Story by Amy Overgaard Fenske and Art by Stella Williams
Senior advocate Dave Beal believes active citizenship is key to making his community more age-friendly and livable.
Though Rochester resident Dave Beal has been advocating for older adults for over a decade, through his professional work and civic involvement, he only recently began self-identifying with the group he serves. He now says “us” instead of “they,” “we” instead of “them.” But this shift is no indication that he’s slowing down.
At 70, Beal is still active in his career—he’s the Age-Friendly Olmsted County Coordinator as well as the Marketing and Communications Manager at Family Service Rochester (FSR)—and plans to continue working for the foreseeable future. As an ongoing volunteer for In the City for Good, he’s civically active in his personal life as well. Beal was one of the early facilitators of this community group, which was founded in 2015 in response to conversations surrounding the Destination Medical Center (DMC) Initiative. Its intent is to give every citizen a voice in the issues that affect them—which also happens to be one of Beal’s values in his personal and professional life.
When it comes to aging, he challenges the notion that the age of 70 (or 60 or 80 or 90, for that matter) should look a certain way. “I think one of the most ageist things that old people say is, ‘I don’t feel 70,’ because it assumes that 70 is a certain thing,” he says.
The reality that he will quickly point out is that modern lifespans are changing. “We used to think your working life ended around 65 or so—and then you’d have a few years, and then you were gone. Now we’ve got maybe up to 30 years after [retirement],” Beal says. “Right now, those 20-30 years are being treated as if they’re tacked on at the end and not part of the whole span. But this extended lifespan reverberates across the entire lifespan.”
That’s one reason Beal thinks multigenerational and intergenerational work is important—because decisions that affect seniors impact younger generations as well.
“If you make improvements for older adults, you’re often making it better for everybody,” he says.
Instead of expecting certain things of himself and others at certain ages, Beal chooses to simply appreciate that seven decades offers an “accumulation of experience,” and perspective. “I still care about the same things I’ve always cared about, but I think my sense of what’s possible is different … I’ve understood the benefits of persistence.”
Persistence shows up daily in his work at FSR, the lead agency for Age-Friendly Olmsted County. Beal played an integral role in bringing his county into the AARP network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in early 2020. But the process began several years earlier. In the mid-2010s, Beal began to notice that, while there was a lot of talk about attracting young professionals and families to Rochester related to the DMC initiative, seniors were being left out of the conversation.
It was during this time that he was introduced to the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, and he was very compelled by the vision. The idea is that, with AARP Minnesota’s resources, Rochester and the surrounding area would continue becoming a more livable community for seniors—a place where older adults have ready access to affordable and appropriate housing and transportation options, and supportive community features and services.
After rolling out the Age-Friendly Olmsted County in the fall of 2022, Beal and FSR have made huge strides toward many of its stated goals—including receiving an Age-Friendly Minnesota Community Grant to further education around aging in place and successfully lobbying the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the state legislature, in partnership with AARP Minnesota, to provide a more sustainable funding model for Home and Community Based Services through Live Well grants. And then there was the recent walk audit. The digital opportunity community. Work on multigenerational, age-friendly parks. An online resource guide for aging in Olmsted County. The list goes on.
All of this effort comes down to Beal’s belief in active citizenship, or civic involvement. “When I’m talking about citizens and citizenship, I’m talking about people participating in civil society,” he says. “Civil society, for me, is that public space that’s outside the government and those formal institutions that we govern ourselves with and by. I believe we have responsibilities to each other outside of those institutions or beyond those institutions. And our ability to have impact, our ability to make change, is not limited to those institutions.”
In Beal’s experience, it’s rarely an individual who solely accomplishes societal changes.
“Sometimes, to get things done, we need to act in concert, we need to form these associations,” he says. “That’s where our power to act, our agency, comes from.”
It’s a philosophy that has driven so much of Beal’s work over the past decade-plus. “All along the way, it’s always been ‘How do we create opportunities for people to be engaged in ways that are meaningful?” Beal says.
“We need to make sure we’re creating opportunities and spaces where people can come together to act in concert. That’s something I really believe.”
In-Person Decades Dinner
Wednesday, November 15
6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Create Catering & The Dining Studio
1121 NE Jackson St Suite #145,
Minneapolis, MN 55413
Join AARP Minnesota and Pollen Limited seats available now. On November 15, we’ll be hosting a Decades Dinner to discuss different perspectives on financial security and wealth disparities. The generation gap is often used to define and separate people, but it holds the power to strengthen communities and teach across generational lines. Your voice will be a powerful addition to this conversation, and we’re excited to extend to you an invitation to attend. We aim to have 50 people joining us from across each decade of life – from 20s to 90s. Participants will be placed with individuals from other age groups for an intimate, intergenerational conversation over dinner, moderated by acclaimed author and Emmy award winner Sheletta Brundidge.