By Kim Howard
It was almost like being in Florida, except getting there didn’t take as long nor did it cost as much.
Dozens of natural spectrum lamps imitating the sun filled the walls and tables of the annual 50+ Expo in Burlington last Saturday. In its eleventh year, the daylong event features entertainment and information relevant for Vermonters age 50 and up. The natural spectrum lamps set up by one exhibitor brought sunlight inside the Sheraton Hotel to enhance this year’s theme of the “Southern Summer Experience.”
“I always look forward to it every year,” Evelyn Harrington said of the Expo. Harrington came to the event from Burlington’s Ethan Allen Residence with Paul A. Lyon. “I met so many people that I knew.”
Lifelong Williston resident Shirley Miles agreed.
“It’s a good place to meet other people and see people you don’t see that often,” said Miles, who with some Williston friends was listening to jazz under sun lamps and faux palm trees, before heading up to the afternoon dance party.
About 2,500 people attended last Saturday’s event, produced by Marianne and Paul Apfelbaum, publishers of the Williston Observer and Vermont Maturity magazines.
Twelve years ago, the Apfelbaums attended a similar event in Montreal after starting Vermont Maturity magazine, a publication for Vermonters age 50 and up. Realizing there were no events catering to seniors in Vermont, Marianne Apfelbaum said they thought it would be great to bring the concept here. For senior citizens in particular the Expo provides multiple benefits, she said.
“It gets them out of the house; it gets them socializing,” she said. “It provides a lot of useful information that they need in one place. There’s no other way they could get all this information so quickly and efficiently. And it’s fun.”
More than 85 exhibitors provided information about services ranging from health and finances to living options and pet food.
Linda Busier of Weybridge, who was attending the expo for a second year, said the exhibitor booths were great.
“I love stopping at tour booths,” said Busier, who had just signed up for a one-day trip to Montreal to see Dutch violist and orchestra conductor Andre Rieu. “When you’re our age, it’s very nice when you’re in a group to go together (on tours). You make new friends.”
Exhibitors, too, found the event beneficial.
“It’s wonderful because we see a part of the population that we might not otherwise have contact with,” said Deborah Unica, a representative with Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC). VSAC is a nonprofit organization providing grants, loans, scholarships, career and education planning.
Unica said the main inquiries she received were about continuing education options for seniors; saving for grandchildren’s education; and how to encourage someone who’s not been to college to pursue it.
Seven seminars also provided a wealth of information to attendees on such topics as sleeping problems, fraud, and managing home equity. Albert Moraska of Charlotte, who attended seminars on retirement planning and estate conservation with his wife, said they were a big help.
“The legislation and the tax rules change so that’s something you need to keep on top of,” Moraska said. “It did steer us in the right direction for what we need to do in the future.”
A portion of the proceeds raised by the Expo are donated to the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging (CVAA), a nonprofit community organization committed to helping people age with independence and dignity. Two additional fundraisers at the event – a silent auction and 50-50 raffle – raised $ 4,274 for CVAA. Marion Munsell of Williston won $743 in the 50/50 raffle.
“Those funds are vital for us to continue our programs,” said Sarah Lemnah, CVAA development director. “As seniors age and more people become seniors, our programs are being stretched so this fundraiser is very important for our cause.” The Expo also allows CVAA to inform more seniors about CVAA programs and services, Lemnah said.
Monica Croft, 87, of Bakersfield had two tongue-in-cheek recommendations for next year’s Expo. First, she recommended that the fashion show models “wobble” – or swing their hips – while walking down the runway. Croft asserted they had not, and demonstrated the proper walking procedure for onlookers.
Croft’s second recommendation, referencing the $5 entrance fee: “They should give a discount to the senior citizens.”