“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  —Eccl. 3:1 (KJV)

 

For all the attention youth culture receives in modern society – and the technology, causes and fads that come with them – the world hasn’t completely gone to the kids just yet. In fact, the nation’s seniors still hold their share of power in the U.S. thanks to a number of factors, from population numbers to economic clout.

 

The figures are staggering. The baby boomer generation, which has redefined American society in ways large and small, are graying in such numbers they’ve been labeled the Silver Tsunami. The first ripples of this wave, seen in 2011, has pushed 52 million individuals past the age of 65, per the U.S. Census Bureau, with that total expected to nearly double by 2060 to 95 million individuals. That works out to 1 in 5 Americans being a senior.

 

The group is notable for more than just sheer headcount. Seniors boast a total net worth of $1.6 trillion per SuddenlySenior.com and spend $7 billion annually. Seniors account for 60 percent of health care spending – including 74 percent of prescription drugs and 51 percent of all over-the-counter drugs – plus 41 percent of all new cars and 80 percent of luxury travel.

 

Conversely, the mass migration of people into the senior category brings with it certain challenges for the services and infrastructure that exist for their health and well-being. Housing, health care and social programs are just a few of the constructs that are groaning under the unprecedented new demand.

 

But for all of the challenges they face at this time of life, today’s seniors are hardly wearing out their rocking chairs. As a segment, baby boomers – individuals born between 1946 and 1964 – are known for their competitiveness, discipline and confidence, associating self-worth with their work, per marketing91.com. This means as a group they are not content to take in life from the sidelines and many work later in life, be it for pay or as volunteers.

 

In Arkansas, 17 percent of the population falls into the senior demographic, which is more than 525,000 residents. Ay is About You caught up with three senior citizens who have refused to let the passage of time dictate their worth or keep them from doing what they love to do.

 

RICK FLEETWOOD

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You may not know Rick Fleetwood personally, but it’s very hard to miss him. Check out the society pages covering charity galas and you’re very likely to see him smiling radiantly in photos through his extensive community service positions. Or, you might see him out-working people half his age at the Little Rock Athletic Club.

 

And if you do know him, as seemingly thousands in Little Rock do, you know his gentle nature, unfailingly positive outlook and genuinely warm personality that directs his steps toward making life better for others.

 

“The good Lord gives you seven days a week and 24 hours a day,” he said. “You must make use of it, every bit of it. That’s what you do.”

 

Fleetwood was raised in Monette where he was infused with the spirit of pitching in and helping others. His one-for-all attitude, which is essential to the survival of a town of 1,000 people, was modeled as the norm in his childhood household.

 

“Everybody wanted my father as their father,” he said. “He was the dad that everyone wished that they had. If you needed help it was nothing for somebody at night to come ring the doorbell at 2 o’clock in the morning needing assistance. He would be there for them. So, even back then I understood the importance of volunteering, trying to make the community better.” 

 

After studying at the University of Arkansas and serving his country in Vietnam, Fleetwood came back to Central Arkansas and got into the field of orthotics and prosthetics. Over a 45-year career, he’d eventually elevate to the role of CEO of Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory, retiring in 2019. But he’s just as, if not more well-known for his community service, having once sat on 17 boards simultaneously from the local through national levels.

 

A few of the groups benefiting from his leadership include Easterseals Arkansas, United Cerebral Palsy of Arkansas, CARTI and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute Gala, among many others. His community service has only one common denominator – to help his fellow human beings – but those groups that serve people with physical challenges are closest to his heart.

 

“If you’ve ever dealt with people with disabilities, you know that they’re not heard that often. They’re not at the table and that hurts greatly,” he said. “I was always trying to be something of a voice for them if they couldn’t be their own voice, and they had every right to be their own voice.”

 

Fleetwood, 75, has pruned back his volunteer work in retirement, but not much. He said getting involved is too important to him personally. He also has a message for other seniors who think they have outlived their usefulness or don’t have anything to give to their community.

 

“When you retire, you don’t retire from life,” he said. “I believe, to the day you die, you have a responsibility to your family, to your God, and to your community, and just because you’re retired you do not get relieved of that responsibility. You just don’t turn your back on somebody because you got old; you hopefully will offer wisdom and guidance and help them get through something, as you did.

 

“I believe that we deserve the experiences that we have. If you don’t get out and you make a difference, if you choose to be part of that segment that does nothing, then I’m sorry, that’s what you’re going to end up living with. But if you get out and you try to help and try to make a difference then, hopefully, all of us will live in a better world.”

 

SEN. JANE ENGLISH 

Since 2009, Sen. Jane English has been at the people’s service. The graduate of Arkansas Tech University in Russellville served from 1984 to 1997 as senior project manager with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, working to recruit new manufacturing companies and helping existing companies expand. The experience formed the foundation of her legislative career, one she still continues today at age 82.

 

“At that time, I really saw the opportunity for Arkansas to move forward,” she said of her decision to run for office. “Life was changing, the state was changing, the world was changing. One of the things that I really saw that was so important was education and the opportunity for people to develop skills so that they could get better jobs.”

