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Seniors at work

Ernest Rashkoven, 82, has no plans to retire any time soon Photos: Ellen Green

April, 2009

Although many older adults consider retirement on some level as the years unfold, today’s seniors are not necessarily of the same mindset as their predecessors. Regardless of the current economic crisis, older Canadians are choosing to stay at work for reasons that are as individual as they are.

In the early 20th century, the age of eligibility for a government pension was 70, but the average life expectancy was about 60. Now the population is aging rapidly, life expectancy has risen, and Canadians can receive government pensions at age 65. This translates to more demands placed on public pensions than ever before. As well, the ratio of workers to retirees in Canada is expected to fall to two-to-one in 2031, from five to one in the 1980s. So our population is aging and the work force is shrinking. As a result, companies – and individual workers – are reconsidering outdated policies regarding retirement.

For many older Canadians still blessed with good health, whether or not to leave their jobs at “retirement age” has become a choice, and they find they are still enjoying their work and continuing to achieve a sense of purpose.

Ernest Rashkoven received his law degree from McGill in 1953 and decided to pursue his interest in becoming a notary.

“I liked the idea of helping people and providing non-contentious services for clients. I felt I was well suited for the path I chose,” explains Rashkoven, 82. “Now it’s 56 years later and I still feel the same way.”

Rashkoven maintains the same schedule he established years earlier – he is at his office before 8 am and until 6 pm five days a week. He and wife Freda Gans have three children and nine grandchildren, and both volunteer in the community.

“We are lucky enough to have our health and we travel a great deal,” he says. “I have no plans to retire right now, but should I decide to one day, I would most probably just get more involved in volunteer work and community affairs.”

Rashkoven concedes that the recent downturn in the economy may eventually affect his line of work. “For instance, if there are fewer real estate transactions, there is less need for that aspect of notarial services,” he says.

For now, Rashkoven has no plans for any changes in his routine, or his life. “I am fortunate to be in good health and to have chosen a career that I have really enjoyed over the years,” he says. “I know where I am going in the morning.”

* * *

Lynn Abelson, 66, received a secretarial degree from what was then Sir George William business school and worked in an office until she had her first child 43 years ago. “I first went back to work when the kids were in their teens, but I’ve been with the Alzheimer Group Incorporated (AGI) for the past 10 years,” she says. “I really love what I do and this organization has become like a large family to me. We’re all dedicated to the clients who are part of our extended family.”

Lynn Abelson feels lucky to be working

Abelson’s responsibilities include office duties, registration, looking after donation cards, organizing the program book, setting up gala invitations and organizing and collecting funding information for conferences and membership drives. “Above all, my most important role is to greet people who call and come in,” she says. “Often the people who call us are very nervous. We try to put them at ease and let them know that they and their loved ones are welcome here.”

This mother of two considers herself lucky to still be in the work force, particularly in this age of electronic communication. “I feel fortunate enough to have developed the skills needed to use a computer. Without this job I probably never would have developed these skills,” she explains. “Working here keeps me more aware of what’s going on in the world.”

Abelson is not AGI’s only senior employee. She says that older employees can and do fill a niche in the working community. “Quite simply, we don’t often have the same responsibilities that a younger person has with a young family. From what I’ve seen, seniors tend to be reliable, punctual and organized, and usually have excellent attendance records, ”she says. “Most of us have an old-school work ethic.”

As well, AGI has given her more to consider regarding the benefits of work. “Studies indicate that being mentally active can actually help ward off diseases like Alzheimer’s,” she says. “And staying active mentally also keeps you from thinking about sickness. A job for an older worker is so much more than just a place to hang your hat.”

Abelson keeps up her health with daily jaunts on the treadmill, has recently learned to play the game of mahjong with a few friends, and still finds the time to babysit, with husband Leonard, their two grandchildren.“ We encounter all sorts of people from all different backgrounds and sometimes there’s a lot of sadness,” she says. “Yet it’s such a sense of accomplishment when you know you helped improve the life of an Alzheimer patient or caregiver.

