Paula Marie Usrey

During the years I taught at Umpqua Community College, I had students in my classes ranging from the age of 16 to just a little over 80 years old. What I learned from my students was that differences in age were not that important; what mattered most was the attitude students had toward each other.

Everyone needed to feel like they belonged, and like they were valued. As an example, on the first day of one class, a student who was near 60 years old announced that she was there to learn from younger people. She asked lots of questions and did learn from her younger classmates. Her classmates also learned that she was a great resource with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Age diversity was one of our greatest learning community strengths.

It isn’t necessary to sit in a classroom to appreciate the insights that age diversity can represent. With a median age of 47 years, Douglas County is intergenerationally rich. When older and younger generations value each other, everyone can benefit. Often, the civic groups that help support our communities attract higher numbers of older or retired individuals than younger members. And some of these same groups, like the Lions clubs, serve the needs of younger people and also encourage youth participation.

Sam Murray, a Facebook connection and former student, said he started volunteering through a local Lion’s club when he was still in junior high school. He helped at fund-raising events and did everything from running errands to cleaning up afterward. Sam says he learned about teamwork and the steps to becoming a leader as a result of his experience with the club. He hopes to eventually rejoin because of all the good the group does for the community.

Douglas County — and particularly Roseburg, where 24% of the population is 65 or older — has been able to draw retirees from other cities and states. Online retirement resources such as the 1859 Oregon Magazine, Credit Donkey, and Smart Asset list Roseburg as one of the best places to retire in Oregon. The thought of living in a fabulous recreational region with more than two dozen wineries, plenty of local attractions, and a much lower cost of living can be quite appealing.

It isn’t unusual for people who have chosen to live in our area to seek ways to benefit our greater community. One of those individuals is David Reeck. Along with a master’s degree in electrical engineering, David had years of experience overseeing projects involving electric vehicles. He has since used his specialized background to help Roseburg secure funding for electric vehicle charging stations. David has also shared his expertise with students at UCC.

Retirees who are choosing to move into our area are often part of a population some researchers on aging have called “third age” members. In a 2011 article, Stephen Barnes, Ph.D. of San Diego State University described third-agers as a people who are typically retired or semi-retired from their careers, have adequate finances, are in good physical and mental health, and are looking for purposeful engagement and fulfillment.

In addition to seeking ways to serve our communities, many of the third age individuals who are arriving in our communities are looking for products and services that meet their wants and needs; this is good news for local businesses and would-be entrepreneurs. Joseph Coughlin, author of “The Longevity Economy,” said the aging population is “begging for products that fill their demands.”

As many of us will choose to age in place, we may need home maintenance, home renovations, and lawn services. We also want to make sure our homes are safe and secure. We typically value new experiences and opportunities to grow. Most of us are relatively comfortable with technology but want to keep learning and updating our knowledge. Staying healthy and active is something many of us also desire. Most of my friends enjoy eating out- especially when the food and atmosphere are good. A few third-agers may also be interested in starting new businesses or purchasing existing ones.

For all local business owners interested in tapping into a growing market of older adults, please remember to include images of older people on your websites along with the images of younger people; that is one way to put out the welcome mat for all of us.

The only thing that could stand in our way is uninformed attitudes about younger and older people. We are all different, but we all have the same need to feel like we are a valuable part of the community. Let’s show the rest of Oregon how age diversity in Douglas County represents both a strength and an opportunity for all who live here.

Paula Marie Usrey is a retired associate professor of communication. She is the founder of BoomerBestU.com, a resource for positive aging. She also promotes positive aging by speaking and writing.

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