These area seniors get charged up by everyday life.
Burt Siegel is a busy man. The 71-year-old former executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia is involved in a literacy program, is an escort at Planned Parenthood, drives senior citizens to doctors’ appointments as a volunteer with the Jewish Families and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, tries to assist small nonprofit organizations with fundraising, leads educational classes at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park and keeps his hand in anti-gun issues, too.
Siegel retired six years ago but is showing no sign of slowing down whatsoever. “Thank God my mind and body are still in pretty good shape,” he says. “I believe if you have those things, it’s a blessing, and you should never waste blessings.
“Besides, I’d go crazy from sheer boredom if I slowed down!”
At 78, artist and illustrator Leonard Epstein couldn’t even imagine retiring. “I don’t work — I draw pictures, and I love every minute of it,” he says.
Epstein can pick and choose his projects at this stage in his career, and though he doesn’t work a 9-to-5 schedule, he knows his deadlines and draws at his own pace seven days a week. His friends tell him to slow down but Epstein refuses.
“There’s not a job I’m working on now that I don’t love and enjoy,” he explains, especially citing biblical themes he illustrates for children’s books. “Most of my friends have retired and they say they enjoy their retirement. But they spend their days on the computer and go shopping.
“I don’t really think they enjoy it — but it’s their call,” says Epstein, who says he sold his first professional cartoon (for $5) in the late ’50s to the Jewish Exponent.
“I think people need to have something to do and if they don’t, they just go downhill. Their minds vegetate.”
His longtime friend Lou Fryman agrees. At 79 years, he’s been practicing law in Philadelphia for 52 of them. A partner at Conrad O’Brien in Center City, he says retirement is not on the horizon. “I’ll keep going as long as my clients keep calling because I enjoy what I’m doing,” he reflects. “I’m energized by the excitement that’s created every time a client comes in with a concern, problem or an idea.
“There’s the good feeling of helping someone who may have a need. I also spend a lot of time in not-for-profit community activities and get a satisfaction from contributing to the well-being of others,” says the longtime and much-honored communal participant.
Like Epstein, Fryman says he’s seen deterioration among contemporaries who have retired — spending, in particular, a great deal of time on health issues.
“I don’t know if those health issues are related to retirement. But I would suggest that as long as your health and mental acuity are sound, seniors keep pursuing whatever their business or profession is, and supplement it with community involvement,” he says and does by example.
“I think it adds to your good outlook and energy when you keep yourself occupied. And there are so many areas of study that seniors can take advantage of.”
Society teaches us that once we’ve worked a certain period of time and amassed sufficient money, we should retire and start taking it easy. And while there’s lots of financial advice on when and how to retire from a financial perspective, there’s much less information on what to do to fill those empty hours once we’ve reached that point.
Sharon Sharov says she’s really not looking forward to retiring. The 74-year-old Philadelphian has worked at the Einstein Healthcare Network for half-a- century and now coordinates the network’s pathology office.
“I love my work and my job, I feel I’m useful there, and I love the people I work with because they’re caring and considerate. I feel like I contribute to that, which makes me want to keep going,” she explains.
While she’s watched friends retire, she’s adamant that it’s not for her. Or not now, anyway. “I know I like to keep busy, and I work full days, five days a week,” she says. “I don’t know when I’ll be ready to retire. I guess, maybe, I’ll just know. But what I do know is that I won’t want to sit at home. I like to keep going, so I’ll find things to do every day.”
One of Siegel’s friends is a retired real estate lawyer, and is now working as a docent at the zoo “and he loves it,” Siegel says.
By contrast, his own retirement activities are closely related to the work he did at JCRC during the ’90s. “Now I just do it freelance, and I don’t have to worry about the administrative side of things,” he says.
The day we spoke he was preparing to lead a seniors’ class on current issues. The issue of the day was the division of the Jewish community, and the class size was growing week by week.
“I’m busy, but busy with things that matter and that I enjoy doing,” he reflects. “I’ve always felt that talking about something isn’t enough; you have to get personally engaged. So I get involved in things that matter to me and things that mattered to my late wife, Barbara, too.
“In this way, I’m also honoring her memory.”
Richard Grossman, 81, says it’s his wife of 58 years, Connie, who stimulates his brain and keeps his body sound. A partner for the past 58 years in Material Distributors, headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, Grossman says his spouse “remains sharp as a tack and we continue to thrive off each other, living, eating and enjoying a healthy lifestyle.
“I continue to exercise daily and maintain motivation in the understanding that this lifestyle keeps me sharp and active.”
Retirement is too far in the future to think about, he adds. “There are many situations that define why someone retires: health and physical problems, no succession in their business to pass to the next generation, age limitations, or a general feeling that they no longer wish to work,” he reflects. “Fortunately, I do not have any of the above.”
For his part, Fryman also attributes his energizer activities in large part to his spouse of 56 years, Rhoda. “She is not only my best friend but my companion,” he reflects. “We discuss decisions and adventures in life together, and she always supports and encourages me in whatever decisions I make, whether they’re about public service or my continued professional involvement.”
The couple served on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America together, and are active in their synagogue, Har Zion Temple — Lou was a former president. Fryman says Rhoda, herself very physically active, keeps him young and active, too. “She is so smart, both intellectually and practically. We’re so fortunate to have one another,” he says.
Epstein, meanwhile, is so grateful about loving what he does that he says he pinches himself daily. “My neighbor hated every day of his work and enjoys his retirement now. I’ve had other friends tell me they worked as a means to an end, and I think that’s sad,” he says. “I just love what I do. I live a dream and both Lou and I wouldn’t know what to do if we stopped going.”
A native of South Africa, Lauren Kramer is a writer based in Western Canada. This article originally appeared in The Good Life, a supplement to the Jewish Exponent.