When Jeanne Bain, who is 53, talks about the various friends she has who are much younger or older than she is, it’s hard to keep track.
There’s the 35-year-old woman from whom Bain has received “reverse mentoring” on a work project. The guy in his 20s she met while standing on a light-rail platform around midnight and wound up having over for dinner with her family. The priest who recently died at 88, whom Bain befriended in his early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The young musician who is contemplating a big career change and wanted to get Bain’s views. The 86-year-old man who owned the drugstore where Bain worked as a teenager — when he was in hospice, she would stay with him on a regular basis.
Bain, who lives in Minneapolis, meets a lot of younger and older people through her work, having once been a high-school speech coach and currently providing services in a senior residence. She hangs onto those friendships. Now she has “hundreds — seriously, hundreds” of friends, “not just on Facebook, in real life” who happen to be from different generations than hers. And that’s the way she likes it.
“I don’t have this preconceived notion of who you are based on your age,” she said.
Wait, what? Aren’t the media full of stories about members of different generations clashing over their inescapable differences? Aren’t older and younger people drastically incompatible in their behavior and their entire worldviews?
You’re probably familiar with the stereotypes. Baby boomers, the post-World War II generation born between 1946 and 1964, are selfish and stuck in their ways and can barely operate a mobile phone. Millennials, born during the last couple of decades of the 20th century, are lazy and entitled and would rather look at their phone than talk to a person.
In between is Gen X, whose stereotypes are a little fuzzier — detached and skeptical slackers, maybe? (“America’s neglected ‘middle child,’” a Pew Research article called them.)
Media stories about generational traits are often presented with good intentions — for example, tips on how people from different generations can get along on the job. And sure, people are affected by major events they’ve lived through: a thriving economy vs. a recession. Or by growing up making calls, listening to music and watching movies on computers small enough to carry in their pockets, vs. a childhood of rotary-dial landlines, vinyl records and three-channel broadcast TV. But describing millions based on their having been born at some point in a two-decade span hardly seems more reliable than astrology.
Sweeping generalizations (generationalizations?) only go so far. What differences the generations do exhibit may be more closely tied to stage of life than entrenched personality characteristics. In the end, individuals in different cohorts can have more in common with each other than they do with people their own age.
Boomers, technologically illiterate? The late Steve Jobs, one of the people most responsible for putting computers in people’s pockets in the first place, was born in 1955, midway through the baby boom. So was his archrival Bill Gates.
Millennials, lazy? Apparently Beyoncé (born 1981) and Usain Bolt (1986) didn’t get the memo.
How many of your own friends — not counting relatives — are 20 years older or younger than you? Intergenerational friendships and business partnerships might not be terribly common. But they can, according to people we talked to for this story, be as rewarding as any other close relationships.
Bette ‘Penny’ Jacobs, 91, and Vicki Joan Keck, 61
Even though their ages are 30 years apart, Vicki Joan Keck and Bette “Penny” Jacobs share plenty of interests and tastes. So it’s no big deal that one of the two is considerably more physically active.
That would be Jacobs, the 91-year-old.
Oh, Keck likes to walk and bike. But many 20-somethings would have trouble keeping up with Jacobs, who walks, bikes, ice skates, swims, kayaks and skis (cross-country only these days, after downhill runs began to worry her family a few years ago). Jacobs took up mountain climbing at 76 and by her 80s was tackling climbs to which she was dropped by helicopter. She loves to circle Minneapolis lakes on her inline skates.
“I like to move,” Jacobs said. “I don’t like not to move.”
The two met almost 30 years ago, when Jacobs was 63 and Keck 33, in a group trek across New Zealand. They discovered they both lived in Minneapolis and hit it off. When the group held a party on the final night of the trip, Keck lent an outfit to Jacobs, who hadn’t packed dressy clothes.
One day after they got back, Keck was walking around a lake and spotted a woman ahead on Rollerblades, wearing a beanie with a whirling propeller on top. It was Jacobs.
“I just loved that about her — she was so full of fun,” Keck said.
