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“On the first day that I began teaching…at Wofford College in South Carolina, I was reassured to find, among the auditors in my classroom, a 90-year-old Hungarian.  His name was Sandor Teszler…he resembled Mahatma Gandhi – minus the loincloth, plus orthopedic boots.  He was born in 1903 in a province of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire *,” wrote Wofford College president Ben Dunlap.

You might suspect what comes next in the story.  As the Nazi onslaught began in Budapest, Teszler and his family were arrested and taken to a death camp.  They were brutally and systematically beaten.  But just as they were lined up in front of a river to be shot, the young Nazi officer who was to execute them, whispered to them that help was on the way.

Because of Mr. Teszler’s business connections, he was able to get out of the country alive.  He arrived in the new world and started a new life in America’s textile center, South Carolina.

After a long career, Mr. Teszler retired from the textile industry in his 80’s then began his career as a college student.  Because he ended up auditing every course in the catalog, Wofford College named their library after him.  He had “an insatiable curiosity, an irrepressible desire to know – no matter what the subject, what the cost.”  He also had developed a compassion and forgiveness for mankind, in spite of his horrific suffering from the hands of men.  “You know,” Mr. Teszler once said not long before his death at age 97, “human beings are fundamentally good.”

Why am I writing about an old Hungarian man?

I am inspired by his zest for life and his absolute refusal to accept the conventions of aging.  If Mr. Teszler can attend college courses well into his 90’s, then so can we.  I want to encourage seniors to continue to do what they love to do.  The last years of our nation’s teachers, entrepreneurs, fighter pilots, volunteers, public servants, homemakers, and soldiers should not be spent playing bingo and performing chair calisthenics to the tune of “She’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain when she comes…”  If that this is all that is left in life, then we have failed.

Continue your passions.  Take online classes.  Volunteer.  Start a business.   Write a book.  Learn an instrument.  Sponsor a hungry family.  Organize a club.  Tutor a child.  Or, as Dylan Thomas put it best…

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”


* Olenck, Mark. (February 2009) Reader’s Digest. pp. 173-178.