Wise Elder

Inspirational Wise Elders

Inspirational Wise Elders – June Kirlin

June Kirlin @ Debut of Her Orchestral Composition


June Kirlin & Jackie 03Aug07

June Kirlin was my Mom’s best friend for many years. I “adopted” June when my Mom’s dementia progressed to the point where she could no longer keep up a friendship. A talented musician and composer, June is known worldwide for her wonderful orchestral compositions.  At age 100, she lives independently in a retirement home and she wins the award for the most senior of my Inspirational Wise Elders. I have learned much from June since the time I “adopted” her. I have learned about my Mom – things  that my Mom probably shared with no one else, as she was a very private person. Among my happiest recent successes is finding a wonderful young Girl Scout who has taken on June and her beloved “Jackie” as a service project – showing up a couple of times a week to walk the dog.  June feared that she might have to give Jackie up because she was no longer able to walk him.  Thank you sweet Abbey for stepping up to make all the different in June’s life.     

Here are June’s answers to my questions:     

1) Looking back from where you are at age 100, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned in life?     

A: ”Life is filled with so many lessons; I could not choose just one. The high values my parents believed in and their personal creed for living a virtuous life were the most important lessons taught to my brother and me, and have been corroborated by everything I have learned since.”     

2) If you could pass on one thing to those younger folks who follow….something you wish you had learned or realized sooner – what would that be?     

A: ”Be wise and plan for tomorrow – and also enjoy today!”     

3) What brings you happiness and joy and makes life worth living?     

A: “My family, my friends, my Christian faith, being able to keep in touch with what is going on in the world, and my little dog.”     


This article was published by the Klamath Falls Herald when June turned 100 years old on June 1, 2010:      

By RYAN PFEIL H&N Staff Writer       

June Kirlin didn’t think she would make it to 100 years old, but with her centennial celebration today at Crystal Terrace in Klamath Falls, it’s suddenly become a reality.      

The Iowa native, born June 1, 1910, has seen quite a lot in her 100 years, much of which has been spent in front of a piano or organ. She credits that and her family as her two favorite parts in life.      

Kirlin hasn’t played in the past two years due to health issues, but she’s got quite an accomplished resume. She’s played with the Seattle Philharmonic and Women’s Philharmonic in San Francisco, and had her original compositions played all over the U.S. Some even found their way to Brazil, she said.      

“I’ve worked hard, that’s the bottom line,” Kirlin said. “But it’s work I love.”      

Finding music      

Born in Columbus, Wis., Kirlin moved to Spencer, Iowa, a few years after her birth. While growing up in the rural town of 10,000 people, Kirlin was introduced to the piano. She played her first solo recital when she was five years old and started teaching lessons at 14.      

“I started early,” Kirlin said. In time, she began writing her own music. It became addictive. Nature inspired the notes — images of waterfalls, lakes and rivers.      

“It’s like being hungry. It’s something you have to do,” Kirlin said. “You hear them in your head. It was just compelled to write it down.”      

Her composing ability found brought her to the University of Iowa during the 1940s. The school contacted her while she worked as a musical director at a radio station in town and asked her to write background music for a documentary on the state they were producing. She said seeing the finished product was rewarding.      

Her compositions also found their way into musical libraries and were published in national anthologies.      

Kirlin moved to Oregon 25 years ago when her husband got a job with the Lane County School District. She lived in Eugene until six years ago, when her husband passed away and she moved to Klamath Falls to live near her daughter.      

‘I can’t complain’      

Even with a lifetime of music behind her, Kirlin hasn’t played a note in the last two years. “I miss it,” she said. “It’s so funny because now I have time where I had to steal it before.”      

She’s looking forward to her centennial celebration party at Crystal Terrace. When asked if there is anything left in life she’d like to do, she said no.      

“I can’t complain,” Kirlin said. “I’ve had 100 years. It’d be pretty ungrateful to ask for anything else.”      

