Julie Belaga – Wisdom Goddess Project Participant

 Julie Belaga

In 1971 I was elected chairman of Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission. Little did I know at the time that it would trigger an insatiable fascination with the environment.  Every land use decision that was made impacted every other resident in our town. Clean air, clean water, and clean land …those were the Commission’s goals.


When I got to the CT legislature in 1977, I specialized in environmental issues. I spent 10 years pursuing legislation that would lead to environmental solutions.


In 1988 I was appointed to head up the regional office of the EPA. That included oversight over the environment in all 6 of the New England States.  It was a challenging and satisfying job.


I was then appointed to the board of the Export-Import Bank of the US. “EXIM Bank” where I championed the international environmental initiatives for U.S. companies to export American environmental technologies and services to the world.


Now retired, I continue working on my great passion with NGOs and non-profit organizations.  The question remains: “How do we protect the precious places where we live?  What is the legacy that we leave to our children and grandchildren?”


Over the years the challenge hasn’t changed though the subjects have realigned. Now it is the powerful demands of Climate Change that resonates for me. It is shocking to me that some people call it “fake news”.  Climate is so very real…so scientifically researched…the data of the impact is irrefutable!  I find myself disturbed and motivated to speak to friend and foe alike. So, when I go to bed at night it is certainly satisfying to know that I might have made a little difference.


My energy and passion continue on and stay high. How fortunate I have been to play a small role in spreading the word of our extraordinary environmental challenges. I have no intention of giving up!

Dr. Dee Unterbach – Wisdom Goddess Project Participant

Dr. Dee Unterbach


How prescient of Suzanne Sheridan to create a photo essay on older women. This project comes at a point in our lives when one of our DEVELOPMENTAL tasks is LIFE REVIEW, which Bernice Newgarten labeled young-old (65-74), middle-old (75-84) and old-old.

As a kid, my passion and talent was playing sports. I enjoyed working hard. Training and practicing would hopefully give me a head start.

After co-founding a residential therapeutic community for teens (VERITAS), I began working in the then-emerging field of gerontological social work: first, in-home care matching poor older woman with poor younger, often immigrant, women of color; then we founded the first geriatric mental health clinic (SPOP) in New York City.

My good fortune came when my mentor, Dr. Rose Dobrof, invited me to join the training faculty of Hunter-Brookdale Center on Aging. We developed training for senior center, home care and nursing home workers.

As an athlete, I figured I would get a good head start at 25 learning from those aged 85. I’ve learned that our time on earth is brief and therefore we have earned the right to use our time as we uniquely desire.

Now that I’ve aged in Aging, and treat older people in supportive psychotherapy, my purpose converges. I work, in part, to counteract the stereotyping and isolating reductionism of the social pathology of Ageism (see “Why Survive” by Butler).

As I retrospect, introspect and prospect the goal of conserving my energy to invest in Freud’s suggestion, “to work and to love” becomes more underscored.

Hopefully I’ll do both in my 8th decade as a gerontological social worker in Wilton, CT, and in all of my personal and professional relationships.


Thank you, Suzanne, for your artistry and activism.



Marjolijn De Jager Wisdom Goddess Project Participant


Marjolijn de Jager


Marjolijn was born in 1936 on Borneo, Indonesia—then still a Dutch colony known as the Netherlands East-Indies—where her father was a young engineer with Royal Dutch Oil (Shell). After brief travels to the Netherlands and the USA, the family returned to Java in late 1941. The Japanese invaded the country in March 1942 and Marjolijn and her mother spent the next 3 ½ years interned in three separate Japanese POW camps.


After almost a year in Melbourne, Australia, where her mother spent 6 months in the hospital recuperating from the war years, they went to Amsterdam, the Netherlands in October 1946. Elementary and secondary school were the highlights of her young life. To this day she has two close friends left from that happy era, in addition to her oldest and dearest friend with whom she shared the war years, all now in their early eighties.


With her mother and stepfather’s new family she emigrated to the USA in June 1958.


Marjolijn earned a PhD. in Romance Languages and Literatures from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1975 and isnow retired from a 35-year long teaching career (both secondary and college levels). She misses teaching, one of her passions, but continues by tutoring ESL at CIRI (CT Institute for Refugees and Immigrants) in Bridgeport.

She is self-employed as a literary translator of fiction and non-fiction from the French and the Dutch, while Francophone African literature has a special place in her heart (for details see http://mdejager.com).


From her first marriage, which ended in divorce, she has a son and a daughter, both warm and caring adults and highly accomplished professionals. In addition, the family consists of five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


Other passions are her grandchildren, reading, knitting, travel, and her cats.


She lives in Stamford, CT, with David Vita, her husband of 36 years.

Listen to Marjolijn De Jager