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Seniors, 30,000 of Them, Gather in AARP Convention

May 10, 1988

DETROIT (AP) _ About 30,000 senior citizens came to Detroit on Tuesday to flex their growing political muscle in the 1988 biennial convention of the American Association of Retired Persons.

Thousands of people gathered in Cobo Hall to hear speeches by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, sex therapist Ruth Westheimer, Peace Corps Director Loret Ruppe and U.S. Sen. Donald Riegle of Michigan. The convention runs through Thursday.

But many conventioneers from across the country came to look at exhibits of motor homes and vacation spots, exercise devices and medications.

″It’s wonderful,″ said Sophie Grudzinski of Hobart, Ind. ″But all these freebies, we just can’t pass it up.″

She and Mary Bentley of Lake Station, Ind., were part of a two-bus contingent coming from the Gary, Ind., area to the cnvention on Detroit’s sprawling riverfront convention center.

″I’m tired, I could use a little scooter,″ Mrs. Bentley said while relaxing near a stage in the main exhibit hall where entertainment was about to begin.

While here, the two women and thousands of others had the opportunity to attend seminars and hear speeches on consumer ″rip-offs″ and patient rights, the federal budget and sexuality among seniors by Westheimer.

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

But Mrs. Grudzinski said she didn’t agree with the national organization’s non-partisan policy.

″There’s so many of us,″ she said, ″that if we’d all stick together, we could really get things done.″

Nader told a room packed with more than 2,000 conventioneers that they should watch out for fraud in prosthetic devices, telephone solicitations, prepared food and pharmaceuticals.

Ruppe told a group there were opportunities for senior citizens in the Peace Corps. She said Odilon Long just retired from the Peace Corps at 86, leaving 76-year-old Janet Klepper in Guatemala as the oldest volunteer.

She said the proportion of senior citizens in the Peace Corps has risen from 6 percent in 1961 to 12 percent now.

″Age is respected in countries where we work,″ she said, adding that senior citizens’ biggest problem with acceptance in the program is health, and a difficulty in learning a foreign language.

″At the present moment, most of our seniors are serving in English- speaking countries,″ she said.

Riegle, who is running for re-election as the state’s senior senator in Washington, repeated his call for President Reagan to sign recently debated trade legislation and to break the Social Security system out of the federal budget process.

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