Is it presidential politics or age discrimination?

By Jeff Hoyt

With Joe Biden and Donald Trump poised for an electoral rematch that would produce the oldest U.S. president in history, many believe both candidates are too elderly for the job. Attention focused on the candidates’ ages raises concerns, especially considering that nearly half of older Americans have faced age discrimination in their own professional lives.

The debate surrounding seniority in federal offices brings forth advantages, such as experience and wisdom, and disadvantages, like potential mental decline or difficulties relating to younger voters. To understand voters’ sentiments on these matters and explore possible solutions, Seniorliving.org conducted a survey of over 1,100 American adults of all ages. Here are a few key takeaways:

  • 59 percent of Americans feel Trump is too old to retake office, and 69 percent agree Biden is too old for re-election.
  • Respondents over 60 were less likely than younger adults to say Biden and Trump are too old for re-election. This could be partly due to their own experiences, as 47 percent of older Americans have experienced age discrimination on the job.
  • The vast majority believed that the ideal presidential candidates would be in their 50s or 60s.
  • 72 percent support imposing a maximum age limit on the presidency and on Congress. And 44 percent of those in favor of upper limits felt he maximum age for the president should be between 70 and 79.
  • Though many expressed interest in upper age limits, 36 percent admitted those restrictions could be discriminatory, and that term limits could be fairer alternatives.

As the median ages of American legislators have consistently escalated, some have labeled the federal government a gerontocracy needing age limits or term restrictions. But would such restrictions be ageist?

With an election featuring two frontrunners born in the 1940s, Seniorliving.org asked respondents their feelings regarding the ages of Biden and Trump. On inauguration day in 2025, Trump will be 78, and Biden will be 82.

The age of the respondents appeared to affect their opinions. About 70 percent of Americans under 45 thought both candidates were too old to be elected. However, people 60 or older were least likely to feel the current officeholder and his predecessor are too old for the job of president. As many older Americans have been personally impacted by age discrimination, they may not want to judge Trump or Biden based on their ages alone.

Even Trump has been cautious about remarking on Biden’s age as a disqualifying factor. In April 2023, he told conservative commentator Tucker Carlson that plenty of people in their 80s and 90s, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, remain sharp.

However, even among the oldest respondents, Biden’s age was more concerning than Trump’s. Trump’s acceptance by older Americans may be more ideological than analytical – the Silent Generation (those born before 1946) was the only age group that overwhelmingly supported the Republican in the 2020 election.

Notably, in a time of great political divide, voters across the political spectrum agreed Trump and Biden will be too old for office in 2025.

Survey participants tended to support their party’s candidates more. Only about one-third of Republicans believed Trump was too old to be president, while three-quarters of Democrats thought so. As for Biden, most Democrats agreed he was too old to serve again. Among independents, about two-thirds felt that both candidates were too old for the office.

Seniorliving.org then asked voters about their overall views on age and the presidency to get opinions free from political biases. Specifically, what’s the ideal age for a U.S. president?

The U.S. Constitution states a president must be at least 35 years old, but there is no maximum age limit. Trump was the first president to start his term past age 70, and Biden is the first to serve in his 80s.

The average age of past presidents has been 55, much younger than Biden and Trump at the time of the next election. Historical and modern preferences align: Most people prefer presidents to take office in their 50s or 60s, and 85 percent agreed that a president should ideally be younger than 70.

More than two in three Americans would prefer the president to be in their 50s or 60s–old enough to have amassed knowledge and experience, yet considerably younger than Biden or Trump. That opinion was consistent among respondents across age groups, but varied by political party.

Most citizens are comfortable with the current constitutional minimum age for the presidency – nearly 60 percent feel it should remain at 35 years. Interestingly, nearly twice as many voters would eliminate the age minimum as would choose to raise it.