Inspirational Wise Elder – Perry Barth

I’ve known Perry Barth about 25 years since the day he recruited me to be a charter member of the Downtown Seattle Exchange Club – a service club that did good things in the world and met every week at the Washington Athletic Club. Perry had already retired as the Music Director at Ballard High School where he was known far and wide for inspiring kids and getting the best out of them. “His babies” were the Marching Band, the Stage Band and the Concert Band. He also consistently had award winning dance bands. 

Perry was a lucky guy to be married to two wonderful women, both of whom died of cancer after many years of marriage. Perry is nearly 86 years old, still living independently and full of life.   He has 9 children and step children and numerous grandkids. Here are his answers to my three questions:

Q:  Looking back from where you are at age 85, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

A: “ 1) To not take myself too seriously.

        2) Pay attention to and take care of service people – waiters and waitresses, hotel maids, etc.

        3) Keep  my mouth shut and listen more.”

Q: If you could pass on one thing to those younger folks who follow – something you wish you had learned or realized sooner – what would that be?

A: “To tell people that you love them.”

Q: What brings you happiness and joy and makes life worth living?

A: “My Health, Family, Friends, and Fly Fishing!” 

Perry has a great sense of humor and always a twinkle in his eye.  His wives Mary Lou and Francis taught him to cook and he’s always volunteering to bring home-cooked food or fish that he caught & smoked.  He is a great friend and a true inspiration to me and to many.

Inspirational Wise Elder – Dr. Walt Youngquist

My friend Dr Walt Youngquist  was my Dad’s dearest friend.  Walt was Professor of Geology for the University of Oregon and he travelled to 70 countries studying the vital relationship of Earth resources to nations and individuals. He is the author of the award winning book “Geo Destinies” and several earlier books.  Dr Walt and my Dad spent many a day hunting fossils in Eastern Oregon. When I asked Walt my “top 3″ questions, here are his answers:

Dr Walt & Evie in July 2008

Q: Looking back from where you are at age 89, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

A: “Life is brief. Make the most of it”.

Q: If you could pass on one thing to those younger folks who follow – something that you wish you had learned or realized sooner – what would that be?

A: “The most important decision you will make in life is who you marry.”

Q: What brings you happiness and joy and makes life worth living?

A: “Friends”.

Dr Walt recently had aortic valve replacement surgery. Recovery is a challenge right now. Dr Walt is an inspiration and a very smart man. I am grateful that he has become my friend after the death of my father. I aspire to be a good friend to him.

Inspirational Wise Elders – Hazel Belle Abel

HAZEL BELLE ABEL (1908 – 1999)  My “Very Great” Aunt Hazel – she would be 102 if she was still alive; dying just a few days shy of her 91st birthday. VG Aunt Hazel was my “Spiritual Mother” who taught me everything about creating context for my life when I was a headstrong young married woman of 19. I landed on her door step in San Francisco in 1969 and I spent every weekend for a couple of years with her and “Very Great” Uncle Willard. I was a young Navy wife then and my husband was away serving at war in Southeast Asia. It was a time of great turmoil in our country, with demonstrators in the streets of San Francisco nearly every day and shattered plate glass windows everywhere.  The”tac squad” was in the streets arresting demonstrators and protesters nearly every day. It was not an easy time to be in the military or married to one who was serving our country.  Very Great Aunt Hazel told me  now that I was 19 years old, that I was old enough to begin forming my “philosophy of life”. I stared blankly at her, having absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I thought life was just fired at you point blank, and you reacted. No one had ever suggested that I could construct the context of my life.

I was in my “formative” years and she was an icon in my life. Uncle Willard was one of the founders of Western International Hotels, which later became Westin.  Westin became a client of mine many years later, well after Uncle Willard had died but I guess that was my own doing. Together with Eddie Carlson, Lynn Himmelman, Gordon Bass and Harry Mulliken, they formed an amazing chain of hotels and they were an inspiration to many.  I spent weekends with Hazel and Willard for a couple of years and I’m sure Willard told me a hundred times “Don’t worry about things you can’t change”. Wise advice. Willard also was a grand example of the  importance of integrity and keeping one’s word. To the degree that Willard taught me about business, Hazel taught me about life. Thankfully, I learned at an early age the importance of knowing that we “are all one”….and that whether we’re “management’ or the “worker bees”….that no one is any better than anyone else.

