Ruth: Danny Fulgencio

Ruth Allen: Danny Fulgencio

Most adults have felt it. Alarm over a gray hair, a mystery ache or a milestone birthday and its larger reminder — old age is coming for us.

Our neighborhood octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians tell us, in so many words, to stop the fretting. The golden years can be sweet, they say, with the right mindset and practices. It is the “fourth quarter” of life, one 80-something tells us. As in a football game, he explains, the final phase, if played with heart, can be the most meaningful, the time to give one’s best effort, a time to shine.

Ruth Allen: Danny Fulgencio

Ruth Allen: Danny Fulgencio

Ruth

“I don’t want to die,” Ruth Allen says in a moment of frankness.
Rather than spend much time bothered by the idea, the 88-year-old prefers to fill her life with music, sports and adventures and occupy her mind with thoughts of grandchildren, friends and her golf swing.

Keep moving …
Ruth golfs, plays table tennis, bowls in a league, dances, travels and socializes seemingly nonstop. Yesterday she played doubles in table tennis for the first time. “It requires some fast moving, fast thinking,” she says. That she is a couple of years short of 90 hasn’t decelerated her activity much. “I had to go down a size in bowling ball because I am not as strong as I used to be,” she says. “I don’t travel much anymore, but mostly because flying is such a hassle nowadays.” In an upstairs room of her Lake Highlands duplex hangs a map, pins marking the places she has visited — England, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Morocco, Rome (the Vatican), Rio De Janeiro, Bahamas, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Indonesia, Thailand, Tokyo, Mexico, Canada, Hawaii.

The early years …
As a kid in the 1930s, she was inclined toward physical pursuits such as baseball, Tarzan-esque tree climbing, snowball fights and dare-deviling with cousins who llived on her Cleveland, Ohio street. “Riding a sled hooked to the back of someone’s car … very dangerous,” she says, head shaking. In the 1940s she hung at nickelodeons, and danced to the likes of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. “My Catholic high school was all girls, so we danced with each other.” She adored athletics, but balks at what the girls at St. Joseph’s wore to gym class: bloomers.

Dreamily she recalls the nearby Poor Clares convent at whose chapel she always stopped to pray. A rental house beside Ruth’s made for an interesting parade of neighbors. She remembers a man shooting himself (not fatally) to avoid World War II. She married a boy from her neighborhood and they moved to Dallas, where Ruth held various jobs: secretary at the American Heart Association; jeweler’s assistant at the Apparel Mart (where she fine-tuned her fab fashion sense); purveyor of Climax, a pink putty wallpaper cleaner; and Dallas Arboretum gift shop volunteer, to name a few. She learned to belly dance in Morocco and still dances, prefers Jazzercise. It helps her maintain good posture, she figures. “I saw my mother bending over as she aged, and I promised not to let that happen to me.”

Success — Ruth Allen is the tallest 5 foot 1 inches you’ve ever seen.

Laugh a lot …
Ruth lives in a duplex about a mile from White Rock Lake. It is decorated for Halloween in September; she’s just getting started, she says. “I love Halloween and dressing up in costume.” A stack of old photos reveals Ruth as Donald Duck, a happy clown, a scarecrow, one half of a pair of dice and a tooth-deprived caveman. At her previous and larger Lake Highlands home, she was famous for theme parties. Her favorite show is “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Most of the other stuff, especially those daytime soaps, is unwatchable, she says. Her blonde grandsons, whose photos are scattered about, are resistant to the type of games Ruth likes. They prefer video and computer technology but rediscover on each visit that checkers and card games can be fun.

Getting old …
Never feared it until she was about 80, she says. At 40? 50? 60? No. Stayed too busy to think about it. The attitude seems to have worked for Ruth; if she claimed to be 70, no one would doubt it.

But life reminds you. Her husband died in 2005 right after their 50th wedding anniversary. Losing people — parents, spouses, friends — is hard. Still, she lives in the now rather than the then or when.

The emeritus program at Richland Community College is a source of fitness, adventure and friendship, she says. The group goes sightseeing, exercises and takes an annual overnight trip.

