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RETIRING SENIOR SERVICES PROGRAM DIRECTOR HEADS FOR HER OWN YEARS OF INVOLVEMENT

After 22 years on the 13th floor of the Rath Building, Gloria Olmsted packed up the personal stuff in her corner office Friday and joined the ranks of those she has served with admirable wit and wisdom -- the growing population of retirees.

But wait. Simply because the program director of Erie County's Senior Services Department elected to take early retirement doesn't mean she will take it sitting down.

"I feel as if I'm starting life all over," said Ms. Olmsted, who will turn 60 on Oct. 27. "I've got lots of things to do. You want to have that energy -- to keep going."

She will continue to be a host of "Pulse," a weekly television program for senior citizens; broaden her volunteer activities; and try to get involved in community health issues.

Her job was figuring out how the department's resources could best be deployed to help the needy among the nearly 200,000 county residents -- 20 percent of the population -- who are 60 or older. And because her style was management by walking around, it put her in frequent touch with role models.

At a nursing home on the United Way's recent Day of Caring, for instance, Ms. Olmsted met a 94-year-old who had lived alone until failing eyesight finally forced her to give up her apartment.

"I said, 'Well, I guess I could look forward to 34 more great years,' and she said, 'Yes, you could.' "

Another woman who joined a fitness club and took up weight training at age 72 "told me she feels better than ever," Ms. Olmsted added.

"The mental part is the key. Everybody wants to live a long life; they just don't want to be aged."

The former Gloria McCurdy, who grew up in Batavia and received a degree in English from the University of Buffalo in 1959, watched Senior Services grow from a small department operating on a $250,000 grant to a $14 million operation that touches more than 30,000 people a year.

And a strong family background -- she has always been part of a "multigenerational" mix -- led her to advocate providing as many of those services as possible at the grass roots -- from transportation, meals on wheels and home health care to adult protection.

"You look at all of it in terms of people, and the core is always the family," she said. "Older people want to receive services in the neighborhood, and the family has the most strength."

Through a two-tier system -- community groups functioning as subcontractors and case managers who work out of the Rath Building -- "the entire city and county are now covered," she said.

Her good-humored openness was highly valued by her colleagues, who, with Ms. Olmsted's friends and family, will toast the end of her 36-year career over dinner Thursday in the Chopin Singing Society, 2155 Old Union Road, Cheektowaga.

"Gloria was the world's greatest boss, an absolute gem at human relations," said colleague Judy Casassa.

"From her perspective, we're here to serve the public. People can call in and she'll always lend an ear.

"She could explain benefits in terms people could understand, and if they were ineligible, she could explain that, too. Or if she didn't have an answer to a question, she'd find somebody who did."

Ms. Olmsted and her husband, artist Wes Olmsted, plan to move from the West Side, their longtime home, to the country, but still within easy reach of their adult children -- Lenore, George and Matthew -- and two grandchildren.

"I'm not going to fade away, that's for sure," Ms. Olmsted said.

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