What do you do when you retire and suddenly find the days stretching out in front of you with no meetings to attend or deadlines to meet? Retirees across the suburbs confront this reality every day.
Many choose to stay active by pursuing a longtime passion, exploring a new career or choosing to serve others.
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Sports event security and customer service
Art Racek of Roselle loves watching sports. He is one of the few Chicagoans he knows who honestly roots for both the White Sox and the Cubs.
So it isn't too surprising that after he retired from HSBC (formerly Household Finance) in 2009, he started looking for part-time, sports-related jobs to fill his days.
The first such position he picked up five years ago was doing security and ushering for Northwestern University's home football games. From August through November, he takes tickets and assists patrons in the suites and seats.
"My job is to make the fan experience more enjoyable and safer so I make sure there is no running or climbing; I answer questions; prevent people from going on to the field; and call for emergency medical treatment, as needed," Racek explained.
Last year he took a similar position during the baseball season with the new Schaumburg Boomers minor league baseball team. He serves as their head stadium attendant, supervising the other ushers, the Kids Korner staff and the suite attendants during 51 home games per year between May and early September.
"I like staying active and being outside. It is fun and exciting to meet all of the different people," Racek explained. "Some of the children I meet are coming to their first baseball game ever and that is a thrill. I also enjoy getting to know the season ticket holders and the players' host families who attend many of the games. I am having a blast. The Boomers are a very family-oriented operation."
Last summer Racek even took on a third sport -- golf. He worked security during the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.
"I punched tickets in the morning and watched golf every afternoon. What could be better?" he quipped.
Each year when baseball is over and college football is winding down, Racek turns to the "sport" of retail shopping/sales. For the past four years he has been part-time help during the holidays at the Fossil store in Woodfield Mall.
"From October through December I work on the sales floor, meeting lots of people and getting great employee discounts. Everyone in my family gets Fossil for Christmas!" he admitted.
Heritage Farm teacher/volunteer
Dick Ruffalo of Mount Prospect always dreamed of being a farmer. But he grew up in Chicago and then served as an educator in Des Plaines' School District 62 for 32 years while raising his family. So, he didn't have much time to spend with farm animals, crops and barns.
So he jumped at the chance to indulge that dream when, in 1995, he saw a request in the newspaper for volunteers at the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary's Heritage Farm in Schaumburg.
"I finally got to be a farmer at the age of 60," he recalled, "and I just loved taking the training and having those firsthand experiences. For the most part, I was self-taught. I read everything I could find on 1800s farming and over the years I have done everything and anything on the farm from delivering a calf to feeding and medicating animals to cleaning out stalls. I have just immersed myself in it five days a week."
"This was a German farm so we have pigs (which were very important to Germans), chickens, cows and horses. We plant corn, oats, wheat and even a little flax. This is truly a living history museum of the German farming culture of the 1880s," Ruffalo continued.
At first he only volunteered on the farm, working with the crops and animals. But then he was offered the opportunity to teach the schoolchildren who regularly tour the farm and he jumped at the chance for that part-time, paid position since "teaching was native to me." So now, dressed in period clothing, he leads school groups through the farm, demonstrating everything from milling to dairying every spring and autumn, Monday through Friday.
The rest of the year, and on some weekends, he volunteers -- cleaning the barn, feeding the animals and giving tours to individuals and families who visit.
"I probably spend 600 to 700 hours at the farm each year and get paid for about half of it," Ruffalo said. "I like everything I do there -- even cleaning the pig shed. The life of a farmer had a lot of variety."
As for the teaching portion of his time at the Heritage Farm, "I love helping kids see what came before them. I tell them that if they had lived back then they would not be wearing any zippers, nylon, Velcro or rubber. They wouldn't have computers, cellphones or electronic games. It is a very relaxed form of teaching during which I can show them how different life was 130 years ago," he explained.
"I feel that you ought to pursue your passions when you are free enough to do so, once you are done making a living. That is when you can try other things and I am a happy guy because I am doing the things I have always wanted to try," Ruffalo stated.
"I feel like I am doing something good and meaningful and it makes my life fuller," he added.
Ruffalo is a member of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which is sponsored in northern Cook and DuPage counties by HandsOn Suburban Chicago. It is America's largest network for people age 55 and over who contribute their time and experience to community organizations. For more information, log on to volunteerinfo.net/rsvp.
