I love meeting interesting, active people for whom age is just a number. The three people in this article, the first of a two-part series, each has a passion for what they do that keeps them ageless and relevant and can give all of us ideas for living a full life.
The first example of a life well-lived is Lillian Slutzker. Many readers might know Lillian Slutzker and her late husband, Manny, from their many years as owners of “Manny’s,” a fixture on the Syracuse University campus for almost 50 years.
She worked all of her adult life in the store, taking over when Manny became ill. Ten years ago, she endowed the Syracuse University “Lillian and Emanuel Slutzker Center for International Services” and she recently received the Global Citizens Award from the International Center of Syracuse.
“I never thought the center would become such a big deal,” said Slutzker. “It just was important to me personally to do this for other people. I came to Syracuse as a refugee, having lost my whole family in the Holocaust. My mother and I had moved to Berlin from Hungary when I was 13 and at 21, I left Germany for England with a youth group; six months later the war broke out.
“I had to start my life over twice, once in England and then in America,” Slutzker said. “When I came to Syracuse, there was no one who reached out to me, and it was isolating and scary. In the hospital when I was having my son, the nurses couldn’t believe there was no one who came to visit me.”
She explained some of the reasons for starting the center at SU.
“I knew how important it was for other people new to our country to have a place to go to talk with others and, particularly, that it should be a nice place to congregate,” she said. “Ever since I was a little girl, it was my dream to go to university. Because of Hitler, even though I qualified, I couldn’t go. So another thing I do is speak to different groups and individuals about the Holocaust because so many people just don’t know about it.”
An all-around supporter of the university, she also funds scholarships for the men’s lacrosse program.
Not content to be “just” a benefactor, Slutzker taught conversational English at the center to international students to help ease their transition. She still goes there to meet with students and staff. A woman of action, her empathy for animals led to her being a founder of the Humane Society of Central New York.
She speaks three languages —Hungarian, German and English — and has a passion for travel that has taken her all over the world.
She is perhaps most proud of her son, Craig, a Yale graduate with a master’s degree from SU. Of his mother, Craig says, “She’s a gourmet cook and a connoisseur of cars. She loves fashion, gardens with an artists’ eye for flowers and landscaping, and is skilled at interior decorating. But with all her talents and accomplishments, she is still a very modest person.”
I met Slutzker at the gym and asked if she had always kept in shape?
“Yes, all my life. My mother was very keen that I exercise; when younger I was a long-distance runner and used to run in the woods. I still keep in shape and go to the gym twice a week,” she said.
Her secret indulgences are “French face creams and cooking, but because I do love to eat, I make it a healthy diet,” said Slutzker.
At the Dunbar Center, I caught up with Lionel Logan. Among his many civic activities, he works in the political arena for candidates in which he believes.
“I volunteer for Organizing for America in their phone bank. It is the organization that was at the heart of the Obama campaign,” explained Logan. “I also work with Citizen Action of New York, an organization that conducts voter training.”
Logan said he feels strongly that everyone should be more politically involved.“The decision makers in power look at the people who vote, and if you don’t vote, you have no voice. It’s a question of ‘If you didn’t put me here, I don’t need to worry about you’, “ he said.
Another lifelong passion is education. “About 15 years ago, I started driving a legally blind teacher who taught [students with multiple handicaps] and had to visit three or four schools in one day,” he said. “I would go into the schools with her, and when I would see a student sitting in the office, I’d ask ‘What are you learning in the office, and why are you here?’ When children see that you are interested, they are mostly honest. When I would ask them if they would behave if I could get them back in class, the answer was always yes, so I would try.” If the teacher had two or more students at a school, Logan said he would volunteer to tutor and then he became a mentor.
“I discovered that city schools really don’t teach students about voting, even in civics or government classes. I called the [Syracuse City School District] Board of Education and told them I was with the NAACP and got permission to go into high schools yearly and register students to vote.”
“My daughter’s a teacher and when I went to her school one day, I ended up answering students’ questions for an hour. You never know what you may say that could change a child’s life. To this day, if I see children on a corner hanging out, I always ask why they’re not in school. If possible, I will try to get them back in, Logan said.”
Logan and his wife raised six children of their own and were foster parents to others. He worked for the federal government in military computerized communications, so he is a fan of computers and even has a Facebook page.
“I have grandkids and great grandkids, and they won’t let me not get into [Facebook]. But then again, I’m interested in just about everything. I’ve always been like that and I think that keeps me young.”
I asked what advice he had for other retirees? “Don’t be a couch potato. Find something that will get you up in the morning. People in nursing homes would love to have visitors,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about what to discuss with them; they just want to impart their knowledge to you and they often have no one else to talk to.”
What about diet and exercise?
“I’m reasonable about what I eat, even though I have no medical problems that would keep me on a strict diet. I do exercise, generally, some light weights along with aerobic exercise. But the most fun I have is golfing and bowling. I started bowling in my 20s and playing golf in my 50s. It’s the participation sports that I like.”
And his secret indulgence?
“I watch very little TV, mostly news and political shows, but I joined Netflix because it forces me to watch movies that I had always wanted to watch.”
I have known Marie Felice for years, and she is so busy that it was almost impossible to tie her down for an interview.
As the wardrobe steward for IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Local 9, she does every professional show that comes into Syracuse.
“I call and arrange the wardrobe group of men and women needed for the shows. There are hairdressers, seamstresses, dressers, people who steam and iron, and people who work on shoes,” she explained.
Blonde they needed eight dressers, two hair people and one laundry person.”
Felice just finished a modern dance group and is now off to do a musical in the Famous Artists Series. In December, she did “The Nutcracker,” and in January, she did “Disney on Ice.”
I viewed the pages of spreadsheet notes that Felice uses to keep track of each show, and it was overwhelming.
“I [am] the treasurer of Festa Italiana, and I also hire the entertainment. I love working with all the people who work on the Festa and when it all comes together, it is just a great feeling,” she said.
She’s also a bookkeeper for two clients.“My passions are theater and my grandchildren,” she said. “I started in theater with Father Charles Borgognoni when I was 18, and I learned so much from him. He gave me the love for theater.”
Felice goes to sleep around 12:30 or 1 a.m. and gets up at 7:30 a.m. Other than that, she rarely stops moving.
“I have to work even when I watch TV,” she said. “I have to be busy. I cook for myself every day, and I make healthy food. My exercise is touching my toes when I get up in the morning and stretching to get the kinks out of my back [that were] caused by an accident years ago. I also run up and down the stairs all day long because my computer is downstairs.”
So what provides the most fun in her life?
“Cooking and baking, theater, my grandchildren and my kids,” she said.
A neat and well-organized person, Felice has every show bill from every production she’s ever worked on.
“My daughters are trying to make me throw out my check registers that I still have from when they were in college and my Mary Ann comes over every week to go through boxes and makes me throw things out,” she said.
Her secret indulgence?
Chocolate, of any kind!