They started seeing each other regularly. Keck would put on roller skates and join Jacobs on her Rollerblades for a whirl around a lake. Or they’d get together for theater or art.
Keck, a former print-shop owner, is also an actress and storyteller. When Jacobs hosts her frequent gatherings where musician friends play their instruments, Keck performs.
“I love when she sings to me, or recites her own poetry,” Jacobs said.
“And I love that she encourages me,” Keck replied.
They both love travel. Keck has been to Australia and Fiji as well as New Zealand. She can’t travel as often as Jacobs, who has hiked, biked and kayaked on just about every continent.
“I live vicariously through her trips,” Keck said.
They have a few differences. Keck uses a computer and a smartphone. Jacobs, a retired teacher, taught computers for some years. But she has lived without them since one day about five years ago, when she was Rollerblading around Lake Harriet.
“I was appreciating nature and my positive thoughts — and the phone rings,” Jacobs said. “I thought, ‘I don’t need this,’ and I threw it in the lake.”
Her computer followed (not into the lake, but out of her life).
But those differences aren’t important because they treasure their shared interests. And something more.
“We just like each other,” Jacobs said. “There’s certain people you like and there’s certain people you’d just as soon skip.”
“I admire Penny so much,” Keck said.
Said Jacobs: “We’re just damn good friends.”
Leslie Hammons, 34, and Martin Weinstein, 76
The dissimilarities only start with the 42 years of age between gallery partners Martin Weinstein and Leslie Hammons.
But most of their differences are the type that might distinguish any two business partners, Weinstein said, and aren’t necessarily age-related.
“Except for my Instagram account and your lack of an Instagram account,” Hammons pointed out.
“I’m a yellow-pad guy,” said Weinstein, holding up a tablet of lined paper scrawled with notes, on a desk conspicuously empty of a computer like the one that occupies most of Hammons’.
But if their use of technology differs, they work so well as a team that in December Weinstein made Hammons, who had been director of the Weinstein Gallery in southwest Minneapolis for 10 years, his partner. Together, they run the internationally recognized space now known as the Weinstein Hammons Gallery.
“It was a natural evolution,” Weinstein said. “As we went from exhibit to exhibit, it was obvious that Leslie’s role just continued to expand.”
Weinstein’s decades of experience pairs well with Hammons’ connections to youth culture and the changing art world.
“We push each other in different ways,” Hammons said.
The compliments continue: “She’s an absorber of information of the highest order.” “He’s more open-minded than a lot of young people.”
Weinstein grew up in New York. He taught school, ran a program for challenged youths and practiced law for 25 years before opening the Weinstein Gallery 21 years ago. Hammons grew up in Princeton, Minn., attended college in Duluth and received a master’s degree in art history from Pennsylvania State University. Weinstein hired her right out of graduate school to direct the gallery, and she has been there ever since.
The Weinstein Hammons Gallery sometimes exhibits paintings and sculpture but specializes in photography. Their shows have presented work by some of the country’s most famous photographers, including Robert Mapplethorpe and Gordon Parks, whose estates they represent, and Alec Soth and Annie Leibovitz.
“People would pay to have access to this wealth of knowledge,” Hammons said. “I get paid.”
Running a gallery can be stressful: developing ideas, selecting artists and pieces, safely transporting materials, framing and properly presenting the work, dealing with clients. In addition to exhibits featuring single artists, they have co-organized conceptual shows including female fashion photographers, the Egyptian pyramids and images featuring two women. Weinstein and Hammons work so cooperatively that sometimes they can’t remember which of them came up with an idea in the first place.
Weinstein believes that the basis for any successful business partnership — besides a sense of humor — is respect. Theirs is strong and mutual. Even when they disagree, they value each other’s judgment and skills enough to find common ground.
“One of the things I have respect for is Leslie’s incredible ability to relate to and deal with other people at all levels,” Weinstein said.
“I would say the same thing about you, though,” she replied.
Cora McCorvey, 69, and Cara Deanes, 39
It was Verna Cornelia Price who decided Cora McCorvey and Cara Deanes would make a great mentor-mentee pair.
