Ladies, grab your coat and get your Red Hat

Edna Kohn strutted confidently down the center of the room to the tune “Steppin’ Out With My Baby.” She twirled in place, showing off her smart maroon pants suit to the ladies in the audience who beamed with approval.

Like Kohn, most of the women at the March 7 event topped their silver curls with wide-brimmed red hats worn at a rakish angle.

The first fashion show by the Shayna Punims, a Red Hat Society chapter based at Jewish Home for the Aging’s (JHA) Eisenberg Village campus, gave former models an excuse to come out of retirement and provided nervous novices an opportunity to shine among their peers.

“I’ve been an introvert all my life,” Kohn said, “and at 89 years I’m blossoming into an extrovert.”

The 75 members of the Shayna Punim chapter, who comprise about half of the healthy female residents on the Eisenberg campus, are decades older than 50, but they haven’t lost their zest for living.

Several times a year, the circle of friends trot out their splashiest red-and-purple duds to enjoy an afternoon of tea, cookies and unapologetic merriment.

Sue May, a retired art teacher, says the society gives her the opportunity “just to feel like a girl again. Nobody makes fun of us if we do.”

In addition to the Shayna Punims, JHA’s Grancell Village campus has its own Red Hatters, who’ve dubbed themselves the Red Hat Mamas.

The Red Hat Society, founded in 1998 in Orange County, is a loosely structured international organization dedicated to fun and frivolity for women over the age of 50.

The original inspiration for the society came from the poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph, which depicts an older woman in purple clothing with a red hat. Founder Sue Ellen Cooper — who goes by the title Exalted Queen Mother — started giving out copies of the poem with red hats as gifts to friends, and before long a social group was born in 1998.

Today there are nearly 40,000 Red Hat Society groups worldwide, with each chapter averaging 20 to 25 members, according to the group’s statistics.
Shayna Punims’ matron saint and organizer is Gerrie Wormser, a Hollywood casting director who volunteers countless hours at the Jewish Home, where her mother was once a board-and-care resident.

It was Wormser who got the idea for the Shayna Punim chapter, which formed in 2005. She persuaded the San Diego Hat Company to donate 100 red raffia hats adorned with flashy purple flowers, and charged each potential member $1 to join.

Wormser has arranged tea parties and outings since the group began. Because the performance of a belly dancer at a previous event raised hackles among the membership, she was particularly anxious that the fashion show should go smoothly.

“I wanted it to look elegant, I wanted it to look classy … either done well, or not at all,” she said.

Models’ outfits were carefully chosen from the JHA’s own fashion boutique to flatter their figures. Over the course of four practice sessions, they were coached in modeling techniques: how to walk with confidence, how to pirouette to show off a flared skirt, how to drape a jacket casually over one shoulder.

Wormser even chose the most dapper of the male JHA residents to escort her ladies onto the floor.

Three hours before the Zuckerman Boardroom doors were flung open, the models gathered in the JHA beauty salon for a professional makeup session.

Valerie Harvey of Neiman Marcus was one of several cosmetics experts who offered their services.

“I’m happy to help. These ladies are beautiful,” she said.

Among the models enjoying the pampering were two who could boast brief modeling careers.

When Hilda Foodman was a teenager, she modeled junior petite fashions in New York’s garment district. But at 89 she now uses a walker to get around Eisenberg Village and is well aware she’s not the young girl she once was.

While she was getting ready, Foodman asked makeup artist Sylvie Hartmann: “How would you like to come back every day to do this?”

Sandy Wisner, a JHA resident for the past six months, once modeled sportswear for the Sears mail-order catalogue. At 81 she’s one of the babies in this group, but she confessed that looking in the mirror had become a daily challenge.

However, she has faced it with spirit by telling herself, “You’re an old lady, and you look OK for an old lady.”

Red and purple balloon bouquets transformed the boardroom into a festive hall. JHA activity director Caryl Geiger sat at the piano thumping out tunes like “If They Could See Me Now” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz” while resident Dorothy Scott served as emcee, describing each outfit in glowing detail.

The hours of practice the models put in paid off as they bounced, flounced and sashayed down the aisle between the tables.

Elegant Red Hatter Zosia Sauler (who had earlier given her age as “only 85”) proved she was to the runway born.

Foodman, who earlier had entered the makeup room pushing a walker, now pranced across the floor, swirling the folds of her gypsy skirt in time to the music.

