Much as I love my career, this thing we call “making a living” sure takes a lot of time and effort. I know I’d never entirely quit writing—it’s part of who I am—but it would be gratifying to have more time for what I now consider hobbies: riding, crafting, gardening, reading, walking and what I affectionately refer to as “puttering.”
Yet when my editors told me to find some “super” seniors, I didn’t find a single “putterer” among them. Every single one is enthusiastically engaged in passions that bring them joy and add meaning to their lives. The hard part wasn’t finding enough people to interview but rather narrowing my list down to just six.
Read on to meet these inspiring seniors—one still working full-time and the others actively retired—who are living life to the fullest, impacting others and making the most of every day.
Patrons of Bob Coy’s Fitness Solutions don’t have far to look for motivation. Bob Coy is a living example of his career and lifestyle. The 66-year-old fitness trainer and competitive bodybuilder has a physique that men decades younger would envy.
Originally from Salem, Ohio, Bob opened his Ocala training studio in the mid-1990s, but health and fitness have always been a main focus.
“I spent eight years in the Air Force and started in the fitness field while still in the military,” says Coy, who became a fitness trainer in 1976. “After my second tour in Vietnam, I got involved with Jack La Lanne’s company. He was my inspiration; I still use a lot of his techniques.”
Bob’s clients come from all walks of life, ranging in age from mid-20s to 70s. On an average day, he’ll typically train eight clients in his men-only facility where the one-on-one sessions run approximately an hour.
“You have to know your clients; you can’t design a program without knowing them. That’s why it’s an art to be a personal trainer,” says Bob. “I take their lives seriously and know what they can achieve. You take what you have and make it the best you can. The body is like clay; you can mold it through proper exercise, nutrition and consistency.”
The studio is sleek and modern; although there’s plenty of exercise equipment, there is no “gym” aroma. Bob shows up at 5am every morning and starts each day with prayer and quiet time, which he credits for his success.
“Spiritual strength and conditioning is part of my life, too,” he explains. “You can be in the best physical shape, but without that spiritual component, you’re missing something.”
A successful bodybuilder, Bob has won multiple titles, including The Southern States Bodybuilding Competition (over 50 masters), Florida State Masters Bodybuilding Competition (over 50) and the Southeastern USA Bodybuilding Competition (over 60).
“I didn’t start competing until age 50. It’s time-consuming and requires discipline, but I wanted to challenge myself to see if at that age I could do it,” says Bob. “Now I’m waiting until I turn 70 to compete in the over 70 age group.”
“Bob is a certified trainer, but it’s his tremendous personal experience that really benefits his clients,” says Tammy Coy, Bob’s wife and workout partner, who’s also a certified trainer.
Bob has faced sobering health challenges of his own. Heart disease runs in his family; he’s had three heart attacks (doctors say his recovery was helped by his being in such great shape), and he’s also a cancer survivor, having beaten stage IV melanoma, a usually fatal diagnosis.
“As we get older, the body ages, but proper exercise will slow that process,” he notes. “That’s why you have a difference between chronological and physiological ages. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will.”
Seeing how much joy animals have brought into her life made Marcia Lape, 69, of Ocala, eager to give back. Volunteering with the Humane Society was the obvious choice and has been part of her routine for about 15 years, the last 10 being here in Marion County.
Originally from Canada, Marcia and her husband, Karl, moved to south Florida in 1964.
“Then Hurricane Andrew blew us to Colorado, but the winters there told us to move back to Florida, and we’ve been in Ocala since 1998,” says Marcia, who also volunteered with the Humane Society in Colorado during the five years they lived there.
During her career as a flight attendant with Eastern Airlines, Marcia always loved and had dogs in her life, but it wasn’t until she retired that she was able to devote time to volunteering. Now, she spends three mornings a week working with dogs at the Humane Society of Marion County and also serves on the board of the organization.
“I work with a group of volunteers who are mostly retired people, and we train the dogs in basic obedience, teaching them to sit, stay and walk nicely so that when they get adopted they are less likely to have behavior problems,” she explains. “I think the reason we all volunteer here is to try and get the animals adopted. The best thing is seeing an animal that you’ve socialized and that’s been at the shelter for quite a while finally go to a good home. The good thing about volunteering here is that they don’t put the animals down.”
Marcia has had several favorites over the years, dogs that made a special impression on her heart. Two of those were pit bulls that she says can be harder to adopt. Both were such sweet dogs that they opened her eyes to realize the breed’s negative stereotype isn’t necessarily true. She was thrilled when both dogs at last found good homes.
Marcia’s own two dogs—a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix and a boxer mix—were both adopted from the Humane Society.
“Everybody who volunteers here usually ends up adopting a cat or dog or more than one,” she says.
Besides helping the animals, volunteering keeps Marcia active and has introduced her to people with similar interests.
“You get to meet a lot of very nice people who really care for the animals,” she says, adding that orientation classes are held every month for anyone interested in getting involved with the Humane Society. “We can always use more volunteers and anyone over 16 can volunteer… not just us old folks!”