As author of “The Power of People: Four Kinds of People Who Can Change Your Life,” Price, a Twin Cities author, consultant and speaker, should know a good match when she sees one. So she introduced the two. Sure enough, the relationship has benefited both women.
McCorvey retired last year after 25 years as executive director and CEO of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. Deanes had been named development director for Price’s Power of People Leadership Institute.
“To work with Cara is natural to me — it doesn’t feel like work,” McCorvey said.
Each woman has experience on the other side of the mentoring relationship. Deanes has been working to help advance girls and young women throughout her career. Her current responsibilities include overseeing Girls in Action and Boys of Hope, mentoring programs for high school students.
“In my personal life, I have always had strong women around me,” Deanes said. “We met and hit it off. I was like, ‘Oh, this is really cool.’ ”
McCorvey knew the value of mentoring from her own experience on the other side of a mentoring relationship. When she was chosen to lead the MPHA, “there were very few women who looked like me at all” — most Minneapolis government officials were white men. Richard Brustad, the organization’s former executive director, offered to help McCorvey grow into her new leadership role. They met regularly for years.
“He became like the father I never had,” she said. “He showed me how to be a leader.”
She paused, thinking of his funeral early last year. “I could tear up now because he was so good to me.”
The best mentorships look a lot like friendships, McCorvey and Deanes said. The two meet regularly to talk, ask about each other’s families and tell about past experiences. McCorvey talked to Deanes about how to earn people’s trust, how to say “no” when necessary, how to be assertive, how to reach out to other community leaders and office holders.
“It’s really about sharing stories,” Deanes said. “She will share stories of conflicts she has had in her life, conflicts in relationships and how she handled them.”
McCorvey knows from her own experience the importance of having someone to confide in.
“When you’re in these big jobs, it is very isolating,” McCorvey said. “You don’t have anybody you can pour your heart out to.”
Many baby boomers like McCorvey are retiring, Deanes said, noting that they still have much to contribute.
“I wish we could figure out a way to use that wisdom,” Deanes said. “I wish my generation would take more time to explore the generation above us.”
Shannon Hyland Tassava, 47, and Kaylin Faust, 27
Both like their bananas a little green. Both identify as introverts who hate parties. Both only drink cold coffee. Both describe themselves as Type A personalities. Both like to write, chose to work with children with special needs, and are currently stay-at-home mothers. Both hate harsh overhead lighting.
Shannon Hyland Tassava and Kaylin Faust have so much in common that one time they showed up to the school where they worked wearing unplanned identical outfits: the same pink sweaters, white T-shirts, rolled jeans, the same sandals (in different colors).
No wonder Tassava and Faust call themselves soul sisters, or sometimes even “basically the same person.”
Although the 20 years between them technically constitutes a generation (they’re Gen X and millennial, respectively), the two Northfield women hardly notice the age gap. They met when both were teaching special-needs students at Sibley Elementary School in Northfield. The friendship clicked from the very beginning.
“She complimented me on my Birkenstocks and my watch at the same time, and I just thought, ‘I love this girl.’ ” Tassava said.
Faust said, “I don’t think I ever even think about how far apart we are in age.”
They ate lunch together every day and talked, learning a lot about each other in half-hour conversations. They discovered their matching idiosyncrasies. They talked about TV shows they both watched. Tassava started reading an author Faust recommended. They swapped recipes.
At first, only Tassava had children, but Faust became a mother a year ago. When her daughter was born, Faust decided to leave the school and stay home with the baby. Tassava followed suit last summer, when she decided her daughters, now 11 and 13, needed her at home, too.
Faust was delighted. “The stay-at-home life can be lonely. It’s been so nice to have Shannon available.”
They text each other throughout the day. Although Tassava’s children are older than Faust’s daughter, her memories of their babyhood are still fresh enough to share her acquired knowledge. None of Faust’s other friends have children, so if she needs information she turns to Tassava.
“You can give me advice in almost a sisterly way,” she told her friend.
“I’ve been through everything she’s been through,” Tassava said. “She can text me about colic and teething. And the good things, too.”