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Elderly brave the ice for a heated exchange; Group discussion ranges from growth to Clinton


Some time ago, members of the current-events group at the Elkridge Senior Center adopted a rule against including politics when discussing local and national events. They feared that a heated debate about politics might unnecessarily offend some seniors.

That rule was thrown out yesterday as senior citizens braved the ice to weigh in on issues from public funding for Howard County schools to the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous that they're wasting our money on investigating the president about sex," said Josephine Wainwright, 83, who moved from New York two years ago to the Colonial Landing apartments in Elkridge.

"They're throwing money away trying to get into the personal life of this man," said Wainwright. "They should be worried about Social Security and health care for senior citizens. President Clinton did not sell the country down the stream. He's doing a good job."

That was the prevailing view among senior citizens who gathered at the Elkridge Senior Center.

"Someone should put President Clinton across their knee and give him a good spanking. But he shouldn't be removed from office," Wainwright said.

Seniors expressed concerns that extend far beyond the president's problems. The majority said they struggle each month to meet the demands of living in Howard County housing on a fixed income. Others worry about Social Security for future generations.

"We have to be concerned about the children," said Louise Rusnak, 72, who has lived in the area all her life. "We have to make sure that they have enough for the future."

The seniors, many of whom worked in Elkridge before retiring, have fond memories of the way their hometown used to be. They talked about the changes over the past 20 to 30 years that forced many of the small mom-and-pop grocery stores on U.S. 1 to close.

"They were independent grocers," said Laura Byerly, 76, who said the shops often would extend credit to families during financial difficulties. "The quality was so much better than the supermarkets are now. You always got served with a really big smile."

Most of those grocers, they said, were forced to shut down when development brought in chain supermarkets. "It's a shame. They're all gone," Byerly said.

The seniors said they expected development but that Howard County is expanding too much and too quickly. "Where is all of our farmland?" one asked during the lively discussion. "One minute it was here, and the next minute it's gone. No one remembers it anymore."

They also expressed concern for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"They don't know about the history of this town. They don't know what it was like when I was growing up as a child," Rusnak said.

The seniors offered suggestions but said few elected officials solicit their views.

"We need to give teachers what they need to succeed," Rusnak said. "We need better teachers, and the ones we have should be in school during the summer learning more. They should not have to find another job during the summer vacation."

The seniors supported Clinton's initiative to place 100,000 new teachers in public schools, which was part of the budget deal struck at the end of last year.

And they remembered when they could wander through the streets of Elkridge, sure that the community was safe. The recent shooting of a woman delivering pizza in Columbia and a string of burglaries throughout the county have heightened their concerns, they said.

"It's getting dangerous out there," said Dorothy Panos, 70. "I don't know what's going on."

They weren't optimistic that conditions will improve soon.

"The problem is that there are too many old people in Congress," 76-year-old Nancy Boyd quipped. "They need to throw them all out, and maybe things will change. They're not doing what we sent them there to do."

Pub Date: 1/12/99

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