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Alloway’s 80-something women kept the home fires burning

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday May 5, 2013

Unabridged from my Bonus Years column in the Lifestyle section of The Sunday Capital, Annapolis, Maryland

Writer Ruth Stotter says, “… we’re made of stories.  When we die, that’s what people remember, the stories of our lives and the stories that we told.”

Annapolis and Maryland now have a new story-teller.  Her name is Joanne Alloway.  Alloway is the author of A Quiet Strength: Inspirational Stories of Older American Women, published earlier this month by PublishAmerica.

The men of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” now have company.  I call them “Alloway’s women,” inspiring ladies, now in their 80s or 90s, who stayed behind to keep the home fires burning.
Alloway’s women are quite remarkable.  They are 15 in number.  Six of the 15 live in the Annapolis area – familiar places like Arnold, Crofton and Davidsonville, as well as Annapolis.  The rest live in five other states.

Alloway’s women are spry, self-confident, and intentional.  They are mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers and sisters and aunts, not unlike the women in our own families.

The women interviewed by Alloway are not famous in the conventional sense.  Fame, after all, is fleeting, often unmerited and sometimes ignoble. Alloway’s women are true heroines who have lived – and continue to live – inspiring lives.  They did not throw in towel when they turned 65 or turn back in the face of tough sledding.  Instead, they kept right on going, as they remained engaged with life, helping others and repairing the world – or at least that part they could touch.

Alloway’s women lived in interesting times and experienced historic struggles. They were born in the 1920s and early 1930s.  They grew up to live through the Great Depression and at least one world war.  They were the first generation of women to vote, the first to fly airplanes, the first to govern a state and the first to take a seat in Congress – and in a President’s cabinet.

In their adult lives, these extraordinary women experienced the civil rights movement, women’s movement, environmental movement, the consumer movement.  Some took to the streets as part of the “right to life” movement; others marched for the “pro-choice” movement, providing passionate leadership both for and against the Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court in 1973.

A Quiet Strength reflects Alloway’s deep and abiding interest in those over age 80. The women she interviewed must have loved their walk down memory lane and Alloway, a former health-care and public relations executive-turned-story-teller, captured it well.

Stories include the woman, who at 80 published a book, another who at 92 just retired from her job, and another in her late 80s who reminds us, with John Barrymore, that “[One] is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”

One of my favorites is Annapolitan Mary Stan Feik – a WW II aviator and first female master mechanic, a wife of 54 years, the mother of Robin who last year made 30 trips as a Civil Air Patrol mentor and speaker.  Mary resides in a vintage home with a view of the Little Magothy and is described by Alloway as “a small, energetic and amazing woman 88 years young…truly a national treasure.”

Mary talks about her father, always a source of encouragement.  When she left home as a young woman to report to Wright Patterson air base, her father said, “Aim high and follow your dreams.”  He also gave her a note.  On it, he wrote four guidelines for success:

  1. Always be a lady; don’t be one of the guys.
  2. Be capable; if you don’t know the answer, find out.
  3.  Be a team player; you cannot do most jobs alone.
  4. Always give respect; if you give it first you will get it back.

These are stories worth reading with lessons for later life worth learning. Each story includes a photo of the woman, which Joanne borrowed from their own personal collections.  Each shows a woman who continues to lead a purpose-driven life into her 80s and 90s. Alloway’s women are not content simply to retire and watch the sun set from a rocker on the porch. Instead, Alloway’s women are vital, engaged members of society – helping others and improving the world – and will do so for as long as they are sufficiently healthy to do their thing.

As America’s boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day for the next 17 years, Joanne Alloway has provided a unique and timely window on America’s later-life women.  Her stories are inspiring. They convey knowledge. They reveal genuine heroes and role models. They instill optimism and hope, impart wholesome values and show the wisdom and benefits of continued social engagement regardless of age or circumstance.  Besides, she is a good read who clearly understands and loves her subjects.

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