Civil War Re-enactor
Pat Healy of Plano, just west of Yorkville, retired eight years ago from teaching at Waubonsee Community College's Access Center for Students with Disabilities.
Now she spends 13 weekends a year between April and October dressing up in 1860s-style clothing and educating members of the public, young and old, about what it was like to live during the Civil War, particularly what it was like to be a woman in those days.
As a member of the 154th Tennessee Civil War re-enactment group, she re-enacts elements of the life of Malinda Brunetta Moon, the wife of Larkin Moon, an actual member of the regiment 150 years ago.
Healy's husband, Rich, re-enacts the character of Moon, serving as the unit's mess sergeant who does the cooking.
"My husband decided to join first, after we had wandered around at a re-enactment. The Southerners were the friendliest to us, so we chose to join a Southern unit. Besides, it's fun to talk with a southern accent," Healy recalled.
"When you join a re-enactment unit, you are given its original roster and you pick the name of a private, research him and work your way up in the ranks over the years," she explained. "There was quite a bit of information online about Private Moon who was a farmer from Chatham County, North Carolina. That gives you a basis for your re-enactment and then most people read everything they can get their hands on about that period."
Five years ago when Healy decided to join her husband on his weekend jaunts, she automatically became Moon's wife.
"When we are re-enacting we attempt to do everything 'period correct' from how we dress, to how we cook, talk and live," Healy explained. "We eat lots of rice and beans cooked over a campfire in cast iron implements. Rich even sleeps in a canvas tent on a mattress stuffed with straw. I go to a nearby hotel."
But she does wear 20 to 25 pounds of clothing in the form of a corset, several slips, a chemise, thigh-high cotton socks, hoops, laced-up boots, a bonnet and a dress. Most of the "underpinnings" she made herself. The dresses are usually purchased from a "suttler" at a re-enactment or online and, according to Healy, they are "pretty authentic."
And she takes pride in speaking with the correct Tennessee twang of the time. Healy is interested in linguistics, so she painstakingly researched the accents, which were distinctive by state.
"I was not the historian. Rich was. I always thought that history was dry when it was in a textbook but these re-enactments are living history and are wonderful to watch. I love seeing the looks on the kids' faces and talking to the spectators about everything from cooking and food back then, to what it was like to be a woman, to why a Southern farmer who didn't own slaves was willing to fight," Healy said.
"For farmers like Moon, the war was more about states' rights and protecting their own land than it was about slavery," she explained.
"My goal is to inspire an interest in history among those I meet so, for instance, when I talk to girls of 13 or 14 I make sure they understand that if they had lived 150 years ago, they would probably already be married and they would have had two or three children by the time they were 16. I really try to give them a feel for what their life would have been like if they had lived during the Civil War," Healy stated.
Child programming volunteer/Visitor to homebound seniors
When you ask the Rev. Jim Ilten of Lombard when he retired, he has to smile. He retired as pastor of Lombard's St. John Lutheran Church in 1997. But then he worked for seven years as an interim pastor at churches in Waukegan, Bartlett and Burlington. In 2004 he was called back to be pastor emeritus at St. John and in that capacity, he ministered to 40 homebound seniors each month for eight years. Late last year, he retired again.
Now the 80-year-old only visits five homebound seniors each month -- as a volunteer -- because he trained six other volunteers from the church to take his place.
"As long as the Lord gives me breath, I will use my gifts to help other people," Ilten explained.
That is why he maintains such an active and varied schedule. Much of his work continues to be with seniors. He conducts Lutheran worship services at five senior communities in Lombard, Clarendon Hills and nearby communities each week. He also visits his five remaining homebound seniors and plans social and volunteer activities for the St. John Lutheran Senior Ministry Action Team.
Ilten has also been a member of the Tri-Town YMCA board of directors since 1995, serving several terms as president. In his capacity as board member, he helps sell Christmas trees each December and volunteers in the after-school "Pull Your Own Weight" chin-up, strength-training program that the YMCA runs for third and fourth graders, in conjunction with Pleasant Hill School. He has also supervised games two or three times at the after school events sponsored by the "Healthy Lombard" initiative, of which the Tri-Town YMCA is a part.
"Project Tutor" at Schafer School is the latest beneficiary of Ilten's time. He works with first-graders at the school every Tuesday morning, helping them with their reading, math or whatever the teacher assigns.
"Since I usually work with seniors, the kids are a fun change. I really enjoy tutoring them and helping them become more healthy and active," Ilten explained.