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Are you reading for ‘work-tirement’?

     The word retirement has many connotations. The young wonder if they will be able to save enough to retire or if Social Security will be there for them, while the challenging economy is prompting many in the Baby Boom generation – who have already reached or are nearing retirement age – to work longer than planned or take on second careers. Generations ago, most people expected to live only a few years after they retired. Now life expectancy for many is in the 90s, prompting workers of all ages to reconsider the meaning of retirement.

Chris Farrell addressed these new perspectives on retirement – which he calls “work-tirement” – during the annual Bigwood Lecture at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls in April. Farrell is the executive editor of Twin Cities Public Television’s finance show “Right on the Money.”

Farrell explained that 80 percent of people who are nearing retirement are wanting to work longer. Members of the Baby Boom generation have invested in their children. This could mean paying for their children’s education or having them live longer in their parents’ homes. This is their children’s inheritance not the savings of previous generations. This type of support enables their children to prosper not needing the inheritance as much. But it also causes the parents to work longer to maintain their standard of living.

Some people must retire from their jobs because they can no longer handle the physical demands, which leaves them with the choice of living more frugally or changing careers to supplement their retirement income.

This may sound like bad news, but it also provides an opportunity for self-fulfillment in retirement. People retire from their careers to try something new that they always wanted to do. Many of the retired are turning to entrepreneurship. Women who have worked at various jobs over their lives have built the skills that make them great entrepreneurs,” Farrell said. A quarter of all new businesses today are created by people age 55-64.

Farrell, a boomer himself, worked as a merchant seaman before he attended college and then began work in journalism. He has been a columnist and worked as both a radio and television host and an author. His most recent book is “The New Frugality: How to Consume Less, Save More and Live Better,” and he is currently working on a book about the concept of work-tirement. He’s personally very optimistic about the future of people who are retiring.

Phasing into retirement is an option for many workers, including Florence Thompson, who now lives in Fergus Falls. She was born in Otter Tail County and worked in California for about 40 years, most recently as a psychologist, and then moved back to the Phelps Mill area when she decided to retire.

“When I first moved back, I would get calls to come and see clients,” she said. My life was so meaningful that I commuted from Minnesota to California. After a while it was getting more difficult, so I fully retired.”

Thompson’s own mother had needed to support her family in the late 1930s. With few job opportunities for women, she started her own business.

“It was my mother’s expectation that her children would go to college and be successful,” said Thompson, who was active in California with the Business and Professional Women organization and also worked with women in Kenya.

Warren Olsen is also someone who retired from his career to continue with his current employer. Warren grew up on Manhattan Island in New York, half a block from a steep wooded area on the edge of the island. From his high school downtown, he could hear the fog horns blowing in the harbor.  His mother, an immigrant to the United States from Norway, took her children to the Metropolitan Museum of Art because she sensed there was good “stuff” there.

He was drafted into the Army toward the end of World War II and attended college on the GI Bill after he was discharged. A family connection with Hillcrest Academy brought him to Fergus Falls. He taught English at M State, which was then Fergus Falls Community College, until his retirement.

“After Charles Beck retired there seemed to be no plan to continue the art shows he had arranged while he taught at the college. I felt a loss and received permission to set up regular art exhibits,” he said. He was offered part time employment to become the curator of the college art collection after he retired.

Warren spent the next 18 years adding to the art collection and organizing art shows for students. “I was giving a tour to a local sculptor, and I was sharing my vision of a special work of art.  The artist later came back to me with an offer to commission and fund the piece I had envisioned,” he recalls.  The art collection has grown to almost 500 pieces during his tenure.  The hallways, staff offices, and the Charles Beck Art Gallery are part of  legacy that he has left for the college and community.

At first the prediction that people will work longer to support themselves in retirement creates fear of financial difficulties. However, it can be a process of personal fulfillment and benefit to our communities with the wealth of talent and expertise people can contribute during retirement.  Working during these years can be a time of enrichment to accomplish dreams and to leave behind a legacy.

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