Charles Pineo is 89, but nothing can separate him from the toy he bought at the tender age of 83 -- a personal computer.
In his career as a public health engineer and consultant, Mr. Pineo had traveled the world developing water supply and sanitation projects.
"If I left a country with people using a hand pump or faucet, I knew I had accomplished something," he said. So he was alert for new challenges as he prepared for retirement.
"You can look at just so many books and TV programs," he said.
So, before retiring in 1987, he bought the computer and tackled the threat of boredom by learning word processing.
With the help of a stack of reference manuals, Mr. Pineo learned to program information about his family genealogy, an ongoing project that he is still working on. He then progressed to charts, which he used in his work as a consultant.
"The best advice I can share is to decide what you want to do, learn how to do it and forget the rest," he said.
But it wasn't until November 1990 -- when Mr. Pineo and his wife, Evelyn, moved into the Columbia retirement community -- that Mr. Pineo began honing other computer skills that entailed new programs and graphics.
When Mr. Pineo became chairman of the hospitality committee at Vantage House in 1991, he had an idea for welcoming new residents -- personal letters and posters.
Mr. Pineo used his word processing skills to compose welcome letters.
And his skills at computer graphics were put to use on posters, which would be affixed to the doors of new neighbors on the day of their arrival.
"A move to a new environment can be difficult," Mr. Pineo said.
"I wanted to make it easier for people who move here. I want them to feel that they are part of a big family."
Bright signs with colored designs and friendly messages made residents such as Arnold and Evelyn Preston feel welcome when they moved to Vantage House 1 1/2 years ago.
"You feel good to have something special like that when you are making a transition," said Mrs. Preston, 72. "It was very pleasing and very warm."
Ultimately, Mr. Pineo began to get requests from residents for award certificates and for signs and banners to publicize various activities.
It has become a new career of sorts for Mr. Pineo.
"He is never in the living room," laughed his wife, also 89, who estimates that her husband spends about half the day in his study working at the computer. A wall in the arts and crafts room at Vantage House attests to the time Mr. Pineo spends at the computer. Displayed are about 50 of Mr. Pineo's posters, including announcements of an Orioles game, a fashion show, a ballet and a political forum.
Although Mr. Pineo finds constant challenge in his PC, it is obvious that his greatest pleasure is in making people feel comfortable.
"I want to make sure that as many people as possible know about things that are happening," said Mr. Pineo, who sends out a weekly bulletin of news to his neighbors.
Mr. Pineo even received a T-shirt with the words, "I've Changed the World," which was sent to 1,800 computer users who entered a contest sponsored by the Apple Catalog, a division of Apple Computer Inc. He entered the contest in November and wrote a one-page letter explaining how he and his Apple computer helped change his world, which consists of more than 200 people -- ages 62 to 95 years of age -- who live in the retirement community. Although he was not selected among the 10 top finishers, he believes that the computer has been an important tool in cultivating a "family" atmosphere at Vantage House.
"I am concerned about the people who move here, particularly those who are alone," he said.
"It's a very difficult move when you leave all of your old friends. . . . I wanted to see what I could do to bridge that gap."