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Gray matters: Senior advocate reminds her peers to vote

Seniors should get out and vote, said the woman who turns 95 on election day.

In addition to being a World War II veteran, great-grandmother and painter, Helen Miller writes the "Helen's Corner" blog on Face Aging MN, a website dedicated to issues of aging.

"I'm an advocate for seniors and for quality of life for seniors," said Miller, a resident at Woodbury Senior Living.

With 60,000 Minnesotans expected to turn 65 every year until 2030, seniors will wield increased political power, she said. It's important not to waste it.

But activism isn't limited to voting, letter-writing or marches. Seniors can make their voices heard in everyday life, she said.

"When an old person goes to the doctor, a lot of times they don't explain the whole thing to them," she said. "I'm not the kind of person they should do that to. I want to know what's going on."

Last year, Miller made her voice heard all the way to the capitol, where legislators passed the Minnesota Senior Living Reimbursement Reform Bill.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, increased reimbursements of health care benefits to the average senior care home by more than 20 percent. As a result, they could pay a more competitive wage to their registered nurses, nurses aides, licensed practical nurses and maintenance workers.

The high rate of turnover had begun to affect their quality of life, Miller said. Many workers who had long-term relationships with the residents of senior care homes reluctantly had to leave their "family" to find better-paying jobs at hospitals, restaurants or factories.

One of her good friends, a maintenance man who worked at Woodbury Senior Living for 11 years, had agonized over leaving.

"He loves his job and the people here, but the added monetary benefits have him thinking of working here for the long term," she wrote in her blog.

During World War II, Miller was stationed at the Army Air 8th Fighter Command Headquarters in Bushy Herts County, England, where she helped plot the position of bomber and fighter missions into Europe. During daily bombing missions, they kept a tally of the planes that took off each day, which ones made it back and which ones did not.

Meanwhile, the Germans were raking London with V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets.

"Anything that went over land, if it didn't blow up there, it would blow up over us," Miller said. "We were only 18 miles northwest of London."

She appeared in a documentary, broadcast by Twin Cities PBS titled "Women Serving in War." It won a regional Emmy in 2015 for best military documentary.

One of Miller's biggest fans is Margaret Wachholz, campus community relations manager for Woodbury Senior Living.

"You are an advocate for seniors you don't even know," she told her friend during a recent visit.

referring to her blog.

"It gives her a voice on behalf of seniors," she said. "It is such a blessing to have this voice and reach so many," she said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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