ICQ --- 2002/No. 3



Anthropology professor Joel Savishinsky brings new understanding to an important stage of life.

In his nearly 30 years at IC, anthropologist Joel Savishinsky has embarked on archaeological digs in Turkey, traveled by dogsled to study Native Americans in the Canadian Arctic, and lived with farmers, fishermen, and goat herders in the Caribbean. During these expeditions the Charles A. Dana Professor in the Social Sciences noted that elders were treated quite differently in the cultures he was studying than they were in the United States. This piqued his interest in aging issues, and he began researching a pet-therapy program in upstate New York nursing homes. The success of his research led him to want to learn more --- and ultimately to sharing his enthusiasm and research opportunities with his students.

Now Savishinsky's works on the complex subject of aging are garnering critical and popular acclaim. His most recent book, Breaking the Watch: The Meanings of Retirement in America, received the Gerontological Society of America's prestigious BookRichard Kalish Innovative Publication Award, which honors insightful publications on aging and life course development in the behavioral and social sciences. The Ends of Time: Life and Work in a Nursing Home garnered the same honor in 1992; Savishinsky is the only person to have won the award twice.

In February Savishinsky presented a lecture he called "Zen and the Art of Retirement: How People Face Change in Later Life" as part of the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute Distinguished Speaker Series. Retirement, says Savishinsky, is a fascinating and growing stage in American life, thanks to better health care and changing attitudes about work. Breaking the Watch is a study of how people come to terms with this segment of their lives, which often lasts more than 25 years.

Savishinsky and a succession of his students began by identifying people in a rural upstate New York community who were within a year of retiring. Thirteen men and 13 women aged 54 to 77, with varying career backgrounds but largely middle and working class, were willing to be interviewed before and during their retirement experiences. Savishinsky and his students spent six years meeting the retirees in diners, accompanying them on jogs, riding in their RVs, and chatting in their homes. "The approach is very humanistic," says Savishinsky, "drawing on the poignant and sometimes poetic words of the retirees themselves. I didn't want to make abstract points as much as I wanted to find answers that other retirees could benefit from."

Savishinsky thanks many people at Ithaca College for their support of this project. "No one wins an award like this just by his or her own efforts," he says. "I feel that this prize confers gratifying recognition not just on me, but also on the students in the College's anthropology and gerontology programs, the Gerontology Institute for grant assistance, and the School of Humanities and Sciences for the release time I needed for research and writing. A lot of forces at Ithaca College came together in the making of this book."

Though the stories in the book are as different as the people telling them, most of the retirees agree that postcareer life can be a positive experience for those who want it to be. That often means knowing oneself, letting go of work responsibilities, investing in a passion, adjusting to family matters, and using freedom responsibly. "When it comes to retirement, the assumption that one size fits all just isn't true. These 26 lives show there are many ways to approach this important stage of life," Savishinsky says. "These are women and men who want to define their retirements, rather than let retirement define them." end


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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 17 October, 2002