FORT WAYNE — These days, the well-thumbed phrase “working late” conjures a different meaning than it used to.
We are not talking about flicking off the office lights at 9:30 at night or nuking dinner in the microwave. We’re talking the autumn-of-their-years sort of folks; the gray-hairs; the grandma and grandpa senior citizens who remain in the workforce, still earning paychecks rather than waiting for their Social Security checks.
Take Charlie Monroe, for example.
A World War II navy veteran who bought land around Garrett and Avilla decades ago, developed it, then leased the buildings, Monroe admits he doesn’t need extra cash. But two months away from his 90th birthday, he can occasionally be found at Riverbend Golf Club on Saint Joe Road, gassing up golf carts and helping out whenever there is a large outing.
“I do all this to keep busy,” says Monroe, a blue cap on top of his thin, gray hair. “That’s why I’m 90 years old.”
Monroe and Mike Smith sort of comprise the senior tandem at Riverbend, although Smith, 70, has been with the course since 1984 when he was a caterer.
For 22 years, Smith drove a truck for the Super Valu grocery stores. But when the stores sold out to Scott’s, he was informed that he would no longer be needed.
“So I just went my happy way,” says Smith, who was 63 when retirement was thrust upon him.
Because he wasn’t completely ready to retire, he became a fixture at Riverbend.
“I work about three days a week, plus help on the outings,” Smith says. “I help with the pro shop, the bar, catering, outings – whatever; a Jack of all trades.”
And when time allows, he and Charlie get in a few rounds of golf.
“I just keep going all the time,” Monroe says. “People like to complain. I don’t think you’ll hear me complain. Self-pity is something nobody needs, in my opinion.”
Older Americans are hanging on to their jobs longer than ever, according to an AARP report that states a record 7.6 million people 65 and older are working, which is double the number from 16 years ago.
In a 2011 survey, the Society of Actuaries reported that 55 percent of older workers in the United States say they remained in the workforce to stay active.
A recent U.S. News and World Report article pointed out the recession’s lingering effects as another reason for the delay in retirement.
The publication says that 62 percent of people between the ages 45 and 60 experienced at least a 20 percent decline in the value of their financial assets since the beginning of the economic downturn, according to a Census Bureau study.
“Maybe they lost their job and they found a job making less than they used to,” says Gad Levanon, director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board. “Even though the economy is growing now, the damage that was done makes it very hard to recoup. And the older you are, it makes it more difficult to make up for it and more people are delaying retirement as a result.”
Bob Garrett, 86, wasn’t about to delay retirement. After 43 years at Rea Wire, he quit when he turned 62.
“I told the wife, ‘I think I’ll stay off about a year and find a part time job,’ so that’s what I did,” Garrett says. “I didn’t do anything for a year.”
A little restless, a little bored, Garrett went back to work, dabbling in part-time jobs. He drove a fork lift for about three years and planted trees and cut grass for another three.
It’s part of Garrett, to keep busy, to keep active. In the summer mornings while still working at Rea Wire, he would get up about 5 a.m. and run four or five miles. In the winter, after his nine kids did their homework and went to bed, he would run at night. He still works out three days a week, running on a treadmill, lifting weights.
“That’s helped me – not laying around,” Garrett says. “I feel good right now. I have no problems. I’m not on any kind of medication.”
His most recent job is a driver for the Hires Auto Parts store on Lima Road, either shuttling customers to and from work, or delivering auto parts to small repair shops.
“I enjoy the job,” Garrett says. “I meet a lot of people. But doing it one day a week, that’s all I want right now. It gives me poker money, gas money, buy beer.”
But after all these years, after all his jobs, he’s contemplating a complete retirement.
“I don’t like driving in the wintertime,” he says. “I’m 86 years old, and I think I’m going to retire for the last time.”
Monroe, however, is like his golf carts – he’s ready to go.
“I love being around people,” he says. “I really do.”