Beth Sobiloff and Marcia Rothwell are bucking ageist stereotypes while following the call of the open road. Whether they’re racing canoes in the River Rat Race from Athol to Orange or careening around log-riddled paths on a dogsled-turned-cart in West Chesterfield, new adventures are always just one town away. Recently those adventures brought the pair to Needham.
Rothwell and Sobiloff, who hail from the South Shore, have been a dynamic septuagenarian duo for the past year. But it all began 10 years ago with a moment of regret for Sobiloff after her youngest son’s college graduation. She had been working without a vacation for eight years and was regretting that she had never taken a cross country RV trip with her kids.
“I thought, I have a business I can do from anywhere, so I can travel and work,” Sobiloff said. “But I didn’t want to travel alone.” So she asked a friend to join her. They tried to find sponsors to fund a large-scale trip, but when that didn’t pan out they pivoted.
“What can we do with what we have?” Sobiloff said they asked themselves. “We found out about community TV. You get the equipment for free, and they teach you how to use it, how to edit.”
And “Two Grannies on the Road” was born.
The concept evolved into telling the stories of baby boomers who had reinvented themselves around the state, while featuring different towns. The women have a dual mission of inspiring people to follow their dreams and of promoting healthy aging while combating ageism.
“Baby boomers aren’t ready to roll over and sit in a rocking chair,” said Sobiloff. “They still want to be relevant and still want to participate and contribute to the world, and we want to encourage that.”
At the beginning, the two women filmed people, had lunch, and included a travel segment. Eventually, the travel piece became the whole show. Rothwell is actually granny No. 3 to join Sobiloff on these statewide road trips. “I’m a little concerned about what happened to the other two grannies,” she joked. “It’s very suspicious.”
When planning their trips, each has her specific role.
“I go on Facebook and find a group of the town, whatever that may be, and tell them where we’re from, ask about favorite restaurants, what’s historical, two or three things of fame or that are special to the town,” said Rothwell. “We get about 100 to 160 responses, and find all of these little gems that maybe the town doesn’t even know.”
The two visited many of Needham’s greatest hits: breakfast at Fresco, lunch at French Press, a drive past Memorial Field, a walk through the town forest to see the train, a chat with Terri Volante at the family’s inimitable farmstand, and of course ice cream at The Junction. They were also thrilled to interview with Shayna Seymour of Channel 5’s “Chronicle,” whose work they’ve long admired.
A key stop in every town is the historical society, and Needham was no different. The grannies met with Gloria Greis, executive director of the Needham History Center and Museum, where they learned about the town’s history, the Little Red Schoolhouse, and artist N.C. Wyeth.
The grannies agreed that the train in the woods was probably the most unusual stop on their trip. “And the farm was impressive,” said Sobiloff. “And I love Jay and how he’s cooking and the relationship he has with his staff … and the beautiful food.”
Rothwell and Sobiloff are focused on finding unique aspects of every town that may surprise even longtime residents and make other New Englanders want to visit.
In the past 10 years, the grannies have featured 53 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns. Their favorite? “The last one we went to.”
The Needham episode of “Two Grannies on the Road” is scheduled to air later this summer.