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Golden day's work
More retirees choose to return to jobs

By Julia Bauer, 04/10/2005, The Grand Rapids Press

After 35 years behind a desk, Herb Schopen is happy to schlep shrubbery, plant flowers and offer sage advice to budding gardeners.

Now 75, Schopen is a Wyoming retiree who loves his part-time job as a nurseryman at Fruit Basket Flowerland in Wyoming.

"On the days you work, when you get up you have something to look forward to. You enjoy it -- to be able to work with such a nice group of people," he said.He is a member of a growing club of 70-somethings pulling in a paycheck. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of employed people in the over-70 age group grew by more than 30 percent in Kent County.Schopen and other retirees are blazing a trail for an army of baby boomers whose scouts are about to turn 60.

A recent poll of seniors older than 65 showed 15 percent of those in Kent County are working full or part time.

Kate Luckert, program officer with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, is 34, but she is an expert on the graying generations ahead of hers.

"As baby boomers always have, as they move through each stage, they revolutionize how each stage is going to be conducted," Luckert said. "There is no doubt in my mind, as baby boomers move into the 65-plus age, they are going to revolutionize retirement."

People find various ways to stay in the work force -- working past retirement age, cutting back to part time, or retiring and taking a new job -- often with less stress, fewer hours and less money.

Roy Hall, 61, has farmed for 30 years north of Hastings. He also was a production supervisor at FlexFab in Hastings for 17 years before he took early retirement.Five years ago, his wife Ardis was diagnosed with cancer, and Hall took early retirement to care for her.

"At 56, I barely qualified for tapping into my 401(k)," Hall said.

People 55 and older can withdraw money from their 401(k) without penalty after they leave their job. Workers younger than 55 pay a 10 percent penalty for early withdrawal.

After Hall's wife died, he stayed home for a while before changing course. "I was sitting around sniveling and feeling sorry for myself," he recalled. "And, besides, my insurance was running out." He set out to find a job that was enjoyable.

"I like building things, puttering around," Hall said, so he headed for Home Depot, where he puts in 20 to 32 hours each week at the Kentwood store.

Although Hall describes his financial situation as "fairly good," he expects to stay on the job. For one thing, he has been able to stock his workshop. His store discount also helped him fence in a pasture for the four horses his new bride Janet brought to the farm last fall. But he has inner reasons, too.

"I have to work," Hall said. "It's kind of a compulsion ... or a real wonderful desire."

Some won't stay off job

An ongoing Rand Corp. study of retirees has found only about half of those who retired still were retired after five years.

About a quarter went back to work -- part time or full time. The remainder either partially retired and kept working, or retired in stages -- first partially, then completely.Men were more likely than women to retire and then go back to work, said Nicole Maestas, an economist who led the "unretirement" study for Rand.

Her research was done with data from the Health and Retirement Study, done by the University of Michigan in cooperation with the National Institute on Aging.Interest in working longer is related to many factors, researchers say. Some of it has to do with people living longer. Life expectancy is just under 78 years, an increase of almost a decade in the past 50 years.

Other factors include more jobs with fewer physical demands, shrinking investment portfolios and retirement nest eggs, and an ebbing flow of new workers.

Recent retirees are being encouraged to go back to work in areas such as retail, service and health care.

When Sue Darke, 62, decided to retire from Macatawa Bank in Holland, the 35-year banking veteran submitted a formal letter and got it bounced back to her.

"They're the ones who said, 'Don't do this. Go on the on-call list,'" Darke said.So, for seven years, Darke has helped out fielding phone calls from customers, filling in for employees on vacation and, when needed, stuffing statement envelopes at the end of the month. "The reason it's so easy is because it is so flexible," Darke said.

Every winter, she and her husband, George, a retiree from the U.S. Coast Guard, head for Arizona. When they return to their condominium in Zeeland, she works on call for the bank, and he works three mornings a week for an auto dealer.

The part-time jobs give them some pleasant breathing room, Darke said.

"We have a condo, and this money pays our taxes," she said, "and financially, due to the uncertainty with the stock market, it gives us the money to continue to pursue our dreams without touching our full retirement money."

The seasonal nature of the garden industry suits senior citizen employees' need for flexibility and supplemental income, said Dan VanDyke, personnel manager for Fruit Basket Flowerland."We welcome and encourage seniors to apply and work here," VanDyke said. "As a rule, they are even tempered, have a good work ethic, good people skills, and often those who work here have gardening and lawn care knowledge."

When Dick Snyder, 63, retired from his job as a Wyoming mailman, he expected to stay busy at home. That was seven years ago, and a lot has changed since then.

"I had a big to-do list. But after wintertime, it was all done," Snyder said. "I had to find something to do."

He had another impetus -- he and his wife adopted their granddaughter, now 11.

"Retirement never goes as far as you think it does," Snyder said. He makes about $9 an hour and puts in 25 to 30 hours a week most of the year, serving customers at the indoor shop of Fruit Basket Flowerland.

He still sees some of his old postal patrons who come looking for gardening supplies. For 37 years, he delivered mail to Wyoming residents.

While the ranks of the "unretired" are growing, many more people older than 65 stay out of the work force in Kent County, most of them by choice.

Only 12 percent of those without a job say they wish they had one. That is half the pace for senior citizens nationwide, as nearly one in four who do not work now wish they could.

"It is significantly lower than in other communities, and, in some ways, it is surprising," Luckert, the analyst, said.

Her theory? They are too busy to go back to work.

"They are out socializing a lot more. They're volunteering more, and they are at cultural and recreational activities," Luckert said.

Retiring in phases

Joseph Quinn, a professor of economics and dean of the college of arts and sciences at Boston College, has studied retirement patterns extensively and believes people "tend to retire in stages, which I think is a healthy thing."

"For many people, retirement is not an event, but a process," he said.

At Home Depot, human resources manager Edwin "Win" Taylor retired from a similar role for Headstart in Grand Rapids, but he was not ready to go part time at age 60.

"I'm still working 50 hours a week, Monday through Friday," Taylor said. He expects his next job to be part time.

After a career in human resources, Taylor said he knows people change jobs -- and careers -- three or four times.

Herb Schopen, the medical equipment salesman turned nurseryman, learned his latest career by helping his wife with her garden. Now, he tends customers who return year after year for his advice.

"A lot of people have no understanding of shrubbery. Especially young people -- they buy a house and don't know what dirt is," Schopen said.

He also has advice for people heading for presumably greener pastures after a lifetime of work.
"Depending on what your career has been, after you retire, you'll probably take a year or so to settle down," Schopen said, and get caught up with your home repairs.

"By then, you get all the job jar stuff done," he said. "If you don't have a hobby, you've got to do something -- not just become a couch potato."

Grand Rapids Press Apr 10, 2005

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report