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  Interviews by
  Charlotte Snow

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  Dan Dry


  > > Coming of age
  > > Positively medieval
  > > Elements of style

  > > Gift trapped

Ten Chicagoans master the art of growing older

image: "Coming of Age" headlineWallace Rusterholtz, 90  Wallace Rusterholtz, AM'56, has stacked on his coffee table more than a dozen books, including Donald L. Miller's City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America and Six Centuries of Great Poetry, edited by Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine. The City Colleges of Chicago history professor emeritus boasts a library of a "couple of thousand" texts that share shelf space in his Hyde Park retirement--home apartment with rows of hand--blown glass and crystal sculptures.

image: Wallace Rusterholtz, 90"When I was stationed in Iran during World War II, I spent all of my Army pay on original Persian miniature paintings and other artifacts. With all of the glassware and other art objects around, I would know immediately that a gay man lives in my apartment. I'm gay, and I've known since I was 12. I didn't have a steady companion until I was 70, and I didn't come out of the closet until I was 85.

"I did propose to a woman on New Year's Eve, 1945. Seven months into our marriage, I realized I had fallen in love with my wife. After suffering terribly from diabetes, she committed suicide about 12 and three--quarters years later. My male companion is now in an Alzheimer's care unit in this building. I visit him every day.

"As a former history professor, I consider that I was teaching a subject that was vital, not peripheral. How people lived is the most important thing to understand about history, and that includes politics and economics. History should rate with the three R's as one of the basics necessary for a good education because, as the late Harvard University professor George Santayana put it, 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'

"Adult education has been my great interest. I taught evening sessions because the students were older and more serious. They worked all day and were willing to go to school in the evening. Before one of my classes started, a woman passed around a box of chocolates because she had just become a great--grandmother. I thought that was wonderful.

"The greatest historical events of this century were the Great Depression and World War II. We haven't had a great president since FDR. Today we're in a rapidly changing and chaotic period. I'm more favorable though to President Clinton than many people are. Kennedy and Harding both misbehaved in the White House, and they were never criticized.

"I am a devout Unitarian. Unitarians are not thought of as being devout but as terrible free thinkers. I glory in being a terrible free thinker. I'm an agnostic. I don't believe in God, and I don't care. I wouldn't dream of being that dependent."

link to: Madeline Stratton Morris link to: top of the page link to: "Coming of Age" link to: Helen Palmer Sonderby and Max E. Sonderby


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