Retired minister from New Brighton surveys seniors coast to coast

The Rev. Dr. Roland Martinson of New Brighton is writing a book based on his coast-to-coast interviews of 52 people ages 68-97. (Submitted photo)

Contributing Writer

The Rev. Dr. Roland Martinson retired from his work as a professor at Luther Seminary when he was 70 years old, but he’s far from idle.

The New Brighton resident has spent the last 18 months doing research for a book he is writing, titled “Elders Rising – The Power and Promise of Aging.” The book is slated to be published in 2018.

The research has taken him coast to coast––to rural South Dakota, Washington state, southern California, Florida and several areas of the East Coast––as he interviews 52 people ages 68-97.

“I’m talking with people in the last third of their lives about how they’re making their way through dramatic changes to make a life that’s altogether different than what it was 10-20 years ago,” he said. “It’s taken a great many hours of interviewing, typing notes and analyzing what I have discovered. I’ve learned a great deal from talking to them. It’s been fascinating.”

Martinson has found that people in the last third of their lives face as many changes as they do in the first third of their lives.

“Learning to navigate change is one of the critical skills,” Martinson said.

“People with the greatest quality of life are not stuck in the past or the future. They have discovered how to be in touch with day-to-day beauty and relationships. They really are focused deeply in the present.”

Not surprisingly, he has found that faith and spiritual life are “absolutely critical elements.”

Martinson is telling the stories of people in three age groups:

  • Young-old: ages 65-75
  • Middle-old: ages 76-85
  • Old-old: age 86 and up

Many in the young-old group are continuing an active lifestyle. “A great many are no longer engaged in working,” he said. “The ones who are living the highest quality of life have discovered a passion that gets them out of bed every morning. Everyone is looking for a way to see life as having meaning and purpose.”

The middle-old group often see a significant amount of decline and may be dealing with loss. Elders ages 86 and up may have less mobility and narrower focus, he said.

“Among the old-old, many are participating in their own leaving, by planning their own funerals, giving things away and lightening their loads,” Martinson said.

In elders who have discovered a spark or passion, such as learning to paint or play the piano, hike, or travel, he said, “It’s exciting to see how they make a difference.”

The ideal is to participate and contribute to something that matters, he said.

“People with a higher quality of life have developed a support community and find ways to be in others’ lives,” he said.
Peril comes because elder years are a time of greater vulnerability, Martinson said. “Body and mind are declining,” he said. “Health is the trump card of the way people live.”

People who have faced serious illness, accidents or declining health may become more isolated, withdrawn and alone, Martinson said.

“But at their best, he said, elders have power and an incredible ability to influence and accomplish things,” Martinson said. “They have the largest number of volunteer hours of any group in society.”

He notes that although 10 percent of elders are living in poverty, others may have significant discretionary income to pass on to the younger generation.

“Elders have assets to bring to societies and their families,” he said. “They have an incredible political block through AARP.”

Now, he said, young-old and middle-old often work through congregations and communities to help take care of the old-old.

“There will be such a high need [for elder care in the future] that the present system of care will be overloaded,” Martinson said.

His own life has scaled down in retirement, Martinson said, though he has spent the last five years researching, consulting and speaking.
He’s enjoying being his own boss, working his own hours and doing what he likes to do.

“I’ve led a pretty full life,” he said. “I’m still curious, but I have less energy and more aches,” he said. “I’m dealing with my own decline.”
A native of Fargo, North Dakota, Martinson is a summa cum laude graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. He has a bachelor of divinity degree from Luther Seminary in St. Paul and a doctorate degree in sacred theology from San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Ordained in 1968, he was pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Glendale, California until 1974, when he became pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Fargo. He became an assistant professor at Luther Seminary in 1977 and was named professor of pastoral theology, ministry and pastoral care in 1982. He is the author of four books on family and the ministry.

He and his wife––who, he is proud to point out, was valedictorian of their high school class––have lived in the same New Brighton neighborhood since 1977. The Martinsons have been married 53 years and have 4 children and 9 grandchildren.

Singles groups provide one way for many senior citizens to develop friendships.

One such group has met twice a month for the past 25 years at Christ The King Lutheran Church, 1900 7th St. NW in New Brighton. It meets from 5 to 7 p.m. on the first and third Sundays of the month. The group also gathers on the second Saturday of each month to celebrate birthdays.
Joanne Klein, spokesperson for the CTK New Brighton Singles 55+ group, said members, including those who have been widowed or divorced or never married, come from all denominations and don’t need to be members of the church to join.

Their itinerary includes potluck dinners, field trips, programs with speakers and music, plays, and concerts.
Information: 651-633-4674.