“The older Elinor becomes, the younger she gets,” said Kathy Brock, ABC-7 co-anchor.
Former next-door neighbor to Elinor Miller, the 96-year-old “treasure” and matriarch to her block on Lincoln Ave. in Winnetka.
Since 1948, when she moved to the block, Elinor has been making friends, sharing her wisdom and filling the role as a kind of guardian grandmother to people of all ages. She is, indeed, the perfect example of an older adult who is aging in place—with grace and purpose.
A Friend For Life
A window into Elinor’s personality opens with this story from Kathy: “When I first moved here in 1990, I was pregnant and did not know a soul,” she says. “Elinor was my first friend, and the only one who visited me in the hospital when my child was born—and she brought me flowers!”
Even though Kathy moved from the block 20 years ago, she and her family have remained very close to Elinor. They share holidays together, they talk often, and Kathy says that Elinor is as much a grandmother to her children as anyone.
Elinor has been able to stay in her home with the help and support of friends and family. “You have to keep active,” says Elinor. “I go to the library, I read two books a week, I exercise and watch television news and PBS every day.”
Elinor doesn’t dwell on the health issues of growing older. Rather, she prefers to keep current and will engage anyone on issues from politics to the day’s news.
Although she has numerous friends and neighbors to help, the “ladies on Lincoln” —her immediate core helper team—jumped into action when Elinor stopped driving two years ago. “When you don’t drive you go back to being a child—relying on friends,” says Elinor.
Not that it’s an issue. According to neighbor Susan Davis the “ladies” very willingly took turns to drive Elinor to places like the North Shore Senior Center and to weekly exercise at the Winnetka Community House.
One of the keys to Elinor’s happiness is her ability to transcend age and connect with people of all generations. Whether it’s her “best friend” Lilly Christopher—her 10-year-old neighbor—or Susan who says, “The beauty of Elinor is that she does not discriminate about age—she opens her heart to everyone.”
After a job opportunity took the Christopher’s to Europe for two years, one reason they wanted to move back to their house on Lincoln Ave. was their friend Elinor. “It’s a gift to have her as our neighbor,” says Elizabeth Christopher.
“It’s very unusual what has happened for me in this neighborhood,” says Elinor. “I don’t feel isolated because the neighbors have wanted to help me.”
Elinor says that her ability to remain in her home is attributable to three things: her mobility, her mental alertness, and her incredible support system. “I value every day and know that I am a very fortunate person,” she says.
“For some older adults their home becomes a ‘closet’,” says Kathy. “But for Elinor her house is a source of comfort—not a wall to the outside world.”
Neighbor Julie Unruh says that Elinor brings new meaning to growing older gracefully. “She always sees the brighter side of life and is a model for the rest of us to emulate,” says Julie.
“When I come home from work in the evening it’s comforting to see the light on in Elinor’s house.” Julie sums up the joy of knowing Elinor best when she says, “It makes us all feel good to know she lives on our block.”