Retirement can wait

Just about everyone at the Sunport gets a wave and a hello from Jessie Waddles. Pat Aruffa, a member of the musical group Cheap Shots, recently serenaded him “Happy Birthday” to mark his 96th. (Steve Sinovic/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Senior citizens still working into their 80s and 90s are clearly not the retiring types.

Just ask Jessie Waddles, who at 96 shows up for his job five days a week at the Albuquerque International Support and has no plans to quit anytime soon.

Also giving new meaning to the word “senior” member of the staff is Eleanor Love, who at 89 sees many more years of productive work ahead as a substitute teacher with Los Lunas Schools. In fact, the state just renewed her substitute license for another nine years.

Retirement also is out of the question for Jim Hoffsis, the co-owner of Treasure House Books and Gifts, who turned 90 in May. The self-employed retailer is at his Old Town business seven days a week greeting customers, helping stack books, ringing up sales at the register and patriotically hoisting five flags in the plaza each day.

Also not the retiring type is small-business owner Mary Ann Weems, who just marked her 70th birthday and who joked that she’s “the kid” of this group. Weems’ popular Albuquerque gallery is a venture that combines Weems’ love of art and people, generates a modest income, allows her to employ several part-timers and provides a purpose to her life.

All four offer striking proof that full-time employment and productive activity need not end when the so-called retirement years arrive. Of course, it never hurts to have longevity in your genes and few chronic health problems. In the case of Waddles and Love, both their mothers lived to be over 100.

The four workers also enjoy bringing in regular paychecks, which they said fund travel and hobbies and allow them to be generous with family members, especially grandchildren.

While Waddles, Love and Hoffsis admit their many years in the work world are not the norm, the pendulum is swinging among older adults when it comes to employment – more are staying longer on the job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 workers ages 55 and older are expected to account for nearly a quarter of the workforce. About 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day and will continue to do so up to 2030, according to the Pew Research Center.

In fact, there’s a new term for them – “silver-collar” workers – and they can be found in virtually every occupation. A graying grocery bagger, an orange-aproned Home Depot associate, a Walmart greeter and a tax preparer at H&R Block have become familiar sights.

In New Mexico, 61,000 people over 65 were employed in both part-time and full-time positions between 2007 and 2017, up from the decade-earlier figure of 41,000 New Mexicans, according to the state Department of Workforce Solutions.

Overall, 255,000 Americans 85 and older were working in 2016, according to Census Bureau figures. That’s 4.4 percent of Americans that age, up from 2.6 percent in 2006, before the recession. It’s the highest number of 80-somethings on record in the workforce.

“The trend is that many people aged 55 and older are finding that they have creative interests and means to pursue something new and different career-wise,” said Beth Velasquez, a spokeswomam for AARP, an organization that no longer requires its members to be retired. “They are eager to start that second act.”

There are also older people who must stay in their current jobs or go back to work part time just to live a modest lifestyle and have a roof over their heads, she said. They face economic struggles such as paying for medical coverage or raising grandchildren after seeing retirement savings shrink during the Great Recession.

To help commemorate Labor Day, meet workers on the mature end of the spectrum who still find meaning in the fruit of their labors, and have no plans to clock out.

Jessie Waddles, 96

Wheelchair agent, Albuquerque International Sunport

A seasoned professional with more than eight decades in the workforce, Waddles said his best advice for anyone starting a career is to get off your cellphone and get to work.

Waddles inspires many of his younger co-workers on the staff of PrimeFlight Aviation with his straight-from-the-shoulder advice, said David Meeks, Waddles’ boss at Albuquerque International Sunport. “He can frequently outwork them and makes them work harder,” Meeks said.

“Isn’t he cool?” Meeks asked as Waddles headed for one of the gates to pick up a traveler needing wheelchair assistance. Some of them are decades younger.

Waddles, a talkative man, has been at the airport 22 years after his retirement from Sandia National Laboratories. He worked there for 32 years and collects a federal pension.

Retirement lasted about a month. “I went nuts” from boredom, said Waddles, who has abstained from alcohol and tobacco but eats everything he wants, including fried chicken. For his 96th birthday recently, a lady friend made him some red beans and cornbread. The crew at work treated him to another favorite for his birthday: a pecan pie.