Hazel and Willard had visited nearly every country in the world and I loved to hear their stories and look at their “treasures” from all corners of the world.  Looking back, I realize that I never dreamed about travelling the world like they had….I never even considered that it was possible for me. Looking back today, I see that I have also travelled the world. This is truly a miracle of its own.   

I was lucky enough to travel on weekends now and then with Hazel and Willard. They would be given the Presidential Suites at Westin Hotels and “red carpet treatment”. I remember staying in Tricia Nixon’s bedroom at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles – the Suite was on the top floor and had a grand piano and fireplace and was by far the nicest “digs” I’d ever experienced. Years later I was lucky enough to be given the Presidential Suite on the top floor of the Westin Hotel Seattle for 5 nights – on my own merits, with nothing to do with Hazel & Willard. Back in the late 60s I couldn’t even have imagined or dreamed of the life that I now have.

I remember staying at the best suite at the amazing Awahnee Hotel at Yosemite. I was sent to the airport in a limo once…whereas at home in my modest studio apartment in San Francisco I didn’t even have a car. We were treated like royalty, and yet Hazel & Willard were always “one with the people”. Being “important” or “having status” never meant anything to them. Aunt Hazel taught me to go down the hall at the hotel to find your maid – and introduce yourself. She would say “Hello – I’m Mrs. Abel in Room 1403. Thank you for taking care of us during our stay here.” She would give them a sincere, grateful smile, and a tip of a dollar or two right then, instead of waiting until the end of the stay.  Very wise. They always formed relationships whether with the executives or “the help”. They were down to earth, generous people with a healthy respect for all people. Very wise indeed and I aspire to live my life following their example. After Uncle Willard died and Hazel was in her twilight years, she would occasionally get dispirited. I called her often and still went down to spend the weekend when I could. So did cousins Cathy and Cindy. Hazel lived alone on 40+ acres and didn’t get out much. She and I decided to have our own private “book club” – so I’d get two books and mail one to her. We’d then talk on the phone about the book and do our best to solve the issues of the day and the problems of the world.

Learning to Receive  

Every year or two I would send her a long letter pouring out my gratitude for what I had learned from her. When I had business in the Bay Area, I’d spend a weekend with her and I fondly remember taking her for a ride in a rental car – a red Mustang convertible. She wanted the top down as we drove to Bodega Bay, and her silver white hair was streaming in the wind and she had just the biggest smile on her face.  After lunch we’d always stop for a couple of bags of Salt Water Taffy and she would unwrap them and hand them to me one at a time as I drove home and we’d giggle about how great life was and how much we loved each other. 

My husband John died on January 23, 1999.  Hazel adored John and  was upset that God would have taken him at his age 54 when she was 90 and so ready “to go” any time. Shortly thereafter she had a serious health incident where she almost died from sepsis. I went to see her soon after she came home from the hospital. As was our custom, we’d sit around in our nightgowns talking about the “state of the world” and somewhere in there she asked me why I thought she was “still here”. I said that I thought she still must have something to learn. She asked what could it possibly be, and I said “For many years I’ve poured my heart out trying to tell you the difference you’ve made in my life and I don’t think you have ever heard me. You’d always say “Oh go on Evie, I’m not THAT great. So I told her I thought she would not be allowed to “move on” until she heard what I had to say.  She looked rather sheepish and related a story from the 1920s or 1930s when her son’s violin teacher in Santa Barbara told her she needed to learn to receive. Swallowing her pride and with an open heart, sitting there in her nightgown, she said “OK Evie, tell me once again and this time I will try to hear you”.   So I told her one more time and thanked her for what she had taught me, and for always believing in me no matter what. She listened intently and this time I believed she had heard me at last.  

