Next stop: France

Leigh Swanson, who devoted nearly a quarter of her life to military service, is getting close to another “once-in-a-lifetime” experience that’s also wrapped around the armed forces experience.

Swanson, who lives in Bremerton, is one of 12 veterans who will travel to France this fall for visits to Paris and the beaches of Normandy to learn about the country’s intersecting history of World War II and art.

It will be a nine-day educational and cultural junket organized by Road Scholar, a not-for-profit organization that is a virtual university of the world by offering adventures for adults throughout the United States and in 100 other countries. Swanson’s trip is just for military veterans (active-duty or retired) and their travel companions.

From Sept. 28 to Oct. 6, the itinerary will include visits to the Musée de l’Armée (Army Museum) in Paris and a field trip to the Memorial de Caen, commemorating World War II’s “Battle for Caen.” The travelers will learn about the wartime occupation and liberation of Paris, famous impressionist French painters, and artwork that was protected and lost during the war.

Perhaps the most impactful day will be when the group visits Omaha Beach, walking in the footsteps of soldiers who landed there as part of D-Day invasion by Allied troops June 6, 1944, and the Normandy American Cemetery, where they will participate in a ceremony honoring the soldiers who died in the historic battle.

“This will be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion for the group,” said  Amale Bourhim, Road Scholar’s operations director in France. “Not only will we have a deeper study of the military history of every site we visit, but simply the experience of learning together with fellow veterans is sure to create camaraderie and a bond that will be memorable.”

Many Road Scholar participants on adventures of all kinds are veterans who are drawn to the opportunities to combine travel with military history, said Maeve Hartney, the organization’s chief program officer.

That was Swanson’s reaction when she heard about the Normandy trip. She knew immediately she’d be on it.

“Regardless of age, sex, or branch of service, there’s a bond that connects all veterans,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to visit Normandy, and the opportunity was too good to pass up.”

Swanson served in the Navy from 1979 to 1994–six years of active duty, and then in the Naval Reserve until her early retirement in 1994 as a lieutenant commander. She was a judge advocate (lawyer), launching her legal career.

“Looking back, 44 years down the road, joining the Navy was the single best decision I’ve ever made,” she said.

Swanson has become a regular traveler with Road Scholar. Starting in 2019, she has learned about ancient tribal cultures at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah and hiked Oregon’s Central Coast in 2022. She also has participated in online Road Scholar programs and lectures on subjects ranging from Greek gastronomy to African drums.

For the trip to France, she’ll be joined by her sister, Jeanie Ziegler. Of her four siblings, Swanson thought Ziegler would have the time and interest, and she was right. After Road Scholar announced last November on Veterans Day that the trip was available, “I called her and asked if she’d like to go to France. It took her about 20 seconds to say, ‘Sign me up,’” at least partly because she has visited Normandy once before and is “grateful” for a chance to do it again, Swanson said.

About 100,000 people a year sign up for Road Scholar (roadscholar.org) trips, all of which are focused on experiencing life and the world at any age. Financial aid is available for participants who need some help paying.

In an age of identity politics, it’s hard to believe that ageism still runs rampant. But while more employers are joining the fight against many forms of discrimination, such as race, gender, and sexual orientation, ageism remains an issue in workplaces nationwide.

Changing working conditions, climbing prices, and debate about raising the retirement age are luring older Americans back to work, forcing a reckoning with deep-rooted bias that impacts nearly half of all employees over age 40..

To understand age discrimination and how it’s changed since similar research in 2021, Seniorliving.org surveyed 1,203 Americans about their experiences with ageism in the workplace. Their ages ranged from 40 to 60-plus, and 54 percent of them were women.

The survey concluded that age discrimination is widespread, underreported, and begins earlier than most might expect, according to Seniorliving.org. For instance:

  • 47 percent of workers over 40 have experienced age discrimination or ageism, at companies of all sizes and to males and females.
  • The typical age when age discrimination first begins is about 45.
  • Though federal statistics show age discrimination has decreased over the last decade, nearly a third of discrimination reports go unreported. This is often because victims worry that nothing will be done.
  • 52 percent of older workers said if they were to actively look for new jobs, their age would negatively impact their job searches.

