Metro-East Living

90-Plus Club draws a crowd to talk, eat

The "90+ Club" meets at the Swansea Family Restaurant

They talk about children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, plus other topics of interest to an older generation.
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They talk about children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, plus other topics of interest to an older generation.

An exclusive club has formed in the metro-east.

It has just one requirement, but it’s a daunting one: Be at least 90 years old.

Norm Geolat, of Belleville, 90, formed the 90-Plus Club because, well, he’s that kind of guy. A retired auctioneer who now is the market master for the outdoor Swansea Farmers Market, he’s all about getting people together.

“When you get to be 90, you ought to do something with your life,” said Norm, who also has a big garden he tends. “I just get an idea and think there ought to be something.”

Plus, the last club he formed is literally dying off.

He had started a club for men named Norm about 12 years ago, which at one point had 30 members.

“And now they’re dying,” he said. That club has dwindled to less than 10.

Norm thinks he has a winner with the 90-Plus club, and the census backs him up. People are living longer, and the demand for his latest idea will only increase. The 2010 U.S. Census shows a 30 percent increase from 2000 in people 65 and older in the country; the population makes up 0.5 percent of the country.

The first meeting was in June at the Swansea Family Restaurant.

Sonny Heileman, 90, of Belleville, was one of the dozen or so who met for lunch at the Swansea restaurant. He didn’t know anyone else when he walked in. Others were familiar with one another through Norm or PSOP (Programs and Services for Older Persons) in Belleville.

“I like to get people involved in activities that they wouldn’t normally have done,” Norm said.

Sonny echoed Norm’s try-something attitude, admitting that he had purchased an organ but his knowledge was limited to turning it on and off.

“I thought I’d learn how to play it,” he said, but admitted he was often impatient with learning new things. He has also tried, and stopped, playing the harmonica and French horn, but said the 90-Plus Club was something he’d return to.

The inaugural club members were soon chatting like old friends around the pushed-together lunch tables, inquiring about lunch orders, grandchildren and more.

Marriage advice

A few were accompanied by younger friends who drove them to the lunch.

“When they take your driver’s license away, you’re in jail then,” said Red Becker, of Belleville. His niece often takes him where he needs to go, but he hates relying on someone else. He says he may be 90, but it doesn’t feel any different to him than 60.

Red was a machinist after he returned from World War II, something he prefers not to talk about.

“I came home and forgot about it; it’s a thing of the past,” he said.

Red met his wife Amanda —he called her Mandy —at a dance in 1940, he said. She was with a girl he knew. He and his friends offered them a ride home afterward, and Red arranged it so he took Mandy home last.

“After I dumped the others off, I just asked her to go with me to the dance next week,” he said. “There was never anyone else.” They married after he returned from the war.

Two years ago, Mandy and their daughter died within three months of each other, about the time Red had a debilitating heart attack that resulted in his license being taken away.

When asked if there were secrets to being married for 67 years without going crazy, Red looked a bit surprised.

“If you had a wife like I had, you wouldn’t go crazy,” he said. They “did everything” together, including fishing and dancing.

If you want to follow Sonny Heileman’s advice, be prepared to spend some money.

“I should’ve bought a bigger house,” he said, laughing. “I had two daughters and a two-bedroom house.”

The difference between 80 and 90? He said he tires more easily when he’s washing the car or weeding the yard.

Agnes Richter, 95, was in a reflective mood after lunch, talking about the swimming pool business she ran with her husband and their family before it was sold.

The Richters didn’t have children, but that put them in a good position to help others, Agnes said.

“I know why we didn’t have children,” her husband told her after his brother-in-law’s death. It was so they could care for their young niece and nephew, whom they treated “just like our kids.”

Agnes’s youngest sister, Teresa Gauch, who is 85, brought her to the 90-Plus Club.

Agnes remembers when Teresa was born — she and another sister were sent to live with their Uncle Joe for a while. When they came back home, there was Mom holding the new babe.

“They never told you their private lives,” Agnes said.

90-Plus Club

Meets: 11:30 a.m. last Wednesday of the month

Where: Swansea Family Restaurant, 1500 N. Illinois St., Swansea