‘Real’ Jobs Keep Seniors Young


The groundskeeper nicknamed “Moose” is no different from the seven other seasonal workers in the Olander Park System this summer. He cuts grass, pulls weeds, empties trash barrels and otherwise provides maintenance at five TOPS locations from early spring to October.
He’s no different than many seasonal workers, except that he is 86.
His given name is James Monaghan. The Stonehenge resident is typical of many Sylvania people well past retirement age who choose to work at “real” jobs rather than sleep in, watch TV, or play pickleball. They keep working for a variety of reasons, and in doing so maybe adding many years and much meaning to their lives.
Moose has been a “park technician” at Olander for five years—first full time, and now 24 hours a week. Prior to that, he worked another five at the Metroparks. This all follows a successful career in the automotive business … first selling cars for dealerships like Kistler and Dave White, then as a founder of the “Ugly Duck” rental car franchises of the 1970s, and finally running his own used car operation for 15 years. He sold out when he was 70.
As we chatted at a picnic table overlooking Olander Lake, he said, “Selling cars used to be a personal business, but when computers came in it changed everything … it was no longer a job based on trust. I played for five or six years when I retired, but that stopped being fun, too. By working at the parks, you show up, get your assignment, do the best you can, and you still can take pride in your work.”
Moose said that because of his maturity, he may want to slow down a bit more in the next few years. But looking out into the blue water, he added, “Where else can you work every day that has a view like this?”
Just across the street from Olander, three other neighbors in their 80s fill their days with meaning too. They are volunteers who put in regular hours at the Sylvania Senior Center … staffing the front reception desk, offering tours to visitors, answering the phone, and helping with office work. More than 100 seniors donate their time there in other jobs that range from delivering food to running Bingo.
“After I retired, I found myself just sitting at home. Working here gets me out of the house and fills up my day,” said eight-year veteran Lora Holms. Her colleague Lianne Owed agreed, “I just enjoy working. The job here makes me get up in the morning and get ready to go.” Twinkly-eyed Gerda said that she, too, needs to do something more than housework. Despite yoga every morning, reading, and tending her garden, her assignment at the center is enjoyable because “I get to meet people and do something good for society.”
In addition to these retirees who find fulfillment in second-career jobs, there are a number of older Sylvania residents who still work where they started out. One that I met has been at it for nearly 70 years, although Sister Jane Mary Sorosiak sees it as a calling rather than a profession. The 91-year-old Sylvania Franciscan can be found most days in the Alverno studio on the Sylvania Franciscan Motherhouse campus creating large-format ceramic murals for commissions from around the county. Her first project was the 82-foot art piece on the façade of the Franciscan Center in the 1980s; since then, she has completed more than 100 installations for buildings nationwide.
Sister Jane Mary says she came to the Sisters of St. Francis after graduating from Mary Manse College with a degree in art and education. Although she was older than most women who entered the order, “I decided this is what God wanted me to do.” She taught both grade school and high school before joining the faculty at Lourdes, where she was an assistant professor in art history and studio art for 30 years.
“I stopped teaching full-time 10 years ago, but never actually retired,” she said. “I was an adjunct for a while and still have students doing independent study. Plus, I’ve always worked in the studio. The commissions just keep coming, which is why I believe this is what I am supposed to be doing. I keep going and going—just like the battery bunny.”
Experts agree that people who work past the accepted retirement age live longer and exhibit healthier aging, resiliency and a more positive frame of mind, according to Pamela Rybka, a clinical counselor and social worker whose practice has included geriatric mental health.
“The number one reason people stay resilient and live healthier lives as they grow older is they stay socialized … have a big social network. And the best socialization is through volunteerism and working. Doing a job enriches an older person’s inner life,” she said.
There is no question that each of the working seniors I talked to understand Pamela’s point in various ways. Gerda at the Senior Center said it best, “You are as young as you feel, and I feel younger than I am. Because of my work, I still feel like I’m in my 60s.”

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