Twice Retired, Ex-Purple People Eater Is Still Passionate on Goals

JUSTICE ALAN PAGE has retired twice.

Elected to the Minnesota State Supreme Court in 1992, Justice Page stepped down from the court last summer, having reached its compulsory retirement age of 70. The first African-American on the court, Justice Page is well known in Minnesota legal circles for his carefully crafted opinions (occasionally livened with quotes from Dr. Seuss), his concern for civil rights and, more lightheartedly, for his colorful bow ties.

''I witnessed him focusing on getting the law right,'' said his former Supreme Court colleague, Justice Paul Anderson (also retired). ''He was very focused on equity and the elimination of discrimination.''

Justice Page doesn't ring a bell? You might know him better from his previous career as a professional football player for 15 years, mostly with the Minnesota Vikings and, toward the end, with the Chicago Bears. A graduate of Notre Dame, Mr. Page was a remarkably quick defensive tackle, the most feared of the Vikings' legendary front four, the Purple People Eaters.

He made six All-N.F.L. selections, and nine straight Pro Bowls. He retired from football in 1981. Seven years later he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In person, Mr. Page is considerate and thoughtful, reflecting carefully before answering a question. At age 70 he still moves with the grace of an athlete.

But having reached pinnacles of success in two very different careers, surely it must be time to kick back, maybe hit the golf course and the nostalgia circuit? Hardly.

''Once I left the court, that experience was behind me and I am trying to figure out the new thing,'' he says. ''I have the sense that I want to do something with educating young children.'' (Later, he added that golf is a ''good walk spoiled,'' and rather than look back, he prefers ''looking forward.'')

Mr. Page has visited a lot of classrooms, observing that in the early years of elementary school all children are curious, eyes bright and lively. Yet for some the lights have dimmed by the time they reach the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, especially among young people from deprived backgrounds.

''My thinking is if you can get these young people thinking critically early on -- first, second, third grade -- things will change dramatically in terms of educational achievement,'' he said. ''Maybe I am naïve, but I don't think it is mission impossible.''

Mr. Page is unusually accomplished, but he is far from alone in searching for another meaningful act at his stage of life. The word ''retirement'' still suggests that it's time to stop working and embrace leisure full time. That's not the case for growing numbers of aging Americans. They want to stay engaged in the broader society and economy, continuing to be useful by tapping into their accumulated skills and experience.

''He has always been committed since he was quite young to really make a difference in society and to create and leave a legacy,'' said Mr. Page's wife, Diane. She also ''retired'' after a career of four-plus decades as a marketing research consultant. Retired isn't the right word for her, either.

The power of education to make a positive difference is one of Mr. Page's core beliefs. Even in his 1988 talk at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he focused on the transformative value of education, highlighting in particular the need for investing in black teenagers, ''the most unemployed and undervalued people in our society.''

Looking ahead to new challenges and not back on old glories, Mr. Page asked the audience: ''What contribution can I still make that would be truly worthy of the outpouring of warmth and good feelings I have received today? And the answer, for me, is clear: to help give other children the chance to achieve their dreams.''

Soon after, Mr. Page, with his wife and some friends, created the Page Foundation to provide scholarships to students of color in Minnesota to attend postsecondary education institutions in the state. The foundation has been run for 28 years by Ms. Page, its volunteer executive director. In other words, not really retired.

The Page program also requires scholarship winners to mentor young people in the community, inspiring future generations to value an education.

''The component of service is what makes the program successful,'' said Abdul Omari, owner of AMO Enterprise and a former Page Scholar. ''The money is important, but mentoring matters.''

The foundation has raised more than $12 million and granted scholarships to more than 6,000 students. The proceeds from the sales of Mr. Page's sports memorabilia collection support the foundation. So does the money from the two children's books -- soon to be three -- that he has written with his daughter, Kamie Page, a schoolteacher.

Mr. Page also plans to pursue fund-raising himself, something the conflict-of-interest rules on the Minnesota Supreme Court kept him from doing.

Listening to Mr. Page, it is hard to shake the impression that football was a detour from the pursuit of the law and belief in the power of education. As a child, he said, he loved the television show ''Perry Mason.'' And the law, he thought, offered a better life than the steel mills in Canton, Ohio, where he grew up. (Coincidentally, it is also the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)

Mr. Page also said he remembers reading, at age 8, about the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling that having separate public schools for black and white students was unconstitutional.

''I didn't know anything about the law,'' he says. ''But it was clear that there was power in the law.''

While Mr. Page thinks through how best to reach young minority students, he and Ms. Page live a full schedule. The alarm goes off at 5:19 in the morning, same as always. They take a run around Lake of the Isles near their Minneapolis home. Dogs eagerly greet him along the lakeside path because he has carried dog biscuits for them for three decades.

He and Ms. Page spend time with their four grandchildren. They're slowly working their way through 75 pounds of sausage they made at a two-day workshop last year. The couple spent most of March at the family cabin in northern Minnesota, harvesting maple syrup from 80 trees.

''We're a team and we have so much fun together,'' Ms. Page said. ''This is a great life phase, a very freeing phase of life.''

But having ''retired'' twice, Mr. Page plans on keeping busy pursuing his passions.

The Pages have assembled a remarkable collection of African-American artifacts documenting both the good and the bad. Among other items, they have a slave-made brick used in constructing the original White House, a sign from a Birmingham, Ala., bus station that says COLORED, and Ku Klux Klan dolls.

Mr. Page's favorite is an Abraham Lincoln funeral banner. One side reads: ''Uncle Abe we shall not forget you.'' The other says: ''Our country shall be one country.''

''That is a very powerful reminder,'' Mr. Page said, ''of where we've been and where we still have to go.''

PHOTOS: Alan Page, recently retired from the Minnesota State Supreme Court, in his home, left, among his collection of African-American artifacts showing the good and bad. In 1970, he was part of the Vikings' feared front four, the Purple People Eaters. (PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN DOMAN; TIM GRUBER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES; ASSOCIATED PRESS)

April 02, 2016, Saturday Late Edition - Final
Section: B Page: 6 Column: 0 Desk: Business/Financial Desk Length: 1184 words