This article was written by Carla Zbacnik
On August 20 AARP Minnesota and Pollen announced the 2019 50 Over 50 honorees — 50 Minnesota leaders over 50 who are writing their own rules about aging. These incredible individuals are making an impact in many ways—driving the engines of opportunity in the business world, creating art and helping others do the same, affecting change in their communities, and finding new ways to upend the status quo. They’re leaders in their work, and fighters against the tired stereotypes around aging. For the fourth consecutive year, we are proud to honor these leaders and recognize their significant contributions and achievements in their communities.
It’s time to change the stories we tell ourselves about aging and showcase the contributions people 50+ are making. The following are incredible Northsiders:
Al McFarlane, age 72, founded Insight News 45 years ago in the basement of his North Minneapolis home to provide a voice for the voiceless and to help Twin Cities African American community members see themselves as business, civic and community leaders. Under Al’s leadership, the weekly newspaper—which he still runs—has won numerous awards from the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the Minnesota Newspaper Association. But the paper isn’t the only way Al keeps people informed. He also hosts “Conversations with Al McFarlane,” each Tuesday on KFAI. Al is also the founder of the Insight2Health Fitness Challenge, an innovative, cross-sector program that introduces people of all ages to healthy lifestyles. He’s known as a generous man with a kind heart, credited with giving many young people their first jobs.
Luis Fitch, age 53, is the founder of UNO Branding, a multicultural visual communication agency known for its ability to deliver “spot on” cross-cultural design solutions. Luis is also an internationally known artist. Raised in Tijuana, Mexico, he moved to the U.S. in 1985. In the years since, his work has been shown nationally and internationally, and is now featured in more than 100 collections in the U.S. and Latin America. His brightly colored works are rich in culture and meaning, a playful update to traditional Mexican iconography. A 2015 McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship recipient, Luis has no plans to retire. Instead, he’s eager to devote even more time to his art, which includes traditional Mexican papercutting, mixed-media painting, digital illustration and more, all with an eye toward making art that is instantly recognizable and widely accessible.
If you think Twin Cities Pride is only for the young, 71-year-old Harry Hartigan wants you to think again. That’s why he, with the help of AARP Minnesota, founded Boomer Town. Now a mainstay at Twin Cities Pride and a model being replicated at festivals nationwide, Boomer Town is a dedicated space where LGBTQ boomers—disproportionately affected by issues of stigma, isolation and unequal treatment—can make new friends and learn about helpful resources such as Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly and the Twin Cities chapter of Prime Timers, two organizations Harry has volunteered with for decades. But Harry also has a new calling: as a priest. He visits homebound elders in South Minneapolis each week, and often drives to Moose Lake and St. Peter, home to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, to offer spiritual support to incarcerated people he describes as “forgotten and out-of-sight.”
Chuck Peterson, 57, was in his early teens when his brother returned home from Vietnam. But rather than a happy family reunion, Chuck witnessed a quiet conversation between his brother and his parents erupt into a loud argument that led his brother to storm out of the house. Why? Because his brother had shared a secret his parents couldn’t accept. Chuck had the same secret: He, too, was gay. Several years later, when he came out, he embarked on a lifelong quest to support others in the LGBTQ community. Today he is the executive director of Clare Housing, home to nearly 300 people living with and affected by HIV. Chuck’s also been instrumental in developing two Minnesota statewide plans: one to end HIV and another to end homelessness for all Minnesotans living with HIV—both goals to be achieved by 2025.