Socialization, educational programs draw Widman to Council on Aging

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Editor’s note: This story is part of a periodic series profiling clients of the Chatham County Council on Aging as they describe ‘Why I Come to the COA.’

Unknowingly, Bill Widman missed out on two years of involvement with the Chatham County Council on Aging.

“I was actually 62 when I came in and told George (Eastern Chatham Senior Center receptionist Lee) I wanted to join the senior center,” Widman recalled. “I thought 62 was how old you had to be to officially be a senior citizen, because that’s when you can apply for Social Security. And George told me you only had to be 60! I said, well I could have joined two years ago!”

Since that day of epiphany in 2017, he’s worked tirelessly to make up for lost time.

In many respects, the 67-year-old Widman represents the 2022 national theme of Older Americans Month, which is “Age My Way.”

A retired gardener and landscaper, Widman, who spent his formative years in the Washington, D.C., area, lives in a rural Chatham County setting where isolation reigns and effort must be made to reach a neighbor.

This is by choice. While loneliness remains one of the biggest issues facing older adults, Widman embraces the serenity — but only to a certain extent.

“I find that although I’m very good at keeping myself occupied, I’m happy when I’m home with the birds and the butterflies and the deer and the rabbits and the squirrels,” Widman said. “I love nature, but I find that I still have a need for human interaction. I get good human interaction here. There’s very little hostility; people have good attitudes and are generally friendly and easy to get along with. A lot of them seem to share my sense of humor, which helps a lot.”

As the Eastern Chatham Senior Center in Pittsboro goes through its final stages of renovation, Widman drives to the center daily and dutifully waits for the Chatham Transit bus to transport him to Siler City and the Western Center for congregate activities during the week. In particular, Widman appreciates the Council’s nutrition education offerings — owing to the fact that the nutritional requirements of older adults change.

“I’ve learned that as you get older, your nutritional needs change,” Widman said. “You can’t keep on eating like you did when you’re a teenager. You can’t eat pizza and burgers and French fries all the time.”

However, before joining the Council, Widman opted to forego a steady helping of vegetables in favor of fried foods. The result was what he termed a “spare tire” around his midsection, which has since been removed through improved food choices informed by the Council’s educational programming.

“You’re not growing up anymore,” Widman said. “You’re sort of shrinking now. So you need to eat differently than you have been. As a result, I can wear size 32 jeans again!”

Unfortunately, unscrupulous figures routinely target the senior population in the effort to promote scams. Widman considers himself more able to spot such campaigns.

“Not only has it been educational, it has been fun,” Widman said. “Fun seems to be the emphasis on all of the programs. We want you to learn, we want you to be healthy, but we also want you to have fun. I love Jackie (Eastern Center Activities Specialist Green) for this. Jackie can make anything fun. She does this exercise program, but she’s so perky and so bubbling over with enthusiasm that it’s contagious. She makes you want to do it, to get up and participate.”

Protecting mental health also comes into play as Widman ages in his own way.

“I like where I live, where the deer and the raccoons play,” Widman said. “But for human interaction, I’m restricted to just my neighbors. At the most, we’ve got 50 people on my road. You tend to forget how to interact with people when you spend most of your time alone. I’ve discovered that you forget niceties like saying thank you or you forget how to interact. That’s something we have to keep in practice with to be good at.”

Widman is a faithful participant annually in Chatham County Senior Games, where he is an ardent bocce competitor.

All the while, Widman continues to age his way.

“Every now and then, I find that I need interaction with my fellow humans,” Widman said. “And this is the best place for it that I’ve known since I’ve moved to Chatham County.”

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