Creativity is usually associated with something novel and new; aging is often associated with things that are traditional and old fashioned.
Creativity involves flexibility, adaptability, and being open to new ideas; aging is linked to inflexibility, dependence and outdated thinking.
Not for Ruth.
Ruth began playing the piano when she was eight years old. She remembers the day when her dad drove into their farm yard with an old piano in the back of his pickup truck that he had purchased at an auction.
When Ruth was 15, the organist at her family’s church resigned. Before she knew it, her father had volunteered her for the job, and she had to wing it. “It wasn’t easy those first few years.” she said. “Sometimes I had a hard time matching the words to the music because all of the words were in German and I didn’t speak German.”
Ruth was organist for over 100 weddings and 100 funerals between 1943 and 1997. She even played for the weddings of children of couples whose weddings she played for earlier in her career. She formally resigned from her full-time organist position in 1997, but she still ties on her organ shoes when there is a need. The last funeral gig was when she was 87 years old. That’s 72 years performing as an organist.
You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream. C. S. Lewis
In 2012, she came out of musical retirement to start a women’s choir for the church. “I just thought we needed it. There was that choir loft and no choir. It just didn’t seem right.”
Ruth didn’t only contribute musically to the church. She also taught children’s Sunday School. In 1973, she was the first woman to be the president of her church’s leadership council.
While raising her family in rural Colorado she canned fruits and vegetables, had a large garden and helped her husband, Chuck, breed sheep. She was particularly busy during lambing season when she and Chuck spent long nights in the cold Colorado winter in the sheep barn helping ewes give birth. Throughout her life, Ruth has been a doer, a mover, and a changemaker in the lives of those around her. This type of approach and habit-building keeps us mentally nimble, ready to generate new ideas and solutions to problems.
In addition to her love of music, she is an avid quilter, was a school photographer and even took calligraphy classes. Her quilting “body of work” includes over 200 quilted pieces.
In addition to making quilts, she served as the coordinator for Project Linus for 12 years. Project Linus distributes handmade quilts and blankets to hospitalized children in Northern Colorado. As coordinator, she picks up blankets, washes them, labels them, and delivers the blankets to local hospitals. During her time with Project Linus, she has distributed over 100 blankets and quilts to sick children.
In 2004, Ruth’s husband of 52 years was killed in a car accident. One might expect tragedy to slow down the creative process, or at least reduce creative productivity. But for Ruth, her creative productivity actually increased.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was a really hard time. I had all of this extra time. After Chuck died, I came across this sewing pattern that we bought years ago when Chuck and I stopped in to a quilt shop in Estes Park, Colorado. It was for stuffed bears. I decided to make bears out of Chuck’s old clothes. I made bears for my daughter and my son. I also made pillow tops out of his old ties.”
Ruth’s memorial bears became so popular that she made 10 more out of the clothes of relatives and friends that had passed away.
Dr. Jennifer Gippel who researches creativity and aging, has identified the following essential ingredients for aging creatively:
- Imagination – Although we slow down as we get older, our ability to imagine something new and different is ever-present. One way to stimulate imagination is to deliberately do something new every day.
- Attitude– A person can choose to pursue new ideas and new ways of doing things Choosing to view unexpected or undesired outcomes as enrichment – experiences to learn from – rather than failures.
- Knowledge and experience are the fuel for creativity. Knowledge grows with age. Follow your expertise and passion to learn more and continue to gain experiences, even in later years.
- Environment – The spaces where we spend time affect creativity. Surround yourself with people who support your ideas. Make a place to be creative, and design it so that it inspires your creative thinking. (Ruth has a sewing room that is chock full of material and patterns. She has an organ, a piano and stacks of music in her music room at home.)
- Time is essential for creative thought. One of the things that older people often have is time. Use that time to follow your passions and even look for new ones.
According to Dr. Gippel, “As long as our cognitive function is intact, aging itself does not deny us any of the vital attributes and resources necessary to find creative solutions to our problems. Creativity is largely an inner resource that we can foster at any age.”
Ruth’s advice for living a long and creatively productive life:
“Get involved with your church or other organizations. Join a club. Always have a project in mind. I usually have two or three projects going at one time. I alternate between three sewing machines and each one is for a different project. Don’t just sit around on your butt and do nothing.”
Like our physical bodies, our creativity muscles need practice to thrive – and that doesn’t mean just for artistic creativity. This includes the tools we need for creative problem solving on the job and in our day-to-day life. Creativity is truly for all of us, throughout our lifetime.
By the way, Ruth is my mother. She’s reading this now. Happy 88th birthday, Mom. Your daughter, my sister, Judy and I love you very much!
‘I’m a lucky guy, to have her as my example for a creative lifestyle into the twilight years. Thank you, Mom!’
My question to you:
Have you thought about how getting older will affect your creativity, or has it started to already? Tell us how you intend to keep your creative juices flowing, or tell us a story about your favorite creative person in your life. Do you feel they are they living longer because of their creativity?