Encore careers: For some who’ve already retired, boredom or financial necessity sends them back to work

Pat Hagan, 64, cleans his retro-style Honda CB1100 motorcycle at his home in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. Hagan retired several years ago after a 32-year career at Tennessee Valley Authority, but he went back to work as a phlebotomist at Memorial Hospital.
Pat Hagan, 64, cleans his retro-style Honda CB1100 motorcycle at his home in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. Hagan retired several years ago after a 32-year career at Tennessee Valley Authority, but he went back to work as a phlebotomist at Memorial Hospital.

Retiring is just a blip on the radar for Ron Harr and Pat Hagan.

Both Harr, of Chattanooga, and Hagan, of Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., knew that, after retiring from careers they held for decades, sitting around in rocking chairs was not for them.

Now Harr, 60, the former Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO who retired in October, is piloting the Tennessee Aquarium's River Gorge Explorer. The 64-year-old Hagan, meanwhile, is a retired Tennessee Valley Authority accountant who's now a phlebotomist -- a person trained to draw blood from a patient -- at Memorial Hospital.

Whether it's out of boredom or the need for additional income, many of today's older Americans are choosing what are known as "encore" careers.

Nearly 9 million Americans ages 44 to 70 work in these jobs, according to 2011 survey by the website encore.org, which says its mission is "to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world." According to the website, an encore career encompasses work in the second half of life that combines social impact, purpose and often continued income.

photo Nearly three months after retiring as Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Ron Harr, 60, is now piloting the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer. Harr is also a former BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee executive.

"People are going to live longer, and people of modest means are going to work much longer," Marc Freedman, founder of encore.org, recently told the Los Angeles Times.

A survey conducted last June by Merrill Lynch and research firm Age Wave found that 72 percent of people 50 and older plan to work during what would usually be their retirement years.

"Nearly half (47 percent) of today's retirees say they either have worked or plan to work during their retirement. But an even greater percentage (72 percent) of pre-retirees age 50-plus say they want to keep working after they retire, and in the near future it will become increasingly unusual for retirees not to work," the study stated.

The reason? Folks are living longer so retirement, even after age 65, can stretch for 20 years or more. In addition, many companies have eliminated pension plans for their employees, shifting the burden of paying for retirement off the company and onto the employee.

The Great Recession that began in 2007 and ended in 2009, also delivered a gut punch to older workers, some of whom found their retirement savings dropping precipitously in value, forcing them to either continue working at their present job or, if they were already retired, returning to the workforce to make ends meet.

And, lastly, the report notes, the new batch of retirees aren't interested in sitting around and whittling or watching daytime TV. They want greater purpose, stimulation, social engagement and fulfillment in retirement.

Bruce Krebs, lifestyle coach and franchise owner of The Entrepreneur's Source in Chattanooga, says he has seen a dramatic increase in older adults seeking advice on career changes or finding jobs after retiring.

"Used to be just 2 to 5 percent of my clients fell into this category," says Krebs. "In the last three years, it's been on the increase, but in the last 18 months, it's grown to 30 percent of my business.

"I had a client call recently who has been retired for six years and he told me he was bored out of his mind. He said he's traveled, played golf, but he wanted to do something that would keep him busy and also something that he'd enjoy."

Last week, Krebs heard from a 62-year-old man who was laid off from his job at Shaw Industries. "He didn't have enough money to retire," Krebs says.

Most older people seeking retirement are looking for part-time jobs, Krebs says, and there are plenty of jobs available. "You can work and still have a life, " he says.

Unlike many older adults, Harr and Hagan didn't ditch retirement because they needed supplemental income. They needed the activity -- but not full-time. Both are working part-time hours.

Before joining (and retiring from) the Chamber, Harr worked for 16 years at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and, prior to that, was with BellSouth for 18 years.

"I knew when I retired from full-time work that I would want some part-time work to stay connected and use my mind," Harr says. "The demands on my life and schedule were enormous, making it hard to have a personal life."

Even before retiring, Harr began thinking about what he'd do after leaving full-time work. He'd already been taking U.S. Coast Guard classes and tests in preparation for earning a captain's license, he says.

"I knew this could be a good resource in retirement. I did not know that piloting the River Gorge Explorer would be one of the options," he continues. "It combines two of my loves -- Chattanooga and boating.

"I found out about the River Gorge Explorer job from another licensed captain who told me that they were in need of master captains to meet their United States Coast Guard requirements," Harr says. "I report to the captains, and I follow their commands as the second captain or pilot. After years of significant responsibility, it is nice to be in the second chair."

Having been in what he describes as "a very social job" at the Chamber, piloting the Explorer allows him to maintain that person-to-person connection.

"Before and after each cruise, I am an ambassador for our tourist guests. During the cruise, I am focused on piloting the high-tech River Gorge Explorer."

Hagan retired in 2004 from TVA after 32 years as a staff accountant. "I was tired of accounting and I wanted something different."

But it wasn't his accounting skills that got him his first job at TVA in 1972. It was his typing, which he learned as a student at Chattanooga High School. He took those secretarial skills directly to the U.S. Navy, which he joined immediately out of high school.

"The best thing I ever learned to do in high school was type," he says. "Not many men could type back then and typing got me one of the best jobs in the Navy as a yeoman. I always worked in the Commanding Officer's office -- nice and comfy.

I went to work in August 1972 for TVA, again because I could type. I passed the typing test and got a job as a payroll clerk.

"I was able to work my way up to cost accounting over the years by taking accounting classes at Chattanooga State," he says. "Without a degree, I was blessed to move up to manager of fixed assets by the time I retired in 2004."

After retiring, he tried a host of other jobs -- mowing lawns, cleaning houses, helping with the 2010 U.S. Census, even signing up for truck-driving school, which he later dropped. He also earned a real estate license.

"(I) decided this wasn't for me," he says. "I sold one house."

In 2009, however, his search for another job took an ambitious -- and somewhat odd -- turn.

"I ran into a good friend who was also retired and he was working at Memorial Hospital as a lab tech, drawing blood. He said I should try it," Hagan recalls. "I filled out an application, got an interview and was hired two months later as a lab tech.

"I found out I was pretty good at 'sticking.'

"If I had known when I was much younger, I'm sure I would have gone into nursing."

As might be expected, he'd never given any thought to being a phlebotomist or doing anything in the medical field.

"The hours were terrible -- 4 a.m. to noon -- but I did enjoy the job."

Later, he moved into pre-testing patients prior to surgery, which had better hours and also trained him to use the electrocardiogram and take vital signs such as blood pressure, temperature and heart rate.

But now, Hagan is toying with the idea of retiring -- again.

"I have a very good pension with TVA and I do not really need to work," he says, noting that he is enjoying much of his free time with his wife, who recently retired. He's an avid runner and loves to ride his motorcycle.

Harr, who graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1976 with a degree in communications, says being a river captain is stress-free because "it is fun to be part of a team that wants to make visitors happy."

"I'm excited about the new energy I see from young leaders in Chattanooga, but they need to slow down enough to take a ride with me on the River Gorge Explorer."

Harr says he has no regrets about trading in his role as a CEO for that of a boat captain.

"I left full-time employment to reduce stress in my life. I am enjoying freedom from stress. Even though piloting the River Gorge Explorer is a significant responsibility, it does not cause me stress because I know I am well-prepared and trained."

And that lack of stress is something he recommends for anyone considering retirement.

"Spend some time doing things that you love to do," he says. "Life is short. Reduced responsibility and pursuit of happiness should be a part of retired life."

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress or 423-757-6396.

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