Meet New Member Brian O’Connell

Brian O'ConnellI was born in Dayton, Ohio and moved at an early age to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania suburbs. My parents raised my three brothers and me as “sympathetic” Unitarians (we attended fellowship occasionally), and I was treated to a UU dedication ceremony as a very young child. After graduating from college in 1976, I began a career in the Air Force as a navigator and electronic warfare officer, mostly in B-52s. My family lived the nomadic Air Force life for 26 years, finishing up at Eglin in 2006. After a few stints doing defense contracting work in this area, I taught high school Air Force JROTC for eight years in North Carolina. My wife, Sue, and I moved back to Niceville in 2016.

The sea and the weather brought us back, and I spend many enjoyable hours on my sailboat. I’m also inspired by great jazz (I’ve played trumpet since I was 10), enjoy an intelligent conversation, believe that a well-played game of baseball is the definition of sublime perfection, and think it’s hard to spend a better day than in the company of a six year old granddaughter who brings fresh and joyous perspective to just about everything.

Sue and I have been married for 40 years, and we have three grown children. One of our sons and his daughter live locally, another son lives in Arizona, and our daughter and her husband live in North Carolina.

A UUFEC Testimonial by Aaron Galonsky

Those of us who call ourselves Unitarians came to Unitarianism by various channels. Not many of us were born and raised Unitarians. My Lutheran-raised wife Marion learned of it from Max Otto, a University of Wisconsin philosophy professor, and in 1950 she told me about it. Fairly soon I became an atheist Jewish Unitarian. When we moved to East Lansing, Michigan in 1964 we joined the Unitarian Church there.

In January, 2003, without help from Darwin, we mutated into snowbirds and nested in Sandestin. On the first Sunday we drove to the phone-book address of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Emerald Coast and found, not a little house where a fellowship met, but this beautiful place with lots of people buzzing about.

After the service we were surprised and pleased to find food with the coffee. And although we are kind and gentle people, and try not to stand out, we were noticed and befriended immediately. Dar Kayuha was the first to find Marion, and John Lindegren was the first to welcome me. Sometimes opposites attract but this time it was the reverse. John and I are both physicists, and Dar is just as kind and gentle as Marion.

So, as we say in physics, the initial conditions were set. In Newtonian mechanics, the initial conditions of a set of objects completely determine their future course. Oh, “you physicists” you’ll say, “humans are more than objects.” Of course! But that law operates amongst us humans too, we just call it “the first impression.” In here the good first impression was not contradicted by the future.

One of the specific personal benefits of the UUFEC for us is that it is our club. For our first four winters we rented in Sandestin. We liked Sandestin, but when we bought a place, we bought it in Niceville so that we could be close to here. Although I once did get mail from Uncle Sam that began with the word, “Greetings,” I remained a lifelong civilian. So we don’t have the retired military camaraderie. I have played golf a few times, and our house in Niceville is near a golf course, but I am not a golfer. So we are not part of a golfer’s clubhouse society. For us, this church is our club.

A Senior Moment with Sharleenne Farley

Last month I celebrated my seventy-second birthday. If you had been there, you might not have seen all of me. In my lifetime I have had multiple selves, including many of the familial ones: daughter, sister, aunt, niece, wife, and mother. Then there were the vocational ones, such as waitress, public school teacher, small business owner, resort manager, consultant and newsletter editor. Like a suit of clothes, some of these roles were a perfect fit; others underwent alterations; some wore out or became too small and were discarded; others continue to allow for further growth. All of these roles have shaped me and my life’s journey.

Like most people in search of their “selves,” my journey began as an adolescent. It was during those bittersweet years that I discovered some of my life passions that would shape my identity. My love of reading and books expanded my world and excited my imagination. School was a wonderful place where I encountered teachers who saw in this shy, awkward, skinny, spectacled young girl with coke bottoms for lenses and thick braces bolted to her teeth, something special that she was unable to see. I discovered I had a gift for acting that increased my self-esteem. What was even better, as a young actress I could be the outgoing, confident extrovert that I longed to be in real life.

Fast forward and I am still a reader but now I have a Kindle that increases the font size for my failing eye sight. Instead of reading about interesting places, I visit them; thus, I think of myself as a “world traveler.” These days I describe myself as a “lover of theater and the arts,” rather than actress. My self keeps on evolving as I learn more about who I am through new roles, such as grandma, gardener, volunteer worker, and Unitarian Universalist.

