Howard Shapiro might just be the most active 89-year-old man you would ever meet. Age is truly just a number to this nearly nonagenarian whose daily routine would shame most people half his age. Shapiro’s wit is sharp and he is a master at peppering gentle sarcasm into his conversations - inevitably leaving listeners wearing a broad smile, if not outright giggling.
Shapiro credits just three letters to his active longevity: PMA. “PMA is Positive Mental Attitude. I instilled it into my lifestyle decades ago and it has kept me alive. It also keeps me out of the saloons.”
Howard Shapiro was raised in Chicago and studied television production and writing at Columbia College. He has two children, Shelly and David, with his first wife Sandy, prior to their divorce after a 10-year marriage. “I had opened a grocery store with my late-brother Larry. It was a real old style grocery store and we actually made some money.”
After the grocery store was sold, Shapiro headed south to Arizona to begin a new adventure. Shapiro met Beth Franklin in Phoenix, and the two married when Shapiro was turning 30 years old. Shapiro landed a job as a disc jockey and found some irony in his new career. “I was this Jewish kid from Chicago playing Country and Western songs in the Southwest.” Not surprisingly, being a DJ at a small station didn’t pay very much, so he answered a newspaper ad to sell insurance for the Combined Insurance Company of Chicago. It was there that Shapiro would work until retirement. It was also where he first learned about PMA.
“My boss was W. Clement Stone and he taught me about the power of a positive mental attitude. In fact, Stone was co-author of a book called Success through the power of a Positive Mental Attitude – a book that Shapiro still owns, which coincidently, when I opened it, contained the yellowed-clipping of the actual newspaper ad from 1961 for the insurance job he responded to. “Really? That’s still in there? I guess I’m a keeper.” In part, the ad read: Must have car, good background and average intelligence. “I guess that’s why they hired me then.”
The Shapiros moved around the country a lot as he was brought into lagging markets. Crediting his management skills and mastery of PMA, Shapiro would turn the numbers around and make those offices profitable for the company. Assignments in Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Kirkland, and Cheyenne finally led the Shapiros to Portland, Oregon, Beth’s native city. The couple then decided that it would be their permanent home.
In 1989, while in her 60’s, Beth suffered a stroke, which left her with aphasia (inability to speak) and some physical deficits. It was obvious that Beth would need constant support to aid in her recovery and ability to accomplish everyday tasks. Howard believed he was up for the job. “I was retired, in good health and felt that I could take better care of Beth than any facility would,” said Shapiro. However, caregiving for a loved one can be overwhelming and cause great stress and anxiety. Recognizing this, Shapiro sought out resources to help him as a caregiver. Beth’s physician directed Shapiro to the hospital’s offering of a caregiver support group.
“I went to their support group. They were all ladies. They were nice. And they talked a lot about making puddings and casseroles.” Shapiro was looking for something else. He asked hospital staff about a men’s caregiver support group. “They told me if I wanted to attend that type of group, I’d have to start one myself.”
With PMA as his guiding principle, Shapiro did just that and formed the Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital’s Men’s Only Support Group. The group began meeting once a month in a small room provided by the hospital. Shapiro ran the group and also cared for his wife in their home for 13 years until she passed in 2003. Following Beth’s death, Shapiro felt the desire to continue on with the group.
Shapiro’s group at Good Samaritan is celebrating its 28th year and shows no sign of stopping. “It’s a place of lasting friendships, camaraderie, a brotherhood,” Shapiro said. “It’s like a pool hall without the drink. Guys can share and talk about their experiences but there’s no judging, no criticizing. There’s lots of understanding – like a ping pong game, we bounce ideas back and forth.”
The group hosts guest speakers including staff from the hospital which helps group members learn skills and gain understanding about their spouse’s ailment and prognosis, as well as learning domestic skills. The men are often lost when they find themselves the one performing all of the chores once shared with their wives. The group focuses on the importance of caregivers taking care of themselves first. Like the flight attendant that advises parents to put the oxygen mask on themselves before their children, one can not help another unless they are healthy enough themselves to accomplish that.
“Many caregivers pass away before those they are caring for because they weren’t caring for themselves,” said Shapiro. “It’s not being selfish to care for yourself first, physically and mentally.” The group members also talk about fishing, hunting and other noncaregiving related interests. Lifelong friendships have been formed over the years and activities often extend outside the monthly meetings. Shapiro stresses that it’s not just a group for older men, because many young men are also finding themselves caring for an ailing partner. Besides, he says, “It’s nice when new young men come in because they add some zest to the group.”
Shapiro and his wife of 15 years, Petra, moved to Oceanside full-time last April. This is not a couple that believes in slowing down. Among other hobbies, Shapiro keeps busy as a mentor for Small Business Administration’s Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE), providing sage advice to new business owners free of charge as well as authoring its monthly newsletter and speaking at its monthly meetings. “I’m a ham anyway, just not a Kosher one.” Shapiro proudly points out that Petra is not one to sit idle either. “My wife sings in three choirs: a Jewish choir, a German choir and now the Tillamook Choir.”
Shapiro’s well of PMA seems to continuously runneth over, so it’s really no surprise he is now forming a new local Men’s Only Caregivers Support Group in Tillamook through Adventist Health’s Tillamook Hospital. Shapiro reminds me that the group is not limited to caregivers of specific ailments or illnesses. From Alzheimer’s to cancer to stroke, to anything in between, “you name a disease, and it’s in that room, and always remember to take care of yourself first.”
Speaking of PMA, Ginny Gabel, RN, the Community Wellness Educator for Adventist Health Tillamook, is positive that people can benefit by attending Shapiro’s group. “I believe this group will fill a hole in our caregiving community, a missing link for men. There are so many challenges when one is thrown into the caregiver role, that we need all the support possible. Howard has been over-whelmed and has made it out the other side. He is also a good listener, which means he will listen to you. I am excited to see how this opportunity grows.”
The Tillamook County Men’s Only Caregivers Group meets the third Wednesday of every month, 1:30 – 3:00 pm, in the Hatfield Room at the Tillamook County Library at 1716 Third Street. The time and location of the Men’s Only Caregiver group has been thoughtfully selected to allow caregivers to take their love one to the Wellspring adult daycare.
Adventist Health Tillamook also offers several other support groups for the community, including the following: • Faith in Action -- Provides friendly-visiting services by volunteers for seniors. Call 503-815-2272. • Wellspring -- Adult respite day care offered Wednesday each week for care receivers and allows caregivers to take a break. Call 503-815-2272. • Powerful Tools for Caregiving -- Free six-week class to support caregivers. All 503-815-2270. • The Savvy Caregiver Class -- Free five-week class offering overview of dementia and caregiving approaches. Call 503-815-2062. • NWSDS Caregiver Support Group -- Second Wednesday of the month from 1:30 - 3:00 PM. Call 503-815-2062. • Alzheimer’s Support Group -- Fourth Wednesday of the month from 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM. Call 503-815-2270. • Parkinson’s Support Group -- Second Thursday of the month from 2:00 - 4:00 PM. Call 503-655-0604.
For more information on upcoming classes, groups and events, visit the Adventist Health Tillamook’s event calendar at https://www.adventisthealth.org/events-calendar/