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Wednesday, July 2, 2008
AARP turns a nifty 50 today
By Robert N. Jenkins, LifeTimes Editor
In print: Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Yes, there will be cake and balloons. No, none of the balloons will be black ones bearing the smirking legend, "Look who turned 50!''
But the organization whose very acronym stood for hitting the big 5-0 is celebrating: AARP reaches the half-century mark today.

AARP no longer bothers spelling out its full name — the American Association of Retired Persons — because in 1999 its leaders wanted to make clear that it represents more than just retirees. It had dropped its minimum age to 50 from 55 in 1983. Membership in the 50 states and three territories is about 39-million; Florida reached 3-million this year, second only to California.

AARP was spun off from the National Retired Teachers Association, founded in 1947 by Ethel Percy Andrus. As director of welfare for a California teachers' group, recounts AARP historian Lily Liu, Andrus "found a retired teacher living in what (she) called a chicken coop. These retirees had pensions, but they were so meager, and they had no group health insurance.''

Andrus' work led her to create the National Retired Teachers Association, which attracted enough noneducator retirees that Andrus created the American Association of Retired Persons. The incorporation papers were signed on July 1, 1958.

In 1959 the new association began a mail-order pharmacy, which drew even more members. About this time, Andrus realized the number of retirees moving to Florida, so she had AARP create Hospitality House on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. It offered everything from hotel recommendations to afternoon teas — and a pharmacy.

Though a nonprofit, AARP spends tens of millions to identify the issues most important to older adults and to influence legislation on these topics.

Increasingly, America's focus is on "younger'' older people, the 78-million boomers, ages 44 to 62. There are 1.05-million Florida boomers who are AARP members.

About that birthday party: Celebrations will take place in many local offices. But AARP is saving the blowout for the first week of September in Washington, D.C., when even nonmembers are invited. Workshops and programs during that three-day Life@50+ event range from online dating to reverse mortgages, long-term care insurance to therapeutic massage, advances in brain health to "sex and love through menopause and beyond.''

Robert N. Jenkins can be reached at or (727) 893-8496.

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