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November 13, 2000
Volume 78, Number 46
CENEAR 78 46 p.65
ISSN 0009-2347
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Retirees give advice on surviving and thriving during the transition

Linda Raber
C&EN, Washington

Retirement can be an exciting and rewarding period of your life, but it doesn't happen without a plan. So why do some people thrive in retirement, and others seem less content or downright miserable?

To answer this question, C&EN requested help from its readers. We asked retirees to reflect on their experiences with retirement and to share some advice. We wanted to know what they were glad they did and what they wish they had done. The responses were lively, and everyone who responded had some excellent advice to share--and, sometimes, a good story or two.

The bottom line of all the advice sounds simpler than it is: Diligent and long-term financial and psychological planning. Plan what you would like to do, arrange your budget to fit, and then enjoy the freedom of retirement. According to these retired C&EN readers, you will find your retirement as valuable to your life as your professional years.

Early financial planning is almost universally recognized as some of the best advice. Of course, having adequate money is not the most important aspect of retired life, but it's right up there. Eldon H. Sund retired in 1995 after teaching at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas, for almost 30 years. Sund tells C&EN, "The most important information I wish to convey is that your pension and Social Security will not normally be adequate to live comfortably and must be supplemented."

Buntrock: a good accountant can help answer a lot of questions about setting up a business after retirement
And this includes planning for inflation. During the 30 years Sund taught, his salary for nine months of teaching went from $8,400 to about $48,000. While some of the increases were due to promotions, he says, most of the increases were to keep up with inflation. "A person retiring at 65, a very typical age to retire, could easily expect to live to 90 to 95," he points out. "With expected inflation over those years, what was a reasonable retirement income could turn into barely enough to survive."

Furthermore, and contrary to much of the advice you read, Sund states that you should "plan to retire with no decrease in income." As an academician, Sund had little time to travel extensively, but now that he is retired he can travel and finds it fascinating. "Fortunately, I was able to provide for an income which was in fact slightly higher than my salary when I retired," he notes.

Retiring on a good income, in most cases, takes a fair amount of planning and means saving over the long term, so you don't become a pauper saving for retirement during your last working years. "One thing I found invaluable was to use to the maximum the tax-deferred plans that the government lets you use," Sund says. "These plans lower your taxes when you really have lots of demands on your money, college expenses, housing, etcetera. When you pay these taxes later, there are not nearly the demands on this money." He advised C&EN to emphasize how the compounding of interest or dividends without paying taxes on them "will really count up over the years. I think that most people are aware of this but it really hasn't registered."

Kozlowski: saving early makes retiring easier
It has registered for Adrienne Kozlowski, who retired in June 1996 after 26 years at Central Connecticut State University. Kozlowski reminds readers that longterm savings really do greatly impact your ability to retire early and securely. "All the articles and financial planners say this," she says, "but listen up, young folks: I spent the last 21 of my working years contributing to a 403(b). The first 10 years' contributions constituted less than 25% of total contributions, but at retirement they had grown to represent 75% of my assets."

According to a recent ACS Mature Career Chemist Survey ( C&EN, June 5, page 42 ), nearly half of the 5,000 respondents expected to receive 50% or more of their final gross salary upon retirement as pension income, but many were unclear as to just what that income was going to be. The survey indicated that nearly 30% of all women and 17% of men don't know enough to predict their future pension income. This doesn't bode well, and several respondents said that it was a good idea to take advantage of any financial planning seminars offered at work.

After figuring out how much money you are going to need to retire, find out if you'll need to bring in extra income after retiring. If you do, you'll have a bit less freedom, but not necessarily a less fulfilling retirement. Sometimes, postretirement income can be generated by starting a business--the most popular business appears to be a consultancy.

In January 1995, after taking early retirement from nearly 25 years with Amoco Corp., Robert E. Buntrock and his wife formed Buntrock Associates Inc., providing chemical information services, which Buntrock had been doing for the previous 23 years anyway. "I joked with friends that I was continuing to do what I did for Amoco, just with a much broader clientele," Buntrock says. To those interested in setting up a consultancy, Buntrock says "a good accountant is much more important than a lawyer. A good accountant can help with many questions. Even with no employees (or only one employee), there are several ways to organize the business, including sole proprietorship, partnerships, limited liability corporations, and S corporations."

Gordon (above) and Glazier: working reduced hours keeps minds sharp
To make the transition even more transparent, it is sometimes possible to do what Gerald A. Gordon does and work for your old employer. Gordon retired 16 months ago but is still working 30 hours a week for his old employer, sitting at his old desk, and having essentially the same responsibilities he had before he retired. "I am considered an independent consultant, the sole proprietor and sole employee of my own company," he explains. "And while I am paid approximately the same per-hour rate as before I retired, my employer's costs are reduced because he doesn't pay direct benefits for me because I am insured under Medicare and pension medical insurance. In addition, I have my pension and, now, Social Security. My combined income is higher than it was before."

Most important, "After a lifetime of full employment, I had a great fear of sitting at home 24 hours a day, twiddling my thumbs," Gordon says. "I have known too many people who quickly went into decline or died shortly after retirement to not look at this process without some trepidation. This way, I have three or four days a week of work to keep my mind sharp, and I have long weekends, which I greatly enjoy, to begin to fill with other productive activities." Several other retirees echoed these remarks.

Lifelong learning

Ellis Glazier says his change at retirement was profound. A former industrial chemist living in La Paz, Mexico, he now edits the work of scientists whose first language is not English for publication in English. Most of his work concerns marine biology of all kinds.

"To edit correctly," Glazier says, "I have to learn something of the science about which the author is writing, so for all these years I have been getting a broad, but possibly not very deep, scientific education. It has been very rewarding work. Much of the science done here is good but would not be read if the publications were in Spanish and not English."

