Eight life lessons from some of Wollongong's inspiring older people

Trailblazer: UOW Professor Helen Hasan is one of eight diverse Illawarra residents sharing their story for the International Day of Older Persons, on October 1. Picture: Sylvia Liber.
Trailblazer: UOW Professor Helen Hasan is one of eight diverse Illawarra residents sharing their story for the International Day of Older Persons, on October 1. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

When she started studying physics at university, Helen Hasan was sometimes the only woman in a class of 500 men.

Called “invisible” by her university advisor, she taught herself computer programming and went on the have a long and distinguished career as a physicist and business professor.

Now, at 71, she is blazing another trail as a resident at UOW’s iAccelerate program – more likely to be associated with high-tech Silicon Valley-styled start ups than West Wollongong grandmothers.

Her business, Living Connected, uses her research to help older people use computers and remain digitally included as they age.

“A lot of people find that computers can help them do things they never imagined,” she said.

Prof Hasan has shared her story – and a message to keep looking after the next generation – as part of a Wollongong council project for International Day of Older Persons.

Her story panel, along with those of seven other older residents, will be displayed in the Arts Precinct from October 1.

Seven other lessons about life from Wollongong’s older people

  1. Wiradjuri woman, Colleen Fay Sloan, says her mother’s advice to “Always walk tall and remember who you are”  always lifted her spirits during tough times. She also cites her brothers advice that “you don’t have to row this boat alone”.
  2. Salvos volunteer Alan Gordon – who stopped abusing alcohol when he met his partner in 1996 – encourages young people to be comfortable with being themselves and question authority.
  3. Wollongong’s oldest real estate agent, Bob Onofri, has been in the business for 50 years – he says being decent, trustworthy and making other people happy and most important.
  4. Quan Tran, migrated to Australia in 1978, and became the “house mother” of Fairy Meadow Migrant Hostel, looking after kids who arrived without parents. She says giving back through community work and volunteering has helped her stay positive,
  5. Former restaurateur and Polish Club president, John Frankowski had a stroke seven years ago, and urged people to take care of their health and stay in touch with friends.
  6. Optimist Franki Thompson focuses on the blessings in her life and says she lives by the motto “the key to your happiness is in your own pocket”.
  7. Ship restoration volunteer, Stuart Gibson, says being patient, having few regrets and avoiding boredom with lots of hobbies are core to his happiness.