Raymond L. McNeal
Gardening has been part of Raymond L. McNeal’s life since he was 7 years old. Now 92, Raymond, who was born in Georgia, has lived in Ocala for 91 years.
Following a busy career in the auto parts business (he and two partners started Bi-lo Auto Parts in 1972), he retired in 1987. That’s when his wife, Helen, suggested he join the University of Florida Master Gardener program. (Helen McNeal was a former supervisor of elections in Marion County; she passed away July 6, 2013. The couple was married for 71 years.)
Raymond is one of over 100 Master Gardener volunteers who help educate Marion County residents about plants and Florida-friendly landscape techniques. The group consists of volunteers who serve under the direction of the horticulture extension agent, giving of their time and expertise.
“I’ve been a Master Gardener for 26 years now,” says Raymond, whose oldest son is Judge Raymond T. McNeal, a familiar name in Marion County. “This gives me a connection with all the latest innovations. I like experimenting with different types of vegetables. They’re developing new varieties all the time, and I like to see them grow. I do grow some flowers but mostly vegetables; that’s my forte. I know how, when and what to grow for Marion County.”
In addition to teaching through the Master Gardeners program, Raymond often has people who call him directly for gardening advice. He’s always ready to share his abundant knowledge and problem-solving suggestions.
Raymond tends a 100-foot by 100-foot garden every spring and fall. In late August, he’d just finished planting his fall garden, putting in a wide variety, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, spinach, several tomato varieties, carrots, beets, mustard greens, turnip greens and radishes. Those that don’t require meticulous spacing are sowed as seeds directly into the ground. With plants that need to be spaced carefully, he starts growing them in flats, then transfers to pots and finally transplants them into the garden. Not only does his garden produce vegetables that are superior to store-bought ones, some varieties aren’t even available at the local grocery stores.
Raymond also maintains 48 muscadine vines, including 22 varieties, which people come and pick when ripe.
He enjoys eating the fruits of his labor and regularly shares his garden surplus with friends and family. In late summer, that included different varieties of sugar cane, some for making cane syrup and others for chewing. (Raymond says Simpson Green is one of the best for chewing because it’s so sweet.)
“I have something growing year-round. At my age, I’m not as active as I was, but I get plenty of exercise doing it,” says Raymond, who typically spends two to three hours a day tending his garden.
“Gardening is a good outdoor activity,” he adds with a sly smile. “Plants don’t talk back to you, and they don’t ring a phone.”
For Gwen Randle of Morriston, horses have always been a passion. At 73, she’s more active than ever, learning a new discipline of cutting and continuing to pursue her love of trail riding and competing.
“Being active as you get older is extremely important; it keeps you young and keeps your weight down, which keeps you healthier. Learning new stuff keeps your mind alert,” adds Gwen. But the truth is she rides because she loves it.
Born in New York City, Gwen was raised in New Jersey and moved to the Ocala area in 1999, but her fascination with horses started in elementary school.”
My twin sister, Lynn, and I took riding lessons, but I was the chubby kid and they would never let me lope, so I finally quit,” she recalls.
When Gwen was in her early 30s, her 12-year-old son expressed an interest in riding. Gwen signed him and herself up for lessons and six months later bought her first horse, a mare named Jody Jill.
“I would ride her in the morning, and my son would ride her in the afternoon; that horse got a lot of riding!” laughs Gwen.
Divorce brought changes, including the sale of Jody Jill. Gwen owned several other horses through the years before she became so busy as a mother and with working fulltime as a nurse that she had to put horses on the back burner.
After moving to Florida, Gwen married Charlie Randle in 2005, a man who shares her love of riding. She went through a couple horses before Hank came into her life. The 15-year-old Quarter Horse gelding is easy-going, trustworthy and extremely versatile. Gwen has shown him in trail and pleasure classes but especially loves obstacle challenge competitions where Hank’s dependable nature shines. (That’s a good thing, as one of the obstacles includes standing quietly while a gun is shot next to him!)
Having watched Charlie and their friends compete in cutting, Gwen wanted in on the action. She began taking lessons and going to clinics to learn this exciting sport in which horse and rider must “cut” individual cattle out and keep the animal from returning to the group—something that is easier said than done. It involves skillful riding and lightning fast reflexes on the horse’s part. Once the heifer or steer is cut out, the rider drops his/her hand on the horse’s neck and from that point, the horse takes over.
“Once you drop your hand, you’re not in control anymore; your horse is. You just have to hold on and stay out of the horse’s way. It’s fast-paced and very challenging. It’s different from any kind of riding I’ve ever done,” says Gwen, who uses a different horse, Pepper, for cutting.
Although Gwen and Pepper practice cutting every week, trail riding remains a priority. She usually rides Hank three or four days a week, riding for two to four hours at a time. Her trusty horse excels at trail riding even though he lost an eye to infection several years ago.
“He’ll still do anything I ask,” says Gwen. “I’m so proud of him!”
