Benefit of laughter in old age is no joke, writer says

Hal Scholle shoots off a series of one-liners in rapid-fire succession.

"You know you're getting older when you'd rather have ceiling mirrors in the dining room than in the bedroom.

"You know you're getting older when you wake up with that morning-after feeling and you didn't do anything the night before.

"You know you are getting older if you can't remember what school paste used to taste like."

Scholle, who is self-publishing "Getting Older: A Guide to If or When," has a million of them. Irony, satire, wisecracks, puns, sarcasm? Scholle loves them all, especially as they pertain to old age.

As his birthdays accumulate, so too has his collection of jokes poking gentle fun at the inevitable changes that come with the blessings of a long life.

At 73, or, as he prefers to say, "the 44th anniversary of my 39th birthday," Scholle is out to show his fellow senior citizens that getting older can be a happy, productive and downright funny time of life.

In a seminar he gives on humor and aging, he tells jokes, makes amusing quips and reminisces about legendary comedians, past and present. He prods his audience to recall the most memorable joke or routine done by such entertainers as Jack Benny, George Burns and Bob Hope. He challenges audience members to make up their own jokes. He evokes the memory of Norman Cousins, whose 1976 best seller "Anatomy of an Illness" documented the ability of humor to fight a deadly disease successfully.

"[Humor] is something we need to incorporate into our life for lots of reasons," said Scholle, a Naperville, Ill., resident for the past three years. "There are lots of studies showing that people who like, and participate in, humor are living longer and living happier."

Scholle is a happy man who thinks old age is "pretty nice." He and his wife, Linda, are enjoying the perks of retirement. A former teacher, high school football coach and school superintendent, he is active in a variety of causes, including the Lions Club, the American Lung Association and DuPage County's Court Friends program. He is a member of the Northern Illinois Area Agency on Aging board.

His interest in humor led to membership in the International Save the Pun Foundation, which meets in Chicago every April 1. Last year he attended the Humor Project seminar in Sarasota, Fla.

Humor, always an important part of his life, helped him deal with the death of his first wife, Joyce, several years ago. During her funeral service, Scholle found comfort speaking about her wit and sense of humor during their 40 years together. Those happy recollections helped him deal with his loss and ultimately gave him a sense of purpose. Then and there, he decided if fighting the passage of time was a losing battle, he might as well capitulate with a laugh and a smile, sharing his wit with others.

He began collecting jokes, cartoons and humorous quips, eventually crafting his own one-liners on aging based on observations he has made through the years. He compiled 600 of them into his manuscript. While shopping for a publisher, he realized he may have to self-publish.

"No one said life would be easy, fair, rational or humorous," he writes in the introduction to his manuscript. "Older folks with the wisdom of time and experience know that life is life and beats the alternative. Whoever said 'He who laughs, lasts,' hit the head with a hammer."

Humor has helped Lucy Dvorak get through some hard times. Three years ago, her husband died. Six months after that, she became legally blind as a result of macular degeneration. Today, the 77-year-old Wheaton, Ill., woman can no longer drive, read or distinguish the features on the faces of those around her.

Still, Dvorak is determined to look at the bright side. A retired social worker, she teaches a class on memory management at College of DuPage and is on the board of the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging.

"I think my focus is helping the people around me get through it," she said. "I think they feel very sad for me and that's hard. I try to lighten it up for the people around me and make a joke because I'm afraid they are looking at me like 'that poor thing.' If you don't laugh, you cry."

Issues affecting senior citizens are among Scholle's top concerns. A volunteer for the Meals on Wheels program, he promises if his book is picked up by a commercial publisher, half the proceeds will go to the hot meal program, which is desperately in need of funds.

"He is devoted to serving the elderly and making everybody aware of the importance of humor," said Connie Kobitter, special events manager of the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging.

"He is such a positive guy; who couldn't respond to him? He's a great storyteller and he keeps us on our toes. He is very committed to this agency and to spreading the word."