As we move into the phase of our lives where retirement replaces hectic working days with a slower place, there are many options for how to spend our free time. Studies continue to show that an active lifestyle that involves hobbies and leisure activities can help in preventing some ailments and age-related diseases.

A study by the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University showed that musicians suffer less age-related memory and hearing loss than non-musicians. A Concordia University study showed that traveling and socializing can boost mental health. A Mayo Clinic study showed that participation in creative hobbies such as woodworking, quilting, pottery or painting helps preserve memory and reduces the risk of dementia. Hobbies are good for your well-being and there’s lots of science to back it up.

Within the Region, there are a plethora of opportunities to enjoy hobbies and social events and in many cases those hobbies can serve the dual purpose of volunteering or creating things for a charitable cause.

Hat Trick

Mary Kerekes, a resident at Hartsfield Village in Munster, has been knitting for more than 30 years. She learned the art from a friend who owned a yarn shop in Virginia, and over the years she has made more sweaters, shawls and caps than she can count and many have gone to good causes.

When word got out at Hartsfield Village that Kerekes was an expert knitter, she learned that the area hospitals accepted donations for newborns. In her 6-1/2 years living at Hartsfield Village she has knitted more than 850 baby hats that have been distributed at Community Hospital, St. Mary Medical Center, St. Catherine Hospital, Methodist Hospitals and Franciscan Health Dyer.

On Valentine’s Day she had the opportunity to visit three of those hospitals to hand-deliver some of her creations and meet the babies that would be wearing them. “That was really something to do,” says Kerekes. “I was so happy to see the babies, and to be able to put one of those little hats on them was really something.”

Kerekes, a mother of seven, grandmother of five and great-grandmother of three, is 89. “I just had my birthday and I think for my age, I’m doing pretty good,” she says. “Knitting keeps your hands moving and it’s something to do. It keeps you from just sitting and sleeping all day like some elderly people do. I just love knitting for the little babies and it makes me very happy.”

Animal Care

Betty Krawczykowski of Beecher can’t think of anything she would rather do than spend time with animals, so when Balmoral Park, where Krawczykowski worked as part of the cleaning crew, closed in 2015, she was happy to learn of an opportunity to volunteer at Settlers Pond. Settlers Pond is a shelter where animals of many kinds are rescued and fostered.

The 73-year-old spends usually five days a week—sometimes more—caring primarily for nine dogs. She also brings along her own Chihuahua, Paco, who enjoys the interaction with the other dogs. Krawczykowski cleans their bedding, fills their food bowls and takes them out for exercise. She also gets to visit with a slew of other creatures, including sheep, chickens, cows and even monkeys, which she says bring her so much pleasure. “They make me laugh. They eat from a spoon. They sit in high chairs. They have little outfits. They watch TV. It’s just amazing,” she says.

“They take really good care of the animals here and I love being around the animals. They make me more happy than people. Some people are depressing. I just love animals and that’s my passion.”

Jim Thompson, 69, of Sauk Village also volunteers his time at Settler’s Pond. However, his time is spent less with animals and more with repairs and construction, although he has assisted on some rescues.

“I’ve built some fences and split wood for them so they have it for winter. I pick up hay for them and help with repairs,” he says. “I retired three years ago and was doing nothing and then had a stroke. This was a good way to get out of the house and get exercise and get back in shape.”

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He says he also really likes horses and grew up on a farm with animals. “There have been a couple horses come in that looked like they were starved and there was an 800 percent change in them in two or three months.”

At the Theater

Kay and Mel Stegenga of Lowell are big fans of theater and have been season ticket holders for several years at Theatre at the Center at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster. As a big lover of musicals, Kay says she appreciates having the venue close to home with free parking rather than having to travel to Chicago to see a high-quality professional production. “It’s so professional and I really appreciate the talent,” she says.

“We used to do date nights on a Friday where would have dinner and then a show. Now that we’re older, we do an afternoon show and then go out to eat afterwards. It’s still our date night. It gets you out of the house and it’s very enjoyable,” she says.

Loretta Galovich of Dyer also loves theater and works as an usher at Theatre at the Center, where one of the perks is getting a chance to see the productions for free. Her usher gig is just one of the hobbies that keeps her active and social. Also a volunteer at Franciscan Health Dyer, a baker and a crafter, Galovich, who is 85, says she just can’t sit still.

She also works out a couple times a week in addition to roller skating with a senior group twice a week, and takes advantage of senior programs throughout the Region, be it a free luncheon, a line-dancing session or bingo. She loves the social interaction and credits it with keeping her young. “You can never have too many friends,” she says.

A former caterer, she still enters (and wins) cooking competitions and helps out at church when there’s a need for something related to food. She urges all seniors to find something they enjoy and just do it. “You’ve got to keep active and you’ve got to keep going. Don’t worry about age. It’s just a number.”

A Love of Nature

Gardening is another popular hobby that is ideal for those who love being outdoors. “Working with the plants is relaxing and it’s also rewarding to see how one can grow something beautiful,” says David Nellans of Munster, who has had his home featured on Munster’s annual garden walk. “By working with plants you are able to meet many very nice people that have similar interests. You are able to share your talents with others even when you are not present through the results and arrangements in the garden.” Besides the satisfaction of seeing his own garden grown, he enjoys sharing tricks and tips with others to help them to garden successfully.

Traveling by recreational vehicle allows much flexibility as a way to spend time seeing new sites or revisiting old ones. Judy and Evan Johnson of Hebron got hooked on RV travel several years ago when they took an anniversary trip to Alaska and following a cruise made their way across the state.

“We traveled for 11 days, covering 1,300 miles and ended up in Anchorage,” says Judy. “We were able to see things in nature that you wouldn’t see at a port of call, or on a train or jeep ride. And, now that we’re older, the smaller RV like we now have is easier to manage than anything we’ve owned.”

Combining a love of travel and nature, the Johnsons like to travel during the week when campgrounds are less crowded, but they also spend time on weekends at nearby state parks where their family and friends can join them.

“We love God’s nature, so we travel by RV so we can spend the night right in the heart of it all, away from big cities, traffic, people, and lights. Seeing the natural sites, animals, birds, and plant life just makes our day and keeps us ever mindful that we have so much to be thankful for,” said Judy.

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