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Seven Over Seventy

For some area business legends, joining the 'senior circuit' means just one thing - floor it!

Business New Haven
by Deborah Nason  
Retire? No way!

Growing numbers of business people in the New Haven region are remaining in - or re-entering - the workforce into their 70s, 80s and even 90s. Some have started new careers in their 80s, and to naysayers they speak with a single voice: "Why not?"

Their secrets to success? Being an active part of the community, helping others and embracing life and new challenges.

Exactly nine decades young, Herbert Pearce personifies these attributes. The founder of North Haven-based H. Pearce Co., Realtors maintains a very busy schedule that includes part-time work, volunteering, golf and travel. "My second wife is 28 years younger [than I], and I have more energy than she does!" he crows.

Relaxed and dapper, Pearce says he began his third career, as a real estate developer, in his early 80s. (His first career, in manufacturing, lasted 21 years, followed by his second career as an entrepreneur and business owner for 40 years.)

"I still make a contribution to the [real-estate] business, but long-term projects are not in my scope any more," he says coyly. Pearce says most of his work hours now are spent doing PR and community relations for the firm that bears his name and is run day-to-day by his daughter, Barbara L. Pearce.

Always active in civic endeavors, Pearce says he is proud of his current participation on the Governance and Nominations committee for the University of New Haven. Another point of pride is his involvement with his endowed scholarships for 25 (primarily) local college students. "I try to meet with them at least once a year," he says. "It's one of my greatest projects."

"You've got to accept what you can't do and make the best of it," Pearce asserts. "Complainers don't live as long."

Another well-known New Haven-area personality is Joseph V. Ciaburri, age 77, chairman, CEO and founder of the growing Bank of Southern Connecticut, headquartered in his New Haven hometown. Not only has he worked in the downtown banking district for more than a half-century - he goes to work each day literally down the street from his childhood home.

What keeps him going? "I have to be a banker," he says, eyes wide with enthusiasm. "It's the satisfaction of being able to help people. It thrills me to know that I've made a contribution in my life. I'm dealing with third and fourth generations [of the same customer families]."

Ciaburri retired for a short time, but it didn't last long. "I didn't work for about a year and a half and I couldn't stand it," he says. He describes with a laugh the evolution of his thinking about aging.

"I used to say, 'I can't wait until I'm 55 [to retire].' But when I got there I said, 'Am I crazy?' Then the same thing happened when I turned 60, then 65." He finally worked it out in his head: "I have no problem thinking I'm 50."

Ciaburri has two principles he says he lives by: 1) "Leave people better than you found them," and 2) "The best is yet to come."

Likewise a business icon in his beloved hometown of Waterbury is Arnold Minicucci, age 81, the owner of Minicucci's men's clothing store, which he founded in 1956 in downtown Waterbury, where it remains to this day.

Minicucci swells with pride when he describes his interactions with his fellow Brass City denizens.

"Waterbury people are solid people," he says. "They're proud to be from this city and to do what's right. The people that come into my store are what make the difference [to me]."

Minicucci is buoyed by his civic pride as well has his positive attitude and zest for life. "I don't feel old one bit," he says. "I'm 81 [only] because I was born in 1925." He is fit as a fiddle, too, describing himself as 5-9 and 170 pounds.

Why does he continue to work? "Because I like it," he says exuberantly. "It's a great feeling, getting ready, going to work, driving alongside the young men in their BMWs - I keep up with them."

Of course, "I love to go home too," he says. "It's the best of both worlds."

Another community fixture is Charlie Roderick, a relative spring chicken of 73 who serves as a part-time funeral director with Beecher & Bennett Funeral Service in Hamden. He has worked for the company for 49 years.

As part of his job, the cheerful Roderick thrives on helping people navigate the myriad details related to funeral arrangements, serving as a resource for information on cemeteries, flowers, gathering places, headstones, grief counseling, clergy and designing meaningful services.

"I love it," he says. "I love dealing with people. I like to perk 'em up, inject a little humor, get 'em talking."

Many of the relationships he forges with clients continue after the funerals, he says. "I see a lot of the families I've served around town - in the supermarket, at church. [I'm] still in touch with everyone."

Nothing can keep him from his work, his passion - not even a wheelchair. Several years ago, following hip surgery, Roderick continued to work during his recuperation - nearly full-time.

Does he need to work for financial reasons?

"Yes and no," he says. "[My working] keeps us in our house, what with high taxes and upkeep. It maintains our way of life - taking trips to Alaska and Germany, gifts and trips for our three kids and grandchildren."

Roderick and his wife began to work with a financial planner when they were in their mid-60s, he remembers. "Everyone thinks they know what's going on with finances, but they don't really," he says. He feels more secure with a financial plan in place. "It sets up a path for you."

Indeed, according to an April article from the Population Reference Bureau, a financial plan is becoming more and more imperative for impending retirees.

"As workers near retirement, they are more concerned than ever whether their retirement income will be sufficient to pay their bills - especially for medical and perhaps long-term care - throughout a retirement that could last decades," says the article. "In response to these concerns, many financial planners recommend delaying retirement for at least a few years."

Joe DeDomenico is a certified financial planner in North Haven. At least half of his clientele is over age 60. Regarding clients over 70, he says, "The issue is longevity risk - outliving their money," he says. "Now people are living a third of their lives in retirement." The issue is compounded by the fact that company-sponsored pensions continue to disappear.

