Lillian Benson is always on the move. It’s the secret to staying young, she tells me. And her life’s stories demonstrate that.
Lillian was born in San Francisco as the third of three daughters. Her own mother, Freida Sussman, immigrated to the U.S. from Kiev, Russia, at just 19 years old. Freida came to the country by herself, through Ellis Island, and immediately set to work establishing herself as a tailor. She eventually relocated from New York to St. Louis, where she met Lillian’s father, and then to California.
Growing up, Lillian dealt with serious asthma, and as a result lived in many homes all around the Bay Area as doctors tried to advise her of the best climate for her breathing. Despite her frequent childhood moves, Lillian always stayed rooted to San Francisco, and was even one of the first people to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge the day it opened in 1937.
When she was older, Lillian attended Balboa High School, commuting each day by streetcar from her home in Daly City. After graduation, her mother, who by that time had her own tailor shop, spied a handsome young man about Lillian’s age in her store. She struck up a conversation and invited him to a family dinner. Lillian and the boy from the store, Leon, found they had many similar interests and began dating, eventually marrying and moving to their own home in the City. Three children soon followed – two boys, Paul and Mark, and a daughter, Janette. Lillian stayed home to raise the children when they were small, but once her youngest was a few years into grade school, she headed to work as a typist, taking two buses each way to get to her job in the heart of the City.
Lillian has always loved zipping around the City – by streetcar, bus, or car. In fact, when it was time for each of her three children to learn to drive, it was Lillian, not Leon, who served as their teacher – and not an easy one, at that.
“To teach me how to drive in San Francisco, she had me take a manual transmission car to the top of the steepest hill she could find, Lombard Street, and told me to go for it. I was panicked!” daughter Janette recalls.
“She’s smart,” Lillian says of her daughter. “I totally trusted her.”
“She knew how to give her children challenges, and then guide us to accomplish them,” Janette says, smiling.
Even after retirement, Lillian stayed on the go. She and her husband traveled extensively, seeing much of the world. When they were home, they would end each day with a long walk around Lake Merced.
Since joining the Sterling Court community 6 months ago, Lillian has settled in well. She still makes it a point to walk daily. Her daughter reports, “She goes out and walks around the block every day. She’s feisty. The sidewalks aren’t even, and it doesn’t stop her. She just keeps going.”
Read this article and more in our January newsletter.
As we head into the holiday season, our thoughts often turn to helping those less fortunate than ourselves. While dropping a few coins in a Salvation Army red kettle or donating canned goods to a food pantry are very worthy acts, one of the greatest gifts that you can bestow is that of your time.
As a volunteer, you offer a lifetime rich with skills and experiences that may be leveraged to contribute to your community in a variety of ways. Tutoring or mentoring a younger generation is one way to contribute, and there are specific organizations for matching seniors with at-risk and disadvantaged youths. For example, in the Foster Grandparent Program you can volunteer at day care centers or schools to provide one-on-one care and attention to children in your local community.
Investing your free time to aid other seniors is another way that you can help, and there are several programs that offer support to elderly community members who need assistance with day-to-day household tasks, transportation, and errands.
Even a hug can be a donation in the right environment, as recent headlines have reported that some hospitals across the nation have instituted cuddling programs that invite vetted volunteers to suit up in sanitized uniforms and hold newborn babies when parents and nurses are unavailable to do so. Since these programs aren’t yet common, your hug can go just as far at a local animal shelter where hands-on volunteers are always welcome to offer cuddles.
Volunteerism is beneficial to more than the assistance recipients. Research has shown that volunteering can do just as much good, if not more, for the volunteer. Some of the observed positive effects include a renewed sense of purpose and control over one’s life, reduced rates of depression and isolation, and increased emotional stability. The National Institute on Aging has reported that participating in purposeful engagements like volunteering can lower the risk of chronic health issues and improve longevity.
One study showed that three-fourths of U.S. seniors with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even dementia have reported that staying active through volunteering has helped them successfully manage these conditions.
Volunteering also offers the chance to explore personal interests that may have been brushed aside earlier in life in favor of work or family responsibilities. A love of animals, teaching, or gardening may all be tapped into to improve your community while indulging your personal passions.
If you are interested in gifting your time this holiday season, or anytime throughout the year, there are many ways to find available opportunities. VolunteerMatch.org is a website that matches individuals’ interests with local volunteer positions, or you may contact local libraries, hospitals, or animal shelters directly to learn of their areas of need. However you choose to contribute, you will be giving a gift, to both the recipient and yourself, that is truly priceless.
Read this article and more in our December newsletter.
