Whatcom County seniors stay active and sharp by exploring the world

Published on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 by Quinn Welsch

Read More News

Ron Marshall has been many things in his life: an athlete, a teacher, a statistician, a writer, an umpire and more. He’s always led a busy life, and he likes it that way. For him, the key to life is staying active. And even though he’s now 76, he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

“My pastor said to me, ‘people retire and they just sit down and die, but you retired and [all you did] was stop teaching,’” Marshall said.

As retirees stay healthier for longer stretches of years, staying active is a growing trend, and Marshall is just one of many 
who travel and explore after they call it quits at their day job. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of people ages 65 and up can plan on traveling after retirement.  

As a teacher, Marshall used to take his fifth-graders on field trips to Mariners games, the IMAX Theater and the Seattle Center each year to give them the opportunity to experience cultural and social events. Now, he does the same thing four to five times a year, but with other seniors through the Whatcom Senior Tour program offered by the Whatcom County Council on Aging.

The demographic he’s working with now is easier to manage than the waves of elementary school students he was used to managing. “It’s a lot easier to handle 40 seniors than a busload of fifth-graders,” Marshall said. 

Marshall, along with other seniors in the county, helps facilitate tours by acting as a tour guide for the organization. “It keeps my mind active and it gives me things to do,” Marshall said. “It gives you a feeling of helping people.”

Whatcom Senior Tours offers around 40 different trips each year, all geared toward seniors who want to get out and see the world. Most of the tours are in Washington, but some take travelers as far as British Columbia, Alaska, Yellowstone National Park and even Costa Rica. The tours are usually learning based, tour coordinator Cheryl Willis said, and  give seniors experiences that they might not be able to have on their own. “There’s a confidence that they gain with those sorts of experiences, and it comes from a place of discovery,” she said. 

Patti Buss has been serving the Bellingham Senior Center for the past 20 years and escorting the tours for just as long. Buss, 75, has gone on 14 cruises, ranging from Nova Scotia to Turkey – but her favorite trip was to Ireland. 

She said a key aspect of the tours is that they help seniors make new acquaintances and renew friendships. “I’ve pretty much been all over. I get to meet new people,” Buss said. “And by the time we get done with the trip we’re all friends.”

Participating on the tours – whether they are within the county or abroad – is a major benefit to seniors’ mental health, Willis said. “It is relaxing, yet mentally stimulating,” she said. “It breaks the daily routine.”

That’s not to say there isn’t a benefit to physical health as well. Senior travelers are provided with healthy meals and get to experience nature, Willis said, and have the opportunity to be physically active during the trips. There are even tours that take seniors hiking, snowshoeing and kayaking. 

“When they stop getting out and stop expressing an interest in learning they don’t enjoy life anymore,” said Linda Adrian, a tour planner for Hesselgrave International. “[With the tours] they get to go to places they wouldn’t see on their own.” Hesselgrave is one of the charter and tour companies that the Whatcom Senior Tours program coordinates their trips through. 

The Whatcom County Council on Aging also works with senior centers throughout the county to promote active living. Blaine Senior Center is very active in promoting senior travel, Adrian said. 

Adrian said her group has a loyal core of seniors who travel with them, but they always welcome newcomers. Some of the seniors only want to go to certain events, such as the tours, while others only attend events such as plays, she said. Most of the travelers are in their mid-70s, but there are several in their late 80s and one woman who is 95, Adrian said. 

For more information on the tour programs, costs and schedules, visit the Whatcom County Council on Aging’s website at wccoa.org and click “Tours,” or call 360/733-4030.

Upcoming tours and programs for February/March: 

February 19: Bellingham Senior Center will hold a presentation on the tour’s Alaskan cruise. The presentation begins at 
1:30 p.m.

February 19: Whatcom Senior Tours will travel to Mount Baker at 9 a.m. for a class on snowshoeing.

February 24: Whatcom Senior Tours will travel to Seattle to tour the Benaroya Hall and dine at Chinook’s At Salmon Bay. The tour will begin at 9 a.m.

February 26: Bellingham Senior Center will hold a presentation on the tour’s upcoming trip to British Columbia. The presentation begins at 11 a.m.

March 11: Whatcom Senior Tours will travel to Palm Springs, California, for a four-day tour of the city, museums and musical performances.

March 15: Whatcom Senior Tours will travel to Redmond to see the equestrian acrobatics of “Cavalia Odysseo,” a performance about the relationship between horse and humans. The tour begins at 11 a.m.

March 17: Whatcom Senior Tours will travel to Oregon to tour the Pacific beaches and watch for storms. The trip will also include tours in Astoria, Oregon.

March 19: Whatcom Senior Tours will visit Chilliwack, B.C., for a lesson in British history. The tour begins at 9:30 a.m.

March 25: Whatcom Senior Tours will travel to Everett to see Celtic Woman, a Celtic music ensemble. The tour begins at 5:30 p.m.

March 31: The tour will travel to Seattle to tour The Secret World of Espionage, a new exhibit at the Seattle Center.