Dorothy Delmonte, a former Yiddish theater actress who faces mobility problems at 81, couldn’t parade like the other models. But she wowed the 70 people in attendance with her gutsy rendition of “Second-Hand Rose” while decked out in a colorful pants outfit.

When model Dorothy Creager entered the festive hall, she did so on the arm of her sweetheart, 86-year-old Harry Schackman.

“I’m 86 and I have a boyfriend — the handsomest guy here,” the three-year Eisenberg Village resident announced proudly. “That’s why I’m smiling all the time.”

For more information, visit Red Hat Society or Jewish Home for the Aging

Seniors Seek Loving Hands, Home

When Arden Realty Chairman and CEO Richard Ziman’s elderly father was beginning to fade about 10 years ago, the father made a simple request.

“‘If I begin to lose it, take me there,'” said the father, as recounted by his son. “‘I will never be in better hands and with better people who will take better care of me.'”

Since 1912, those better hands have been at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging. The elder Ziman found peace there in his final days, which is one reason Richard Ziman’s philanthropy continues to support the Reseda facility. Ziman, who chairs the Jewish Home’s capital campaign, is quick to note that Jewish elders need much more affordable and age-appropriate housing. That same point will be made on Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Jewish Home’s fifth annual Celebration of Life fundraiser. “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno will headline the event.

This elder-housing shortfall was underscored ironically by some positive news this fall — the September dedication of a single-family house for four residents. The converted home will join 13 nearby properties for independent-living seniors. The conversion, overseen by San Fernando Valley-based Montage Development, involved adding 800 square feet — expanding the house from two to four bedrooms — constructing an entry ramp and installing special knobs on all doors and cabinets.

As nice as it is, however, the refurbished home resolves the housing shortage for just four senior citizens. Ziman said that 20,000 to 35,000 additional units are needed for the Jewish elderly of greater L.A. and that some 5,000 to 7,000 units are acutely needed.

Apart from the Jewish Home, other subsidized housing for Jewish seniors includes the eight-story Fairfax Towers, just above the Fairfax-Santa Monica Boulevard intersection near West Hollywood. The 150-unit building is home to about 200 elderly Russian Jews.

Across the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley, another 14 buildings, with a combined 950 units, serve Jewish and non-Jewish seniors through the nonprofit Menorah Foundation, which is funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Altogether it’s not nearly enough, said Stanley Treitel, executive director of the United Housing and Community Services Corp., which runs the Fairfax Towers. “Right now seniors are living in other types of senior housing or they live by themselves or they live in rent-controlled apartments.”

Much of the need, Treitel said, is for affordable, assisted-living facilities or for places that allow seniors to transition from independent to assisted living.

“When people age in place,” he said, “they need to move from independent living to assisted living.”

The Jewish Home is trying to develop along those lines with its Alzheimer’s/dementia unit. Of course, not every Jewish senior wants a facility that is particularly focused on Jews, but many seniors feel especially comfortable in such a place. And these facilities incorporate knowledge of Jewish culture and religious practices into the way they operate.

Creating any kind of senior housing has become especially difficult in Southern California’s exploding real estate market, where developers prefer more profitable projects.

“There’s no money in it,” said Yolande Erickson, a staff attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, where 80 percent of her clients are elderly. “Real estate is too valuable today. Anybody buying a building would want to get rid of the low-paying tenants.”

The Jewish Home can care for 1,000 residents at its Reseda nursing care facilities, two on-campus villages and nearby homes in the surrounding neighborhood. Currently there are about 400 residents in nursing care and another 400 in the residential units, said Jewish Home CEO Molly Forrest. Another 370 people are on the home’s two-to-three-year waiting list, of which about 239 are likely to be accommodated within the next year.

“We could easily double our size and just begin to address … the plight of seniors needing secure housing,” Forrest said.

Despite having a Westside funding base through its active, 2,500-member donor group, The Guardians, the nonprofit Jewish Home operates with an annual “multimillion dollar” budget shortfall, said Ziman, who has a ready pitch for potential donors.

“It’s part of the Fifth Commandment — ‘Honor Thy Father and Mother,'” Ziman said. “There is a woefully deficient number of residential units for the aging Jewish population. Most people aren’t aware that [so much of] that population is either impoverished or has significant food, shelter and basic necessity needs.”

Celebration of Life — Reflections: 2005 will take place in the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland. Tickets are $350. For information, call Corey Slavin at (818) 774-3031 or