Bob Ramsey humbly refers to his 24-year career as associate superintendent with the St Louis Park school district as time spent as “the backup guy.” But everybody who knows Ramsey knows his life is defined by much more. Ramsey has written more than 30 books for educators and parents. He was integral in the launch of Children First in St. Louis Park and in 2012, received the Outstanding Citizen Award in St. Louis Park.
Since retiring in 1995, Ramsey has continued to advocate for the city he loves, for education, for children and also for senior citizens. His latest book, Creating Vital Aging Communities, outlines a vision for the potential that lies within older citizens and within the community to nurture purposeful aging.
Writing comes naturally to Ramsey; he says he works well with words, ideas and people. Asked about the inspiration for his new book, he explains, “I got old. I became more involved in the environment of senior citizens and began to understand age-related issues that needed to be articulated.”
Ramsey has been a regular guest columnist for the local Sun Sailor newspaper writing about age-related topics. He was invited to chair the mayor’s senior summit and later got involved with Nurturing Our Retired Citizens (NORC) and the Park Nicollet Foundation’s “successful aging” initiative. Like many of his contemporaries, Ramsey understands that seniors are living longer and that aging people are not satisfied with simply existing longer. They want more from those extra years.
Community discussions have led to three prominent focus areas important to seniors: housing, health care and transportation. Ramsey thinks that if a community thoughtfully addresses these issues, seniors can remain effective leaders and vital assets to the community.
According to Annette Sandler, director of aging and disabilities services at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis, “Bob is a change maker. His work serves to heighten the conversation and helps people get involved so good things can happen.”
“Historically, seniors have often been sidelined or warehoused. Doomsday scenarios imply an aging population will drain resources and break the bank,” Ramsey says. “That is a possibility but it is not a certainty. Seniors can be an asset to building a stronger society.”
Ramsey’s personal experiences and his belief in the power of community are what led him to write Creating Vital Aging Communities. The book is divided into two sections: The first is aimed at senior citizens, with chapters that encourage them to re-define what it means to be old. He suggests possibilities for purposeful aging, entrepreneurship and leadership. Chapters offer specific examples and action steps for successful aging; for example, Ramsey encourages seniors to set goals, volunteer, cultivate an active lifestyle, keep learning and stay connected.
The second section is directed at the community, with tips about how to empower and engage senior citizens. His suggestions can help community members switch from a mindset of doing things for seniors to doing things with seniors. Altogether, Ramsey’s book is a combination of ways to address aging at a personal level and at the public policy level.
Because Ramsey is so dedicated to the mission of his book, it is not sold in stores; he considers it his gift to the community. A portion of production costs are supported by Park Nicollet Foundation and Jewish Family and Children Services. Copies have been distributed to local leaders, concerned citizens, City Council members, the School Board, Human Rights Commission, Planning Commissioners and League of Women Voters, to hame a few; they are also available for free at the public library with a request from Ramsey to “please pass the books along to others who care about the future of their community.”
Bridget Gothberg, former community education director for St. Louis Park Schools who is now with the city of St. Louis Park, worked with Ramsey for more than seven years. “Bob lights a torch and passes it on,” she says. “He gives away light so that it might get bigger.”
The Successful Aging Initiative, sponsored by Park Nicollet Foundation, is a collaborative group that meets monthly from 8 to 9:30 p.m. at the Park Nicollet Stilts Building to discuss age-related topics. The next meeting is February 13. For more information about monthly topics or scheduled speakers, contact the Park Nicollet Foundation at 952.993.6104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.