‘The Best Is Yet to Be’

Finding your Way In Retirement On Capitol Hill

Start a game of mahjong at the Hill Center. The group is sponsored by Capitol Hill Village.

For many retirees, the idea of setting your own schedule, chances to take longer travel vacations, and pursuing long-lost dreams is exhilarating. The Robert Browning quotation, “Grow old with me! The best is yet to be,” becomes a retiree’s rallying cry. Staying fit, smart, witty, and wise seems to be the key to aging successfully.

Capitol Hill and its surrounding neighborhoods are becoming a retirement destination both for long-time residents and for retirees from the broader Washington metro area. Folks who have raised a family in the suburbs are downsizing, selling off their minivans, and relocating to our neighborhoods to reap the benefits of urban living. The latest census data shows that 10 percent of the residents in Ward 6 are over 65 years of age. Across the river in Ward 7, where the proportion of those over 65 is 7.5 percent, residents tend to stay put or are relocating to childhood homes. Ward 8’s over-65 population is 17 percent.

How do these retirees spend their time? What do they do when they have no more carpools to juggle or aren’t the center of attention in the boardroom?

There are so many answers to this question that one column can hardly tell it all. During the next few months we will explore the multitude of ways that local residents are finding what is next and best for them in their golden years.

Importance of Socialization
Recent health news suggests that belonging to a social group after retirement may be a key to longevity. Niklas Steffens of the University of Queensland in Australia released his research in February 2016. “Social groups provide you with a sense of identity. Amongst other things, they give you a sense of belonging, meaning, and purpose,” Steffens reported.

Socialization is important to physical and mental well-being at any age, but may be harder to find for someone who is not in the workplace anymore, which is the usual source of many friendships. Our urban neighborhoods offer many ways to connect, even if you do not have a smartphone, Facebook, or know how to find a meet-up group.

Local Eateries
Aaron Garvin is the manager of the Denny’s restaurant, at 1250 Benning Road NE. He says that he sees groups of 55-plus folks from the neighborhood come into his restaurant on a regular basis. “They definitely feel at home here, and with the special menu we offer, they seem to enjoy us enough to return pretty often,” says Garvin. The restaurant opened at this location in 2011 and has become a popular neighborhood spot. Not surprisingly, this retirement crowd is not full of early birds. “I guess they have other things to do,” Garvin laughs. “But the regular breakfast crowd here doesn’t get started until 10:30 and then disappears before the late lunch crowd at 12:30.”

Pete’s Diner at 212 Second St. SE is known as the hangout for Library of Congress staff, past and present, and the same can be said for congressional members and staff. Former House Speaker John Boehner could be spotted at Pete’s nearly every morning the House was in session. It is the kind of place where you can grab your coffee and a hearty egg breakfast, and a few visits later you are treated like family.

The Tune Inn, the eatery between Third and Fourth streets on Pennsylvania Avenue, is also known for its informal social scene. Some of the group gathered at the bar for lunch may have been there when the place opened more than 60 years ago. It is a great way to belong, without having to pay dues or be committed to an organization.

A few blocks away at 501 East Capitol St. SE, John and Cynde Tiches Foster, the owners of Jimmy T’s diner, greet customers by the first name as hungry patrons fill the bar stools or crowd into the booths. The owners love feeding the community around them, and watch out for their regulars with special care.

Ladies That Lunch
If you aren’t the type that feels comfortable just introducing yourself at the local diner, there are other ways to find a group and have fun. Many may remember the Red Hat Society, which had 40,000 chapters worldwide in 1999, five years after it started in Fullerton, Calif. The red hat was a universal symbol for women turning 50, and as the founder of the group said, the aim was “to grow older playfully – on her terms.”

A Red Hat group was started on Capitol Hill about 15 years ago and is going strong today, although it has morphed into a spinoff of the Red Hat Society.

Today’s group of 30 women is called the Red Hat Democracy Dames. Donna Brandes says they still wear red hats to their monthly outings, but they have settled on an operating structure that fits better without having to be part of the national organization.

The Red Hat Democracy Dames often meet in restaurants for a lunch organized by an enthusiastic member, Celeste McCall, a local food writer. “The conversation is as varied as our members, coming from backgrounds of engineering, business, Hill staff, and writers, to name a few,” says Brandes. The group also tours local museums, art galleries, gardens, and the National Cathedral. It doesn’t focus on volunteer or community service, although it has a long record of providing the Sasha Bruce House with soaps and other such items that members gather during their travels.

The idea is to create a way for women to get together and just enjoy themselves. To join contact Dona Brandes, donna.brandes1@verizon.

On a cool Wednesday afternoon at the Hill Center, a group of retirees is setting up tiles to play an ancient game called mahjong. The game originated in China and is played using a set of 144 tiles. Ming Crusey, one of the players, says there are many different versions of the game, from Hong Kong to America. Roger Haley, another player, says that the Hill mahjong players are evenly matched and that different players win each time they get together.

Recently the group played for an hour before joining Blythe Templeton High School students to teach them how to play. “Usually we get together at one another’s home for an afternoon of games,” said Corinne Whitlatch. It is obvious that the eight or so retirees enjoy one another’s company and a chance to stretch their minds for a few hours. Blanche Hirsch says while there is strategy to the game, it also involves a lot of luck. Wally Bonfield says he started playing only two years ago but has really connected with the game and the group. The players are happy to teach anyone interested how to play.

The mahjong group is just one of many programs sponsored by Capitol Hill Village, a nonprofit founded in 2006 to help seniors interested in “aging in place.” During the past decade the organization has become a leading force in helping retirees and seniors, with a range of offerings from providing social services to helping seniors connect with one another socially. Some are open to anyone in the community, others require membership in the Village. To learn more about the many different opportunities go to http://www.capitolhillvillage.org.

These activities are just the tip of the iceberg in sharing what retirees in the extended Hill neighborhood are doing to create a happy and fulfilling life. Stay tuned for more reports on how to make a successful transition into retirement and senior living. The Capitol Hill area is an excellent place to do just that, whether you are new to the neighborhood or a long-timer.

Rindy O’Brien is a longtime resident of Capitol Hill and is interested in knowing your story of retirement. Contact her at rindyobrien@gmail.com.