A few weeks later I received the news that she had died. She had worried about dying  alone in her home and not being found, yet she wanted to be at “Windy Hill Farm”  that she loved.  Apparently she hadn’t been feeling well and asked a neighbor to take her to the doctor. She got herself up and situated on the examining table and the doctor came in and said “Tell me Mrs. Abel, what seems to be the problem?” She opened her mouth to speak and had a massive heart attack, dying instantly right there on the table.  The poor doctor was beside himself and rightly so – but I had learned from the death of my beloved husband that learning to receive just might be every person’s greatest challenge. So I couldn’t help but break in to a smile, knowing that she had heard me at last.  I have a “Very Great Aunt Hazel Angel” now.  No wonder I am forever being upgraded and taken care of so well wherever I travel in the world. How grateful I am to have spent time with my Very Great Aunt Hazel and Very Great Uncle Willard.

Inspirational Wise Elders – Waunita


My sweet friend Waunita has been a neighbor for many years. I’ve given her various names over the years – I’ve called her my “Plantation Manager” because as a Master Gardener, she helped teach me about plants and flowers, helping me learn about taking care of things outside. Growing plants and flowers and making one’s yard beautiful is her passion. I also gave her the name ”Duco” once, because every neighborhood needs someone who “glues everybody together”.  I have seen her be THAT kind of person on many occasions. Waunita lost her beloved husband many years ago and she is a THREE TIME cancer survivor. As though that’s not inspiration enough….I asked her a  few of my favorite questions and here are her answers:

Q:  Looking back from where you are at age 80+, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?

A:  ”Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Q:  If you could pass on one thing to those younger folks who follow – something that you wish you had learned or realized sooner – what would that be?  

A:  “You should not always insist on being right”.

Q:  What brings you happiness and joy & makes life worth living?

 A: “Seeing little kids happy, and seeing nice people getting along”.

Waunita has been such a great example for me- and she has taught me so many things, whether about soil, or plants, cleaning up after oneself, or finishing the job. As she says “If you don’t take the time to do it right the first time, how will you ever find time to do it over again”. Indeed! Waunita is another of my favorite Wise Elders and I am grateful for her sense of humor and her wisdom.

Welcome to Wise Elder

I love  the concept of Wise Elder; not because I think I am one, but because I aspire to be one. Perhaps no coincidence that ”Aspiring Wise Elder” has the acronym “AWE”, just as Wise Elder is “WE”.  I know that WE are so much more than our bodies; that WE are great beings. It saddens me to hear people my age or younger talk about their upset with seeing themselves age. My intention here is to inspire and encourage us to relentlessly pursue wisdom, knowing that our bodies are perhaps just a metaphor for who we are. It is my commitment that we celebrate the quest to become wiser with age. A wise person said  that our outsides are just wrapping paper and the true gifts are inside.  If anyone knows the exact quote and who said it, I would love to give credit where credit is due.

One of the great blessings of my life is the abundance of dear friends, many of whom are “elders” who are so inspiring and who have taught me so much. I shall share them with you as a tribute to who they are, together with my view of what I find so inspirational.  The older I get, the more I see that some of our learning is from books, some from each other, and some “the hard way”. It seems to me that the easiest and gentlest way of learning is from each other. Just think how many lifetimes it would take to learn everything if we had to do it all by ourselves.

When I was a toddler in Eugene, Oregon in the 1950s I loved to dance. I had an adorable pink satin bathing suit that I would wear as I would dance around the living room and up on the couch. Kind of like “Dancing with Life”. Totally uninhibited and in the joy of the moment. Now that I am much older, I realize that this is a wise way to live life now.

The Wise Elders in my life share a love of life and a love of friends and family.They always make time for others in the present moment.  There are so many Wise Elders in my world that for now I am using age 80 as a “beginning point” .  As I reflect on what they have in common, I am grateful that they all are “open hearted” friends…..often sharing their hopes, dreams and sometimes their fears.  I have felt very trusted. Many have talked with me about death and dying, and the afterlife; topics that are often difficult to discuss with family. I have grown to believe that those we have loved and lost become angels, surrounding us with love and light when they no longer have a physical body.  “Getting one’s wings” is not necessarily a sad thing to me and I believe those wings are a sign that we’ve learned what we came here to learn.

I hope you enjoy reading about my Wise Elders and that you find them as inspirational and wise as I do.

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