According to the U.S. Census Bureau, voters 65 and older had a 72 percent turnout during the last presidential election, the highest percentage of any age group. This number will certainly increase as seniors from the largest generation, the Baby Boomers, are part of this age bracket now. Having voted in every presidential election since she was 21 years old, Dorothy Jessup, an 86-year-old resident of Woodland Pond, will surely vote this November. As the former chair of the senior living community’s Political Affairs Committee, Jessup is vocal about the reasons why people should make educated votes.
“The first presidential election I cast my vote in was in 1952,” said Jessup. “Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower successfully ran for election against democrat Adlai Stevenson, whom I’d had been influenced to notice and admire by husband and parents-in-law. Our family was never split in political views, even in our decisions to cross party lines. I accepted their political opinions at first. However, several years after my husband and I graduated from our respective colleges and moved to New York, we become more involved in local politics and I began to learn things for myself. That’s when I began to realize that people really should know more about who could potentially make decisions that will impact their lives. At that point, I started voting at many elections, not just the presidential ones.”
Jessup has been involved in politics since 1958, participating in grassroots efforts, local campaigning, and voting when she and her husband joined the Democratic Reform Movement in New York City. During her retirement, she became more involved in politics after undergoing problematic back surgery. Since she could no longer hike and travel as planned during this time, she began investing her energies in learning about what was happening in her local school district. She started attending meetings and realized the school board was not offering appropriate leadership for the New Paltz community. Jessup joined a group of fellow citizens to work diligently to successfully elect a school board committed to appointing a more forward looking superintendent. Shortly after that, together with a group of older citizens, she began attending New Paltz Village and Planning Board meetings, in order to witness and participate in discussion of the proposed senior retirement community, called “Woodland Pond.” As the group learned more about the proposed community, they decided to actively support it.
“Participating in these local campaigns taught me a couple of important lessons,” said Jessup. “First, they demonstrated to me firsthand that a small group of people can make a huge difference. Second, both showed me that we don’t really know what is going on behind the scenes until we pay attention. People think I’m passionate about politics, but when you begin to feel like these issues are important and you learn about them, you become passionate about the opportunity to make a positive difference through an election. I’ve learned a lot about the dynamics of politics over the years. I know most people have little interest in these dynamics, but I feel they are very important to understand, and wish more people made the effort.”
Jessup is not alone in her interest in politics. Another resident, Max Finestone, was the person who first suggested the Political Affairs Committee at Woodland Pond. Max had strong feelings about getting residents involved in local elections. As a longtime Democratic Party leader in the Kerhonkson area, Finestone understood the importance of creating opportunities for fellow residents at Woodland Pond to be appropriately informed to vote in local elections. He organized some of the first events to bring local party officials and candidates in to discuss their processes, issues and goals. Sadly, he passed away in 2011, but Dorothy Jessup and other residents have continued along the lines he initially inspired. They bring in various speakers several times each year, focusing mainly on local issues, and local elections.
In recent years, the Political Affairs Committee has also invited candidates running for Congress in the 19th Congressional district. This year, there were Congressional primaries in both parties in June: all four candidates for Congress were invited to Woodland Pond to speak. The winners in each party returned again to speak in early October. The 19th congressional district race is hotly contested this year, with supporters of the two major political parties being almost evenly divided, meaning that Woodland Pond residents’ votes could make a significant difference. Most residents at Woodland Pond are registered to vote, and many also show an active interest in politics: they raise important questions for the candidates who come, and understand the importance of voting.
“Older adults have a tremendous influence on elections, and the residents recognize the importance of learning about the candidates and issues in advance,” said Michelle Gramoglia, executive director of Woodland Pond at New Paltz. “The committee invites speakers from both political parties to present a bipartisan view and also schedules transportation to the polls and political events. Most of the guest speakers are locals seeking office, have special knowledge about political issues, or are politicians explaining their programs. It comes as no surprise that residents in the Woodland Pond community are so involved, as many of these seniors have backgrounds as lawyers, doctors, authors, business executives, consultants, educators, politics and more.”