He said all the exercise he gets from walking at the airport might be one of the reasons for his good health. He’s not slowing down anytime soon and looks forward to many more years of work. His credo: “You keep moving, you keep living.”

Jim Hoffsis, 90

Co-owner, Treasure House Books & Gifts

After a career as an oil company marketing manager for a territory that encompassed five states and 500,000 square miles, Jim Hoffsis changed the narrative of his work life from one in which he was constantly on the road to planting himself in a modest retail storefront of 500 square feet.

That was in 1974, when he opened Albuquerque’s Treasure House Books & Gifts, a business that has not only provided his family with a decent livelihood but has been singled out as one of the best independent bookstores in the world by website Atlas Obscura.

“We first sold Indian jewelry and souvenirs,” Hoffsis said of an existing business he bought from a previous owner. His son, John, was the one who expanded to book sales, with a large selection of titles focusing on New Mexico and Southwest titles.

“He’s got a good eye and ear when it comes to ordering books and supporting local writers,” Hoffsis said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”

His favorite part of the job? “Talking to people,” said Hoffsis, who doesn’t care to be bothered by cellphones or computers. He enjoys good health and likes working every day because he feels needed. His bucket list includes a parachute jump when he hits 100.

A Korean War veteran, he gets about eight hours of sleep a night, reads the newspaper cover to cover and doesn’t pay much attention to cable news. An unabashed patriot, he enjoys reunions with other veterans and activities like re-enacting the Bataan Death March to honor survivors.

Eleanor Love, 89

Substitute teacher, Los Lunas Schools

Eleanor Love wanted to be a schoolteacher ever since she was a little girl and heard stories about her mother’s years in the classroom.

Love carried out that childhood dream with a rare commitment – she went back to school at the age of 54 and received her degree in 1988 after working in the family’s electrical contracting business for years.

She then became a special education teacher at Ann Parish Elementary in Los Lunas and “retired” in 1996, but couldn’t stay away from the classroom for more than a few months.

The substitute route was her way back in.

“It really is a labor of love,” Love said. She said the greatest reward is to have a former student or parent tell her that she made a difference to their lives.

Love averages three days a week at Los Lunas schools but sometimes works every day of the week if she’s needed.

“She’s a very familiar face to our students and staff and is respected and admired by all who cross her path,” said Dana Sanders, district superintendent. “She loves her students and says that one of her secrets to success and longevity is that she is strict and ‘old school,’ and the students respond so well to that.”

That’s true, said Love, who lets her students know “how important it is for them to mind and pay attention. “I don’t take chaos,” she said. She also sounds like a lot of fun, especially when she takes a puppet named Mr. Snuffy to some of her sub assignments.

“You can’t help but smile as you see the 89-year-old walking the halls and interacting with the students,” Sanders said. “She has a youthful energy that shines through her clear blue eyes.” The great-grandmother of 28 also finds time to volunteer at her church, tends 30 rose bushes, goes to hair appointments and enjoys outings with her family and friends. She also inspired one granddaughter-in-law to enter the career. And yes, she’s substituted in her class.

Mary Ann Weems, 70

Owner, Weems Galleries and Framing

Mary Ann Weems remembers her first business transaction as if it were yesterday.

“It was a handwoven basket for $15 and a cash sale,” said Weems, who also remembers the name of the customer who bought it.

Weems said “passion and pride” in what she does for a living is what still drives her and keeps her young at heart.

“I think that passion is what makes for a successful small-business owner. People can sense that.”

Weems also considers herself an educator of sorts, and said she’s proud the gallery has helped “teach people in Albuquerque that they could have art in their lives, and that they could afford art.” The business, which began in 1981, now includes several generations of customers.

“We’re still going strong,” said Weems, who cut back on a lot of work stress by closing a second gallery in Old Town. That move, she said, gave her more time to devote to her own painting and to family, which includes reconnecting with ex-husband Regan.

“I have a little more balance now” in my life, said Weems, who has every intention of hitting the 40-year mark with the gallery. “I don’t see retirement in the future. I need the dough,” she said.

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