Part III: Arnold Heling: Living with Purpose

By: Jed Fudally
Spring 2014 Communications Intern
Senior majoring in advertising and public relations

This is another installment of a series of stories designed to provide a glimpse into the lives of older adults who are aging successfully. Each story will focus on a different topic of well-being and show how these individuals are excelling in each.


Our third story focuses on the importance of maintaining purpose as we age.

According to a meta-analysis called “Creating and Maintaining Purpose in Life in Old Age,” author Martin Pinquart claims, “Purpose in life is a defining feature of mental health.”

“In old age, maintaining high levels of purpose in life may become more difficult, due to increasing losses (e.g., widowhood, retirement, etc.).”

Arnold Heling is an 80 year old retired firefighter living with a great amount of purpose.

In Heling’s 40 years of firefighting, he has undoubtedly had a positive impact on countless lives. Heling also influenced and mentored several others interested in firefighting.

“For a time I was the captain at Engine 6 on Brady Street and Frankie would come visit me at the station. He was about 12 years old at the time.”

Frank Alioto, husband of Rachelle Alioto, the Director of Education and Programming in the UWM’s Center for Aging and Translational Research, would ride his bike across town as a kid to spend time at the Brady Street firehouse.

“We would talk and I would show him around. We used to get what you call “Fire Engineering,” a technical magazine, and I would give him the old ones. He liked to read them.”

Years later, Heling was at Frank’s swearing in.

“We never worked in the same firehouse but we were in the same department together.”

Besides Frank, Heling was also an influence for his son and grandson. Both became firefighters for the Milwaukee Fire Department. His son, Mike, served for nearly 30 years. He retired as a captain two years ago. His grandson, Tim, is currently a paramedic lieutenant at Med 5 on Milwaukee’s northside.

Tim took advantage of the cadet program before he was old enough to become a fire fighter. The program allowed potential future candidates a chance to prepare themselves for the hiring process. By the end of the program, Tim scored in 13th place and they were only accepting the top twelve. However, one of the candidates who made it in dropped out and opened a spot for Heling’s grandson.

“At the time, Tim was in college when he got a phone call about the matter. He asked if he could have some time to think about it and the guy said he had until the next day.”

Ultimately, Tim followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and took the position.

Heling spent 33 years working for the city of Milwaukee; his highest rank was Battalion Chief. Shortly after his retirement from the city, Heling became the Fire Chief in Greendale and spent seven years there. Even after his time as Fire Chief, Heling stuck around a little longer.

“When I retired from Greendale they asked me to go on the Fire and Police commission; the Fire and Police commission does the hiring and firing for the fire department. So I was, for 15 years, on the Fire and Police commission in Greendale.”

“There was never once where I minded going to work. There aren’t too many people that have a job like that.”

In 2009, after over 50 years of service, Heling retired completely. Today he finds purpose in spending time with Jean, his wife of 59 years, their four children and 9 grandchildren. Jean and Arnold spend some of their time each year in Arizona. Together they also enjoy traveling, biking and walking, gardening, keeping up on the latest Netflix offerings, and spending time with friends.

Interested in telling your story about how you are aging successfully? Contact Rachelle Alioto at!