Seniors are staying vital, active contributors at home and at work longer than ever before. This week, we bring you three seniors who are stellar examples of this trend. These working seniors seem to answer the question of whether the mental and physical stimulation of a career can prolong vitality and energy indefinitely.
At the end of November, Elinor Otto will retire from her job on the assembly line at Boeing in Long Beach, CA. Boeing is discontinuing the C-17, the plane model that Elinor works on, but she won’t be looking for another job. At 95, the great-grandmother is finally going to retire as America’s longest-serving, real-life ‘Rosie the Riveter’! Elinor responded to the national call for women factory workers in 1942, taking a job as a riveter for 65 cents an hour. She found her calling in aircraft manufacturing, and so after the war, she went to work at Douglas, later Boeing, where she’s been ever since. Elinor isn’t unusual just because of her longevity in the workforce. By 1943, more than 475,000 women were working in the aircraft factories alone, and almost 6 million women entered the workforce in response to the war effort. But by 1947, 3.5 million women had left the workplace, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. On November 8th, Elinor will receive an award from the American Veterans Center for women’s contributions to the military in recognition of the huge role that the women in the factories played in the war effort. Two years ago, Elinor told Ellen DeGeneres that when she retires, she wants “to take care of old people!” No matter what she does now, she’s already made history!
Sal Locascio, 87, is the oldest cabbie in New York City with his own medallion, the familiar yellow cab whose license allows the driver to pick up a fare anywhere in the five boroughs of the city. He began driving a yellow cab belonging to someone else in the early 1960’s, after serving in World War II, working construction with his father, and a stretch as a building inspector for the city. After a few years, he realized that the way to independence was to own his own medallion, which he bought in 1968 for $25,500. Sal was able to pay off the loan he took out to buy the medallion in four years by working 80+ hours a week, but now medallions can sell for $1 million. Despite the potential bonanza he would receive from selling, Sal has no intention of retiring. He’s sure he owes his longevity to driving as little as possible when not on the clock, and running his errands on foot to the nearby village. After 50 years of driving, Sal knows the city like the back of his hand, but he’s not as chatty a driver as he used to be – which may be a result of his refusal to get hearing aids. He told the New York Times, “What matters to me now is to keep myself going. I don’t wanna quit because you gotta keep active. If you don’t, you’re finished.”
Last week, Harold Fletcher taught his final class at Oklahoma Christian University – on his 91st birthday. Until then, Harold was the oldest active professor in the United States and still challenging his music history students after 64 years on the faculty. Harold and his wife, Mary Helon Fletcher, moved to Oklahoma in 1950 after he was the first faculty member hired to teach at Central Christian College, which later became OCU. He taught music history, music literature, music theory and philosophy, wrote musicals for the school, and directed the university’s performance groups. He and his wife had such an impact on the school that in 2005, OCU dedicated the Harold and Mary Helon Fletcher Center for Music in their honor. Their other legacy is their son John Fletcher, who was not only a student of his father’s at Oklahoma Christian, but became a music professor at the university as well. No word from Harold on his future plans, but John predicts that Harold will keep playing and studying music in his retirement. All Harold will say, according to the school paper The Talon, is that ‘it’s been fun.’