Leadership Anchorage alumna Nancy King (LA18) has been collecting stories for the past three years as part of Advanced Alaskans, a media project documenting the motivation and achievements of Alaskans over the age of 70. King’s project challenges the stereotypes about people in their 70s and beyond by sharing the narratives of active Alaskans who continue to work and volunteer long after the usual retirement age. Their stories serve as examples for people of all ages of the importance of doing what you love, continuing to learn, and saying “yes” when an opportunity comes your way.
In the fall of 2016, FORUM published the first three interviews and portraits in the series and below is another set of three: Wilma Goldmann, Georgia Blue, and Fred Risch. Wilma's story also appears in the Spring 2019 issue of FORUM!
What do clowning and competitive swimming have in common? Where do they intersect? In the life of 94 year-old Wilma Goldmann. Wilma is an active Advanced Alaskan who believes in continually learning new things and staying socially involved with friends, old and new.
I began clowning two years after my husband died when I was wintering in Sun City West, Arizona. I was attending a handicrafts club - we made cancer caps, baby blankets, and all kinds of knitted and crocheted items - and one of the members mentioned she had to leave early to go to a Clown Club meeting. I expressed a passing interest and she invited me to go along. Since I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity, I immediately said yes. By the end of the clown meeting, I was hooked on clowns and clowning. That was 10 years ago when I was in my 80s.
Clowning was a whole new ballgame. I had to learn how to perform magic tricks, make balloon animals and flowers, and create my own funny skits. My character, Winnie, is an Auguste clown (white around the mouth and eyes) with green hair, a red cap, and a black and white checkered outfit. When I am Winnie, I am somebody else, literally. I can do things and get away with it because no one recognizes me. As part of my skit I often tap dance and play my violin and ukulele. . Most years I attend a clown convention in Las Vegas to get more ideas for my skits and my balloon twisting and to find out what other clowns are doing. Clowns are forever learning to do new things to help people laugh.
I began competitive swimming when I was eighty. I learned to dog paddle when I was a kid on our farm in Shevoygan Falls, Wisconsin. In the summer after a day of thrashing in the grain fields, my dad would take us dusty and dirty kids, and other neighborhood kids who were helping with the harvest, down to the swimming hole. At that time, my biggest swimming ambition was to swim well enough to make it out to the raft at Elkheart Lake. I can’t remember ever getting to the raft.
Not until I was in my 60s and my youngest child was in high school did I actually learn to swim. I was overweight and got to thinking, “What did I do when I was a kid that I really enjoyed?” I remembered hopping on the back of the truck and going down to the swimming hole. At this time we lived in Anchorage a couple blocks from Dimond High School and its new pool was available for open swimming five mornings a week. I would get there about 6:00 or 6:30AM and swim for an hour. The first week I was admiring all the lap swimmers and I asked the life guard Sabrina, who was a senior in high school, “What are they doing? It looks so neat, so relaxed and easy.” She said, “They are doing the free style.” And I said, “Oh, I wish I could do that.” She said, “Well, you can.” I said, “Oh, no, I am too old. I am in my 60s.” She said, “No, get yourself a pair of goggles and I’ll help you.” So that’s what I did. I swam five days a week. Eventually, I was asked to join a new Masters Group that was being organized.
In 1990 when we began wintering in Sun City West, I discovered they had synchronized swimming, so I joined the group. I have never worked so hard in my life. It takes rhythm, control, and concentration. I could do all that, plus I could put my feet up and get all the way down to the bottom of the pool. I did about 10 years of competitive synchronized swimming. My big medals are from that.
In my 80s I quit synchronized swimming and began lap swimming. I discovered I loved the 100 IM, the Individual Medley, which involves doing the butterfly, the backstroke, breaststroke, and the freestyle. I’ve competed in two National Senior Games—one in Minneapolis in 2015 and one in Birmingham in 2017. My most recent competition was at a meet in Fairbanks. I did the 50, the 100, the 200 free, and the 50 backstroke. These meets are serious events. It’s not just a matter of going in and swimming. You have to sit around and wait and wait. You’ve got to know how to “play the game.” When you are swimming, there are all of these little bitty rules you have to abide by. And they watch. They watch you closely. At this meet they were handing out gold medals like candy. Well, I have five kids so I decided I should get five medals, one for each kid. But I only got four because I was unable to compete in the 500.
I am in my 90s now and these two passions, clowning and swimming, are a big part of what keeps me going - they keep me learning and improving. Clowning is also about being socially connected with people, making people laugh. And swimming keeps me active and moving. It literally keeps me walking.
Long after the usual retirement age, a vital group of Advanced Alaskans, those 70 and older, continue to work because they love what they are doing and it energizes them. Georgia Blue falls into that category; she owns and operates the Georgia Blue Gallery, an art gallery that features contemporary Alaska artists.
My love affair with Alaska native artists and Alaskan contemporary artists began with my first job in Anchorage in 1976 in the Arts and Humanities Department at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. I was exposed to the work of Saradell Ard, Alex Combs, Sam Kimura, William Kimura, Mariano Gonzales, Wassily Sommer, and Keith Appel. Later, I worked at Art, Inc. a contemporary art gallery on the corner of Benson and the New Seward Highway in the Country Village Mall. I managed Nancy Taylor Stonington’s gallery and later worked at the Visual Arts Center. And finally, I was at the Anchorage Museum for 20 years as the Enterprise Director where I ran the museum shop and developed major annual arts and crafts happenings including a clay event, a summer crafts event, a Bead Society event, and the all-important Crafts Weekend during Thanksgiving weekend.
