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Finishing well

A "retirement" community shows how not to fade away

As the 33rd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision looms later this month, it's worth remembering that life for not only the very young but also the very old is under attack. So I recently made a trek to the Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community, a 200-acre compound in Lancaster, Pa., to meet some people old enough, by today's enlightened standards, not to have much reason to live.

I made the trek to Quarryville on a tip that 98-year-old resident pastor Russell Piper would be back in the saddle, literally, for a day, fulfilling a wish to relive the boyhood pleasures of "drag-racing" bareback, as he once did through the streets of Minnesota. QPRC and Lancaster County Therapeutic Riding Inc. didn't let him do bareback, but they did offer a fine quarter horse named Josie, and the parson found that equestrian skills, like bicycling, come back to you. I was there, I saw.

Reverend Piper is no good at retiring to leisure. He thought about it briefly in the early 1970s, but when asked in 1974 to pastor a new church plant in Ronan, Mont., he and his wife packed their belongings in Lincoln, Neb., and headed off for new adventures. Like other QPRC residents, he doesn't believe in retirement because he hasn't found it in the Bible as an option. (Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community is also misnamed because it's only 40 percent Presbyterian.)

Cock your ear in the QPRC dining room and you will hear chatter among the 340 residents about their pen-pals in the local high school; their Released Time students at the local elementary school; the Thrift Shop expansion; the poetry, woodworking, or brass rubbing they're planning to showcase at resident Milton Fisher's "Talent on Parade" night; the books they've been publishing.

The vision of "finishing well" starts at the top. QPRC's in-house communiqué notes, "So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come" (Psalm 71:18)-and that seems to be the general attitude.

The president and CEO, Robert B. Hayward Jr., informed me that it was Otto von Bismarck who came up with the retirement age of 65 (the average lifespan was 55 in the late 1800s), and when Social Security was launched in 1935, the government more or less arbitrarily adopted that age. Then Mr. Hayward quizzed me: "How old was Abraham when God called him out?" I took a stab from Genesis: 75. He explained that he saw his job as taking care of residents' needs in order to free them up-and then getting out of the way. He ended with this maxim: "Not to be retired but to be refired."

I talked to resident Ruth Kantor who describes herself as a "listener" to children from the voluntary Released Time program, drilling public-school tykes an hour a week on Bible memorization. Hers is a fascinating story in its own right: Jewish girl converted by Gentile neighbor, ultimately co-publishing a tract with her pharmacist husband titled, "A Pharmacist Finds the Right Prescription." An essay for another time.

I talked to the Knobles, John a former New York actor, and both retired missionaries to Japan who have recycled tried-and-true gifts for a new season in life. Barbara leads a Bible study, and he dons Victorian wig and redingote for historical reenactments in Lancaster and Philadelphia, also volunteering at the Strasburg Railroad Museum, singing for the skilled care residents, and praying through the employee list.

I caught up with the Pinckneys the day after the annual Solanco Fair parade with the QPRC float (the theme was volunteering). Marion gives piano lessons to locals and helps with a pen-pal outreach to 14 children from the Caribbean. Earl makes eyeglasses for Third World countries and was pleased to send me a DVD of the recent Intelligent Design seminar he organized.

I'm inspired to someday be refired, not retired. My thanks to the QPRC residents for taking a few minutes from their busy schedules for the likes of me.