‘Elder Chick’ Thelma Reese Inspires Crowd at Brickstone

The audience listens as Thelma Reese talks about her book, ‘The New Senior Woman.’

Remembering back to when this whole thing got started, Dr. Thelma Reese recalled when she first decided to use the term “Elder Chicks.” Reese had just started her new blog under that oxymoron and to get the word out she sent a few emails with the link to some people she hoped would share it. Not long after, she asked a gentleman who she sent the link to if he had seen it.

“He said he hadn’t opened it,” she said. “He thought it might be porn.”

The crowd of more than 100 cracked into laughter while soaking in the sun-filled Wintergarden at Brickstone by St. John’s on Tuesday afternoon. Reese made jokes like these throughout a thought-provoking talk about her book, ‘The New Senior Woman,’ co-authored by Barbara Fleisher. She captivated the audience with excerpts of her book spliced into her own personal stories of how it all came together. The event was co-sponsored with St. John’s by the Jewish Community Center, as part of the Jewish Book Festival.

“What we like at events like this, particularly, is to get enough feedback and enough friendly audience to make sure they are interested in the same things we are,” she said just prior to addressing the crowd. “We learn from the audience just as we learned from the people that we put in the book because the book is really based on not really interviews as much as conversations. We were looking for good role models, and we found them.”

Reese found what she was looking for in that regard, as members of the audience asked questions at the end. The book delves into the challenges that can come with aging and provides real-life stories of how people meet those challenges.

“You can’t get old without loss, and without disappointments, and without regrets, probably,” said Reese. “Well, what do you do with that? Do you think about it, that gift of time? How do you use it? How do you use it for yourself and for everybody else?”

The book seeks to provide some guidance to the fastest-growing population in the world, and purposely does so using examples that mirror the average person. Reese and Fleisher steered clear of using celebrities and other “people of privilege,” not because they are all bad examples, but because most people simply cannot relate.

 “Even though they are often exemplary, the idea that somebody’s always going to have the limo waiting is not the same as Anna Brown in South Philly, who knows every public conveyance that’s willing to come and pick her up when she is able to go somewhere,” she said. “I’d rather read about Anna. I’d rather know how to use the resources that are available and how somebody’s able to keep her energy and use it in constructive ways.”

One of the biggest surprises for Reese over the past three years since the book was published has been the high level of interest from younger people. Young adults today have seen something that they had not in generations past, and that is their grandparents live much longer.

“We were expecting older people, who are the subjects of the book,” said Reese, “but what we’re finding is that younger people are looking at their parents’ lives—their mothers, their grandmothers—and also, and I think this is pretty new in the population, starting to think about their own lives as maybe needing some planning beyond just the retirement age because their own families are living longer. They’re recognizing that they have to do some planning early.”

When the talk ended, Reese signed copies of her book and chatted with audience members. Two women who had driven from Livingston County to hear her talk were so impressed that they each bought a copy on the spot. Reese will continue to make trips across the country to reach more people, and is kicking around ideas for a new book that would be focused on men. The St. John’s community was lucky to have Thelma visit to share her perspective and to have her help in defining what it means to be an Elder Chick.

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