They couldn't have lived this long without learning a few lessons about how to get things done.
About 300 older Carroll countians, members of local Chapter No. 662 of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), have learned that by uniting in a large organization they can wield more clout -- and have a good time doing it.
Nationally, AARP has more than 33 million members. The group is a powerful voice in Washington, D.C., lobbying for policies such as the inclusion of long-term-care insurance in President Clinton's health care plan.
Because of the sheer power of its numbers, the AARP can offer members programs such as group health insurance and insurance for homes and cars, as well as investment funds, credit cards, hotel discounts and even a mail-order pharmacy service.
Membership is open to those 50 or older. Younger spouses are welcome, said Robert Pepperney, president of the Carroll chapter. Members do not have to be retirees. Nationally, members pay dues of $8 a year. Those who pay for several years at a time receive a discount.
At the local level, members pay $2 a year to join the Carroll County chapter.
The chapter's monthly luncheon meetings are held the first Friday of each month at Wilhelm Ltd. Caterers in Westminster. They feature health-related talks and reports on political issues in addition to the opportunity to socialize.
"I think [the AARP] just looks out for the older people," said Virginia Ables, 67, a new member from Sykesville attending the chapter meeting this past Friday. "It's a good place for information."
A legislative report at each meeting gives information on Social Security, health insurance and other topics under debate by lawmakers.
AARP also sponsors local programs such as "55 Alive" courses for older drivers and a Tax Aide program that sends volunteers to senior centers and libraries to help older people with their tax forms.
Evelyn Markulik, who lives outside Westminster, said she joined AARP to take advantage of its bus trips and social gatherings, but has since found some of its other offerings useful, such as the mail-order pharmacy service.
Esther Singer, who has been the chapter's treasurer for 10 years, also uses the pharmacy service.
"I get things like artificial sweetener there," said Ms. Singer, 80, a retired bookkeeper from Manchester. "It's a lot cheaper."
She said the mail-order service is less expensive for people who need to fill regular prescriptions for chronic illnesses, and handy for those who find it difficult to leave home to shop.
Ms. Singer said the AARP attracts many professionals and "people who are willing to get involved in things."
AARP is "good friendship," Ms. Ables said, adding that many of her friends who belong to the Wednesday Gang, an Eldersburg seniors group, also belong to AARP.
Mr. Pepperney, 71, said he joined after he retired from his job as a General Electric engineer nine years ago.
"This chapter is very active on the legislative agenda," he said. "I wanted something that was active."
For more information on Carroll County Chapter No. 662 of the AARP, call Ms. Singer at 239-8891.