“We went to Fossil Rim one year, and when this giraffe stuck his nose in my ear, I ended up in a gal’s lap. We became friends after that!”

When she broke her wrist years ago, the perpetually cheerful Ruth sank into rare depression. “I was so miserable, trying to do things like write with my left hand. After that, I vowed I would never allow myself to feel that way again. If I got hurt, I would relax and let myself heal.” The next spring she suddenly had to undergo triple bypass surgery. “I sat in the yard and read.” In three months she was back in Jazzercise class. Her health is good, overall. She credits physical momentum, gratitude, nature and daily oatmeal with flaxseed.

“I sit in my backyard — I love that backyard — and talk to God all the time,” says Ruth, a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. “He’s been good to me.”

John and Jeanne Gould: Danny Fulgencio

John and Jeanne Gould: Danny Fulgencio

John and Jeanne

John and Jeanne Gould’s home welcomes visitors with its trim lawn (which John, 88, maintains himself) and expansive front window permitting copious amounts of morning light to flood the sitting room. White-haired with wide eyes and knowing smiles, they laugh frequently and make the 80s look lovely. Partners on a storied journey, they have war tales, both literal and figurative, yet project peace. On the Treyvon Martin case, mortality and more, they generously impart insight.

Making yourself useful …
In 1996, John started the crime watch group. There were 12 volunteers at the time, and Jeanne was its first lady. These days the Lake Highlands North Volunteers in Patrol boasts 50-plus members and low crime rates. It’s a good way to meet your neighbors, the Goulds say. “I patrol with a woman who is a Catholic. I am a Methodist,” Jeanne says. “It makes for interesting conversation.” Dialogue keeps the mind sharp, John agrees. “Religion, politics, sports — we talk about it all.”

On the Treyvon Martin case …
Regarding the recent case in which a Floridian neighborhood watch member confronted and killed a teenager, John says, “Zimmerman did three things our members know not to do: He went out by himself. He carried a gun. He confronted someone. We do not even get out of the car. If we see something, we only phone it in to police.”

Keep doing …
Twice a week, they swim or work out at the gym. After retiring, John learned to repair pianos. They use the instrument-repair pay for fun things — “mad money,” Jeanne calls it. They volunteer a ton: Jeanne styles hair at the beauty shop at C.C.Young, and with her church group she knits prayer shawls for the hospitalized. John presided over the Audelia Road Library Friends. Both serve the poor through First United Methodist church’s Crossroads Community Services charity. John plays the trumpet, which he practices routinely. “You have to keep your lips in shape for this, so you have to play a little every day,” he says. Jeanne says, with a sly grin, that the practice keeps her husband’s kisser in shape. John’s band is called The Think Band. “We don’t use music; we just have it in our heads, think about it. We know all the same numbers from the ’40s and ’50s. ‘Sweet Georgia Brown.’ ‘Bill Bailey.’ ‘Up a Lazy River.’ ” They don’t play much anymore, but for years they played “retirements, 90th birthday or 50th anniversary parties, that kind of thing,” John says. They earned some $60,000 and gave it all to charity. They booked a gig at Presbyterian North on New Year’s Eve. When they play the oldies at retirement homes, even Alzheimer’s patients sing along. The guitarist sometimes throws in an old western tune such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and it never fails to light up a room, John says. Jeanne’s part? “I clap.”

Back when …
John and Jeanne have known each other all their lives, it seems. In the 1940s they attended the Methodist church in Long Island, N.Y., where John was a soloist and choir member. Music is in his blood: His mother played piano at the silent movies. Jeanne’s older brother and John were buddies. She says she always had a crush on John. “I joined the choir even though I couldn’t sing as well as him.” Before John perceived his admirer, he finished high school (1943), joined the Marines and shipped off to Truk, a South Pacific island group. Jeanne recalls air raid drills, officers on street corners, lights-out in the evenings, no sliced bread, but fortunately no lost loved ones (lucky for Jeanne, she knew not enough about the future to fret over John’s well-being during the war). John returned unharmed, as did Jeanne’s brother, who bet her two bucks she couldn’t score a date with John. He lost. John quickly was smitten. “I liked her laugh,” John recalls. When he finally popped the question, Jeanne told him the engagement would have to wait. “She told me she had a date to go to the circus with Gordon, this other fella she was seeing at the time, and that she couldn’t miss that!” Jeanne explains that going to the circus was a big deal. The tickets were expensive. You had to ride the train into New York City. She couldn’t just leave Gordon in a lurch like that. “So after the circus, I had to propose to John,” Jeanne says. The story still cracks them up.

