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Stronger together

One of the best things about Probus is the connections we make: finding old friends, making new ones and taking trips around Australia and beyond. We look at the importance of building networks in retirement.

We often don’t realise how closely connected our social life is to our working life until we enter retirement. Without the ritual of work we have to try harder to make friends and to build the networks of people we see regularly. Having kids is something else that draws us into the orbit of other people as we get involved with school or meet other parents, and that too changes when our kids grow up and leave home.

But keeping connected as we age is one of the keys to a long and healthy life. Recent research has shown that the online community is also ageing; social networking has become an important way to stay in touch. Pew Research in the United States has shown that more than half of US internet users over the age of 65 are regularly on Facebook. But despite the benefits of staying in touch in the digital age, nothing can replace face-to-face get-togethers. Getting together as a group to talk about how we feel at this important stage of our lives is key.

In its report “Social Engagement and Healthy Ageing”, Harvard Medical School says that how connected you are to other people can be as important to healthy ageing as not smoking, exercising or maintaining a good weight.

“For helping to prevent memory loss, social engagement is very important,” says Dr. Suzanne E. Salamon, associate chief for clinical geriatrics at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Talking and interacting with people takes energy and makes you work harder, which stimulates your brain.”

This can be where your Probus Club comes in, helping you to keep in touch with others at the same stage of life that you find yourself.

“We talk about Fun, Friendship and Fellowship, and I guess that is where it all starts. When a person comes into the Club, they may or may not know many people, and within a very short period – if they choose to get involved in activities – then new friendships are built and they find they have a new life that is very, very busy,” says Probus Chairman Douglas Geekie. “As we get older, we start losing a lot of our friends, but it’s important that we continue to have friends and have fun and be able to enjoy our lives.”

Douglas points to his own Club in Queensland, which has a Christmas party for the “orphaned grandparents” – those whose families are interstate – and about 50 or 60 people turn up to that function.

Douglas has also found that his position as Chairman has been a great chance to connect with friends from the past, one of which dates all the way back to 1957.

“It’s a great network. We have 125,000 members and a magazine, internet and Facebook. All those things give you an opportunity to renew friendships that you haven’t seen in a long time,” he says.

Friends old and new

Bronwyn Halbisch is a past President of the Weston Creek Ladies Probus Club in the ACT. When she was President of the Club she would regularly be given a list of visitors that were attending on that day.

“I would normally read their names and extend a welcome to them,” Bronwyn says. “However, one time was a bit different; as I was about to read the names, I saw a familiar name. It was an unusual name and I wondered if it was the same girl I’d worked with and was friends with in Sydney some 40 years ago.”

Bronwyn was still not sure if it was her old friend, so she asked that the members stand, and she welcomed them individually, leaving her friend’s name until last.

Eventually, it came time for her friend, Suzanne, to stand, and they were both so excited.

“So we’ve had a great reunion and now look forward to each month’s meeting to lunch together following the meeting and find out the latest with each other,” Bronwyn says.  

“After Sydney, both our lives took us in different directions: mine to London to live and travel and hers to marriage and a baby in Australia.”

Bronwyn learned that Suzanne and her husband had gone their separate ways and her friend had taken her baby to Canberra to start a new life.

“That baby is now married with two beautiful grandchildren and her husband happens to be the son of one of my volunteer colleagues at the National Arboretum Canberra,” she adds. “So what a lovely circle of reconnection I’ve found through Probus.”

Clyde Woods of Moorleigh Probus knew no one when he first joined his Club after nearly 10 years of caring for his wife Dawn, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

“When she died, I felt a deep sense of loss of purpose,” Clyde says. “I felt that I had nothing left in life. Someone, bless them, suggested I try Probus. I found
the Moorleigh Club close by and went as a visitor. I was so warmly welcomed that I felt as though I had found 50 new friends.”

Clyde joined the Club and was soon nominated to join the Committee, where he is now vice president. But all did not run smoothly on the committee. Clyde, who used to work in the telecoms sector, would regularly clash with a fellow committee member by the name of Ray.

Funny thing is, over time Ray and Clyde realised that they actually really liked each other and that initial disagreement turned into mutual respect and even admiration. Now, the two are good friends who support each other both in and out of the Committee room.

“So Probus has had a great impact on my life,” Clyde says. “I am now never lonely and if I need company I only have to pick up the phone or send an email to any of 50 people and know that I am welcome – it’s a great feeling.”

Friends recommending friends

For Colleen Smith of the newly formed Beacon Hill Combined Probus Club, it was a golfing friend who recommended her to Probus. Colleen had been playing golf with Frances for three years when her friend suggested she come along to the initial meetings of this new Probus Club.

The pair hit the course at Wakehurst Golf Club twice a week, but they were both looking to expand their network of friends.

“Connecting with people is the most important thing, because as you get older there are not that many opportunities,” Colleen says. “With work and bringing up your children you get involved in what they are doing with school and then when you retire there is a bit of a void there – even though I have church and golf I want to meet new people and do new things.”

One of the interesting things was that Beacon Hill was just starting out. Colleen is proud of her status as a foundation member and now she is recommending that some of her golf buddies follow her to the meetings.

The big appeal for Colleen is the activities like harbour cruises and the guest speakers.

“When you retire you think ‘I will go down to Bowral for the flower festival,’ and you never organise it. Life gets in the way. But when you go to Probus and someone says ‘I will organise visiting speakers’ and ‘I will organise day trips,’ it makes it easier,” she says.

Now another golf buddy that Colleen has played golf with for the past 10 years is joining her at Probus. And the cycle of connection continues...

Keep connecting

One of the best ways to grow your group of friends is to grow your Probus Club

“If we can get one in 10 people to introduce a person then we will have natural growth, which will ensure the success of Probus will continue on because we are at the retiring end of our lives and we’ve got to make sure that others have the benefits,” says Probus Chairman Douglas Geekie.

The Probus team are there to help you grow your Club or even start a new one, so don’t hesitate to get in touch and spread the word about Probus.

“The greatest gift that I have is that I can bring another person to Probus and have them enjoy their lives, and I sincerely hope they do the same thing,” Douglas says.

Tips for staying connected

Going to Probus is just the start. Make sure you get involved in the activities that your local Club offers, whether it’s a golf day or walking club. You don’t have to do everything, but make sure you say yes at least once a month.

Learn something new

Your Club might offer classes or you might look around your local community and find something to keep your mind active. You’re never too old to learn a new skill.

Get a hobby

Writing, reading groups, pottery or gardening – whatever you’re interested in, make sure you keep it up in retirement. If you can make it a group activity, then better still.

Take off

Travel is one of the best ways to meet people as you bond over shared experiences. In retirement you can head out with a group of similarly aged travellers and explore the outback or head off to Sri Lanka, for example.