Bea Ann Melichar began her career when the Yellowstone Council on Aging was just two years old. And, as she'd admit, she was a younger woman.
"I knew that this is what I wanted to do was work with older people for my career," Melichar said. "Now, I am one."
But Melichar is now a part of the group that is reimagining retirement, and she's following the lead of her fellow young seniors: She's retiring to enjoy her life, still in good health, with a lot of community accomplishments to boast.
Not that she'd boast.
But, the executive director of the Adult Resource Alliance has done a lot of good in the community, done it quietly, and worked to ensure her organization provided care, opportunities and support for the older residents of Yellowstone County.
One of her most amazing accomplishments is successfully selling a mill levy for support of senior services three different times, with funding that has lasted 30 years.
There's virtually not another organization or person who can boast that track record. What that's meant for the community is that our senior residents have meals, transportation and some care when they need it the most.
"These levies are really important because it allows us to devote our time to programming and services instead of being fundraisers," Melichar told The Gazette.
For thousands of seniors in the community, Adult Resource Alliance provides meals and other opportunities like volunteering or sessions on Medicare.
"A lot of the current Baby Boom generation have had their children move away from homes. Not as many folks live around their family and we kind of become that support," she said. "We become their family."
And so she's watched many staff members begin careers with the Alliance, thinking that it was just a job.
"And then it becomes a career and passion. That's so exciting to see," Melichar said.
During her tenure at the helm of the Alliance, Melichar has helped it find its forever home on Avenue D. That has also allowed the organization to create a permanent kitchen for its meals-on-wheels and other food support programs.
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"We have absolute quality control," Melichar said.
Another exciting event on the horizon is creating a senior gathering space in Billings Heights. She said that will serve a very good need.
"We know that it's a growing community and this will make it easier for our older residents to get out and be social," Melichar said.
We don't have some of the desperate situations as other communities because voters in Yellowstone County have wisely and thankfully chosen to support the older residents of the community. More than that, we have had the quiet, expert leadership of Melichar to lead the organization.
She admits the gray wave -- the aging Baby Boomers -- are changing the way they retire and live. There are not as many people staying alone at their homes, isolated. Instead, seniors don't necessarily want or need a center, or to come in for a meal. They want experiences. They want to volunteer. They need information on how to care and what resources are available for their parents, many of whom are living longer, too.
"That's a good thing. They want something different so we have to be ready to change," Melichar said. "Many are taking better care of themselves. I see a lot of senior living, independent living and assisted living places going up. That's a change. And it's good. It used to be seniors stayed in their house and were overwhelmed keeping it up or taking care of their yards. Today, they want to go and have someone do it for them. That's a good thing."
For her part, Melichar is taking the advice she's heard from so many of the people she's come into contact with for 42 years -- she's going to go and enjoy life.
We wish her the best, and we thank her for service. We hope the next director does as well for as long. But, that's probably setting the bar impossibly high.
Melichar said she's always amazed to see some people come through the doors, looking haggard at 50, while others seems impossibly young at 85.
The difference? Melichar says it's attitude.
"There are people who experience every thing as a tragedy and other see the same challenge and meet it," Melichar said. "So, this is the way I am going to choose to live."
You deserve it, Bea Ann.