Like many retired people, Barry Talcott, 74, appreciates having extra hours to devote to specific projects. He’s always had race cars as a hobby and still has a ’48 Fiat dragster, but his favorite way to spend time is being involved at Unity Baptist Church in Anthony.
Barry, a Pennsylvania native who has lived in Marion County since 2007, regularly mows the church grounds and tackles the occasional handyman project, volunteering several hours every week for “whatever needs doing.” In addition, he volunteers as a greeter, an usher, is part of the prayer team and regularly visits people in the hospital, as well as those sick at home.
“My sister Elma and I send cards to people for birthdays, anniversaries and also get-well cards. I really enjoy that and feel like I’ve been blessed,” adds Barry, who has been blind in one eye since shortly after birth when a doctor accidentally put too much silver nitrate ointment in that eye.
The fact that he is actually able to volunteer is nothing short of miraculous, as Barry survived two dramatic, life-threatening accidents during a 54-year career in heavy construction.
The first occurred in 1992 when a co-worker on the road crew he was working in Boca Raton accidentally backed over him with a dump truck.
“It took quite a while to mend from that,” says Barry, who never suspected he would face even greater challenges.
When he and his wife, Cora, were living in North Carolina from 1993 to 2003, Barry took at job with the state’s recreation department maintaining rest areas along the interstate highways.
On one particular afternoon in June 2000, he was planting flowers at a rest stop. A passing driver in an older model van lost control of his vehicle when one of the tires blew.
“I heard someone yell, ‘Watch out!’” recalls Barry, who had no time to run.
The van rolled, striking several of his co-workers and landing on top of him. Fit and athletic, Barry was 61 at the time and in great physical shape, but he was no match for a full-size vehicle.
“When the van flipped over on me, it broke and crushed my legs, shattered my pelvis, broke my left arm, cracked several ribs, damaged disks in my back and caused serious internal injuries,” he remembers. “It hit everything but my head.”
Doctors later told him they’d never operated on anyone still alive with the extent of his internal injuries.
“When I came to, I told the person helping me, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it,’” Barry remembers. “I said, ‘Lord, you’ve got to help me.’ I know I’m here today because of that.”
After months in a nursing home and rehabilitation center, Barry was in and out of the hospital for two years as his body healed and he learned to walk again.
A widower since his wife of 53 years passed away in 2008, Barry has three sons, one daughter and 13 grandchildren.
“Looking back at that last accident, I think, how did I make it? I know I was supposed to reach out and help others. The Lord has really blessed me; I feel like I have to give something back,” says Barry. “I’m slowing down, but I have no regrets. It’s been quite a trip.”
Art has long been a favorite form of expression for Diane Laws, 74, a talented artist who has illustrated two books and is a published cartoonist. She does commissioned work and also paints for her own pleasure. Her paintings were even auctioned as part of a fundraiser to raise money for service dogs.
“Art and horses were my loves when I was younger, but I gave them up when I was raising my two children and working,” says Diane, a California native, who lived there, as well as Colorado, before moving to Florida in 1995. “I got back into them after moving to Ocala. I bought a horse and started taking riding lessons and painting lessons, and I’m still active in both.”
Diane’s current horse is “Second Glance,” a half-Thoroughbred, 1/4 Saddlebred, 1/4 Belgian gelding. Earlier this year, she lost her beloved dog, a part Lab named “Maggie,” but this summer she adopted “Nola,” another Lab.
Although she’s painted with oils and acrylics for many years, she also does watercolors; her favorite medium is probably colored pencil, which she started doing in the late ‘90s. She took lessons at Red Swan for years before that business closedv and continues to take lessons from the teachers, Kelli Huff and Carlynne Hershburger, who have moved to another location.
“I like the critique you get in a class and how you glean ideas from other people. It’s mentally therapeutic, and I’ve also made good friends there,” says Diane. “Once you learn basic techniques, you develop your own style.”
Animal lover that she is, four-legged subjects are common in her paintings and drawings.
“I basically paint things with fur,” laughs Diane, whose primary subjects are dogs and horses. “I usually work from a photo given to me by the owner. I want to show the realism and character of the animal but don’t want it to look just like a photograph. I prefer doing a painting where the animal is doing something natural that shows its character, like a horse biting at a fly, rather than a ‘mug shot’ just standing there posing.”
Diane can easily invest 25 hours in a colored pencil drawing, which usually takes longer than painting, but she rarely keeps track of her time.
“If I don’t have a commission, I just draw or paint as I’m inspired. And I get inspired very easily just by seeing a photo,” notes Diane.
On one occasion, that’s exactly what happened when she was at her vet’s office. She saw a thank you note and photo written by a pet’s owner whose dog had passed away. She was so taken with the dog in the photo that she made a copy of it and did a colored pencil drawing, which she took to the vet, who gave it to the owners.
“I never knew them, but I just wanted to do this,” says Diane. “The most satisfying thing for me about my art is making someone else happy.”