Both went to college, and they had two kids (then four grandsons). Jeanne worked 40 years as a dental hygienist — one of a few jobs for women in the ’50s and ’60s — and John wound up holding several different posts with the American Heart Association, which eventually brought them to Dallas in 1975.

Lake Highlands then and now …
“Really, the neighborhood hasn’t changed that much since we moved in,” John says. “Our neighbors are all younger, which is, of course, great,” Jeanne counters.

Where to find new friends …
John says every time they moved to a new city, they headed straight for the local Methodist church, where they quickly made friends and volunteered. John jokingly laments the repeated recruitment to lead youth groups everywhere they went. First United Methodist’s feeding and clothing of Dallas families in need, through its Crossroads Community Service ministry, is the big story, he adds.

Shining on …
John plays “Taps” at the funerals of veterans. And these days they attend a lot of funerals. “At our age, you realize time is running out, but as someone once explained it, we are in the fourth quarter, and like a quarterback in the fourth quarter, it’s the time to really make your life count.”

Frances Martin: Danny Fulgencio

Frances Martin: Danny Fulgencio

Frances

While America’s young men were off fighting World War II, women’s sports, especially basketball, were booming. A November 1943 Dallas Morning News article announced the formation of a new girls’ league comprising four teams. Lake Highlands resident Frances Martin played forward for the season’s undefeated champs, the Dallas Hornets.

Highlights …
Frances, a brunette beauty, grew up in Blue Ridge, Texas, where her dad was the mayor. She started playing basketball in high school and in ’42 pounced on an opportunity to try out for the Hornets. Her best memory is of scoring from center court for the win. “There were two seconds left and coach told me ‘shoot!’ I did — underhanded. It went in.” Though they were serious athletes, the female basketball players of the era were glamorous. Most of them stood 5’8” or 5’9” — the ideal height, too, for Frances’ post-season modeling stint. They wore trimmed ringlets and berry-colored lipstick, and their uniforms were silky, with buttons, collars and belts.

Frances Martin: Danny Fulgencio

Frances Martin: Danny Fulgencio

Beyond sport …
Basketball offered an opportunity to both play the game she loved and experience competition and camaraderie that accompanies serious sport — something relatively few women in the 1940s enjoyed, she notes. Her involvement with the Hornets also launched young Frances on geographical and cultural adventures. “In ’43 we visited Mexico City for a tournament,” she says. The Hornets played the Politas and Piñas of Mexico. Before leaving Dallas, the Mexican Consul hosted a dinner for the Hornets and told Frances and her nine teammates that they were “pioneers in this new movement of friendship among peoples,” according to a Morning News article published in 1943. “In Mexico we met the Mexican president and had dinner at the home of the president of the university in Mexico City,” Frances reminisces. “I was escorted to dinner by a matador from Spain!”

Marriage and work …
In 1946 Frances married Frank, an Army man who later worked in the carpet business. “He was as sweet as can be,” Frances says. In ’54, she went to work for a stockbroker. The workplace was very different then — you wore hose, gloves, hats every day to work. Never pants. You worked on manual typewriters and calculators. Everybody smoked at their desks. Frances doubtlessly ruled the roost at Rauscher Pierce Securities for 40 years. (She giggles but doesn’t disagree with the notion that the executive secretary, especially one who’s been around for decades, is the brain of a business.) She retired in 1992.