 

English spent two terms in the House of Representatives before being elected to the Arkansas Senate in 2012. In her first session as a senator, she began beating the drum for reforms in the education system to provide a better and more comprehensive system of career training for students.

 

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“I came in thinking, ‘What is one thing I could do that would really make a difference in the state?’ And that one thing was change the workforce system here from kindergarten through career,” she said. “My colleagues accepted that, and I’ve seen over the last 10 or 12 years things have really begun to change here in the state of Arkansas. A lot of really good things are going on in our secondary schools, in our high schools and even our two-year colleges. So, I think I made a difference.”

 

English chairs the Senate Education Committee which gave her a front-row seat to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ signature LEARNS Act to reform public K-12 education in Arkansas.

 

“I’ve stayed on education and families and really tried to make sure that we’re thinking ahead,” she said. “This new science of reading is critically important and a piece of legislation I had that changed the way we’re teaching kids to read. For me, reading should be a campaign. Every parent, every grandparent, everybody ought to be making sure kids know how to read, because that determines their future for the rest of their lives.”

 

English is happy to see more women being elected to state office since she first entered the House, including the historic win by Sanders as the state’s first female governor. She also moves in friendlier political waters today as the state’s political landscape has shifted dramatically to the right. Those factors, plus time and experience in the statehouse, continues to make her an effective legislator, even in divisive times.

 

“When I was first in the House, obviously the Republican Party was not in the majority. I’m pleased that we have gone this far,” she said. “Being in the majority party has helped me to move some of the things that are important to me forward. 

 

“But I also don’t get as worried about some of the stuff that a lot of people do. I realize there are all kinds of voices out there. There are all kinds of opinions and everybody doesn’t think the things that I think are important are important. You’re not always going to agree on everything.”

 

This understanding of people and the ability to distill ideas into law is one reason English still enjoys the legislative process, staying active in it long after many of her peers have taken their leave.

 

“I always maintain that age is only a number,” she said. “For me, being able to have some influence in the way we do business in the state and where we’re going as a state is really important. The opportunity to make a difference, to make some changes, to see things moving forward, that’s what keeps me going. It keeps me involved.”

 

MAURICE ROBINSON 

The numbers associated with Maurice Robinson’s life are substantial – 80-plus years old, 60 years of marriage, five decades living in Benton and a 44-year career with Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation. But there’s one number – 100 – that stands out among all the rest.

 

That’s the miles he covers per race as an ultra-marathon competitor and at which he set an American record for a runner over 80 in 2021. In fact, his time of 29 hours, three minutes and change was the world’s second-fastest 100-miler in the world posted by an athlete in that age group, averaging 17:20 per mile.

 

“I got hooked on running and racing,” he said. “I enjoyed running with neighbors and friends and enjoyed getting trophies once in a while. That was fun. I got addicted.”

 

He got into running late and his first training run was less-than-spectacular — “I ran about a hundred yards and just bent over,” he said – but soon he’d joined a local running club and was entering races, an activity inspired by his wife Norma.

 

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“My wife is a breast cancer survivor,” he said. “I started going with her to 5K Races for the Cure. She enjoyed walking them and she would jog a little. I would go with her wherever she wanted to go. We went to several states.”

 

Things might have stopped there except for Robinson’s habit of running into people in unexpected places who inspired him to push his limits. 

 

“In my Sunday school class, there was a man who ran marathons and ultramarathons,” he said. “One day, I found out he was going to run the Arkansas Traveler 100 out of Perryville. When he did it, he came back and could barely walk because of the blisters on his feet. I thought, ‘Why would anybody want to do that?’”   

 

Robinson was nonetheless intrigued and before long had entered his first 50-mile race, which was just a gateway drug to 100-mile races, roughly the equivalent of running from Little Rock to Ozark in one stretch. One race turned into two and two into four and today Robinson has put about 20 100-milers into his rearview mirror. And he wasn’t just finishing them, he was running at a pace that ranked him one of the best in the country in his age group.

 

On Christmas Eve 2020, he announced to a stunned houseful of guests what he had planned for the new year – to run the fastest 100-mile American time by anyone 80 or over – and asked for their help as part of Team 80.

 

“I don’t think they thought I was in my right mind, but they said they would help,” he said.

 

After months of training and tune-up races, he toed the line in November at the Prairie Spirit Trail race in eastern Kansas for his bid at immortality. His race strategy played out almost to a tee, but no strategy spares a runner entirely and he developed a lean in his running posture from about Mile 75. By Mile 97, every step took concerted effort.   

 

“I wasn’t sure I was going to make it,” he said. “I stepped over to a trail post and grabbed it, hugged it and momentarily stretched my back again. I could see the red inflatable finish archway, so I doubled down to finish the course.   

 

“When I hit the finish line, I just cried dry tears of happiness to see my son and other members of my family waiting there with open arms. It was so emotional.”

 

Media coverage and a letter from the governor followed his accomplishment, but Robinson’s favorite tribute was waiting in his front yard upon returning home to congratulatory family and friends.

 

“They were holding big cardboard signs, each with a different phrase,” he said. “The cutest one was the one my granddaughter, Boyce Bethel, was holding that read, ‘My Paw Paw is faster than yours.’ That’s what I was going for.”

 

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