Age-based employment discrimination was outlawed by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, which applies to private companies with 20 or more employees and all government agencies. Specifically, the law protects workers over age 40 against discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, and benefits.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates and enforces the law while recording all reported violations. Since 1997, the EEOC has received nearly 500,000 age discrimination claims. That number is about one-fifth of all employment discrimination claims. However, there has been a downward trend in age discrimination claims in recent years. Federal age discrimination claims fell nearly 9 percent from 2020 to 2021, and are down 45 percent over the past decade.

These numbers only tell part of the story, though. Seniorliving.org’s study revealed 49 percent of people who experienced on-the-job age discrimination reported the occurrence to a manager or to human resources. Additionally, many workers may be unaware of their rights and suffer discrimination without seeking protection. As the ADEA also prohibits harassment based on age, derogatory remarks that create offensive work environments or drive adverse employment decisions are also considered unlawful discrimination.

Forms of age discrimination reported by workers include assumptions about ability to learn new skills (the most-reported form at 19 percent), missed raises or promotions, less-desirable assignments or projects, bias in hiring and recruitment, reduced work hours, ageist harassment, remarks or jokes, and job losses through firing or layoffs.

In cases of businesses pressuring older workers to resign or retire, Chiquita Hall, an employment attorney, said employers “are pushing them out with an overwhelming amount of new changes. This has resulted in more forced resignations, buyouts, and terminations disguised as layoffs.”

States with the highest  number of age-based charges are Nevada, Maine, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Illinois, according to EEOC statistics from 2021.

Source: Seniorliving.org, a research and resources site for economic and social issues affecting older adults.

‘Never too old’ are words to live by

By Barbara Sellers

What motivates senior citizens to get out of bed every morning, keep on going, and actively participate in community activities? Perhaps a retiree who has been residing in the Tacoma area for the last 38 years can answer that question and one more” How old is too old to make a dream come true or start a new career?

At 88, Donald R. Sellers, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, recently published his first book, “Voyages of Discovery.”

“My original intentions were to publish some of my short stories as a legacy for family and friends,” Sellers said. “Since then, I’ve been encouraged to open up distribution and see what happens.”

Besides promoting his new book (now available on Amazon in hardcover, softcover and e-book), Sellers remains active in speaking and writing organizations, too. As a 39-year member in Toastmasters International, he served as president of Club 1123 several times. He also served in area and division upper-leadership positions, started the Chit Chatters club at the Western Washington Women’s prison, and as the 1993 elected District 32 governor, he earned the Distinguished District Award. He’s now mentoring five Toastmaster members, and is president of the Plateau Area Writers Association and the lead for a writing critique group, Writers Helping Writers.

One thing Sellers enjoys most about writing fiction is the act of creation.

“I can sit down for an hour or two and leave this world,” he said. “It’s especially rewarding when I read a story I wrote 15 years ago and find I can still relish the experience. Sometimes I exclaim in surprise, ‘I wrote that? Wow! That’s much better than I anticipated.’”

Reading is another passion Sellers has always had. In fact, when Sellers was a young boy, a neighbor lady paid him to read to her.

“I don’t remember how or where I learned to read,” he said. “But I could read and understand the newspaper when I was in first grade.”

Ever since then, Sellers has been a book-lover and avid reader. In his 20s, he mostly read science-fiction, but today his writing and reading sweeps across many genres, including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

“I read in most genres except romance,” he said. “I usually have three or four books open. Currently, I’m reading fantasy, health maintenance, and a memoir by a member of my writer’s association.”

Sellers believes the books he read by great authors helped him develop his writing skills.

“I believe working with writing groups and serving as an editor increases writing skills, too,” he said. “I subscribe to three writing magazines and have 47 self-help writing books in my library.”

It would be difficult to know how many books he has read, but he has read some of his favorites several times. For example, he read “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury nine times, “Fahrenheit 451” by Bradbury four times, “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck five times, “The Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck four times, and many others two or three times.

So far, Sellers has written 16 short stories, nine flash fiction and 16 newspaper commentaries.

He first became interested in writing in his teen years but put it on hold to make a living in the military.

What goal or hope does Sellers have for his reading fans?

“What I hope for is reading-enjoyment and pleasure,” he said. “Some of the stories have surprise endings and some of the stories just recreate specific moments. One of the lessons I’ve learned from my studies is this: If we can’t feel the feelings and emotions of our characters, how can we expect the reader to gain the same expectations? With some of these stories, I break down with emotion and sometimes tears blur my eyes and I can’t read further.”

So how old is too old to make a dream come true or start a new career?

