For These World Travelers, Home Is Where the Heart Is

Violinist Murray Korda really should have struck up “The Theme From Doctor Zhivago” when he serenaded members of Travel Club One at their recent party in Leisure World, Laguna Hills.

After all, “it’s their favorite,” said Korda, who has played for kings, queens, celebs and society’s upper crust. (Korda knows . He was the first paid professional to entertain at Leisure World 24 years ago.)

But at a dinner themed to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Shangri-La-like retirement community, Korda chose to give club members an international program--waltzes from France and Vienna, even Japanese classics.

“Because these travelers have been there,” Korda said. “Everywhere--Europe, Japan, South America. . . .” (“Besides,” he added. “I’m sick of ‘Doctor Zhivago.’ I’ve played it a thousand times!”)


Indeed. Eighty-three-year-old George Rowley, once an animator for Walt Disney movies--including “Snow White,” “Bambi” and “Pinocchio"--said he has been to Europe, including Scandinavia, four times. His date, Jean Brokaw--mother of NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw--said she has been to Europe twice.

Judging from the camaraderie of the 400 party-goers, however, it was more than wanderlust that brought them together.

“It’s Leisure World,” said Brokaw, whose husband died 2 years after the couple moved to the community in 1980. “I love everything about the place. And it’s George Rowley. I joined the club because George was my friend and he belonged.”

(Neither Brokaw nor Rowley, a Leisure World resident since 1970, deny that the couple are “an item.” “He has a terrific sense of humor, and he’s a real gentleman,” Brokaw said, gazing up at the lanky, dinner-jacket-clad Rowley. “He’s very nice and very handsome.”


(“Jean is wonderful company--a very special person,” said Rowley, gazing down at silver-haired Brokaw, resplendent in cornflower-blue chiffon. “She’s good-looking and very popular. So there you are!”)

After moving through a reception line, Brokaw and Rowley settled down with fellow travelers to enjoy fruit salad, chicken and the dreamy concert by Korda.

The crowd was a biographer’s dream. For example, consider Olive Leonard. The 91-year-old musician once played background piano for the silent movie version of “Ben Hur.” “I put the chariot race to music,” said Leonard, who, according to Rowley, “plays piano for just about every club in Leisure World.”

“You had to sit in this pit and play as the action unfolded right under your nose,” Leonard said.

And consider Dr. Tracy E. Strevey. The tall, gray and handsome 87-year-old (who looks 20 years younger) is editing the 25-year history of Leisure World, scheduled for publication in June. “I’m editing the book and writing one of its 11 chapters,” said Strevey, once dean of letters, arts and sciences at USC.

Asked to make a wish on behalf of Leisure World’s next 25 years, Strevey said: “I wish it to continue, as much as possible, like it is--with the wonderful kind of people here who have made it a wonderful and unique retirement center.”

The secret to his vigorous longevity (“I shoot my age in golf,” he noted): “Keep active, busy. Use your mind. Become involved.”

A sterling party for the golden years: A dinner-dance and keynote address by Art Linkletter will formally launch Leisure World’s 25th anniversary celebration Saturday night.


Also on the agenda of the 6 p.m. event in Clubhouse 5: a salute to Leisure World founder Ross Cortese and five of the community’s original residents--Lucille Beller, Hazel Watson, Margaret Archer, Kathleen Harper and Nancy Young.

When Linkletter speaks to the 350 seniors who are expected to attend the party, he will zero in on the life style that Leisure World affords them.

One of the bonuses for the more than 20,000 residents of Leisure World is the opportunity to continue to make friends, Linkletter says.

“Constant companionship is available to the inhabitants of Leisure World. If seniors don’t make new friends, they put themselves in a constricting circle. They need to be able to meet people, look to the future and know they won’t have to spend it alone.”

Linkletter says he gives hundreds of lectures annually. And he likes to tell his listeners: “The important thing is to make the best of the way things have turned out for you and not sit around wishing they’d been different. You have to live life to the fullest every day in order to be happy.”