This is the final installment in our four-part series on eight 80-year-olds living in Baltimore who inspire and impress us with their hard work, vigor and commitment to living a life of purpose. Find links to all eight profiles at the end of the post below. Photos by Anne Sachs.
In the case of eight Baltimoreans, age 80 seems to be the new 64. These eight men and women remain active in work and in Baltimore. Although official retirees, they could hardly be considered “retired.”
While Americans are often labeled workaholics, these eight fall into another category. They are still following their passions, passions born sometimes in childhood, others at mid-career. All have received numerous awards for their achievements, some honorary doctorates. While they say they have slowed down physically, all push themselves with regular exercise. All are fully engaged mentally.
Most, in the course of their lives, have had to overcome discrimination because of race, creed or gender. One of these giants said of his peers, “We were fortunate. The world changed so much in our lifetime.”
Three are over 90 and were alive during World War I. All lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the civil rights movement. These eight have experienced the proliferation of the automobile, air travel and computers. They are connected to a world and to times that most of us alive today have not known. Our Baltimore is different because of their work in the past and their work today.
Sister Mary Alice Chineworth, O.S.P.
D.O.B.: July 16, 1917, Rock Island, Illinois
Education: St. Joseph School ‘35, Mount Mary College [STET.], B.A. ‘52, Catholic University of America, M.A. ‘62; Ph.D. ‘72
Career, Present and Past:
Sister Mary Alice Chineworth has just returned from her 76th high school reunion in Illinois and has recently celebrated her 75th anniversary with the Oblate Sisters of Providence, which she joined at 19. At 94, she does what she has always done: correct papers. These, however, are not homework assignments, term papers, fundraising or administrative documents but articles for the national newsletter of her order. Established in Baltimore in 1829, the order was the first founded by women of African descent. Its motherhouse is Mount Providence, where Sister Alice lives and works in a community of more than 50 sisters.
Sister Alice has worked in many capacities: elementary and secondary teacher, principal and administrator in Baltimore, Charleston, Alexandria, Washington, D.C., and St. Paul, as well as president of Mount Providence Junior College in Baltimore and superior general of the order, whose mission is education and service to the poor and neglected.
Today her daily routine is precise. She sets her alarm for 4 a.m. to begin 30 minutes of exercise before she washes, dresses and gets her room in “ship shape.” The daughter of an African-American father and Caucasian, German mother, Sister Alice and her siblings were not allowed to leave their rooms without having their belongings in perfect order. After breakfast she works at the switchboard from 7 to 9 and attends mass. At 9 she goes to her office to do correspondence and editing. At the daily 1 p.m. dinner she, ever the extrovert, lingers to talk until 2 or 2:30. She returns to work until 5, when she goes to chapel for private prayer before the evening Divine Office. Then it’s back upstairs to watch the local and national news before her bedtime of 8 p.m.
Two days a week she goes out with another sister on errands. “I drove until I was 88,” says the sister who has had a computer since the early 1980’s and a cell phone since they first came out, who served on the National Advisory Council of the National Council of Catholic Bishops, who has met three U.S. Presidents and recently received 75 American Beauty roses from a former student, Camille Cosby, whose husband Bill sometimes writes her into jokes.
Key to Longevity of Engagement: “I’ve never lost interest in life. I love people…. If they didn’t have community [in the largest sense of the word], they’d have to invent it for me.” Many she has known most of their lives, like her best friend from St. Joseph School that had 600 students and only six African-Americans, four of whom were Chineworths.
Current Challenge: As an editor: “English is so difficult for some, that agreement between subject and predicate!” Personally: “To keep moving; it’s so easy just to sit.”
D.O.B: January 12, 1918, Baltimore, Maryland
Education: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute ’35
M.I.T. ’39 (Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary Society)
Service: Non-military, high-priority defense work as experimental flight test engineer for Boeing Aircraft Company, Seattle, Washington, 1939-1946
Career, Present and Past:
Sidney Silber, at 93, is still fully engaged in his art and horticulture, two of three passionate, long-running avocations. (Racing sailboats in Annapolis is the third, from which he now takes leave.) All have paralleled his three careers as engineer, bakery president and commercial real estate developer.
Silber pursues drawing and painting with devotion — he drew well as a child and honed the skill in mechanical drawing courses at Poly, M.I.T., and at Boeing where he did flight analysis. There he flew on 50 test flights, including those of the B-17 and the first pressurized military airplane, the B-29, which was designed to carry the atom bomb.
After the death of his father and brother, Silber returned to Baltimore in 1946. Using engineering and increasing real estate acumen, he expanded the now-legendary family business, Silber Bakeries, to 25 shops. After leaving the business in 1962, he founded Commercial and Industrial Realty Corporation and for 27 years developed residential, commercial and industrial properties.
The proceeds from the sales of those properties created the Jean and Sidney Silber Foundation. Today cultural and educational institutions, as well as Baltimore non-profits focused on education and poverty, occupy much of his interest, philanthropy and time.
So does horticulture. “We had no garden on Monroe Street,” he says of the home where he and seven siblings grew up above the bakery. In 1959 he and his wife Jean combined energy, intellect, artistic and engineering talent to begin a six-acre masterpiece in Lutherville. Fifty-two years later it is considered one the finest gardens in Maryland and the U.S.
While he officially retired in 1990, Silber never stopped working. In khaki pants and oxford cloth shirt, he is found early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with a folding pruning saw and clippers, tending his “living work of art” that draws visitors on private tours from all over the country to see the garden and hear its botanically expert owners lecture.
Among many sculptures in the garden are several of his own, all bronze. (His sculpture is also in the collections of M.I.T. and Goucher College.) Besides collecting art, his current passion is portrait painting. Many line the walls of his studio off the garden.
Key to longevity of engagement: “Shall I say, a young wife?” he laughs. “Jeannie keeps me going…. I think you should always be a student,” says the man, just back from a painting class, who studied law at Boeing, real estate and finance in the bakery business and art, horticulture and history for as long as he can remember. “Physical activity is important too.”
Current challenge: In the art: “Drawing it well, mixing the colors right… I draw. I paint. My eyesight is good, but I still can’t see what I’m supposed to see.” In the garden: “What to do with the garden in the future.” In philanthropy: “How to make the decisions every year.”
Read more about other inspiring seniors:
Marion Bascom and Sue Baker
Clinton Bamberger and Beatrice Levi
Martin Millspaugh and Iris Rosenblatt