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Local seniors lend experience, knowledge to workforce
Posted February 16, 2011
Five local seniors from myriad backgrounds continue to play vital roles in their respective fields and communities well past retirement age.
These seniors, who are just a handful of those still working or volunteering, shared their thoughts about being part of the local workforce.
Being active is key
Stella Victor, 90, has no intentions of retiring from her 31-year stint at American House II in Roseville, where she’s older than many of the residents.
Her strategy for maintaining a healthy lifestyle involves taking vitamins, working out and sticking to a healthy diet.
“No fats, no white bread, no white sugar — I don’t eat pizza or cookies; even though I do have a sweet tooth, I try to avoid sweets,” she said, adding that one reason she stays active is to keep up her good looks.
“That’s what staying active does for you,” Victor quipped.
Joe Bartoletti, on the other hand, says he feels much younger than his age.
The Bartoletti brothers —Norm, 70, and Joe, 80 — are central figures in their family-owned business, All State Construction in Troy, where they have nearly a century of combined experience.
“As far as still being in the workforce, I do it to keep me young, for the health benefits and mental stimulation, too; and I really love this business. … It’s a family endeavor, and I want to keep it going,” said Joe Bartoletti.
Artie Gutzman, 68, has no plans to stop working at her 20-year-old St. Clair Shores-based store, Comfortably Yours, where most employees are seniors.
“I don’t feel like not working yet, that’s why I’m still working,” she said. “I enjoy socializing and interacting with the customers.
“Working here, we get a real sense of gratification, seeing the positive outcomes — that people do survive breast cancer. It gives you self-satisfaction to help people feel good about themselves,” she said of helping customers find the right breast prosthesis or wig after they’ve undergone treatment.
It’s the social aspect that keeps Josie Turner motivated.
Turner, 66, still enjoys opening up her business of 31 years, Josi’s Salon in St. Clair Shores, every day.
“Even though I’m at an age and can afford to retire, I love what I’m doing. I love my clients that come in and the staff; we all get along; it’s like family — and who wouldn’t miss their family.”
Contributing via volunteering
As for seniors who don’t work, staying busy via volunteering or social activities can improve quality of life for both the senior and the community.
“With the economy the way it is, volunteering is more important than ever. The need right now is so great that the religious and government groups can’t cope with the demand,” said Thomas Richard, 75, an active volunteer. After 38 years, Richard, is still out and about working as a Realtor for Max Broock in Bloomfield Hills.
“We have a cadre of retired people with tons of knowledge and skills who can step up and help people through this crisis.”
Joe Bartoletti, another active volunteer, concurred: “I think seniors, if they are able, absolutely should stay active in their communities.” He said he’s had many friends pass away shortly after retirement, which he believes may be due to them not having anything to do.
“A lot of seniors today that work just like to get out of the house — it keeps the brain active, and getting out and doing something — working or volunteering — can help with depression. It’s really about quality of life,” said Gutzman.
Norm Bartoletti spends his free time helping to ensure his “elderly” neighbors’ quality of life. As the “mayor of the streets” in his east-side neighborhood, he said, he talks to at least 10 neighbors a day while “patrolling” the streets with his dogs, and often takes neighbors’ concerns and complaints to city officials.
Facing challenges positively
“One thing is that as a senior, we are really no different in most ways as anyone else, as long as we have our health: Health is key to seniors staying active, and being active is key to maintaining good health.,” Richard said.
Victor’s philosophy is, “Either I get back to work or stay home and get put into an institution, and I’m not ready for that — I just want to stay busy and keep my body moving.”
Certain health and mobility problems can’t be avoided, but that shouldn’t necessarily stop seniors from contributing to society.
“One caveat to being an older worker in my business is that I don’t go up and down stairs without a rail, period; whereas when I was younger, I could dance up and down stairs,” Richard said. “One plus of being a senior in sales, though, is I can be a little more selective in who I choose to work with, and that can take some of the stress off the job.”
