Friday, May 27, 2011

Interview With Ann Dillon

Last week I visited a colorful woman named Ann Dillon. This very alert 94-year-old has a lot of things going on. We talked in her apartment on the Upper West Side.

Ann Dillon

Ann Dillon was born in New Jersey in 1917. Since then she has lived in a lot of different places. Back in the day, she said, you had to take a ferry from New Jersey to get into Manhattan. Ann has also lived in Denver, Colorado. This is where she studied to become a Medical Laboratory Technician. She loved using the microscope and thought it was astonishing to look at blood samples. Ann was in the middle of her internship when her husband left to serve in WWII. This meant she had to quit the internship and move back to the East Coast. It also meant she did not get a chance to finish Medical School.

After the War ended, Ann went back to school, not to study medicine, but to become a teacher. Her husband was a professor at a college in New Jersey. One day one of the teachers in a Elementary School was sick and Ann was asked to substitute. This was when she discovered her love for teaching. After this experience she got herself a Master's degree and worked as a teacher for many years. Every time Ann has gone to school, she was able to get scholarships from the State of New Jersey.

She took jobs on the side to pay for room and board. Back in Denver she would wait tables after classes, and when she was done at 9 pm, she would crawl back through the window to do her lab-work. Even though she was a busy young woman, she still did very well in school. Ann told me that one night, when she was waiting tables, one of her professors came into the restaurant. He recognized her and said that she was the student who had earned the highest points in his class. Ann was so diligent that she even got a scholarship to study abroad for a year. She decided to go to the United Kingdom, to a town called Durham.

The first thing she told me was that she had a daughter, Dr. Mary Jane Koren, a geriatrician. Ann and Susanne Paul sat together to hear Dr. Koren speak about aging issues at a large public event. A compelling speaker, Dr. Koren outlined many critical issues facing older people. This chance meeting helped build Global Action on Aging; Ann became an active volunteer with GAA and her daughter an excellent resource for new ideas in engaging older persons productively.

I did not get to meet Dr Koren since she was at the hospital with her pet dog. Not an ordinary pet, this is a hospital dog. Every now and then, Dr Koren takes her dog to a hospital to cheer up people who are ill.

University of Durham

Throughout her life Ann traveled a lot. She circled the world no less than three times. One of her favorite places on earth is Beijing, China. When she was younger she took a train all the way from Moscow to China. She told me she was very impressed by the fact that the Chinese had built the Great Wall of China with no machinery. Ann loves Chinese art and culture so much that she is a volunteer at the China Institute in New York City. Every Monday she works at their gallery. When Ann is not volunteering, she likes visits different art exhibitions around New York City.

Ann told me that she has donated her brain to science. When Ann passes away, her brain will go to a research hospital. I wanted to know why; she told me that she has always been very interested in medicine and science. She believes donating her brain can push science even further. Alzheimer's disease has always been a confusing matter for scientists, and Ann thought, since she is a 94 year old who shows no signs of Alzheimer's, she might be able to help research move forward on this particular matter.

I asked Ann what she thinks helps her stay so active and alert. She told me that she thinks it is the exercise she does every day. She exercises 30 minutes every day in her building's gym. Whenever she can, she uses the stairs instead of the elevator.

I think everyone can learn something from Ann. Ever since I met Ann, I have taken stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. I would love to be as active and alert as Ann when I am 94 years old.

Sanna Klemetti