Examining my life roles has taught me much about who I am. More importantly it has caused me to reflect on what I have done these 72 years. Have I made a difference in anyone’s life? How have I used my personal gifts to serve? How have my relationships fared? How well have I integrated my multiple selves into a single whole? The late UU Reverend Forrest Church said, “When we integrate our values, projects, and relationships, our lives cohere.

A Senior Moment with Gary Cleveland

In my 65 years on this Earth I soon discovered the truth in the old saying, “When I was a child, I spoke and acted as a self- centered child.” But, my adult age has taught me to put such childish self-centered actions forever behind me.

As I matured, I discovered that my greatest personal happiness comes from helping other people to help themselves. Also, I keep ever mindful, that I live only within the, “Sacred Here and Now.” The past is forever gone and the future is not the here yet.  So I always attempt to do the correct and honorable thing while being ever mindful of the here and now.  I simply try to do the correct thing, at the correct time, all of the time. That way, I do not have many regrets.

Things that I am glad that I did not miss during my lifetime are:

1. TV;  both black & white, and color.

2. Improved motorcycles and automobiles.

3.  Computers and the Internet.

4. Receiving my Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Humanities from UWF.

5. Retiring from the US Air Force after 24+ years of active service.

6. Reestablishing contact with some old grade school friends and previously estranged family members.

7. Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

8. Discovering Unitarian Universalism in 2001.

To sum up, our lifetime on this Earth is relatively very short so we should always strive to promote both peace and harmony within our lives and our personal relationships.  I am forever mindful of the, “Sacred Here and Now” and strive always to do the correct thing at all times. That way, life always has relatively few regrets.

A Senior Moment with Scotty Zilinsky

I was born many moons ago in Camden, NJ, but spent my childhood in CT, in a historic town, Simsbury, where my parents built our house in a former cow pasture.  Definitely a Beaver Cleaver childhood.  I was into art, crafts, raising chickens for egg money, 4H, and cheerleading.  Went to U of Conn for BS in Physical Therapy, where I was photo editor of yearbook, worked on the newspaper, was head cheerleader and a sister of Pi Beta Phi, and did synchronized swimming. I even studied occasionally. Met my husband there, Tony, and after graduation, did the Air Force wife thing, running luncheons and coffees, editing officer’s wives publications, and trying to remember to say the right things to the Colonels and their wives.

We spent USAF time in Cal, Cape Cod, Texas, Germany, etc, and had 3 kids by the time he retiredand we settled in Simsbury, my old home town.  I Worked in all sorts of P.T. settings through the years, in both clinical and management, and acquired two more degrees, a Masters in Health Care Management, and one in Clinical Neurology.  With the kids through high school and the kids through college, we divorced, and I moved to Florida, coming back to Fort Walton Beach, where we had been stationed when the kids were young.  And here I still am…..still working in home health physical therapy PRN.  The kids now have kids, and I guess that makes me Granny.

Advice?  Keep your friends, and keep busy.  Never stop growing.  Read and listen to all sides of issues so your world view is rooted in something solid and not just an echo of what you’ve been told to believe.  When you see yourself getting in a rut, try something new…..paint, write, read, travel, sing, party, play. Dress up on Halloween. Try to stay healthy. And, tell the world how good it is to be  UU.

A Senior Moment with Rosemary Baker

Being asked to put down my thoughts is a difficult task for a basically lazy person. At the beginning of life there’s a rush to get on with things. We race at high speed (making adults wish they could harness or even bottle that energy to draw on later). Then life kind of happens, and we deal with it as best we can, hoping to make a contribution.  Drifting and coping with each phase, ordeal or task as it arises, we most wish not to do harm along the way. Maybe we occasionally do something helpful.

I often wonder why I’ve been blessed with so many precious people. Family and friends are ours on loan to cherish while we can. I got to share 42 years with a great guy!  Where did I merit such good fortune‽ And the pace slows to a steady walk.

I’m thankful daily for traveling my life journey during this geological phase of our Earth. The natural treasures are such a privilege to admire and partake of .  It’s sad to contemplate a future of change, but maybe there will be other wonders for future sentient beings.