Loss and gratitude …
In 1996, after 50 years of marriage, Frank died. In fact, now that she is in her late 80s, most of her friends are gone, she says. “You miss them so much. You just have to be grateful that you had them as long as you did.” She still loves sports. “Exercise, even if you can’t get around so easily, is the key to staying healthy and alert,” she shares. She also plays Bingo regularly, which gets her up and down the stairs each day at the Whiterock Court retirement home. She loves watching the Rangers, Mavs, Cowboys and “Dancing With the Stars” on television. She eats a bunch of fruit and vegetables and just a little meat. And she makes new friends. “I recently lost my best friend, Mary. But you have to keep rebuilding. Making new friends,” Frances says. Based on the laughter and chatting at the night’s Bingo session, it’s more than idle advice. “You have to accept and be grateful, never give up and stay happy.”

Wilma & Carl Heinrichs: Danny Fulgencio

Wilma & Carl Heinrichs: Danny Fulgencio

Wilma & Carl

The Heinrichs — 97 and 102 years old, respectively — still embrace each day together. Sure, Carl will say things such as, “She’s been around this long. I might as well keep her!” But the words are spoken through a grin and evoke one from Wilma. Carl can’t hear as well as he would like, and he uses a walker to get around, but he moves surprisingly swiftly up and down the long corridor between his apartment and the retirement community’s dining and recreation rooms; his mind and spirit are fit. A lush garden, flowers in various stages of bloom, is visible through the apartment’s sliding back door; Wilma maintains it herself. “She’s got a green thumb,” says Daisy Thomas, the Heinrichs’ nursing assistant.

When Carl met Wilma …
Both worked for the bakery conglomerate Taggart in Missouri. In 1939 a group of young staffers, Carl and Wilma among them, was transferred to Dallas. One day, 25-year-old Wilma, a secretary to the chairman of the board, gazed, alongside a co-worker, out the window. When a sharply dressed Carl strode by, Wilma joked, “There goes God’s gift to women.” One of the bosses overheard and asked Wilma, “What did you say?” Wilma repeated herself, and word got back to Carl that she might be interested. He asked her to a party on a Friday but canceled at the last minute. He asked her out again. Wilma accepted and canceled a day before the date. To even the score, no doubt. Two weeks later, they went out to dinner at a nice place. They married in ’41.

Marriage and family …
Wilma gave birth just days before Carl shipped off to World War II. The baby, Mike, was premature, weighed just over four pounds. About having to leave them, Carl only says, “It didn’t feel good.” Wilma says she never doubted Carl would come home. She adds that Mike grew healthy and strong. “He’s 6’2 and 250 pounds now,” she says with a laugh.

Carl is an incredibly patient man, his wife says. “He taught me how to drive a car. When my own father tried to teach my mother how to drive, they were back in five minutes. He couldn’t handle it.” Carl always has been relaxed. That’s why he was good at golf, too. “I have always been calm,” Carl agrees. “I am an optimist. Optimism and exercise is the key to a long, healthy life,” he says. His family, all farmers, was like Carl in that way. “They were good to me,” says Wilma, whose own father was killed when she was just a girl.

In 72 years of marriage, they say, they never fought. “We always gave each other space,” Wilma says. “We did what we wanted to do. Sometimes together. Sometimes with our own friends. In retirement we traveled together a lot — Hawaii, Alaska, New Mexico, the Caribbean — and that helped.” A cruise-ship photo of the two, middle-aged and radiant, hangs over the television.

‘Open the gates’ …
Wilma’s hair is angelic white and styled neatly atop her head. “When I was young my mother worried so much about my hair,” she says. “Now I get more compliments on it!” Three afternoons a week, they play Bingo together. Daisy Thomas helps Carl, because he has a hard time hearing the caller. Wilma is alert enough to keep track of her own and her neighbors’ Bingo cards. She wins. “Bingo!” she proclaims; she beams as a fellow participant checks her card for accuracy.

“No, I am not afraid to die,” Carl says with a big grin. “I believe there is a hereafter. I am ready to go. Open the gates,” he says and raises his hands to the heavens. Next to him, Wilma smiles and nods her agreement.