Featured Community Member
MSU AgeAlive Leadership Council
When it comes to making a purposeful life, many fall upon the notion that it takes a lot of effort and influence to have input in one’s community. And, as we get older, the idea of staying engaged and learning can sometimes seem like more youthful endeavors.
From MSU AgeAlive’s Leadership Council Member Gloria Kovnot’s perspective, opportunities to get involved, share your voice, embrace your passions, and continue learning are important at every age – and they are there for the taking. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of coffee.
Inspired by her grandmother and parents to get involved in her community, Gloria has spent her life finding ways to make a difference and continue learning. Instilled with these values and beliefs, Gloria has dedicated her career and now time as a retired person toward sharing her voice as a senior, embracing lifelong learning and encouraging others to get involved and keep learning.
Early in her life, Gloria pursued business school at Pierce College in Philadelphia, met and married her partner in life, Sonny, and welcomed her two daughters in the years to follow. Utilizing her business savvy, Gloria also worked with Sonny over 40+ years to manage the family trucking business.
After closing the business, Gloria began focusing on her Real Estate business. It was through some noisy building renovations on a property that Gloria connected with a resident who happened to be the Director of the Center on Aging at the University of Maryland. This meeting led to coffee and a discussion on ways to enhance the university’s program on aging.
In time, this simple cup of coffee resulted in a role as a research assistant with the university’s Legacy Leadership Institute (LLI) in Public Policy, LLI for Environment and LLI for Fund Raising for Non-Profits. There she helped to develop volunteer service programs for newly retired residents wanting to give back to their communities in a significant way.
After retiring and moving to Michigan, Gloria was appointed to serve on the Tri-County Office on Aging (TCOA) Advisory Council representing Eaton County where she served for 6 years. She also was appointed to MSAC (Michigan Senior Advocate Council) where she spent time informing and engaging with legislators and other stakeholders on aging issues.
Over another cup of coffee with Karen Kafantaris, Associate Director of AARP Michigan, Gloria also became involved in many of the community service opportunities offered at AARP. This year, Gloria along with her friend, Laurena Hoffmeyer (MSU retiree), helped form Savvy Senior Social Group (SSSG), which provides social and informational interactions to keep seniors 50+ actively engaged in the Tri-County area.
In Delta Township, Gloria saw opportunities to kick things up a notch for seniors in the community and helped develop the Delta Township Senior Council, shifting local seniors’ focus from traditional social interactions like bingo toward educational and cultural activities. The program resulted in seniors engaging in more lifelong learning activities and evolved over time as key members transitioned to other communities. Along the way, a number of grant funded projects were pursued with fellow township members, John Goergen and Diana Yager, chairs of the Delta Township Senior Council Grant Committee. These efforts would help to secure a grant to support the Outdoor Fitness center for those over the age of 14 at Sharp Park. “This brought us all together as a community,” Gloria added.
It was following some of her initial work in the Greater Lansing area that the Director of MSU AgeAlive, Clare Luz, PhD, invited Gloria to sit down for another “coffee” resulting in her joining the MSU AgeAlive Leadership Council. This fortuitous meeting led to many more coffees and video conferences helping lead to added efforts in the community.
Bringing her business mindset and person-centric approach to the table with educators and leaders from Michigan State University, the State of Michigan and other aging community stakeholders, Gloria has become a valued asset on the Leadership Council. In this role, she helps coordinate and advise on a variety of projects including the AgeAlive Research Awards, Research Forum, Nutrition Series, as well as a number of other important issues centered around the State’s efforts to enhance Age-Friendly communities, MSU’s Age-Friendly designation, and initiatives by AgeAlive to create an MSU Center on Aging.
“This is an amazing group to be a part of. There are many opportunities to get involved by volunteering to be a spokesperson, help with marketing efforts, provide administrative support for activities such as the Forum or Research Awards,” says Gloria. “There also are internship opportunities for students as well. We are always in need of people to volunteer.”
