Larson hopes to make a difference for seniors

E. Brunswick resident will lead New Jersey chapter of AARP

BY MARY ANNE ROSS Correspondent


Sy Larson (l), with his wife, Lee, and East Brunswick Mayor Bill Neary at Saturday's luncheon, was recently named president of the New Jersey chapter of AARP.Sy Larson (l), with his wife, Lee, and East Brunswick Mayor Bill Neary at Saturday’s luncheon, was recently named president of the New Jersey chapter of AARP. EAST BRUNSWICK – Local senior citizens and dignitaries gathered Saturday at the East Brunswick Chateau to honor one of their own.

Simeon “Sy” Larson, a township resident who has been with the local group since 1990, was recently named president of the New Jersey American Association for Retired People (AARP). It came as no surprise that Larson, who some have described affectionately as “our guy Sy,” was given the prestigious two-year term, given his involvement in civic affairs.

Larson has served on the state AARP board, is a member of Gov. Jon Corzine’s Transition Task Force on Prescription Drugs, and was a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging.

Larson’s friends, local AARP colleagues, East Brunswick Mayor Neary and others who have worked with Larson on various advocacy committees over the years were in attendance Saturday to honor him at the surprise luncheon.

“We are very happy as a chapter that he was chosen to be president of the state chapter,” said Marjorie Framhein, secretary of the East Brunswick chapter for the past nine years. “Anything he can do to help members, he does.”

Saturday’s reception, she said, was “a lovely affair.

“I think he was genuinely surprised and moved,” she said of Larson.

Larson, 82, and his wife, Lee, both retired educators, have been heavily involved in AARP’s volunteer programs for several years. Both have been helping to educate seniors about programs available to them; recruiting volunteers at the grassroots level; and lobbying for programs that benefit seniors.

Marjorie Erick, an East Brunswick resident and long-time board member of the East Brunswick AARP, said she appreciates Larson’s longstanding volunteer work.

“He has gone out of his way to get me answers for my particular situation,” she said. “We have been very lucky to have him in our chapter. He is a wonderful speaker. He just makes everything clear, especially with this Medicare D.”

East Brunswick AARP Chapter Vice President Terry Bolin, who organized Saturday’s event, described Larson as the “go-to guy” for seniors’ questions and concerns.

“If you have a problem, he takes the time to sit down with you individually. He listens and helps you find solutions,” she said.

As president of the state chapter, Larson will represent 1.3 million people in 2006-07. Larson, who was selected for the post by a committee of state and national organization members, will serve in a volunteer capacity, despite the great deal of time and effort involved.

But the lack of compensation is no deterrent for Larson.

“I get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from this kind of work,” he said.

Larson, who succeeds Marilyn Askin as president, said there are several important issues currently facing seniors in New Jersey. The first is property taxes.

“The property tax is an unfair, regressive tax which falls primarily on middle class, lower-middle class and those on a fixed income,” he said. “We are hoping that a special session of the Legislature will be called and that [state officials] will either legislate on the entire issue of property taxes or they will call a constitutional convention to deal with property taxes.”

A second issue for Larson is long-term care.

“In the state of New Jersey, Medicaid monies are distributed unequally,” he said, noting that 83 percent goes to nursing homes, while 17 percent goes to people at home.

“The result is that people who can stay at home but need some help can’t get that help, and are forced into nursing homes,” Larson said. “What we say is that people should have a choice. If they can stay in their home and if they do need some kind of help, then they should have the choice to do so rather than being forced into a nursing home. What we found is for every one person it costs to keep in a nursing home, you can keep 2.6 people at home.”

Prescription drugs are another issue that Larson would like to see addressed.

He cited studies that show New Jersey residents pay more for prescription drugs than those of any other state. The reason for that, he said, is political.

“This is the headquarters of the pharmaceutical industry,” he said. “It’s political power. And when I say [New Jersey residents pay] more, it’s obscenely more. I mean in one case 2,162% more. We think that should be addressed.”

Larson said the state AARP chapter is also interested in the concept of “clean elections,” and using public campaign financing instead of private funding.

“Those are some of the issues we are dealing with now, but there are other issues coming up,” he said.

Larson is a retired college professor who served as chairman of the Department of Labor Studies at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations. He is also the author of two books and has served on the New Jersey State Board of Pharmacy.

Larson said he is simply motivated to help people.

“I want to leave society a better place then when I came into it,” he said.