When someone is distressed the only thought I can offer is, “We’re only given one direction to go – that’s forward.” My pace is no longer racing or striding. I try to use these powers of love and appreciation at a different rate now.  So, here’s to plodding.

A Senior Moment with Fred Boyer

Thomas Malthus, the British demographer (1778) was one of my gurus early in college. It should be noted that a timeframe of his population projections was ambiguous. None-the-less, many years later, I personally felt noble and pragmatic as we adopted two kids; and then biological son Ben came along. What Judy and I never imagined: Ten (10) grandkids later! As most of you know, world population now exceeds 6.8 billion people! ( Might this eventually be a problem?

Perhaps there is a challenge and responsibility to help my offspring compete. I have discovered all kids have lots to learn (adults, too). As a parent, partly my job. Clearly, kids need more people skills plus techniques for thinking/ reasoning.

One of my most rewarding roles has been in teaching grandkids chess. A four or five-year-old can master the basic moves and become quite effective by age 8 or 9. Forget more “watch the screen” or who is lucky today. Chess is a deliberate passtime that teaches concentration, planning and execution. There is sportsmanship, specific rules and strategy (critical). But most important, all need to learn there are consequences for ones mistakes (Fool’s mate).

When you share time with a youngster, don’t watch a football game together; don’t take him/her to the circus; don’t push more junk food. Go for “One on One” and provide a learning situation that will pay dividends. The rewards can be profound.

A Senior Moment with Robert Larson

“I need somebody.”

Our three-year-old son David’s words barely penetrated the chatter of our beach party. “I neeeed somebody,” he cried again, much louder this time so that we all looked over in alarm to see what had happened. Sobbing, David pointed at the bonfire, where I saw his trousers lying, one pant leg already burned. Earlier, David had gotten them wet playing tag with the surf, so we had taken them off him and stuck a pole in the woodpile, one end of which could hold the trousers over the fire to dry. Attempting to climb the stack of firewood, David had jiggled his pants loose and they had fallen into the flames. There was nothing that could be done for them now. All I could do was put my arm around my son and hug. He stopped crying and we watched in fascination as the trousers disappeared in smoke.

Thinking about this later, I realize that much of life occurs the way it did that night on the beach. Most often there is nothing we can do about the thrills and tragedies, big or small, that accompany life. But when they happen, a little compassion can make a huge difference. We are here to love each other. When that happens, it is the closest thing to heaven we can create on Earth.

A Senior Moment

A Senior Moment
with Winky Sweet

I don’t feel like a senior. I was caught flat at a Friendship Circle one time when I illustrated a point by saying, “remember ….” One person remembered, from childhood. The rest knew of it but with no memories. So maybe I am a senior, but I don’t feel like one. I don’t feel very old or very smart.

What have I found most important in my life? Family. First my natal family. We were a large family on a farm outside town, large enough to do the ubiquitous chores in pairs, and large enough to be each other’s best friends, to fight and make up, to experience learning and teaching and helping. We went our ways to find work and build our own families. Now grown, we have reconnected; we appreciate one another and are very much there for each other.

Then came my own husband and children who were my whole world at that stage. Now the children are grown and again we have reconnected as adults and are there for each other. And of course grandchildren are the light and joy of my life now.

Reconnection has come from celebration or adversity or illness. My folks are aging to where they cannot care for themselves, so they need company and my brother needs help and relief. Over the years, one or another of us has been between jobs or living spaces. My daughter lived through her cancer and my husband died from his, and a sister has just lost her husband. Lifestyles and beliefs that have changed over time might seem to separate us, but do not. Family is there, family goes on.

The third family is church- Baptist as a child, Methodist through my early and mid-adult years, then nothing until I found UU. But always being known and accepted, learning and searching together, being a family, being there. Thank you for accepting me in this UUFEC family.

A Senior Moment

Everyone needs to know how to get along with each other. Conversations bring opportunities to listen and learn. So listen and try to understand.

Enjoy life, your family, and associates. Recognize the beauty all around. Don’t fear death. It happens to us all, eventually. More and more of the people I know and love are dead. But I meet new ones and develop new relationships. I’m not sure what I think of life after death but it’s something to look forward to. Since my husband died I’m often alone. Church is where I come to get hugs. We don’t always practice the tolerance we strive for, but we know better. We must respect each other’s beliefs no matter how hard it is sometimes . . . and remember to give hugs.