To address this challenge, DeDomenico recommends a way for people to create pension-type plans for themselves - by using a financial vehicle called an immediate annuity.

"It works by investing a lump sum of money for a guaranteed stream of payments [beginning immediately]," he explains. "The older the investor, the higher the payments he will receive, because of his shorter life expectancy."

For example, a 70-year-old who invests $200,000 in an immediate annuity may be able to receive about $1000 per month in guaranteed income (to himself or his beneficiaries) for a 20-year term.

He contrasts immediate annuities with the recently much-maligned deferred annuities - which defer payments for a given number of years, and can be more profitable to sell. Deferred annuities received bad press, he says, because unscrupulous financial agents were selling them to older people, instead of the more appropriate immediate annuities.

But even living frugally doesn't have to prevent someone from becoming entrepreneurs.

Take 87-year-old Janet and Syd (age 86) Evans of New Haven. Although they live on Social Security, they founded a business three years ago based on a brilliantly simple concept: manufacturing one-of-a-kind envelopes from recycled materials such as outdated wallpaper and old calendars. The business, named "Envelopes, Anyone?" is located in donated warehouse space, and subcontracts manufacturing and packaging to state organizations that employ disabled workers.

The company currently employs about 30 workers. The Evans' goal: 2,000.

"Our basic function in life is to create self-esteem and income for the handicapped, no matter if their disability is physical or mental," explains Syd Evans. "Our whole goal is to do something that we can leave behind us - we want to make sure they're taken care of."

Why do they work so hard? "It's feeling the way we feel," says Janet Evans, moving around the room like a hummingbird. "We're just delighted - a great satisfaction. It's so important."

The Evans are unusual in that they in effect re-entered the workforce in their 80s. But they are not alone. National numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the percentage of men aged 70 to 74 in the labor force increased from 16 to 21 percent between 1994 and 2005; for women, the increase was from nine to 13 percent.

Moreover, increasing numbers of 70-plus workers are employed full-time - growing from 44 to 52 percent between 1995 and 2005 for men, and from 30 to 39 percent for women.

Those numbers include Ella Marks, 78, a self-employed licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Madison. Working full-time is not a hardship for her. "Not now that I'm established," she says. When she began her private practice more than 20 years ago, she says it was nerve-wracking. "But now I'm so delighted to have a full practice."

"I love my work," she says. "I'm always learning. It gives me meaning in my life and allows me to retain my individuality and my independence."

Adds Marks, who earned a doctorate in psychology at age 69: "I found my most productive years professionally after age 50. The whole idea that you are not able to learn after a certain age is a big mistake."

Emily Cherlin agrees. A research associate with the Yale School of Public Health, Cherlin has worked in the aging field for more than 20 years. Many of the characteristics people often associate with aging are myths, she says, including disengagement from society, frailty, forgetfulness and senility. Furthermore, "staying in the workforce is associated with good health," she says.

Experts on aging have an image of people who age successfully, she says, and they generally share the following characteristics:

ï They are engaged productively and actively.

ï They have maintained good health.

ï They remain socially engaged, either through paid or volunteer work.

ï They have the ability to try new things, whether through the workplace or personal curiosity.

ï They have jobs that allow them benefits and flexible hours.

ï They contribute to society.

Eighty-year-old Bob Reid is all of the above and more. In fact, somewhere along the line, Reid just forgot to get old. "The thought of being old does not compute," he proclaims.

Reid is CEO of Orange-based sales and marketing support agency R.J. Reid Associates, which he founded 26 years ago. Ebullient and boundlessly energetic, Reid is as comfortable with technology as those half his age. In fact, his talents include Web sites and other electronic marketing media.

"What has kept me going is my own imagination and the love of what I do," he says with the authoritative voice of a former radio announcer, which he is. "The greatest reward is when you see how what you've done has elevated the client's bottom line."

Besides working hard, he also plays hard, vacationing twice a year in exotic locales such as Costa Rica and Africa. "I may have another profession [on the way]," he says. "I've been asked to come to one of the safari lodges to spend a month doing wildlife photography and training safari guides in photographic techniques."

Reid says he doesn't know where he gets his energy from. "I just wake up, grind the coffee beans and then go to the computer," he says. "Once, around age 70, I asked myself, 'Are you slowing down?' But then I said to myself, 'Hey, fellow - that's a copout. Snap out of it!'"

Hey, indeed.

Advice for Successful Aging
Seventy-eight-year-old psychologist Ella Marks, who should know, offers several recommendations:

"Take care of your body - do yoga, walk, swim, play chess. I recommend that three times a week, particularly if you're depressed. It's important to engage in a discipline that gives you satisfaction and continued challenges to learn and grow. And learn to pace yourself."

Adds business owner and safari photographer Bob Reid, 80: "Set goals and objectives. Think, 'I want to be involved!' and you have to wake up with that mindset. Also, think positively. Be aware of your own worth and your own talents - and use them."

Area business legend Herb Pearce, age 90, knows something about aging and has a lot to say about it. His advice:

1. "You have to have a positive attitude."

2. "You should associate with people who are younger than you - they make you step up to the plate." How? "You have to act their age. You've got to liken yourself to what they are - they're energetic and they want to change the world."

3. "I like to have other people involved, to be in partnerships with others, and have some fun with it."

4. "Do not worry - worry solves nothing. You do have to be mentally tough. You've got to be able to ride over the rough spots."