (Oxmoor House), Sierra Club Books, National Geographic Explorer Magazine, Harry N. Abrams, and Twenty-First Century Books. Her personal essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and in various magazines.
Ashby Village is a vibrant nonprofit that connects members with each other and with the resources they need to stay active, independent and fulfilled—just like the people featured in this exhibition. Ashby Village members rely on one another—and on an extensive volunteer pool, screened service providers and partnerships with local agencies, groups and businesses. Ashby Village launched in 2010 and serves Berkeley, Albany, Kensington, El Cerrito, Emeryville, and Parts of Oakland.
Nancy and Cynthia are two of the over 300 volunteers who are part of Ashby Village.