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Confronting a Milestone Birthday?

What 10 people did, or plan to do, when turning 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90


Big Birthdays: Are they milestones (opportunities to mark a new stage) or millstones (burdens that remind us we have more time behind us than ahead)? Or do they simply present occasions for celebration, a chance to look beyond betrayals of the body and plan a party?

All of the above, say 10 individuals with experience confronting big birthdays.

Some make time to assess the present and set goals for the future. Some mark the day with a party (one woman gave away money at hers). Others didn’t bother to honor the occasion at all. All 10 have tips on coming to terms with aging, and some of them will make you laugh.

It’s okay with me that Ellen DeGeneres is 60 and Cher is over 70. I can accept that Kirk Douglas is beyond 100. But how is that “Bill” — the teen heartthrob (Alex Winter) who shared excellent film adventures with his pal Ted — has already celebrated his 50th birthday?

Gifts of Happiness, C-Notes and Retirement Plans

Winter, co-star with Keanu Reeves of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (and its sequel Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey) lives in Los Angeles, where he is a filmmaker and actor. When the Big 5-0 rolled around, he spent the evening quietly with his wife and kids. “Forty felt like more of a crossroads, from young adulthood to being cemented fully in the world as full-fledged grown up,” Winter said. “In contrast, I was looking forward to my 50th and to my 50s in general. I’ve never been happier, and am really enjoying this period of my life.”

Michelle Rubin and mom, Mimi Wachsman

“Our culture is obsessed with youth and the young, which is understandable but ass-backwards,” continued Winter. “At 50, you can embrace what you have experienced and celebrate having been on this planet long enough to know a thing or two, with plenty of time left for more growth and self-knowledge.”

Self-knowledge inspired Michelle Rubin when she planned a party for her 50th in January. She had never forgotten that episode of Oprah from 2006 when Winfrey gave every audience member $1,000 and asked them to “spread kindness.”

Rubin, a psychotherapist in St. Louis, invited 28 people to her 50th birthday party and gave all the guests personal notes thanking them for their friendship. Each note included $100, and Rubin asked that the recipients use the cash to help make the world a better place.

“I could’ve just donated the money myself,” Rubin said, “but I loved the idea of being the pebble dropped in a pond that would create far-reaching ripples out into the world, giving so many other people the joyful feeling of giving. I had the best birthday!”

When Paul Schenk turns 70 this fall, the occasion is likely to evoke some superlatives. After 40 years as a clinical psychologist in suburban Atlanta, Schenk will join his wife, Cheryl, in retirement at the same time he enters a new decade. He has already begun his plan for the next stage of his life.

Following up on a decades-long interest in model railroading, Schenk started working part-time with Train Installations in Woodstock, Ga.  The company “builds and installs model railroads for people who don’t have the time to do it themselves,” he said. “It’s the perfect retirement job.”

Racing Onward, Playing It Cool and Taking a Cruise

Ginny Reed, 69, is already retired from teaching at Dartmouth College, but this avid hiker and runner looks forward to turning 70 this summer for one reason in particular. “I’m excited to be in a new age group for races,” Reed said. “I took up running when I turned 56, and I look forward to more races and to adding to my collection of racing medals.”

Reed, who lives in Fairlee, Vt., has had her share of “health adventures,” but figures this next decade is “the one to do everything” on her bucket list. “While I hope for many more years — even decades — of health and ability, it is inevitable that aging will bring changes. I want to live joyfully and without regret,” she said.

Turning 70 is nothing to worry about, insists Michael Klein. “It’s just a number,” he said. A retired helicopter flight-line senior supervisor, Klein lives in Huntington, Conn. He celebrated his Big Birthday at a family dinner and hopes to spend a long weekend later this year with childhood friends from the Bronx who also are also turning 70.

Allen Klein

Klein is content with his age. “I have my health. I get a pension, Medicare and now my required minimum [retirement plan] distribution. I can live and do what I want to keep happy,” he said. “Life is too precious to waste.”

Allen Klein, Mark’s older brother, will turn 80 this spring. “Sometimes I hardly feel that old and think that somebody must have made a mistake on my birth certificate,” he said. “Then, some ache or pain appears out of the blue, necessitating a trip to the doctor, and I suddenly think maybe I am almost 80 after all.”

His view of feeling younger than his age is a common one, it turns out. A survey of more than half a million Americans by Michigan State University assistant professor of psychology William Chopik found that as people got older, they continued to feel younger than their chronological age — across pretty much all age groups.

Allen Klein, who lives in San Francisco, has written more than two dozen books and is an award-winning professional speaker. His topic is “how to find and use humor to deal with changes, challenges and not-so-funny stressful stuff.” On his birthday, he’ll be on a cruise on the Rhine River. He’s also traveling this year to Hawaii and New York City. “At 80, it’s time to stop putting things off,” he said, “and enjoy as much as you can now.”

A Time to Learn, to Downsize and to Fly

After a few moments of uncertainty, Virginia Levin opted to enjoy turning 90. She recalls that she didn’t feel particularly old at 89, and at 90, determined that she felt the same in every way. “I shed that ‘poor me’ cloak in a hurry,” she said. “I suddenly acquired an optimal image of performance, an enhanced attitude of greater confidence, courage and productivity. It was like the motor cortex had awakened to new and altered pathways.”

Ginny Reed

Levin, who lives in Lee’s Summit, Mo., is a volunteer and a gardener and takes classes in guitar, pool, poetry and sketching. “Continue to develop all your modes of learning so as you grow older you may choose to use them selectively. Keep in mind that each chapter in life can be a masterpiece if we evolve, no matter our circumstances,” she advised.

Pondering her next chapter, Marci Mayer Eisen expects to enjoy turning 60 in August, but is not yet certain how she will mark the date. “I am torn between wanting to be with my family and wanting to run away to a spa,” she said. “But I am working hard to embrace and celebrate my 60th, and use it as a time to pause and think about what’s next.”

One thing that’s next is a move. Eisen and her husband recently bought a two-bedroom condo in St. Louis, where she works as a social worker and a leadership trainer in the nonprofit sector. “I feel a strong need to scale back and focus less on things and more on family, friends and experiences,” said Eisen.

I recently shared a picnic table in San Francisco with a man who opted for a new experience after he turned 50 last fall.  “I’m always looking for new challenges. That’s what keeps me going,” said Lawrence, a certified public accountant who asked that only his first name be used.

Then he spoke about his new passion: Foot-launched paramotoring.

“I go to an open field, strap a 70-pound motor and a 10-pound kite onto my back and I run as fast as I can,” Lawrence said. With his next words, his serious facial expression turned to one of great joy. “Then — I fly!”

“I Felt Like a Kid!”

Leona “Kitty” Davis, another proponent of joy, turned 90 in January. “You can have all the adventures, but the laughter is what makes the memories,” Davis said. “Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to be silly.”

Davis lives in suburban St. Louis County. Asked about her career path, she quipped, “I’m a go-go dancer, but don’t tell the government, because they think I am retired.”

For her Big Birthday, Davis had one wish, and her granddaughter, Shannon Sturgis, made it come true. “I wanted McDonald’s,” Davis said. “I had a hamburger and an ice cream cone. Everyone at the restaurant wished me happy birthday, and I felt like a kid!”

And what could be better on your birthday?

Patricia Corrigan
By Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a journalist and the author of 19 books, most recently 100 Things to Do in San Francisco Before You Die, which expresses her great joy in her adopted city. Visit her blog here.

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