Christmas Card Day is celebrated annually on December 9. John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903), a British narrative painter and Royal Academician, designed the first Christmas and New Year’s card in 1840 at the suggestion and request of his friend, Sir Henry Cole (1818-1874), the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Christmas cards designed by Horsley were first sent in 1843 when 1,000 cards were offered for 1 shilling each. The cards, showing a family with their glasses raised to toast Christmas, were well-received by most people except by the Puritans. The first Christmas card’s inscription read, “Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You.” “Merry” was then a spiritual word meaning “blessed,” as in “Merry Old England.” Christmas cards became very popular and other artists quickly followed Horsley’s concept.
Until 1875, Americans had to import their Christmas cards from Europe. The first greeting card was produced in the U.S. by German lithographer Louis Prang, who immigrated to New York City around 1850. In 1860, Prang produced the first color cards with nature scenes of winter for Christmas and New Year’s. During the Civil War, President Lincoln had political cartoonist Thomas Nast illustrate Santa Christmas (Santa Claus); Nast was the first artist to introduce Father Christmas in the traditional red suit and leather belt.
Read this article and more in our December newsletter.
“Orrilla rhymes with vanilla,” my host states, welcoming me into her home with a twinkle in her eye. “It’s hard for people to pronounce it when they first meet me, so that’s what I always start with,” she says.
With introductions out of the way, we start by talking about Orrilla’s history. She was born and raised in Pasadena, California, and attended UCLA to study art and business. While at college, she met her husband, Lloyd, who had just returned from WWII.
“He decided that he wanted to go to law school, and as thanks for his service, the U.S. government would pay tuition for any university he qualified to attend. He set his sights on Stanford and began studying all summer to get in.”
Sure enough, Lloyd was accepted to Stanford and began studying law. While tuition was covered, it was up to the newlyweds to pay for food, clothing, and housing. As temporary sole breadwinner, Orrilla began teaching elementary school, a career that spanned 31 years. “I liked teaching kindergarten, first, and second grades the best,” she recalls, “and running my computer lab for 3 years.”
“One thing that I was particularly interested in was computers. When my school offered to send teachers to early computer classes, I was one of the first to volunteer. I enjoyed them so much and thought they would be so important to our future that I asked my school to fund a computer lab. In 1984, I had 15 computers delivered to the school and made sure that each student, even the kindergarteners, had dedicated computer time every week.”
To keep up with her students, Orrilla bought her own Macintosh computer to use at home. When I ask if she’s kept up with technology, she points to a nearby desk with a widescreen iMac on it (a current model, I note) and holds up her iPhone (a newer version than my own). “Yes, I try to keep up,” she says.
We continue to talk about her career and family. Orrilla and her husband had two children, Carol and John, and, after practicing law for nearly two decades, Lloyd had the honor of being appointed as a California Superior Court judge by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan.
Orrilla goes on to recount many fun family memories, fishing trips, treks to Alaska, and various visits to countries abroad. She even lived in Paris briefly after her retirement, and spent 11 years studying bridge with a great partner, Mark Itabashi, a bridge professional. Now, at 91, she prefers to spend her time playing bridge, reading, and staying in touch with John and his wife Eva, Carol and her husband Larry, and granddaughter, Laura, via phone and email.
As we’re wrapping up, Orrilla recounts one last story about her husband’s military service and wants to tell me the acronym for the type of ship he served on. When it doesn’t immediately come to mind, she goes back to her tech-savvy roots and simply states, “I’ll just have to Google it later.”
Read this article and more in our December newsletter.
In 1620, 162 people set forth from Plymouth, England with the intent to settle in the New World. Their journey on the Mayflower was 66 days long. They settled in the area we now know as Cape Cod, MA. Most of the Pilgrims spent the winter on the ship, and more than half of them died that winter. The next spring, they met Samoset and Squanto, two Native Americans who taught the Pilgrims many things such as how to plant corn and which plants to avoid eating. The first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast with Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans from the Wampanoag Tribe celebrating together in the fall of 1621.
While there are no written records of eating turkey, there is a record of four men going “fowling” before the feast, and they caught enough fowl to feed the group for a week. There are records of the Wampanoag tribe bringing the deer. They probably would also have had eels and shellfish such as lobster, mussels, and clams, as well as Indian corn and cornbread. They would also have had the following foods available at that time in history: dried beans and peas, pumpkins, squash, chestnuts, walnuts, beechnuts, hickory nuts, turnips, carrots, onions, lettuce, spinach, radishes, plums, melons, and grapes. There is a good chance that many of these foods were served at the first Thanksgiving since they were available.
Read this article and more in our November newsletter.
We can help with apartment availability and scheduling tours, or send an application for residence. Let us know what you are interested in learning more about and how we can help you!