Other seniors have more serious health problems, but they are still determined to keep up their active lifestyles.
Norm Bartoletti has some vision and dexterity problems, and is in a wheelchair, but he doesn’t let that deter him.
“It’d be so easy to turn around, say I can’t work because I’m in a wheelchair, but working is good for you. It’s nice to still have a place to go and work, and feel like you’re still a part of society. Plus, it keeps me out of trouble,” he said with a smile.
While Norm drives with the aid of hand controls, due to diabetic retinopathy, Joe, can no longer drive. However, he won’t let that stop him from working and learning new things.
“I’ll keep working until they drop me in the box, as long as I’m able to get around. I’ve never had a plan to retire,” said Joe Bartoletti, who said he’s “forever bugging” his kids, who take turns driving him to work, to teach him how to use new computer programs.
While Richard said keeping up with ever-changing technology is a necessary — and challenging — part of his job, he believes the phone is still the best way to do business.
Norm Bartoletti agreed: “As long as I’m near a phone, I can do 80 percent of my work.”
Richard summed up the key to overcoming obstacles: “Get a restful night’s sleep — just forget about any issues that happened in the day, push the worries out and go to sleep. Whatever problems you are dealing with will still be there in the morning, and you may as well have a good night’s sleep.”
Seniors offer a wealth of experience
An oft-overlooked segment of the workforce, seniors have a lot to offer their younger colleagues.
“There’s nothing wrong with being old; we’re just as smart as younger people and still have phenomenal ideas,” said Norm Bartoletti.
Richard agreed: “One advantage of senior workers is that they’ve had a lot of good life experiences — oftentimes, they’ve already experienced certain situations, and they can help you in decision making.”
As an architect who’s “been around the horn,” Joe Bartoletti takes pride in the fact that he’s “trained a lot of people, many who are now my competition.”
“My greatest thing is, I feel I should be a teacher — I enjoy teaching and motivating people.”
Gutzman has translated her skills as a nurse of 24 years to her current business: She wanted to provide mastectomy patients with a nicer place to go than a medical supply company.
Victor has held myriad jobs in her lifetime prior to picking up her current “post-retirement” job at 60.
And, all of them are willing to share their insight and advice.
Keeping spirits up in tough times
Born around the time of the Great Depression, seniors have seen their share of economic recessions — and more than one feels the current one could be the worst.
“If you go back to the Depression, I was just a child, that was pretty bad, but this is worse: It’s worse because of the extreme job situation that’s been prolonged. With the other, there was light at the end of tunnel; with this thing, I don’t know if our economy will ever be the same,” said Joe Bartoletti. Adding to that problem, he said, is “all the jobs that have been outsourced will never come back.”
Joe and Norm Bartoletti lamented the current lack of good-paying jobs for the “average” person.
“People used to have much healthier salaries. To me, the average guy doesn’t have a chance at making a decent living right now — the average person has to work much harder nowadays, just to get by,” said Norm Bartoletti.
The Bartolettis noted that the lack of higher payingjobs affects businesses, including theirs, across the board; having less discretionary income — coupled with the effects of the down economy — has severely impacted many people’s ability to pay for certain services.
Joe Bartoletti noted that people’s mentality toward money has changed over the years, as easy lines of credit made impulse purchases more prevalent and increased consumer debt. He believes people must reel in their spending and adjust priorities. “It’s not how much you make — it’s what you save,” he said, citing advice his father-in-law gave him.
During the Depression, Richard and Victor noted, they never felt deprived: Victor’s family lived on a farm, so they had plenty of food; Richard recalled his father bringing home dry ice until he could afford to fix the family’s broken “icebox,” but said he “didn’t ever feel deprived.”
The current recession, however, has left many families in varying states of deprivation to a much further degree, but the seniors are optimistic.
“As long as you deal with the cards you currently have and the slice of pie you have, it’s going to be OK. This will turn around as employment goes up. I think we’ll probably see that happen in another two, three years,” said Richard.
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