After 20 years, I left the museum and became a founding partner of 2 Friends Gallery. From there I opened the Georgia Blue Gallery. Every day I am doing my favorite thing: I love helping clients find that special piece of art, and I love helping artists find new audiences. After all this time I am still in awe of artists and their talents. Their creativity invigorates me.
The duties of owning and operating a gallery are varied. The responsibility I am most sensitive about is accepting art collections into the gallery on a consignment basis. Long-time Alaskan collectors are now downsizing and often do not know what to do with their collections. I have the responsibility of not only protecting these items while they are in my gallery, but also making sure I know their value and price them correctly. I feel compelled to truly know the story of each item and to be able to share it with potential buyers. I want them to understand and appreciate the history of the item and realize its uniqueness.
I am thirsty to learn all I can about Alaska Native arts; I thrive on the research this requires. My favorite midnight reading is perusing old catalogues of Alaska juried shows and studying pictures of the art. Each generation brings something new to our culture. I am always anxious to see what is coming. Today’s young contemporary Alaska Native artists are doing excellent work in their chosen mediums. Many of these artists—Drew Michael, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Perry Eaton, and Alvin Amason—are showing their work internationally.
People keep asking me when I am going to retire. My answer is never. I see myself working at least part time forever. I grew up surrounded with that attitude. My dad worked until his late 70s. He raised a family and did the work he enjoyed. I, too, delight in coming to work every single day, even though it is not always effortless. Sometimes I have to work to remain positive and look for win-win situations. On a day I don’t feel particularly great, it is important for me to go to work. The day steadily improves as I help clients and artists and am no longer thinking about myself. Staying connected and sharing with others makes each day easier and far more interesting. I really value that.
My keys to a satisfying life are staying connected, remaining positive, continuing to learn, persisting in being young in spirit, and carrying on the work of my gallery. I just wish people would remember that they each have a talent to share with others—a talent or skill that someone else needs.
Dr. William F. Risch, DC continues to serve his patients full time at Alaska Chiropractic Arts while actively volunteering within his church and the bowling community.
I started my practice in Anchorage in 1970, two months after I earned my Doctor of Chiropractic from the University of Western States in Portland, Oregon, and passed the Alaska State Board exam. There have been ups and downs, but mostly ups – I love what I do. Other than my chiropractic practice and my patients’ well-being, my passions are my family, my church, and the Special Olympic bowlers I coach.
To coach the Special Olympic athletes, I leave my chiropractic practice early on Monday afternoons and spend 2 ½ hours at Center Bowl working with 20 bowlers throughout a 15-week session. Their progress is wonderful to watch. For example, one fellow came in bowling an average of 99; by the end of the year we had him up to 130. He missed the next year but came back the following year; at the end of that session his bowling average had increased to 145. I find it so satisfying—teaching these bowlers the rudiments of how to stand, take four steps, and get the ball smoothly off their hands. Most importantly, we teach them to have fun when playing the game. I have such a feeling of gratification whenever I work with them. I love watching them progress, have fun bowling, and enjoy interacting with each other and their coaches.
Personally, I have been an avid bowler since I was 13 or 14. These days I bowl on three winter teams and substitute wherever and whenever needed. In addition, I have volunteered to be secretary/treasurer of two adult leagues and the Anchorage Scholastic Bowling League which puts about 200 Anchorage School District boys and girls into bowling each fall. As secretary/treasurer I keep all the statistics for players, determine each team’s standing within the league, and send out weekly reports and schedules. In addition, I track the bowlers’ individual scores and calculate all the ending averages at the conclusion of the season.
I also volunteer with my summer league—an adult/junior league for any level of expertise. I have kids who are four or five years old and up who show up with Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, aunt, or uncle as the adult. If they can get the ball down the lane, they are in. Some of them are more adept at it than others. We try to encourage the four- and five- year olds to launch the ball off their chests. They will grow into putting their fingers in the ball and doing it like an adult. It just takes time.
We get the kids interested in bowling and keep them interested, in part, through awarding scholarship money. We award a $100 youth scholarship every month that goes into kids’ ‘smart fund’—their own designated scholarship fund. When they are 18, they can access it to put it towards their education. The Anchorage Scholastic Bowling League also gives two awards of $1,000 each, and the Armstrong Award distributes approximately $3,000 in six grants of different amounts. It involves both bowling and scholastic achievement.
I have stayed close to my faith throughout my life and another portion of my volunteer time goes to my church in many different ways. Most recently, I have served as vice president, and then president of the congregation. When our long-time pastor retired, another fellow and I stepped in to do the services all summer until we were able to acquire an interim pastor. For the past three years I have volunteered to do visitations; I stop in to see those who are sick, those who are unable to attend church, and those who simply have not been to church for a while. They seem to really appreciate the opportunity to visit with someone other than the people they see every day. I like to talk to people, so this gives me another avenue for that joy and for sharing the love of my church.
People often ask what keeps me going at my age. My answer is my volunteering and caring about my church, my family, my bowling, my chiropractic patients, and the Special Olympic athletes I coach. They keep me young and give my life meaning. In other words, it is about doing what I love to do. It is so important in this life to share one’s skills and passions with others. People need what you have to give, and you gain much from them in return. My words of wisdom to anyone who will listen is that there is an ‘enjoyment door’ ready for you to open or reopen. Someone out there needs you; they are waiting to receive what you have to give.