He continues: "The whole point of this is that people who make the effort to learn a great deal during their working life have all sorts of ways to take advantage of this. Companies have no loyalty to their employees any longer, so the man thrust out on the street has lots of ways to get back into the swim that do not at first look to be advantageous to him. It is worthwhile taking the chance to look for new ways to use one's knowledge."

And staying connected with the chemical profession is important to many retirees; for some, the most important planning requires maintenance of professional chemical connections. For Robert E. Lyle, who retired after 28 years in academia, working at a university was a first choice, "but there was no university or industry that conveniently provided this without my making a commitment to teach, so I made up a company--GRL Consultants--that I could use on business cards and on conference badges," he says. He recommends this as a "great way to register the name . . . and give it some stature without any significant expense."

Lyle gives more advice. "While planning for retirement, decide on one, two, or more professional activities that you would enjoy continuing. If your retirement income is not sufficient, then use these as an income source. Teaching at a university, community college, or high school part time can be rewarding, even if not too lucrative." He continues: "If, as in my case, you wish to consult for industry or research organizations, this will require some promotional activity before and after retirement. I was fortunate in that the chemical fraternity, Alpha Chi Sigma, needed an editor for their quarterly newsmagazine and I was lucky enough to obtain the position. This required me to become computer literate, maintain my chemical contacts, and reestablish student interactions. It also provided a small stipend, which I found could be helpful at tax time in several ways.

"Finally, but probably most important, consider the variety of volunteer work that is available," he says. "I have been most pleased with working with the ACS Publications Committee and career counseling services of ACS, but ACS local sections, other professional groups, and science fairs, for example, all need professional help. It is easier to find several niches than it is to say no."

Lyle (above) and Weeks: finding ways to stay connected
Kozlowski says she has also had the opportunity to remain professionally active in education "without having my life measured off in semesters any more." In 1997, she was invited to join the Connecticut Academy for Education in Mathematics, Science & Technology part time as professor-in-residence on higher education issues in K-12 math science reform. While at the academy, she chaired a statewide task force to encourage math and science faculty to implement improved preservice teacher preparation.

"Although I had been active in precollege chemistry education activities for many years, I had an opportunity to take a wider, more interdisciplinary view of advances in both science and math education," she says. Currently, she is in her third year of consulting for a Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant that Central Connecticut received to develop and pilot an integrated science and mathematics course for preservice elementary teachers.

"I am excited and fascinated with many new insights as we discover and examine connections between geometry, physical science, and biology and the intensity with which we debate how and why we present certain concepts," Kozlowski says. She has found that "the effective mentoring of future and practicing teachers can provide retired chemical educators with the kind of intellectual challenge that I imagine retired research faculty must find when they continue aspects of their research programs after retirement."

And ACS still provides a lot of a professional life for Kozlowski. "I've had the opportunity and inclination to present nearly as many technical papers and workshops, and to organize symposia and special events at ACS national, regional, divisional, and local section meetings since I retired as I did the whole time I was actively teaching."

Adventures abroad

"Due to corporate restructuring and a booming stock market, many industrial scientists are able to retire sooner than they had initially planned," says retired industrial chemist Tom Weeks, who just returned to the U.S. from a year as Senior Fulbright Professor in the chemistry department at Qatar University. "What a great opportunity to take a lifetime of skills abroad!" Although many assume the Fulbright program is open only to academicians, it is also open to many industrial scientists ( C&EN, May 1, page 70 ).

Weeks says his Fulbright program officer had never seen an application from a person with an industrial chemistry background, but that he would like more to apply "because scientists with an industrial background should be able to provide practical advice to developing nations." Fulbright awards vary from two months to an academic year or longer. Although foreign-language skills are needed in some countries, most lecturing assignments are in English; about 80% of the awards are for lecturing.

Upon retiring in 1991, Eberhard Lell, who lives in Linz, Austria, joined Senior Expert Organization--a nonprofit, nongovernment organization of retired experts from all walks of life who offer their knowledge and their experience to developing countries. "Helping people in need is a most satisfying experience, and the thanks and the gratitude of many of the people we have helped make all the effort worthwhile," he says.

"There are similar groups in most of the developed countries, and one country that makes full use of this service is China," he says, noting that China sends out well over 2,000 worldwide requests for experts a year. China also has an admirable administration to recruit experts, receive them in China, and channel them to the institution that requested help.

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"Our group in Austria is called ASEP (Austria Senior Expert Pool), and for the past five years or so I have been the project coordinator for China," Lell says. "We receive about 80 requests a year, of which we can satisfy about 25. I am the contact between the Chinese organization and our members. It keeps me busy, ensures contact with all sorts of experts, and gets me a trip to China once or twice a year."

John H. Blomquist--born in 1916--retired more than 30 years ago and shared his thoughts on retirement: "When the time comes, get a life! Retire!" He tells C&EN: "I'd had a very interesting and rewarding career with DuPont, but it seemed that I was beginning to repeat myself. In the '40s, I'd been involved in the development and commercialization of Dacron. In the '50s, I repeated that with Lycra. I'd been in the nylon research section in the early '40s and the Orlon research section in the '60s. I'd been process superintendent in plants in Delaware and Virginia.

"I'd hate to think of how many times my wife had to stay behind to sell a house while I went to a new city to find a new one she'd have to transform into a home, or live in a cramped apartment until we'd find one," he recalls. "When we were first married in 1940, during my last year at Ohio State University, we'd lived on $80 per month." This experienced proved they could survive on a tight budget and, he continues, "even with a reduced pension, we'd be far from those conditions. Instead of days or even weeks apart while I traveled on DuPont business, we'd have every day together. Would 10 or 15 more years with DuPont beat that? No way."

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