Some of Edina's elders are looking for ways to build a stronger community in retirement.
Alice Randall's kids are grown and gone. At age 69, she still works part time. But she misses the "connectiveness" she felt when her kids were in Edina schools and she was busy with their activities and parent groups.
"At this point in life, I'm too old for what I've been doing and I have to move on," she said. "But I'm not ready for people to do things for me. I still want to be proactive. I still want to give."
Randall is among the more than 20 percent of Edina residents who are 65 or older, making the suburb one of the oldest in the metro area.
Now the city has begun an unusual community conversation about aging positively and productively. It is working with consultant Richard Leider, whose executive education and coaching firm is located in Edina.
Leider and Mayor Jim Hovland hope that eventually the community conversation -- which is staging its third event this month -- will lead to development of a "center on positive aging" based in Edina.
"The real purpose here is to inspire seasoned citizens to lead engaged lives, to stay learners," Leider said. By connecting those residents with one another, he said, Edina can better face the challenge of having an aging community.
"Community is much more than a place. It's a state of mind. It's a shared vision, a common fate. It's not only where we live, but how we act toward each other through the life span," Leider said.
As one of the metro area's more affluent suburbs, Edina has many active seniors and an array of adult education and volunteer programs. But it also has a tradition of self-sufficiency.
Residents arrange for their own garbage collection. When streets in front of their homes are repaved, homeowners pay the entire bill. Events that bind residents in other suburbs, like city-sponsored tree sales or a farmer's market, don't happen in Edina. These may be little things, but they add up to a city where independence is the norm.
"That creates a gap, a hole for some people," Randall said.
The positive aging initiative was Hovland's idea. He said there's a difference between residing in a city and belonging to a community.
"I see a lot of folks around town that are older, and some of them express the opinion that everybody needs a reason to get up in the morning," Hovland said. "I suspect most have that reason. But it did make me think: What are we doing for citizens in the second half of life?"
Leider, who writes and talks about leadership and "purposeful aging," for now has foregone his normally hefty fees to work pro bono with the city. A senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, he also works with business schools at the U and Harvard. Leider has a home in Edina and is the founder of the Inventure Group, which is based in the suburb.
What Edina is doing could become a model for other cities, he said.
"This whole positive aging movement knows no boundaries," he said. "It's a worldwide societal issue. ... Increasingly, people are looking at what makes a community a community. You can have a lot of people in a place like Edina [who are] very isolated."
Last fall, Leider's first speech in Edina on what was called "the adult community initiative" was expected to draw about 50 people. An overflow crowd of 200 attended. In February, a group of about 20 people met to talk more about the issue. On May 15, a morning workshop will focus on "living, learning and working on purpose in uncertain times."
Leider points to a recent MetLife Mature Market Institute Study that interviewed 1,001 people between the ages of 45 and 75 about what defines "the good life." The survey found that those who said their lives had purpose were far more likely to say they were happy and contented than those who did not.
Older people put less emphasis on wealth accumulation than younger people and were most likely to say what matters to them is "meaning-related" activities like spending time with family and enjoying personal pursuits.
"Meaning trumps money at all ages for those seeking 'the good life,'" Leider said.
He hopes the May 15 meeting will be a "baby step" to getting things rolling on a center that would directly help people, spur conversations about positive aging and develop a cadre of learners, mentors and volunteers.
Randall recently passed out invitations to this month's event, and she said one senior turned to her and said, "What you do in retirement is you volunteer and you travel."
That's not Randall's view.
"It's the coming together and building of community around thoughtful conversation," she said. "It's not an answer, but an opportunity to be on a quest."
Leider thinks that conversation is even more important now.
"During times of change, we look at the core, at who we are, and from that we look at health, money and purpose," he said. "We look at how do we survive? And if we survive, how do we choose to do things that fit who we are and give us meaning?
"Meaning is fundamental to life. ... Our work and family used to give us that. Now the kids and the job are gone. Where do you go for an advanced degree in maturity? How do you learn this?"
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380