However, nearly three-quarters of Americans would amend the Constitution to add an upper age limit on presidential qualifications. Seventy-five percent of Republicans favored a maximum presidential age, compared to 69 percent of Democrats. In the U.S., few roles have specific age restrictions. The jobs that do tend to have rigorous physical demands, such as law enforcement officers or air traffic controllers.

Opinions varied regarding what the maximum age should be for president. Nearly 10 percent believe presidents shouldn’t be older than 60, while 20 percent would allow private-sector executives to serve into their 80s.

Those on the left tended to prefer a lower age limit than those on the right. Forty-two percent of Democrats would prohibit 70-year-olds from holding office. Three-quarters of Republicans would choose an upper limit of 71 or higher, with one-quarter content to set the age ceiling in the 80s. This makes sense given the demographics of each party. Republicans tend to be older adults, and many younger voters are Democrats.

What about Congress?

Age concerns for the American government aren’t limited to the executive branch. Despite a handful of young, new representatives, the current Congress is one of the oldest in history. The median age of representatives is 57 years old, while the senators’ median age is 65.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who died last October at the age of 90, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who’s 90, arguably typify age issues. Feinstein suffered medical problems and reported cognitive challenges undermining her ability to serve. Grassley recently won a new six-year term and has already filed for re-election in 2028, potentially putting him in office past the age of 100.

Most Americans are okay with the current minimum ages for Congress (age 25 for the House and 30 for the Senate). However, over a quarter of Americans would prefer to remove these requirements and allow even younger citizens to run for federal office.

Most Americans want to restrict older legislators, with nearly three-quarters supporting a maximum age for the House and Senate. Republicans showed slightly more support for an upper age limit than Democrats. Americans generally agreed that the upper age for Congress members should be between 70 and 79, the same as for president.

Almost half of the people polled felt senior politicians are out of touch with modern issues like technology and climate change, making them unable to represent younger generations. Notably, younger Americans were nearly three times more likely to say older legislators make government worse instead of better. Among those under 45, this ratio increased to four-to-one.

While many Americans want to limit the age of congressional members, a significant portion is hesitant to set specific age restrictions. About 48 percent believe age isn’t crucial as long as politicians can serve the public interest. Additionally, 36 percent view age restrictions as discriminatory and prefer that the ballots reflect their confidence in individual candidates’ competence.

Unlike age limits, term limits offer a fair way to promote legislative turnover without discriminating based on age. They would stop long-serving incumbents from staying in office for many decades. Currently, 16 states have term limits for statewide offices, which Americans prefer over age limits by a margin of more than four to one.

Out of the 45 presidents before Trump and Biden, all were younger than 70 when they took office. Now the nation has had consecutive presidents in their 70s, and, likely, the next one will also be in their 80s during their term.

Some believe the electoral system favors long-term politicians, resulting in overrepresentation of elderly individuals and reduced government responsiveness. Around 70 percent of Americans support setting a maximum age for federal elected officials, and many also favor term limits for congressional leaders. Currently, the 22nd Amendment places a term limit on the presidency.

Campaign finances, voter turnout, and incumbency advantage have driven the aging of Congress. But is this an issue that needs to be addressed? After all, senior leaders can stabilize the nation, preserve knowledge, and temper youthful ideas. As life expectancy increases, politicians’ ages will also rise naturally. If ineffective leadership persists, Americans always have the option to head to the ballot box to vote in leaders with fresh perspectives at any age.

Source: Seniorliving.org, an online directory of information and topics for older adults, surveyed 1,113 adults in 2023 for this report. Twenty-one were 18 to 29 years old, 27 percent were between 30 and 44, 28 percent were 45 to 60, and 24 percent were 60 or older. Thirty-five percent were Democrats, 29 percent were Republicans, 25 percent were independents, and 11 percent didn’t align with any of those three groups.

Come aboard for history

Naval museums, some of them on retired ships, eagerly await and welcome visitors. Not to mention any and all support that helps keep floating history shipshape.

Roughly 120 Navy vessels are official historic landmarks in the United States. And naval ship museums, some of them housed in retired warships and submarines, are helping preserve that maritime and military heritage.

Two such places are a relatively short drive or a ferry ride to the Kitsap Peninsula, where Puget Sound Navy Museum in Bremerton and Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport are doing their part to educate current and future generations by bringing to life the historic roles of vessels above and below the waves.

Maintaining and operating naval museums often falls to veterans’ or community groups with minimal or no government funding. The museums rely on the generosity and support of their members and the public.

In return, visitors get thoroughly indoctrinated in floating history such as the USS Turner Joy, anchored at Bremerton’s waterfront near the Puget Sound Navy Museum (PSNM). The 66-year-old destroyer, decommissioned by the Navy in 1982, was involved in the Navy’s first sea battle in the Vietnam War in 1964. It now is a Navy museum ship. (Information about tours is at ussturnerjoy.org and 360-792-2457.) Recent temporary exhibits included one about patrol boats that were used in Puget Sound to chase alcohol smugglers during the prohibition and for guarding coastlines, ports, and rescues.

PSNM opened in 1954 in a different Bremerton than the 6,049 square-feet building it now occupies near Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and a state ferry terminal.

Naval Undersea Museum, a few miles north in Keyport and affiliated with PSNM, sits next to a branch of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, a research, testing and engineering arm of the Navy. Museum artifacts and exhibits include torpedoes (“Torpedo Town” is a nickname for Keyport), a simulated submarine control room, a hulking portion of an actual former sub’s hull, and a deepwater rescue submersible that was used in the movie “The Hunt for Red October.”  It’s all backed by a non-profit foundation and its members who provide financial and organizational support .

Floating-ship museums, such as the Turner Joy, include famous ships like the USS Midway and USS Enterprise. Others are lesser-known but still storied. One is the USS Red Oak. Moored in Richmond, Calif., 16 miles north of San Francisco, it’s one of the last surviving World War II Victory Ships that were built on an emergency basis to carry vital supplies and troops to all theaters of war.

Well-known or not, all floating-ship and land-based naval museums “have a responsibility to future generations to preserve historic ships and to raise awareness,” said Fred Klink, who heads a committee running the Red Oak.

While naval museums need financial backing from individuals, organizations and corporations, Klink and other advocates note there are some simple ways virtually anyone can support the museums. One of the easiest ways is to visit them, buying a ticket if admission is charged (PSNM and Naval Undersea are free) and affirming their important roles in preserving history.

Another way is to volunteer for leading tours or other assistance such as working in museum stores.

Source: Brandpoint contributed to this report.

‘Boom’ goes The Sonics. Again.

A Northwest rock music legend is relived with theatrical release of film

They pounded their way out of Tacoma and to the top of Northwest rock bands in the 1960s with a music style that eventually earned them legendary status as pioneers of the much-later punk rock movement. 

They were The Sonics, named for the booming noise of jets out of then-McChord Air Force Base and known for a hard-edged sound that gained fans nationally (despite never having a number 1 hit song in the U.S.) and worldwide.

Unlike other garage-bands of their era, the group avoided fading into total obscurity. Helping preserve their legacy, and possibly growing it, is the theatrical release this year of a film that chronicles the band’s rise and tells some of its untold story.

“Boom,” by Whidbey Island filmmaker Jordan Albertsen, is scheduled for a limited release in theaters across North America in 20 market areas in the first quarter of 2024, following gala premieres in Seattle and Los Angeles. The latter will be accompanied by tribute performances of The Sonics’ music, promoters said.

The distribution is being managed by The Forge, an agency headed by Mark Sayre, a producer and director of the annual Vashon Island Film Festival.

Sayre said Albertsen “put painstaking effort” into making the 78-minute film “an engaged, participatory audience experience” that includes interviews with the members of famed Northwest rock bands Pearl Jam, Heart, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney, and has been featured in film festivals from Tacoma to Bremen, Norway, and Greece.

