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Retired city pastor to lead state AARP

– Several years ago, Curt Sylvester filled out a card to become a volunteer for AARP.

On Tuesday, AARP Indiana announced the Fort Wayne resident has been chosen for its top volunteer post: State president.

Sylvester, 70, a retired United Methodist Church minister, will serve a two-year term and can seek two additional terms. He replaces McCordsville resident Clyde Hall, who did not seek a third term.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for people older than 50. Its Indiana chapter has nearly 860,000 members.

“I see it as a great opportunity to really help seniors be more in charge of their future,” Sylvester said in a telephone interview.

“There has been a feeling out there that it doesn’t matter what we say, they are going to do whatever they want to do,” Sylvester said – “they” being state and federal lawmakers. “I want to get they out of people’s thinking. We need to take a stand and let people know what we want.”

He said immediate goals include forming coalitions with like-minded organizations similar to what AARP has done with retired teachers groups; urging AARP members to answer surveys on issues affecting them, including possible changes to Social Security and Medicare benefits; and helping AARP launch a program to advise people as they prepare for retirement.

The Bloomington native was a Methodist minister for 35 years in Valparaiso, Goshen and Fort Wayne, retiring in 2003 as minister of St. Joseph United Methodist Church after 20 years at the northeast-side church. He taught speech and drama at schools in Walkerton, in northwest Indiana, before becoming a minister.

Sylvester has been an AARP volunteer since 2006 after answering an invitation that appeared in the group’s magazine. He became a member of the AARP Indiana executive council in 2010, representing the state’s 3rd Congressional District, and is among 23 members of the national AARP Volunteer Leadership Institute.

His efforts have included educating seniors about scams targeting them; making streets and sidewalks safer and more accessible to seniors; and communicating AARP positions to Indiana legislators.

In a written statement, AARP Indiana Director June Lyle praised Sylvester’s “commitment to the organization” and his work to significantly increase the number of AARP volunteers in northeast Indiana.

“I call it the Tom Sawyer leadership,” Sylvester said, a reference to Mark Twain’s famous literary character. “My thing has always been to find the fences that need to be painted, and get the paint and paintbrushes ready, and as people come along, share with them the vision and help them look at that fence. … ‘Here’s the paintbrush, here’s the bucket, go to it.’ As they’re painting, I move on to find another fence.”

As state president, Sylvester will be chairman of AARP Indiana’s executive council.