“We’re never too old,” Sellers said. “Each new day is a gift, and as long as we’re still breathing, we should continue to do something to make every day count. I know I will, even if I live to be 100.”

Barbara Sellers is a former newspaper editor and has two published books available through Amazon –“Get Tough or Die: Why I Forgave My Parents for My Abusive Childhood” and “That’s Life in Poetry and Short Stories.”

Hooked on volunteering

On an icy-cold winter morning in Swan Creek Park, Scott Murdock was the first to show up for a trash cleanup. As he stumped over the fresh snow with a garbage bag, he’d already been scouting the park before anyone arrived, informing organizers which areas had the most trash.

After five years of volunteering for Metro Parks Tacoma’s CHIP-In program and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s horticulture team, Murdock has racked up a whopping 4,760 official hours of ripping ivy and blackberry, spreading mulch, and reclaiming land for wildlife in parks around Tacoma.

But to Murdock, it’s just a part of something he’s done ever since he retired: Giving back.

“I was born in Seattle, grew up in Olympia, and apart from three years working in Idaho, I’ve never lived outside Washington,” said Murdock. “Growing up, I did a lot of hiking with the Boy Scouts. I loved it.”

But working-life intervened, as it often does. Murdock’s a civil engineer who spent the bulk of his career inspecting bridges and ferry terminals for the Washington Department of Transportation. When he retired in 2014, he realized he wanted to get back to hiking – and to give back to those mountains, trails, and forests he loved as a boy.

He’d already spent years volunteering for other groups like Wilderness Volunteers and the Washington Trails Association (WTA), even spending weeks at a time doing carpentry projects at Holden Village, a retreat center in the North Cascades. A longtime Northeast Tacoma resident, he helped restore Julia’s Gulch, a lush ravine running down from the upper neighborhood to the water.

He volunteered for CHIP-In at Alderwood Park – and was hooked. “It had a lot of ivy and blackberry,” said Murdock, who lived close by. “So I said I’d like to take care of it, to give back.”

Since then, the tall, laconic engineer with a thick white beard has served nine years as park steward, a volunteer who commits to regular monthly hours at a particular park and helps organize other volunteers. He’s been a regular at Alderwood and Browns Point Playfield, helping other stewards at Franklin, Titlow, Dickman Mill, and Swan Creek Parks. He also volunteers at Point Defiance Zoo, helping the horticulture team keep on top of the extensive botanic gardens there.

“Scott’s years of commitment and passion for assisting with the zoo’s botanical collection have been outstanding,” said zoo horticulturalist Bryon Jones. “The horticultural team looks forward to his weekly visits and his keen eye for detail which he brings to maintaining our grounds and plant collection.”

And his service hasn’t gone unnoticed by others. He won Tacoma’s 2019 City of Destiny Award for environmental sustainability, and another in 2021 as part of the zoo team. But he brushes off those accolades with a quiet humility, focusing more on what’s still to be done.

One recent day, that was English ivy. Starting around 8 a.m. at the natural trails on the northern edge of Browns Point Playfield, he pulled the invasive vine off towering madrona and fir trees, piling it up to break down naturally. As he worked, he pointed out other massive ivy piles and hummocky areas of salal, sword fern, and huckleberry glistening with dew.

“That was all blackberry when I started,” he explained.

Spending up to 20 hours a week working in parks as he does, educating the public is a part of the job. One day, clearing all that blackberry, a local resident complained that he was taking away all the habitat for birds. “I explained to her that what I was doing would let native vegetation grow and thrive, which provides much better food for birds than blackberries,” he said.

Other benefits of clearing invasive plants include the ability of Metro Parks and WTA to create more trails, thus protecting plants from human feet and encouraging walkers to explore. Murdock has also found that bringing back wildlife discourages unwanted human use, like teenage parties or trash. It also helps Metro Parks maintenance crews, lightening their load so they can focus on other areas like playgrounds, spraygrounds, playfields and restrooms.

For Murdock, the benefits of volunteering are intensely personal.

“It keeps me busy,” he said. “It’s my exercise program. It’s a great feeling to give back, and I can look around and see what I’ve accomplished. I feel really connected to the neighborhood.” With a smile, he added that “if it’s raining heavily, I might not go out. I’m getting lazy.”

Information about joining work parties or volunteering with Metro Parks Tacoma is available at metroparkstacoma.org/chip-in.

 

At Browns Point Playfield, one of the Metropolitan Parks Tacoma locales that benefit from his volunteer work.