Q: Have we lost that as a society?

A: I just remember that when we were kids, we were able to organize ourselves. We had basketball games, touch football games, and there were no adults around. We did it. Obviously, there were some sports that were organized. My little nephew, he's in sports now, and at the end of the season everybody gets the trophy. They may be aware they didn't win, but they still got a trophy. I'm not sure that teaches them really how to compete.

The other thing I have noticed, when we were growing up we came home and did our homework, and we did it on our own. Many of the projects we did weren't as professional looking as the ones that get turned in now, but we did them without parental involvement. In that respect, I'm not sure we're teaching our kids to be as independent as they could be.

So I think that having to do all these things on our own increased our ability to take risks.

Q: Who's your hero?

A: My great-grandfather's story was always very inspiring. He was born in 1842. He was a slave, and somehow or other he managed to serve in the Civil War in the Colored Infantry. And then he went to what is now Fisk University. He became a minister and then a school principal in Tennessee. Several of his children went on to college. We were told he had a fire in his belly and a song in his heart. That meant that he fought against segregation and slavery by trying to provide an education for kids in that community.

Q: One of your firsts was as a costume designer. Do you still sew?

A: Not anymore. Last year my little nieces here decided they wanted to learn to sew. I had to get my machine out. We went to the store to pick out fabric and got a pattern. Some of the parts we had to make up. At the end of the day, one niece had a furry cat hat. Her sister had two big bow headbands. Their little brother, who was 8, learned how to sew, and I made him a vest. It was amazing to me, at 11 o'clock at night, everybody had finished something. These kids struggled and they'd reach an obstacle and they'd turn to me, and I'd help them and then they'd move forward. I was so proud of them.

Q: Will you ever retire?

A: I'm going to tell you about the eight weeks of retirement. What I found was, I missed being in the mix, having people to talk with. The other thing is, most of my friends are younger than I am, and they all work. Even in my typing and my writing skills, I could see them diminishing. So going back, I've actually enjoyed it. I may be one of those people who is not good at retirement.

Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

A: I always walked. I always went swimming. But I know now that developing muscle and stretching are really important. I didn't start going to a fitness center until about seven years ago. I did it because I had a bout with shingles. I stopped doing exercise for a year because the pain was so excruciating, and to this day I still have the pain. If I had only known the benefits of going to a fitness center, I would have done it earlier.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?

A: Winning the trustee election. It was the year that Reagan was re-elected to the presidency, 1984. I still look back at that because it was a real effort, campaigning and going to event after event for six months. And normally there would have been three Republicans swept in, but I won as a Democrat and got more votes than the other trustee candidates: 2,070,202. That's a number I will never forget. The trustees were so far down on the pecking order, they don't tell you that night. To wake up and look at that newspaper and see, my goodness, I did it, that is my proudest accomplishment.

wdonahue@tribune.com