Gloria also notes that when it comes to creating age-friendly communities and supporting the university’s efforts, that it is important that we continue to raise awareness that it takes community engagement, continued outreach, and financial investment to support age-friendly initiatives. And all of these efforts help individuals to stay at home longer and make it easier to stay engaged in the community through public transportation, technology access and more. Gloria further adds that while some of our larger communities have resources, we need to also make sure smaller communities have access to resources as well. She outlines efforts made by Kelly Arndt at Prime-Time Seniors Program in East Lansing and Cherie Wisdom at Meridian Senior Center in Meridian Township as good examples of this work.
Gloria is also involved in a variety of intergenerational programming through the Senior Ambassador Program, created through a collaboration between AgeAlive in MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, Prime Time - East Lansing’s Senior Center, and the Social Science Scholars Program at MSU. Through this work, Gloria has helped to connect isolated seniors and MSU students to create meaningful mentorship opportunities. She also has helped the seniors and students through development of advocacy training, demonstrating how to talk to legislators, find information on legislation, share their voice, and understand both sides of issues.
In recognition of all of her efforts, Gloria was recognized in 2021 by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Aging & Adult Services Agency as a Senior Citizen of the Year for her work as an aging community advocate. This presented yet another opportunity for Gloria to schedule coffees and get out into the community and engage seniors statewide.
As an advocate and voter, she supports mileages to allow people to stay at home longer, accessible technology, and affordable internet access. She also worked with the Delta Parks Department to engage high school students in planting trees in one of Delta’s parks. She notes that incorporating intergenerational connections has been valuable in her lifelong learning – offering new insights from the students as much as they learn from her.
When you are as active and passionate as Gloria, some may wonder, how does she do it? And she will tell you, she doesn’t do it alone. Her partner in life, Sonny, has been supportive of her efforts, and their daughters Randi and Lisa and four grandchildren continue the family legacy of being involved in the community. “They all keep me modern and, on my toes,” says Gloria. She also credits meditation, a passion for reading, frequent walks, and the joy from helping others and continuing to learn as her passion for being engaged in her community. As a breast cancer survivor, Gloria also shares that it is important to work in partnership with your doctor and see the value of working as a team with family and friends if you face medical challenges that impact your engagement in the community. “It’s okay to ask for help and it can be rewarding for those helping as well,” says Gloria.
So, what can you do to raise your voice, roll up your sleeves, and continue learning? Gloria suggests trying to start somewhere – anywhere, you don’t have to do it all – and Gloria notes she’s done many things over time. “Life can be different after your work life. It helps to find purpose,” she adds. “If everyone does a little bit, that little bit can turn into something totally awesome. And it’s so good for people to be engaged. I know it has brought me great joy.”
Gloria has been a true inspiration for us at AgeAlive. We hope her story has been inspiring for you as well. We encourage you to set a coffee date to get engaged locally and continue your lifelong learning. Make a call. Attend political party events. Share an idea or concern. Vote on issues that will support age-friendly communities. Attend the presentation. With each cup, life is full. “I think aging is fun,” says Gloria who is preparing for her 80th revolution around the sun. “Find out what you are passionate about, and it will help you lead a purposeful life.”
To learn more about the various programs and projects outlined in this feature, we encourage you to visit MSU AgeAlive at www.agealive.org and to check out the resource list below:
WAYS TO GET INVOLVED
AGEALIVE - Home
AgeAlive: MSU Aging Research and Education Center (facebook.com)
Tri-County Office on Aging (TCOA) Advisory Council
Advisory Council | Tri-County Office on Aging (tcoa.org)
(2) Tri-County Office on Aging | Facebook
Michigan Senior Advocate Council
Advocacy | Tri-County Office on Aging (tcoa.org)
Meridian Senior Center
Meridian Senior Center | Meridian Township, MI
MSU Senior Ambassador Program
Senior Ambassadors Program - Home
Prime Time Seniors Program
Prime Time Seniors Program | East Lansing, MI - Official Website (cityofeastlansing.com)
Savvy Senior Social Group
(1) Savvy Seniors Social Group | Facebook