For many of us, another year in the books means a new passion or hobby, new friends or family members, or a new outlook on life. In fact, the conventional age of retirement is beginning to carry less weight, as new dreams and aspirations are taking precedence.
Research shows that seniors are happier than ever — and after meeting these four remarkable Chicagoans, it’s easy to see why. Bound not by their birth certificates but by their absolute zest for life, they’re living proof that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, share your message with the world, or follow your true passion.
Herb Sheriff, 87 — Crossing Guard & Engineer
A storied face in District 39, Herb Sheriff has been an important part of the Wilmette Police Department and Village for the past 26 years. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Sheriff relocated to Chicago, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Following a successful career in engineering, Sheriff’s wife spotted an advertisement in the Chicago Tribune for crossing guards in Wilmette — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sheriff aims to lead by example, instilling the same values in the children that he learned in the army as a Korean War Veteran. “It’s real world that matters,” he says. “You learn by doing … when I was in Korea, you watched the sergeant who knew. If his legs were bent, you were down on the ground before him. Same thing applies; you look to those who know better than you do. And there always is someone who does.”
Above all else, Sheriff places the utmost importance on the safety of the “little adults” he crosses. “It’s one thing in the service when you put your life on the line. When I took the job, I said no kid will ever be hit. I will put myself before that.”
Magda Brown, 91 — Activist & Storyteller
Magda Brown was born and raised in Miskolc, Hungary, in a safe and loving home. It wasn’t until her 17th birthday that her life would be forever changed. Brown is a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald concentration camps.
As a Holocaust survivor, Brown travels the world speaking with people from all walks of life. Over the past nine years, she has addressed more than 100,000 people. Brown brings a magnetism to the room that engages people of all perspectives. Although her audiences may vary, her overall message is consistent: “The Holocaust was a premeditated, scientifically coordinated mass murder. Genocide doesn’t happen from one minute to the next, it builds gradually. And that is one of my main missions to tell the public: to look out for their freedom and protect it to the best of their abilities. Because once you lose your freedom, you lose everything.”
Brown is a member of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. She continues to travel telling her story firsthand to as many people as possible so that the next generation will never forget and it will never happen again.
Dwayne Dobschuetz, 70 — Nurse & Cyclist
As an advanced nurse practitioner who provides home primary care to seniors, Dwayne Dobschuetz spends his days turning passion into action by caring for others. Though he’s been known to have a bleeding heart — an ironic description for someone in the medical field — the thrill and challenge of making someone’s life better is what keeps Dobschuetz motivated. “That sounds simple, but it’s like magic.”
Dobschuetz keeps himself fit by commuting to patients’ homes on a Northwestern Medicine purple bicycle, and as an avid cyclist, he wouldn’t want it any other way. “More than 50 years since college, everything has come together for me: my initiative, my training, my experience, and that Northwestern has allowed me to work in this rewarding position.”
Renee Matthews, 86 — Actress & Singer
Renee Matthews was just 6 years old when she made her onstage debut at the Chicago Theatre. With a concert pianist mother and opera singer father, it’s safe to say the award-winning actress was destined for the stage.
Matthews has starred in countless productions throughout the years, including “Old Jews Telling Jokes” at Royal George Theatre, “The Full Monty” at Drury Lane Water Tower, and “The Vagina Monologues” at Apollo Theater. In 2014, she appeared in Kmart’s widely viewed “Shop Like a Boss” commercial.
With more than 35 years in the Chicago theater community, Matthews continues to audition for commercials and voiceovers. Her advice for aspiring actors is simple: “Be passionate about your work and be prepared. Expect rejection, but be patient.”
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Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.