The Most Inspiring Senior Citizens You’ll Ever See

The Photo Blog
Aug. 8 2013 11:38 AM

Senior Citizens Having the Time of Their Lives

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
Members of the Sun City Aqua Suns, a synchronized swim team of retirees, wait for their cue for a holiday reindeer routine in the Lakeview Recreation Center pool. Their performance was a part of the Holiday Around the World celebration in Sun City, Ariz., on Dec. 10, 2010.

Kendrick Brinson

When Kendrick Brinson first heard of Sun City, a retirement community in Arizona that boasts a squad of senior-citizen cheerleaders, she knew she had to visit. Sun City, the first “planned active retirement community,” had its 50th anniversary on Jan. 1, 2010; Brinson made her first trip in December 2009. Six visits and 3½ years later, Brinson released Sun City: Life After Life, a limited-edition book designed by Deb Pang Davis that she envisions as a sort of “retro brochure” or visual guidebook to the community.

With more than 120 clubs, Sun City arguably has one of the most active populaces anywhere, for any age group. In fact, Brinson’s first week in Sun City wore out the twentysomething with all of its daily activities. Brinson explained via email, “What makes Sun City unique, other than the fact that it is an actual city of tens of thousands of retirees, is that almost everyone is active in one way or another. I’d head to the tap class or the yoga class or the pickleball practice and photograph those activities and ask everyone I’d meet what else they had going on and if I could tag along.”

Brinson wanted to focus on a community of senior citizens where the residents were continuing to live, rather than waiting to die. “We've all seen photo stories about aging before, and we know the stereotype of a grandparent sitting in a rocking chair as they age,” she said. “What I love about Sun City is that this place is spring break for the elderly. ... I wanted to flip the stereotype of the wheelchair-bound granny on its head because that's not how everyone has to age. Just because you're 75 doesn't mean you can't learn synchronized swimming and be really good at it.”

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
The Sun City Poms, ages 61–78, perform a routine for a crowd on Dec. 12, 2009. The start of their routine includes an announcement that one is "never too old to perform and expand your horizons."

Kendrick Brinson

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
Left: Elva McKittrick, 109, was the oldest resident of Sun City when this photo was taken on Jan. 9, 2010. McKittrick lived in the Sun City community for nearly three decades and ate ice cream with her lunch and dinner every day.She died in 2011. Right: The front yard at 9415 Hidden Valley Circle in Sun City on March 13, 2010.

Kendrick Brinson

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
Members of the Sun City Aqua Suns walk a red carpet at the Lakeview Recreation Center before a performance at the Holiday Around the World celebration in Sun City on Dec. 10, 2010.

Kendrick Brinson

Brinson said that other than her interest in the aesthetic aspects of the place—“the light, the architecture, the cacti, and spindly palm trees”—she has had some revelatory experiences during her work there. When getting feedback from other photographers about the work, they would point out the absence of anything relating to death or illness, which is often a palpable presence, if not the primary focus, in stories about aging.

“I struggled with this expectation because surely that is a true side of Sun City,” Brinson wrote. “But it is so easy to forget when there. I've had jarring remembrances of how short life is in my visits there, like a man dying on the cement after falling at a holiday event, but all the living there makes you quickly forget that your time left might be short. ... I wanted to show all the living in Sun City and not the dying because Sun City represents an energy that is ageless.”

Brinson found that even in death, Sun City residents celebrate life. Lori, one of Brinson’s hosts, invited her to the funeral of Monte, a fellow tennis team member. Monte had died while flying an ultralight plane in the desert; he had bags of cement in the backseat of the plane to simulate the feeling of passengers’ weight. “He died living; he died learning something new and doing something he loved,” Brinson wrote. She received permission from Monte’s family to shoot the funeral, which she described as “incredibly welcoming” and said that she felt “honored to witness such an intimate event.” It “felt like a Sun City funeral,” she said.  “It was a celebration of someone who died living.”

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
Left: Jim Heinrich, choir director at Fountain of Life Lutheran Church in Sun City, in August 2010. He also teaches photography at Dysart High School in El Mirage, Ariz. Right: Jerry Hobbs, 82, lawn bowls outside of the Bell Recreation Center in Sun City on Dec. 8, 2010. The lawn bowling club is one of more than 120 clubs in the city of active retirees. "This is why we worked 50 years," lawn bowler Norm Dickson said after bowling his ball. " ... in the cold," his teammate Myron Myers chimed in.

Kendrick Brinson

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
Herme Sherry, Ms. Senior Arizona 2004, walks outside of the Sundial Recreation Center following the Sun City Parade on March 13, 2010.

Kendrick Brinson

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
Friends gather balloons to pass out at the memorial service for Sun City resident Monte Haag on Dec. 11, 2010. Haag, who moved to Sun City in 2000, died in a crash while flying an ultralight plane outside the city. The service was held in Social Hall No. 1 of the Bell Recreation Center, and the balloons were released from a tennis court where Haag often played.

Kendrick Brinson

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
Participants in the Sun City Parade on March 13, 2010

Kendrick Brinson

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
Swim relays for the Arizona Senior Olympics take place at the Bell Recreation Center pool in Sun City on March 14, 2010.

Kendrick Brinson

Kendrick Brinson, Sun City
Robert Johnson rides in his golf cart while his dogs Jewel and Buster, both rescues, walk with him in Sun City on Jan. 8, 2010. Robert has lived in Sun City for 14 years. He and his wife, Jessie, moved to Sun City from Minnesota because they wanted to live somewhere where there is something going on when the sun goes down. Jessie does yoga, acrylic painting, water colors, and more.

Kendrick Brinson