“Every day I realize again that these are people who can still contribute and give of themselves,” she adds. “They don’t look at what they lost, they look at what they still are.”

Abelson says she feels grateful to have found this position at this time of her life. “I’m actually really proud of myself and that I’m part of what we accomplish here,” she says. “As long as I can do it, I plan to.”

* * *

Cecil Leonard, 57, has been a financial planner since 1974. His insurance and investment business is based in Kingston, Ont., although he also has several clients in Montreal as well as in Toronto. Many of his clients are seniors, and although some are retired, he says they all have one thing in common. “You meet people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and at different stages of their lives but one basic need is the same,” he says, “Each person’s goal is to be financially secure and independent.”

Leonard’s sensitivity toward each client’s individual need is evident in his approach. “The basis of what I do is about developing personal relationships,” he says. “Each person must be treated as unique and with respect, regardless of financial success or lifestyle.”

Cecil Leonard has no plans to slow down

Leonard has also used his investment knowledge and personal experiences to help benefit the community. “When I met my wife, she already had a child who had been handicapped due to a case of meningitis as a baby. As well, my own father had polio in 1952 and I never knew a time when he wasn’t in a wheelchair. As a result, I was aware of the weaknesses in government programs regarding trust planning,” he says. “So in 2001, I helped create the Tree of Life program through the Miriam Home. How it works is contributors take out life insurance policies through the program for which they receive tax receipts for the premium and the home collects the benefit upon death.”

This father of two and husband to Martha, a child welfare lawyer, cautions people to filter through the media information on the economy. “The reality is that seniors shouldn’t be 100-per-cent invested in the markets and the older you get the less you should be investing,” he says. “A guideline is that a 70-year-old should be invested in the market no more than 30 per cent; for a 60-year-old, it should be no more than 40 per cent, and so on.”

Leonard suggests individuals meet with their advisors in order to continue to plan their personal financial path.

Besides waterskiing, downhill skiing and reading, Leonard travels often with his wife. Although he is considered a “young” senior by today’s standards, Cecil Leonard has no plans to slow down. “I do retirement planning for others, but not for me,” he admits. “What I hope to do is continue with my work and lifestyle as long as my health permits.”

* * *

When Louis Beurak, 70, left his home in Barbados to study commerce at Sir George University, he couldn’t have imagined that Montreal would become his new home. But working opportunities presented themselves 53 years ago and Beurak found his niche in the needle trade. “I sell textiles to manufacturers, mostly knitted goods imported from China. I have always enjoyed this type of sales,meeting people and interacting with them. That’s why I’m still here doing what I do after all these years.”

An avid surfer, Beurak still travels to Barbados twice a year. “I love swimming and surfing. While growing up I played on my school’s water polo team,” he says. “My life is here in Montreal, but I always can’t wait to get back to the ocean and to Barbados. To be honest, I don’t feel my age. When I get on a surfboard I still feel like I’m 16.”

Beurak’s ability to adapt and thrive on foreign soil came from his parents. In 1938, his newly married parents took the last ship out of Poland and found themselves in Barbados. “Everyone questioned my parents on their decision to leave but they were adamant they needed to get out,” he says. “They left with only what they were wearing, a small briefcase, which I still have, and a small band of gold.”

Beurak’s father built up his peddling business over the years, Eventually the family owned four dry goods stores. It was this sense of enterprise and strong work ethic that Beurak took with him on his own adventures in Canada.

“I’m at the office before 8 am and until 5-5:30 pm five days a week, ”he says. “I don’t even want to think of retiring. If I were to stay home I would age too fast.”

Besides traveling with wife Delle, this father of three and grandfather of 10 walks and swims to stay physically active all year. “I still love all kinds of sports,” he says.

Although his industry has been affected by the current economic situation, he has seen a lot of ups and downs throughout his many years of experience, and says there is still a great deal to be positive about. “The companies that survive in times like these will prosper even more later on,” he says.



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