By Melissa Preddy
A uniter, not a divider. That’s the word around Michigan about AARP’s new president, Eric Schneidewind, who succeeds outgoing president Jeannine English this month.
Amid a divisive political and social climate, longtime associates expect that Schneidewind, 71, will take the national reins with a steady hand and quiet talent for breaking gridlock and getting things done.
“He brings people together,” said Mary Ablan, executive director since 1985 of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan. She’s encountered Schneidewind over the years in his various roles, from chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission to president of AARP Michigan from 2006 to 2012.
“I’ve always been impressed with his analytical prowess,” said Ablan. “He understands very complex issues and always seemed to find an elegant solution.”
A graduate of the University of Michigan law school—“I’m really liking Jim Harbaugh as coach of the Wolverines,” he said—Schneidewind has done stints as a deputy state insurance bureau director and as an attorney for the state housing authority. His résumé also reflects decades as an attorney for clients in the energy sector. And as an AARP board member, he’s been active in seeking solutions to stabilize the Social Security system.
In his two-year term as national president, he plans to continue policy efforts but also hopes to stimulate conversation about the very nature of growing older. That will include promoting resources such as the AARP Life Reimagined program and holistic approaches to health, including exercise, nutrition and social engagement.
“We need to encourage a cultural reevaluation of aging,” said Schneidewind, a nature walker and Spinning-class devotee.
“People can work longer, stay active and make uniquely valuable contributions at a later stage of life.”
Add ‘Grandpa’ to his titles
Becoming a grandfather to 18-month-old Evelyn Ann has added a new joy to his life, Schneidewind said.
“I never dreamed that FaceTiming and Skyping would be such a big factor in my life,” he said. “But seeing her every week, I find myself oohing and aahing and doing the silliest things to communicate with her. It’s very cool.”
And having a toddler granddaughter has prompted thoughts about the long-term impact of his public service work.
“I want Social Security to be there for her,” he said. “We older folks will be OK. But it’s our children who will benefit if we can unite and stabilize it for the next 75 years.”
Lawmakers and officials on both sides of the political aisle praise Schneidewind as a staunch consumer advocate who has worked to ease the sting of Michigan’s new tax on pensions, lobbied to boost home-based elder care funding and hammered out a model health care program for low-income residents.
“I was thrilled to learn that Eric will be AARP president,” said Brian Calley, Michigan’s Republican lieutenant governor since 2011. “To be effective, you have to be able to advocate for policy but also to execute and implement it. And Eric has that ability to transition from philosophical discussion of what policy should be to practical and effective implementation.”
Schneidewind has a record of forging bipartisan support, said state Rep. Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak): “He comes forward with great authority and dignity, makes well-reasoned arguments and reminds us how important it is to be humane.”
To what does Schneidewind attribute his success as a consensus builder?
“I think it’s a combination of listening thoughtfully and of being able to jot down the different positions, analyze them and find common factors,” he said.
“And there’s also the horse trading part of it. There has to be a realization that everyone can’t have everything they want. But taking an approach where you can give everyone some kind of win—that’s what makes the process work.”
Melissa Preddy is a writer living in Plymouth, Mich.