Blackistone Defies All the Aged Stereotypes

Kachariah D. Blackistone has been taking things easier the past few months. He is entitled to some relaxation at the age of 107. Until last year Mr. Blackistone went to work regularly as the owner of four florist shops in Washington, D.C., where he has become a community legend. At the age of 100, he worked nine hours a day, six or seven days a week. “I marvel at my age…at my abilities for my age…my capacity for work and mental activity…,” he told an interviewer in 1970.

One hundred years after he was born, he stopped playing in golf tournaments.

Inevitably reporters ask him for the secret for his longevity. His reply: “I lived a pure, clean life.” Fruits and vegetables formed a large part of his diet.

He developed steady habits, doing morning exercises, napping 15 minutes in the middle of each day, and wearing long cotton underwear summer and winter. He adds: “Keeping busy all the time. A challenge every day. The challenge is what keeps you going.”

Flowers are Mr. Blackistone’s lifetime passion. “Never saw a person who didn’t like flowers. No, love flowers,” he told a visitor the other day.

Starting with his first 75-cent flower sale in 1898, the former Maryland farm boy went on to build his business to a sales level of $1.5 million a year. His success came in part because he “had no unrealistic expectations, therefore, no failures.”

A thousand miles away in Chicago, a “retired” businessman, Paul Horvat, with more than 60 years of experience, is busy organizing food co-ops for people on fixed or limited incomes. His Self Help Action Center Food Program has put farmers and consumers together in several states for mutual benefit. The farmers sell their food at a good profit and the consumers obtain major savings by avoiding the middlemen.

Mr. Horvat has traveled widely to help set up these community food buying clubs. Interested readers may obtain more information by writing to his Center at 1127 Lake Avenue, Wilmette, IL 60091.

It is important to break the stereotype of helpless ageism by widely disseminating the many ways older people stay active or start new efforts. The Gray Panthers, with national headquarters in Philadelphia, have worked hard to stimulate community involvement activities involving older people working with young people.

Similarly, the New York Public Interest Research Group (5 Beekman Street, New York, N.Y. 10038), funded and run by college students, has activities started in Buffalo, where students have joined with senior citizens to protest utility rate increases, and in New York City, where staff members from NYPIRG and Gray Panthers are providing access to basic consumer information about doctors and generic drugs.

The National Council on the Aging in Washington, D.C., recognizes the power of example to generate enthusiasm and curb the feelings of despair among the elderly. Its program “Going Strong” distributes columns to newspapers about older people who are engaged in a variety of interesting activities around the country.

More than personal self-fulfillment, these activities represent the building blocks of citizen-consumer action to improve the economic well-being and health of older people by older people.

It’s time for the national television media to bring such news to wider audiences.

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