USA: The joys of being a senior citizen

My own sons don’t even challenge me to foot races any longer. Waitresses frequently ask if I’ve noticed the “senior section” on the menu. Even over the telephone reservation clerks will comment something along the line of “You sound like you might be eligible for an AARP discount.”

If that’s not bad enough, I wake up each morning now taking a quick inventory of each anatomical part that is still technically functioning … and debate whether or not I should put stress on the questionable parts fearing that repairs and/or replacements will not be readily available.

The other day I was thinking about just staying in bed for the entire day. Then, I did the math.

According to recently released longevity studies (since I don’t sky-dive, smoke or commercially fish in the Bering Sea during winter storms), my life expectancy now is to about age 78 … or about 5,475 more wake-ups!

I thought … “That’s all I’ve got left?” And, “I guess I’m too old now to do anything of much importance.”

Then I gave some serious thought about several “senior citizens” who have inspired me during my life by their examples of service to others and by their enduring to the end.

Senior citizens Mother Teresa, Otto M. Locke, Jr., Abraham (the son of Terah and the grandson of Nahor), Harland David Sanders and Billy Graham are personal reminders that good works can and should be continued in life as long as physically possible … certainly well into our senior citizen “golden” days.

Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu) was an Aromanian Roman Catholic nun with Indian citizenship who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India in 1950. During my childhood years, she was mentioned often as a living saint who gave her life ministering to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s work throughout India and in many other countries. Even with declining health during the last 14 years of her “senior citizenship,” she worked tirelessly for the benefit of others. She died in 1997, at age 87.

Locke, of New Braunfels, was the owner and operator of the oldest nursery in Texas until his death in 1994. In 1856 his grandfather (Otto Locke) started Locke Nurseries in New Braunfels. For many years, I would take my young children to visit the nursery on Saturdays. Locke would always have time to teach my children something special about the wonders of nature. For many years the nursery also displayed monkeys, iguanas, snakes, birds, an old snapping turtle and a collection of prairie dogs which were always of special interest to my children. Locke continued to serve at the nursery almost until the day he died at near-age 90.

Abraham is a prophet of the Old Testament featured in the Book of Genesis as well as in parts of the Qur’an. While reflecting back to our early heritage, I can’t help but be inspired by his dedication to following all of God’s commandments and to accepting new responsibilities well into his senior citizen years. Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions regard him as the founding patriarch of the Israelites, Ishmaelites and Edomite peoples. According to the Bible, Abraham (at about age 100) and his wife Sarah (at about age 90) were promised a child by God in their “old” age. Even versus in the Bible refer to “laughter” at the thought of these two senior citizens having another child at that time in their life. Then, son Isaac arrives to the “delight” of his aging parents. And, to complicate matters, sometime later God commands Abraham to sacrifice his new son. Then, just before fulfilling God’s command, an Angel substitutes a ram to take the place of Abraham’s son Isaac.

And I thought I was having a bad day!

Restaurateur Harland David (Colonel) Sanders was age 65 when IH-75 was constructed re-routing traffic away from his Kentucky Fried Chicken business and forcing its closure. Using $105 from his first senior citizen Social Security check to fund visits to potential restaurant franchisees, The Colonel continued to develop franchise restaurants for many years thereafter creating one of the most successful restaurant chains in the country. This 7th grade drop-out sold the business while in his mid-70s but continued to be the company’s spokesman working and contributing until his death at age 90.

Evangelist Billy Graham will turn age 90 on Nov. 7. Graham suffers from Parkinson’s disease now as well as other serious ailments. Even so, this inspiring senior citizen mustered up enough strength after “officially” retiring to help conduct his “Festival of Hope” with his son Franklin Graham in New Orleans in March 2006, for the benefit of survivors recovering from Hurricane Katrina. It is estimated that throughout Graham’s life that he has preached in person a message to “accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior” to more people around the world (some estimates suggest nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories) than any Protestant who has ever lived. While turning down multi-million dollar television contracts and other monetary offers throughout his life, Graham and his wife chose to live a modest lifestyle returning most of their earnings over to evangelical and humanitarian efforts. I have no doubt that this ailing senior citizen would be continuing his inspired good works were it not for disabling health.

There are so many other talented and service-dedicated senior citizens who continue to inspire this aging soul. I appreciate them one and all.

