COLUMBIA — In a hotel conference room Friday, a flock of 4 year olds bounced in pink tutus on a stage, just near a vanilla funeral carriage sitting at the room's entrance.
The scene was one at the 20th annual Mature Living Festival, which was held this year at the Holiday Inn on I-70 Drive. The event aimed to provide elderly attendees with resources and information about aging.
As Jerome and Dorothy Taegel watched the budding ballerinas twirl, they said the carriage served as a friendly reminder of mortality.
In fact, they are ready for death, they said.
“We’re going to be cremated,” Jerome Taegel, 71, said. “Hopefully not at the same time.”
The couple has selected a burial location. They said they will be buried at Columbia Cemetery because of its history dating back to the Civil War. They said they know friends who didn’t plan for their death, and had chaotic funerals as a result.
“Well, I want to stick around,” Dorothy Taegel, 65, said. “But it’s nice to know that everything is planned.”
Jerome and Dorothy Taegel represent a small part of a much larger trend towards an aging population.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one in every eight Americans is age 65 or older. The trend is not isolated to the U.S.; the world population is also aging in an “unprecedented” and “pervasive” way, the U.N. reported.
Last year, the Mature Living Festival drew about 550 visitors. This year, the event was even larger.
"More visitors are expected this year," said Jessica Macy, executive director of Boone County Council of Aging, which organized the event. Macy could not confirm the number of attendees at this year's event.
Vendors responded to the event's growing popularity.
In addition to the 70 local companies at the event, this year marked the first time that companies from outside Columbia chose to attend the festival.
One vendor, Erin Lampkin, attended the festival on behalf of her company, Integrity Home Care.
Lampkin, a home care consultant, said she has noticed that the generation prior to the Baby Boom generation is a self-reliant one.
“This is a generation that doesn’t like to ask people for help," she said. "They’re very independent.”
When Mary Jeffers needed help, she wasn't afraid to ask her daughter, Donna Jeffers.
Donna Jeffers, 51, moved in with her mother, 79, after her father died. The mother and daughter, who have lived together and cared for each other for 10 years, attended the festival together.
The two women attended the festival looking for medical equipment. Mary Jeffers has osteoporosis and has used an oxygen tank for two years.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m a burden for her,” Mary Jeffers said of her daughter.
“I keep telling her that she’s not a burden, but a blessing," said Donna Jeffers with a smile.