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30,000 Seniors Gather to Hear Celebrity Advice, Plan Political Muscle

May 11, 1988

DETROIT (AP) _ Ralph Nader discussed consumer fraud, Dear Abby read strange letters, and sex therapist Ruth Westheimer - well, you know what she talked about - at the American Association of Retired Persons’ biennial convention.

An estimated 30,000 members of the AARP, an advocacy group for Americans age 50 and older, descended on the Cobo Conference and Exhibition Center Tuesday to sample a smorgasbord of expert advice and senior-centered sales pitches.

During the convention, delegates will also vote on a number of resolutions that are not binding on the AARP’s 3,600 local chapters. The organization, which claims membership of 28 million, will issue no political endorsements.

But AARP planned a session today that could determine the thrust of its formidable lobbying muscle in Washington on Social Security and related issues.

The program was to begin with videotaped statements from the remaining presidential candidates. Afterward, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan was to explain the Democratic Party’s plans, and John Svahn, former commissioner of the Social Security Administration, was to speak for the Republican Party.

Also scheduled for today were speeches by outgoing AARP president John Denning and his successor, Louise Crooks; television journalist Ed Bradley; political humorist Art Buchwald and economist Jane Bryant Quinn.

Peace Corps Director Loret Ruppe delivered Tuesday’s keynote speech, detailing opportunities for senior citizens in the volunteer organization.

″Age is respected in countries where we work,″ she said, adding that senior citizens’ biggest problems are health and difficulty in learning a foreign language.

The number of senior citizens in the Peace Corps has risen from 6 percent in 1961 to 12 percent now, said Ruppe.

Nader told his audience how to watch out for fraud in prosthetic devices, telephone solicitations, prepared food and pharmaceuticals. Westheimer discussed sexuality among seniors, and Abigail Van Buren read some letters she’s received for her Dear Abby advice column, including one from a woman who wanted a sewing machine for her 45th anniversary but instead got a cemetery plot from her husband.

But the celebrity speakers had to compete for attention with commercial exhibits ranging from motor homes and vacation spots to exercise devices and foot medications.

″It’s wonderful,″ said Sophie Grudzinski of Hobart, Ind. ″All these freebies, we just can’t pass it up. ... ″Dr. Ruth, that’s one thing we do not need,″ she said, without elaborating.

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