The Sonics’ saga is one of a raw band that went from playing modest gigs at roller rinks and teenage dances at places like Curtis High School in University Place, to headlining major Seattle-area venues such as the Spanish Castle Ballroom and opening for major touring acts at the Seattle Coliseum.

The Sonics’ original songs included “The Witch,” the lynchpin in winning a record-label contract for the band, and “Have Love Will Travel,” which Land Rover licensed in 2004 for a car commercial on television.

British author Vernon Joynson once wrote that The Sonics “exuded a surly demeanor and created one of the rawest, toughest garage sounds.” He also noted the Kinks and the Sex Pistols “have acknowledged The Sonics’ influence on their own music.”

With a caustic sound that limited radio airplay of its songs, The Sonics nevertheless experienced on-and-off longevity after forming in 1960. They released their debut album in 1965 and broke up in the late ‘60s, only to reunite briefly in 1972 and then again in 2007-08, this time longer-term for performances and recording that led to an international concert tour in England Spain, Norway and Belgium, as well as New York and Seattle.

The band’s breakups were fueled by life turns for the members—Larry Parya, Andy Parypa, Rob Lind, Bobby Bennett, and Jerry Roslie. There were returns to college in an effort to avoid the Vietnam War draft, non-music jobs such as commercial pilot, insurance sales, school teacher, and asphalt paving, time spent playing with other bands, and health issues.

Albertsen said he hopes his film’s circuit this year will generate new notoriety for the band, making making “2024 the year of The Sonics.”

The great Gretchen Fraser

By Michael Weinreb

Atop a mountain thousands of miles from home, Gretchen Kunigk Fraser eased into the starting gate, set into a crouch, and awaited the signal to start the biggest ski race of her life.

The odds against Fraser were already long. The fact she had even made it to this point—competing in the 1948 Olympics slalom event in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and clinging to a narrow one-tenth of a second lead as she began her second and final run in the competition—felt like something of a miracle. And now, as the brand-new timing system malfunctioned, Fraser learned she would have to wait to begin her race.

The Olympics weren’t yet televised live in America, so halfway around the world, in Vancouver, Wash., Fraser’s husband, Don, a former Olympic skier himself who couldn’t break away from the family gas and home heating oil business to get to Europe with Gretchen, eagerly waited for news. In Sun Valley, Idaho, a burgeoning ski resort town frequented by Hollywood celebrities where Don and Gretchen had come of age as competitive skiers, residents awaited word of the results. In Tacoma, where Fraser had grown up and attended University of Puget Sound, her parents eagerly anticipated a telegram or call from their daughter.

The American media in St. Moritz had arrived considering Fraser and her fellow members of the U.S. ski team an afterthought, the first post-war representatives of a sport that had only just begun to catch on in the country. For female skiers, it was even more difficult: They had no coach until the final weeks before the Olympics, and many people still debated whether skiing was “ladylike” enough for women to participate. As a full slate of alpine skiing events made its Olympic debut in the first winter games since 1936 (1940 and 1944 had been canceled due to World War II), nobody expected much of anything from the United States—and particularly from Fraser, who, at 28 years old, was the oldest member of the team.

Atop the mountain, the wait continued for Fraser. Two minutes. Five minutes. At 10 minutes, the starter allowed Fraser out of the gate to stretch her legs. She wore her hair in long braids, since between training and traveling she had no time to get it styled. Her goggles fogged up, so she pushed them up.

Seventeen minutes after Fraser first stepped into the starting gate, the clock malfunction was fixed. Fraser, the first skier out of the gate that day, was unruffled. She plunged down the hill into virgin snow, goggles clinging to her forehead as she maneuvered her way down the mountain at 60 miles per hour and weaved through the slalom gates in 57.5 seconds. She had bested her first run. Now she had to wait for 45 other competitors to ski the course and see if they could beat her.

No one did.

“A pretty western housewife, her pigtails flying,” read one newspaper article, “accomplished something no American had done before—win an Olympic medal for skiing.” Before the Games were over, she would go on to add a silver in alpine combined.

