Seniors work to boost finances, stay young

SANDUSKY Rosalie Willis, 82, of Huron, tried retiring in 1997 after spending 40 years in the insuran
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Rosalie Willis, 82, of Huron, tried retiring in 1997 after spending 40 years in the insurance business.

It didn't work.

Willis said it took only a couple of months for the cabin fever to settle in.

"I just wasn't happy sitting around," she said. "You know you can only wash and clean so much, and then there's nothing left to do."

Back to work she went at Wendy's as a cashier.

The job was fine with her, but Willis wanted to do something more charitable. So she started lending a hand to the Meals on Wheels program run by the Erie County Senior Center in Sandusky.

Then, when an opening arose closer to home, she leapt at the opportunity, cheerfully volunteering with the Huron-area branch of the program. At the age of 80, after volunteering with the organization for about four years, Willis was hired as the manager and coordinator of the Huron Meals on Wheels.

Willis is paid to prepare the meals and orchestrate their delivery. But when she's not on the clock, she's still pitching in.

With her 85-year-old husband, Ralph Willis Sr., Willis delivers the meals to the people who have come to rely on them.

Willis said she'll work for Meals and Wheels until her body no longer allows her to keep up with the demands of the job. But even after that, she plans to keep contributing to some philanthropic cause.

"If and when I can't do this, I will do something else, probably for the church," Willis said. "Every senior should keep active physically and mentally. Volunteering is really a good way to do that."

And if you don't take this advice, Willis said the outcome is at once obvious and inevitable: "You get old," she said.

Sixty-five used to be the magic number when most Americans called it quits from the workplace, according to the Social Security Administration Web site.

But times are changing.

The bleak economy and bleeding stock investments mean more people are postponing retirement plans until -- well, indefinitely.

An October AARP survey found about 70 percent of older workers plan to continue working into what they once considered to be their retirement years.

"There was a trend for a while where people were retiring earlier and earlier, but that trend is now pretty much over," said Bob Applebaum, director of the Ohio Long-Term Care Research Project at Scripps Gerontology Center. "In fact, even before the latest financial crisis, we saw an uptick in the age of retirement."

About a quarter of respondents from the AARP survey signaled they would continuing working because they could not afford to retire. Slightly fewer respondents said they would keep working because they enjoyed doing so.

But several local senior citizens said they planned to work well into their golden years for their own personal satisfaction. They viewed working as important to their quality of life.

Even before she was hired at the restaurant, Imelda Albert, 79, of Sandusky, was cleaning tables at the Better Half Family Diner.

So ingrained was her work ethic that after attending church each morning and grabbing a bite to eat at the West Washington Street business, she helped bus the tables without being asked.

"I worked at a bar for a couple of years, so I was very used to cleaning up tables," she said.

Her contribution impressed the owners, and she was hired to work certain days. She now works only on Mondays, but fills in whenever another busboy can't make a shift.

Diners are always shocked when Albert tells them her age. She's quick on her feet and moves with the agility of someone many years her junior.

Albert said working keeps her sharp. As she's seen firsthand, failing to stay active causes a person to just waste away.

"I'm just working because I love to work," she said. "I can't just sit on my butt and get fat."

The work longevity and reliability of employees like Sandra Walton, 68, who has worked at Fazoli's on U.S. 250 for nine years, is appreciated by their employers.

And studies have shown quality of work is directly proportional to the enjoyment an employee derives from working.

Walton's work output must be impressive, because she takes great pleasure from punching in at the fast-food chain.

"It keeps me busy and away from home," she said. "I just enjoy it. They are great people to work for."