New horizons for seniors


THE LONG LINE stretches out the door on this rainy day.

There must be 70 to 100 people signing up for the quarterly grab bag of classes.

This isn't school or registration for some aerobics class at a spa. It is the Catonsville Senior Center in Baltimore County.

There's a lot of talk, laughter and gossiping. Someone is showing a friend pictures of her grandchildren in Colorado. The air of camaraderie and expectancy is heady.

There are now almost 2,000 members at this 6-year-old senior center, and some 300 to 400 men and women are here each day to participate in activities.

This center offers almost everything: Spanish, geography, archaeology, psychology, dancing, tennis, textile finishing and piano -- to name a only a few.

More than 30 of the courses are taught by professors from Catonsville Community College. Other classes and lectures are provided by Baltimore County technicians and volunteers.

The list of activities looks like a combination of a cruise ship and freshmen year on campus.

Baltimore County's 23 senior centers are under the direction of the Baltimore County Department of Aging.

Elizabeth Kaiser, a regal-looking woman of 78, has stood in this line many times.

Talking to Elizabeth, one gets the feeling that this center has changed her life.

She looks much younger than her years, and her days are so busy she has no time for sewing any more.

In a navy suit and blue blouse that matches her eyes, and her lovely white hair swept up, she tells me, "I walked in here four years ago, and Sharon Spare, the director, asked me what I could do. I told her, "Nothing."

"Then she asked me what did I want to do." And I said, "I have no idea."

"That was the first day of my new life. I had been so depressed and so lonely. I had just lost my second husband, I had no energy, no will and I had lost 20 pounds."

Elizabeth had been married to her first husband 37 years when he had a fatal heart attack. They had two children, who are now grown. Then she married again and her husband died from lung cancer. She has 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. But she had never worked except as a seamstress before she married, and she had no formal education.

"Those were the days when mothers stayed home, I was 18 when I married. Neither of my husbands wanted me to work . . . They were such wonderful men, and that made it harder to face life alone."

"So after my second husband's death I wanted to give up, but I also didn't want to get depressed again."

Spare, the director who was worried about Elizabeth's low self-esteem, asked her if she'd ever tried painting. She hadn't.

"Now I have my painting and my wonderful family."

Elizabeth Kaiser has become a painter of some repute. She has sold and exhibited. She paints in both oil and watercolor. Some of her paintings are on the walls of the current exhibit at the Catonsville Senior Center. Her heart is in the senior center at all times. And here she wears many hats.

"I am also a volunteer here. I am a receptionist on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on Fridays I am a hostess . . . we have wonderful lunches here. Did you know that?"

Elizabeth is also a representative to the West Region Area Senior Council, and she is a trustee at the Catonsville Center.

Elizabeth now belongs.

"When I came here I didn't know how to hold a paint brush," Elizabeth tells me with due pride.

"Now some of my friends and I, we go out into the country to paint. We have such a good time. I can't believe I can actually paint something I see."

And she smiles again as she sums up her days. She smiles a lot these days, and this makes the people around her smile.

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