Seventy-five years after Gretchen Fraser became the first American woman to win a medal in Olympic skiing, her legacy endures in Sun Valley, where they named a restaurant after her, as well as a ski run, and erected a pair of statues in her honor. But as John Bechtholt soon discovered, outside of Sun Valley—and even in Bechtholt’s hometown of Tacoma—Fraser’s legacy had largely been forgotten.

Bechtholt, a frequent visitor to Sun Valley, picked up a copy of Luane Pfeifer’s book “Gretchen’s Gold” at a Starbucks and soon became obsessed with Fraser’s story. He went to the archival room of Tacoma Public Library to read more, but found no information about her. So he began collecting memorabilia and archiving articles about Fraser on his own. What he discovered was that, for a brief moment in the wake of her triumph in St. Moritz, Fraser was hailed as an American hero, her iconic pigtails depicted in advertisements and popular comic strips, adored for her All-American looks and her cheery demeanor, as well as her brilliance on the slopes.

But by 1982, a Washington Post article about America’s first Olympic medalists in skiing, it didn’t even mention Fraser.

Over time, Bechtholt discovered there was a lot more to Fraser’s story than a single gold medal. Beyond her brief dalliance with fame, she engaged in the kind of quiet heroism that Bechtholt and many others believe shouldn’t be forgotten—and, in fact, should earn her an enduring legacy in America’s Olympic history.

Gretchen Kunigk was born in Tacoma on Feb. 11, 1919, to a Norwegian mother and a German father who was the longtime head of the city’s water utility. Her mother, Clara, had grown up skiing in Norway, and gave Gretchen her first pair of skis when she was 13, taking her to Mount Rainier’s Paradise Valley for her first ski trip. In the 1930s, skiing in America was still in its nascent stages; without even a rope tow to get up the hill, Gretchen and her brother would hike up, ski down, and hike back up. Soon after, Mount Rainier began to host races. Among the winners was Don Fraser, a University of Washington student who worked at Boeing and would be selected to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Germany, assuming he paid his own way there. (He made the money by working on a freighter, then injured his hip in practice and was unable to race.)

In the wake of those Olympics, skiing began to take hold in the Pacific Northwest and beyond—including at Puget Sound (UPS), where Kunigk joined the school’s ski team as a student from 1937 to 1939. At the same time, Mount Rainier attracted a key visitor–Otto Lang, an instructor at a prestigious ski school in Austria who came to film an instructional movie and was so taken by Rainier  that he opened a ski school. And then he discovered his star pupil: Gretchen Kunigk. “In a very short time, I detected that this young lady had the determination and the doggedness to go places,” Lang would say.

In 1937, the 18-year-old Kunigk got her first big break. 20th Century Fox wanted to film a movie with the actress and former figure skater Sonja Henie that featured the hot new sport of downhill skiing. But they needed a double and contacted Lang, who suggested Gretchen. The movie, starring Henie and Tyrone Power, was called “Thin Ice,” and it was enough of a hit that it helped promote skiing to Americans who were just becoming acquainted with it and began to view it as a destination sport.

Among the epicenters of that ski boom in America was Sun Valley, which began to attract a crowd of movers and shakers from business, politics, and Hollywood. In 1938, Gretchen and Don Fraser—who had been competing side-by side in Pacific Northwest ski races for a couple of years—rode the train from Seattle to Idaho for the Harriman Cup, a relatively new competition that gathered some of the best ski racers in America at Sun Valley. Neither of them won any events, but a year later, they got married.

In Sun Valley, Fraser was Henie’s double in another ski movie, “Sun Valley Serenade”. She and Don moved to Denver, where, after the 1940 Olympics were canceled due to the war in Europe, Gretchen won the national championship in two events in 1941. When Don went off to serve in the Navy, Gretchen took flying lessons and earned her pilot’s license. Lang began making a series of patriotic films and asked Gretchen to ski for Henie in Utah, where she saw something that would change the course of her life. After meeting amputees returning from the war at a nearby hospital, Fraser became determined to teach them to ski.

“I had no idea how to do it,” she later admitted. “I just figured there must be a way to help them enjoy life again and show them confidence.”

As the war ended and the 1948 Olympics approached, Fraser figured her competitive skiing career was probably over. But Don urged her to attend the tryouts in Sun Valley. She referred to herself, only half-jokingly, as a “retread.” Still, she managed to beat out 14-year-old phenom Andrea Mead and win a place on the team. She boarded a train from Seattle to New York, sailed across the Atlantic, took a train to Paris, and spent two days on a train riding up the mountain to St. Moritz. “She is blonde, pretty, proficient, and strangely inclined to humbleness,” one reporter wrote of Fraser after she won the gold medal, and when she made it back to the United States after her victory, she was feted as an All-American hero.

In New York, Sonja Henie threw a party celebrating America’s two newest gold medalists–Fraser and ice skater Dick Button. When Fraser returned home, she was honored in Portland and Tacoma. Vancouver held a parade for their newest local hero, with dozens of local girls doing their hair in pigtails like Fraser’s. Advertisers jockeyed for her endorsements. In addition to promoting the Union Pacific resort in Sun Valley, Fraser signed deals with Wheaties, appeareing on trading cards and cereal boxes, and the sportswear company Jantzen. She appeared in dozens of comic books and traveled to Norway to visit her mother’s relatives and meet the prince.

One of Fraser’s first stops upon her return home set the tone for how she viewed her obligations, both as an Olympic medalist and able-bodied athlete. She went to Barnes General Hospital in Vancouver and visited injured veterans. Eventually, she started a program for disabled skiers in Portland called the Flying Outriggers and became an honorary chairwoman of the Special Olympics. When 16-year-old Sun Valley racer Muffy Davis was paralyzed in a training accident in 1989, Fraser showered Davis with gifts and encouragement, including a four-leaf clover pin that the founder of Sun Valley, Averell Harriman, had given to Fraser before the 1948 Olympics.

In an interview with Ski magazine, Davis said Fraser told her the pin brought her good fortune and she wanted to pass the luck on. And apparently it worked, as Davis won seven Paralympic medals in skiing and cycling and later served in the Idaho Legislature.

“If you accept and take advantages offered by a community or country,” Fraser wrote to herself in papers found after her death, “you give of volunteer time and money in return for that privilege.”

Fraser spent four years after the 1948 Olympics as an ambassador and endorser. Then she gave up that public profile in order to raise her family and pursue the causes she was passionate about.

“I did what I could to help out our business,” she later told the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver. “I had a contract [for endorsements], but I had to be an All-American girl. I never smoked, anyway, but that was one of the things the contract didn’t allow.”

As she retreated from the public eye, Fraser’s fame began to dim. She joked that one magazine article about her “said something like, ‘I won the first American medals, had a child, and went back home to oblivion.’” Her life may have quieted, but it was anything but pedestrian: After serving as manager of the Olympic ski team in 1952, she continued to fly (famed pilot Chuck Yeager was among her mentors), work with disabled skiers, indulge her passion for horses by serving on the Olympic equestrian committee, and promote skiing at home and abroad. She was inducted into the UPS Athletic Hall of Fame in 1989. She died in Sun Valley at the age of 75 in 1994, just a few weeks after her husband.

Bechholt presumes—as many others have—that Fraser was overlooked for decades in large part because of her gender. He’s given away some of his materials about her to Tacoma Public Library and Tacoma Historical Society, and as he seeks a home for the remainder of his collection, he’s hoping Fraser’s story will be told over and over.

“It was just shocking to me. She’s the most celebrated and achieved athlete to come out of Tacoma,” Bechtholt said. “And no one had heard about her.”

Reprinted from University of Puget Sound’s Arches, a publicatioin which chronicles UPS alumni.