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Spreading the wisdom in St. George's Square

Former mayor Norm Jary shares insights as part of Schlegel Villages campaign.

The wisdom of elders was shared in St. George’s Square on Tuesday, part of Schlegel Villages' #ElderWisdom Green Bench campaign.

Former Guelph Mayor Norm Jary, 87, had years of experience as a politician and community builder to share with anyone who took a seat in front of the green-painted park bench, shaded with two broad, candy-striped umbrellas. He was joined by Lola Jobst, 90, who considered anyone of middle age to be young.

“I’m flattered they thought I might have some wisdom to share,” said a wry-witted Jary, a resident of Schlegel's Riverside Glen in Guelph. 

Jary was mayor of the city for 15 years, from 1970-85. He said not everyone was completely supportive of his ideas and plans, and some were quite critical. But he gained a lot of wisdom leading the city.

“If you’re honest, fair, and willing to listen, people will really appreciate that,” he said. “Those are the important things – be honest, fair, listen and treat people with respect.”

Jobst, a resident of Schlegel's Arbour Trails, said life ought to be exciting and fulfilling. To avoid getting in a rut it's important to have a willingness to change.

“Don’t be afraid to make a change,” she said. “I think change is so important. Give yourself time to think about where you want to go, what you want to do. And think about how you can make a change.”

Schlegel Villages is taking its #ElderWisdom Green Bench campaign across Ontario as a way of promoting the idea that seniors have great wisdom that ought to be shared and absorbed. Schlegel is eager to have the residents of its 16 long-term care and retirement facilities in Ontario more actively sharing their experience in their communities.

The ageism of society often marginalizes seniors. Discrimination against them silences their voices and limits their choices and dignity, and diminishes their quality of life, according to Schlegel Villages publicity material. 

Ted Mahy, Schlegel’s online engagement manager, said a stop in Waterloo on Monday was greeted with a resounding bagpipe welcome, press coverage by the Waterloo Region Record, and a number of people eager to gain wisdom and share it on social media.

Tammy Desjardins sat down with Jary and Jobst, and made deep connections with them.

“It was wonderful to get this chance to really connect with an elder through their life experience,” said Desjardins. “They have had so much time on this earth, and they are so calm, kind and gentle.”

She called the experience “quite spiritual,” saying it connected her to her aboriginal heritage, where the wisdom of the elders is highly respected and cherished.

“It is very refreshing to speak to those who have been here for much longer than I have,” she added. “In our society the elders are put away and out of sight. It is so important that their perspective be a part of our communities.”