Larry Bell & Michelle Dompierre

Taking charge, aging well

Photo courtesy of Gerlach Graphic
Photo courtesy of Gerlach Graphic

They came together later in life and from different backgrounds. Larry Bell, the son of a popular disc jockey, had a hit record, “Hey Mr. Lonesome,” by age 17.

Later, he worked in a series of sales and music industry jobs around the country. Back in DC, he enjoys his work as a trainer in cross-cultural communication. Michelle Dompierre is from a small French-speaking enclave in Ontario, was inspired by the First Nation population that lived on a nearby reservation, and traveled the world working in international development.

An unlikely couple perhaps, Larry and Michelle met in the District in 1992. “That was the beginning of a whole new chapter,” Larry says. Michelle would cook while he read Siddhartha to her. After seven years of dating, they married. “We are different racially, culturally, and behaviorally but we connect on a spiritual level and around shared values,” she says.

Most recently they had begun thinking about the aging process. Their friends tend to be younger. They wanted to be with peers to get their perspective on aging and be better prepared for what lies ahead. So they signed up for Iona’s new Take Charge/Age Well Academy.

In Academy classes, they have candid conversations with other participants and Iona’s staff about everything from nutrition and second careers to the physical challenges of aging. (Michelle had knee-replacement surgery; Larry was in a life-altering traffic accident.) The Academy “demystified the aging process,” says Michelle, 71. “It reinforces that we are not alone, moves you to be more proactive, to be lighter, and enjoy aging.”

“If I learned one thing,” says Larry, 67, “it’s the more you plan, the more successful and happy you will be.” Michelle’s takeaways are: “Have an open attitude toward change. Be grateful. Be more deliberate in self-care. Embrace the possibilities.”

“We used to go hiking and dancing a lot,” she says. “Now it takes us longer to do things — cooking, entertaining, walking. I was getting impatient. But now we stroll. I am no longer the roadrunner. I am the turtle. But that’s okay. I am here.”

Written by Janice Kaplan