Photo by Frank Prager
Gerry Gillman and Marcia Custer stand in the yard of their Edwardsville home. The couple, both in their 80s, bicycle together regularly as well as garden and travel.
EDWARDSVILLE — Clinical studies and medical evidence increasingly prove exercise and an active lifestyle can keep people fit, alert and living productive lives well into their senior years. Nothing proves that fact more than seeing people firsthand whose lives illustrate the point.
Marcia Custer is 82. Her husband, Gerry Gillman, is nearly 88. Married for 36 years, the Edwardsville couple have exercised their entire lives and still ride bicycles on the trails around town.
Custer retired in 1998 from her job as a professor in the nursing program at SIUE. Gillman retired in 1987 from the position of principal at Hazelwood Elementary School in Missouri. He notes he started his career in education in a one-room schoolhouse.
Custer recently rode her bicycle in the Moonlight Ramble bike ride. The yearly event hosts more than 5,000 bicycle riders on a course that winds its way for miles through the streets of St. Louis. She notes it was very crowded, especially at the beginning, but also well-organized. Four of her grandchildren rode bicycles in the event with her.
Custer and Gillman have participated in activities that have kept them physically fit over the years. In past years, they traveled with Elder Hostel, bicycling in places like Denmark and the Netherlands. They have also bicycled in rides throughout the United States.
Custer says the key to regular exercise is finding something you enjoy.
“The bicycle trails over here are so pleasant,” she says. “It’s a great way to see animals and nature.”
The couple have kept active in other ways over the years as well. Gillman is a master gardener. He maintained the foliage for their community’s subdivision entrance for many years. The scenic landscaping and plants around their house are testimony to the 31 years they have lived there, adding perennials, benches, bird feeders and other items over time that lend the area a lush, colorful feel.
They have pursued numerous personal interests over the years, sometimes together and sometimes individually.
Custer participated in Jimmy Carter’s Friendship Force. The organization brings people of different countries together to foster friendships between cultures and work toward the peace that results from those types of relationships. During that time, she traveled to Japan, China, India and Egypt.
She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Madison County Health Department and has received special recognition for her role in that organization. Gillman has received special accommodations from the U.S. Department of Education for his leadership roles in the field of education.
The couple have traveled together extensively, visiting Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe and Russia. They are also involved in their church. Their energy and activity level keep them healthy and allow them to keep enjoying life.
Custer explains that her experience in the field of health care has informed her perspective on what it takes to stay healthy in one’s later years.
“The benefits for people who keep their bodies in motion are very clear,” she says.