My name is Matt Altstiel and I am a volunteer with Forward Chicago. In the grand scheme of things, I am young at 28 years old. I’ve reached the age where I consider my parents friends and understand the sacrifices they’ve made. I now relate to their decisions even as I disagreed with them at the time. I respect and value their insight more than ever as I navigate some of the challenges they faced with careers, finances, and family. They are approaching retirement and they tell me they’ve started to slow down. I start thinking about my own age, my trajectory and where I hope to be by the time I arrive at 60 and beyond.
When I think about turning 60, 70 or even 80, I look towards my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather. Both illustrate two different outlooks on aging. My grandmother was full of life, used to walk for miles each day, and had a busy social calendar. My grandfather golfs twice per week, maintains weekly card games with friends, and volunteered 20 hours a week until age 88. The major difference is that my grandfather stayed active, and my grandmother didn’t.
I remember the moment it all changed. My grandmother fell and broke her arm. Rather than work harder to rehab her arm, she stopped physical activity. Although she was never overweight, she developed Type II diabetes. At this point, the doctor told her she needed to start exercising. She didn’t and slowly the lost the use of her feet, and then her legs. Her mind stayed sharp and she remained in good spirits, at least in front us grandkids. I hated that she had to move out her home and into a nursing home. I felt she had given up and how unfair it seemed to lose her at 79.
My grandfather is turning 90 this year. He no longer drives or volunteers, but he walks every day. I’ve pulled into his driveway to see him on top of the roof cleaning the gutters. In 1985, he had triple bypass surgery and was told he’d have 10 years maximum. In 1990, he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. He doesn’t need insulin because he regulates his diet and exercises. He gave nearly 25 years to Lutheran Social Services, starting Fort Wayne’s Annual Paint-a-Thon, a program that has painted over 1,000 homes for low-income seniors. He’s a man who won a $10,000 prize awarded for his volunteerism, and gave every cent back to charity. All this he accomplished after the age of 65.
It is for both of them that I am with Forward Chicago. I am inspired by individuals like my grandfather and know an organization like Forward Chicago will help keep the wonderful people aged 55 and better active as the age in our Ward. I am honored for the opportunity to gain the insight won through years of experience and hope to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather by making a difference.