Senior citizens, let not your hearts be troubled. We’ve still got a lot of good works to do.

Bob Grafe is a former managing editor of the Seguin Gazette Enterprise and a former chief juvenile probation officer for Guadalupe County.


Retirement — a new frontier


By Bob Grafe
The Gazette-Enterprise

Published August 20, 2009

© These days it’s not real easy for senior citizens to distinguish between whether the country is suffering from a “depression” or from a “recession.”

Apparently there was the same confusion during President Harry S. Truman’s term in office. Recognizing the need for clarification, Truman is quoted as stating “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours!”

Keeping that thought in mind, many senior citizens have chosen recently to postpone retirement choosing to keep their current job — or have been involuntarily “retired.”

Solvent employers usually recognize the benefits of either keeping current senior workers or employing new senior workers. It is no secret that senior workers bring to the employment table their years of experience making them valuable to their employer by being excellent team players — both in terms of the quality of work they are able to provide and by frequently being able to provide necessary mentoring for junior colleagues.

Even during challenging economic times, most employers agree that they value the reliability of seasoned employees and they often admire their work ethic.

All of that said, there seems to be something special about the age 65 for some employees and employers alike. Is it the time when you have acquired sufficient experience to lose one’s job through forced retirement — perhaps because you’re no longer cost effective?

There’s an old saying that “The best time to start thinking about your retirement is before the boss does.”

That old saying seems to ring true during these difficult times when nationwide unemployment rates are nearing the 10 percent level. Adding to the across-the-board employment troubles, there seems to be a very mistaken notion floating about that senior citizens can’t be productive members of their respective workforce once they’ve reached “old age.”

This notion is both false and illegal. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 makes it against federal law to discriminate against job applicants and employees on the basis of age.

The act specifically states that “It shall be unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s age.”

To take this act into the real world of today’s employment market place, many lawyers specializing in employment law, recommend that employers should not even ask job applicants for their age out of concern that it may give the impression that the employer is fishing for some age-related reason for not hiring the applicant.

Setting possible age discrimination in employment matters aside, for some senior citizens, the thought of having to find a new job at an advanced age in life is just an agonizing thought process. For others, the thought is invigorating because it gives the senior citizen the opportunity to perhaps work at something that they have always wanted to do — but never had the time or opportunity to do so.

Even with today’s high unemployment rates, many employers are looking for part-time and temporary employees who do not require many employment “benefits” such as vacation pay, sick pay and health insurance coverage. Senior citizens often times can fill an employer’s temporary and/or part-time niche jobs with ease.

The employer receives the benefit of a reliable employee and the senior citizen employee receives the benefit of perhaps a flex-time schedule, extra time off (without pay), and the advantage of perhaps learning about an industry that was of interest to the senior — but, unavailable because of other time commitments.

Some senior citizens may even want to venture into the business ownership arena from perhaps owning and operating a franchise business to a possible work-at-home venture.

Senior citizens who just aren’t in the mood to retire — but who have lost their permanent employment — have an opportunity to earn a little extra money by simply marketing what they have effectively become the expert in during their life’s working experiences.

Perhaps a senior citizen worked in the auto industry for many years and is now out of work. That senior citizen may have a wealth of information from mechanics to marketing that may very well have a market locally or even via the Internet.

The displaced senior citizen who was once employed in the financial industry may be able to refocus that knowledge in ways that would make the senior very valuable to a local retail or service company.

Within our economy, very little actually happens until someone “sells” something. That sale usually contributes to continued activity within all business and industry. A displaced senior citizen worker may be able to effectively re-tool his or her knowledge base of a specific industry into a marketing (sales) technique for a specific product or service.

For the senior citizen facing an unexpected or unwanted forced retirement, the future may look dismal … or delightful … depending on one’s personal outlook.

When or if a senior citizen finds him or herself in this type of life-changing intersection, the senior shouldn’t simply retire “from” something; they should have something to retire “to.”

That may take a little thought and planning.

But, the senior citizen who doesn’t want to participate in full retirement, either willingly or unwillingly, regardless of whether we call this period we’re experiencing a recession or a depression, will benefit from every ounce of effort put into thoughtfully planning for this new phase of their life.

Grafe is a former managing editor of the Seguin Gazette Enterprise and a former chief juvenile probation officer for Guadalupe County.