Donna Cole gives new meaning to the term lifelong learner. “I love school. I love learning,” says 79-year-old Cole, who still regularly attends classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University, Long Beach. “It seems like I’ve gone to school all my life. I just love it.”
While she did not earn her college degree until she was 65, Cole excelled at jobs ranging from assistant vice president of a savings and loan association, to president of the Long Beach Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, to assistant athletic director for Cal State Long Beach — where, incidentally, she helped raise $300,000 in a month to save the football team in the 1980s — to vice president of communications and PR for the Grand Prix Association.
It was while working as a senior systems analyst at Boeing that she earned her BA degree, and when the company laid her off in 2003, Cole convinced them to pay for her to go back to school to earn her teaching credential. “It was the only thing I could come up with to do at my age,” she says. She earned the credential at age 70 and was a substitute teacher until her retirement in 2008.
When her doctor diagnosed her with dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in 2010, she picked up a card in his office that advertised The Discovery Eye Foundation’s Vision Symposium at UC Irvine. She attended the half-day event, and she’s been “obsessed with DEF ever since. There were great speakers, and it gave me the opportunity to mingle with people at all stages of AMD,” she says, adding that she regularly attends events through DEF and the Macular Degeneration Partnership (MDP), relying on the MDP website as her primary source of AMD information.
Cole says she has yet to experience any real effects of AMD: “I’m too young for that!” she insists. “My doctor just checked me and said the same thing he says every year: ‘See you in a year’; he told me I only need to come in sooner if I notice a change in my eyesight.”
Thanks to MDP, Cole believes she is better prepared to deal with the effects of AMD when they do happen. “Knowing that support is there makes it OK,” she says. “No matter what happens, I know DEF and the Macular Degeneration Partnership are there for me.”
The California native takes an eye vitamin and mineral supplement, and she added salmon and tuna to her vegetarian diet because of their eye-healthy properties. “To me, it’s just a matter of being healthy,” Cole says. “I’m very healthy. I don’t like taking drugs — not even aspirin — but I do make sure to eat chocolate at both lunch and dinner.”
Additionally, she tries to go walking at least two or three times a week, though, recently, she laments, “I accidentally signed up for three days of classes every week this quarter, which is interfering with my walking.”