Retiree Teaches the Value of Art to the Elderly

Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

The archetypal image of the stubborn old curmudgeon, set in their ways, is one that is stuck in the imagination. Award winning movies like Up, Gran Torino, and Nebraska all feature elderly leads resistant to change in the face of their younger communities.

Sometimes though, it can take an old dog to teach another old dog new tricks. This no more apparent than in the case of Charles “Bud” Donaldson, an 80 year old air force veteran who has been running art and music therapy classes for the last 11 years in Pleasanton, California.

Donaldson himself discovered the arts later in life. He served as a navigator in the air force and was sent to Vietnam where he served on a gunship. There he learned to play guitar, and he continued to stay passionate about music throughout his 23 years of service and his time working for Lockheed Martin as a systems engineer up until 1997.

He had always wanted to try painting, but had never had the time to dedicate to it. However, in 1985, he asked a 19 year old he knew to teach him the basics of oil painting and has been painting ever since.

He began teaching art therapy in 1997 after his retirement from Lockheed Martin. He assisted with a program at the VA Palo Alto Health Care Facility, and in 2004 became the program’s head instructor. He has since expanded the program to several other assisted living facilities and has spent his retirement years helping people who have never picked up a paintbrush learn new ways to express themselves.

Donaldson says he has even had success working with handicapped patients, teaching some how to paint with their mouths if hands are not available. Donaldson was awarded the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2012 for his art, and his efforts continue to show that no one is ever too old to become an artist.