Remarks at a White House Ceremony Honoring Senior Citizen Volunteers

June 26, 1984

The President. My greetings to all of you -- octogenarians, nonagenarians, and, of course, the kids and my fellow septuagenarians. [Laughter] It's a pleasure to welcome you all here to the East Room, some of the most important members of the American family, the senior citizen volunteers.

I've been taking a look at some of the things that you have been doing, and I can tell you from your accomplishments that your attitude toward life is just like Bernard Baruch's, who once said, ``Old age is always 15 years older than I am.'' [Laughter] I like that attitude. I think the thing about getting older is that you'll never grow old as long as you're still interested in the world and still eager to help it.

And I'm aware of all your great volunteer efforts, not only of the people in this audience but of senior citizens as a whole. There has been, for some time, a stereotype abroad in the land that senior citizens don't do much to contribute to society, don't do much to improve the quality of American life. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. No stereotype is as ill-deserved as that one. The truth is, volunteer work is the most prevalent outside-the-home activity for Americans 65 and over. The vast majority of older people are ready to serve.

A recent poll shows 36 percent of the 65-and-older group are involved in charitable activities. They work in the Veterans Administration giving one-on-one help to patients. They work for the Red Cross. They join the Peace Corps. They become Foster Grandparents. In fact, over 18,000 Foster Grandparents are now helping kids who are mentally retarded, autistic, and abused. Thousands of senior citizen companions are helping the elderly, their fellow citizens, and the handicapped. And across the country, over 350,000 senior citizens work about half a day a week as members of the Retired Senior Volunteer programs. They deliver meals to those who can't leave their homes and provide transportation and friendship for the incapacitated.

The fact is that more and more senior citizens in America are becoming part of a big, unsung, unknown army that is dedicated to making life better for all of us. And in doing this, they and all of you have learned the secret of everlasting youth: Stay involved. Keep taking your place at the table of life. Keep going out there into the world, making new friends, and helping people out. Keep giving and keep taking.

That was the secret of some great men and women of Western civilization. Grandma Moses was doing brilliant work well into her eighties. Verdi composed the opera ``Falstaff'' at 79. Adenauer was guiding the German economic miracle when he was in his eighties. Churchill was at retirement age when he began to lead Britain through World War II. And, of course, ``Old Hickory,'' Andrew Jackson, was actually 70 years old when he left the White House. Can you imagine that? [Laughter] And he felt pretty trim and fit and vigorous when he left. I know -- he told me. [Laughter]

They always talk about Presidents aging in office, and of course, like everyone else we do. But I also think that if you enjoy this office and the great debates of the day, then you'll always stay pretty young. That's the key, I think, loving your work -- either the work you do for a living or the work you choose to do when you've retired. But I know I have nothing to tell you about that, because I know that in this group there are some great contributors, some great givers and takers from life.

Now, I'm aware that the aged in our society have some special problems. The world moves so fast these days, and so much of our society is geared to the young that the aged sometimes can feel left out, as if they're no longer in style, and as if they should feel some shame about having grown old. And the greater scourge of old age -- the greatest of all -- is loneliness. And that's why we in this administration have been trying to work closely with national, regional, and local private sector programs and civic and religious groups to help out where and when we can, and to let you know you're deeply appreciated.

I have to inject in here, if I could, a little personal experience. I've told it before, but I want to tell it again.

I refuse to be apologetic about our generation. There are few generations in the history of mankind who have lived through great transition periods. These young people today will see marvelous things that we've not seen and will not see. But, few generations have ever spanned a great transition period in history. And ours is one of those few generations.

We have literally gone from the horse and buggy to travel to the Moon and in outer space. And we have survived four wars in our lifetime; one of the greatest depressions that has ever hit -- that makes this recent recession look like child's play, compared to what we went through. And we have nothing to apologize for -- for what we have done.

But the incident I wanted to remind -- was back when I was Governor of California. And you know the riotous days on the campuses. And one day a group of student leaders demanded a meeting with me -- the nine campuses of the University of California. Well, I was delighted to meet with them, because if I went to the campus, I'd start a riot. [Laughter] So, they came in -- some of them were barefoot, torn T-shirts, the jeans, the -- that was the uniform of the day -- and they sat down, and one spokesman immediately teed off.

And he said, ``Governor, it is impossible for you to understand our generation.'' And I tried to pass it off. I said, ``Well, we know more about being young than we do about being old.'' And he said, ``No, I mean it. You cannot understand your own sons and daughters.'' And he went on. He said, ``You didn't grow up in a world of instant electronics, of instant communication, of travel into space, of nuclear energy, and jet travel.'' And he went on with all these things.

Well, usually, you know, the answer comes to you 2 hours later when the meeting is over. But he talked just long enough that the answer came to me -- [laughter] -- as he listed all these things, and I was hearing what he was talking about that they were living with as if we didn't know anything about them. And he paused for breath, and I interrupted him. And I said, ``You're absolutely right. We didn't have any of those things when we were your age. We invented them.'' [Laughter]

So, all of you in this audience deserve our thanks, our appreciation, and our attention. You're burying old stereotypes, and you're contributing to the world at a time in life when you've earned the right to just sit back and let someone else do it. Well, you're not sitting back, you're leading, and we owe you our thanks.

And now I want to mention someone, Clarence Nash. Ducky is a wonderful man. He's been the voice of Donald Duck at the Walt studios -- Disney studios, for a long time. In fact, this is his 50th anniversary as Donald's voice. And I want to congratulate him and wish him many years of good work.

Ducky, your talents have delighted millions, and I want to mark your anniversary by giving you an award for 50 years of entertainment. Now, someone is approaching with it -- yes. Thank you very much.

This reads: ``To Clarence Ducky Nash, in recognition of his outstanding volunteer service to the Nation as the voice of Donald Duck. For years, Ducky Nash has given generously of his time, energy, and talent to bring pleasure and laughter to those in hospitals and institutions around the country. This commendation recognizes that unselfish commitment.''

Mr. Nash. Thank you, Mr. President. It's really a great pleasure to be here today among all of us senior citizens. It's just great to come here for many reasons, too. I like to share some of my experiences in my work with children.

One time, I was in a hospital entertaining children. There was a boy that was crying. He was in pain, and a doctor was attending him. And the gentleman who was managing me, I told him, ``I think I should take Donald down and talk to this boy.'' And he said, ``No, you'll get in the doctor's way.'' Well, a nurse overheard this. She said, ``You go right down there.'' So I did.

And what did you say to the boy, Donald? You put your face right in front of him.

Donald Duck. Shut up! [Laughter]

Mr. Nash. That boy shut up. [Laughter] And Donald talked to him for over 5 minutes. And the doctor -- he was through -- he said, ``Thanks. This is one time a quack really helped a doctor.'' [Laughter]

Mr. President, I want to thank you again. You know, you and I both shared something at Disneyland in 1955. And it's wonderful that you would invite us here, too. Thank you again.

The President. Well, pleased to see you.

And now, thank you all, and God bless all of you for what you're doing. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:50 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.