Just as the term retirement community hardly does justice to The Clare at Water Tower, the term retirement doesn't seem to fit Betty Bergstrom.
At 80 she still runs her own management consulting firm, Bergstrom Associates, working with non-profits on areas like strategic planning, fundraising and marketing. She is the vice president of finance for a women's society The Fortnightly of Chicago, works with the The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, and is working with the Presbyterian Historical Society USA on its archives, plugging in to one of her passions history. She has been a long time member of the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters with women's issues as another passion.
"I guess I'm a person who likes to keep learning but also likes a challenge," she says.
Bergstrom was honored in March with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Founders' Medallion for her "extraordinary contributions to the organization and the fundraising profession."
"I was extremely, extremely pleased about this," she says of the honor that has only been awarded to 14 people in the organization's 51 years. "I was absolutely humbled."
For those honoring her it was a natural fit for someone who has been a leader in fundraising as well as in guiding others.
Bergstrom's philosophy is straightforward: "You've got to like people if they need help and you can do it you need to share your life with them."
Her interest in helping others is one of the reasons she loves The Clare. Bergstrom lists all the different volunteer work being done by her neighbors from museum docent to school tutors.
"If you come around here in the afternoon you won't find anybody. They're out and doing, many of them volunteering," she says.
Bergstrom loves the view of the city lights and the lake from her 47th floor residence and, while she wasn't able to share it with her husband before his death, she finds satisfaction in knowing they had made the decision together.
"This really is the best decision I've ever made," she says. "The community is what really, really makes the place. This is a group of intelligent, successful people who have been active and thriving all their lives and still are."
Maybe it's her role as president of the resident's council, but more likely her love of history and culture, but she easily lists Northwestern University, Loyola University, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Millennium Park, the lakefront, The Newberry Library, Lookingglass Theatre, Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier and the Chicago History Museum as favorite places to go all within several blocks of The Clare.
"Everything is basically within walking distance including restaurants and shopping," she says adding there are about 50 restaurants in walking distance depending on what you have a taste for. "It is just a wonderful location."
Between the surrounding community and the offerings at The Clare, Bergstrom says she can enjoy education, concerts, music or theater every night if she wants.
While history is one of Bergstrom's great passions, she has also been on the forefront of many movements and firsts not just sitting on the sidelines reading about it, but making history.
As a student at Northwestern University she was the first female to graduate from the television production program. While some of her professors didn't appreciate having a female in class, she was the first in her class to be hired to work production at NBC-TV in Chicago, one of very few women working in the industry at the time, Bergstrom says. She went on to work in production of the "National Barn Dance" live radio broadcasts on WLS.
Bergstrom brought her talents to help develop Chicago Botanic Gardens in 1976 organizing fundraising, public relations and just about any job that needed doing, she says. When she started they had 147 members and when she left in 1990 they had 18,000.
In Arizona, where Bergstrom has spent time in the winters, she helped form the Arizona Foundation for Women and the Arizona Women's Council.
She is working with a group to get the U.S. Senate to hear the appeal for a National Women's History Museum in Washington, D.C., affiliated with the Smithsonian.
She helped rewrite the Illinois Constitution in 1969 and was eventually chosen from more than 1,000 candidates to be one of the first members of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Bergstrom was also among the first residents at The Clare, Chicago's only high-rise retirement community.
Keeping up with Bergstrom would be a challenge at any age.
"Yes, I keep busy and I expect to continue," she says. "There has not been a woman in my mother's family who has died before age 94 and with people living longer I tell my children they'll have to put up with me until I'm 110."
"I turned 80 in March and haven't slowed down a bit," she says. "It's fun. Life is fun."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun