California State University, Fullerton

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Older Americans Strive for Active, Healthy Retirements


For Donna and Kirt Spradlin, retirement is an 
exclamation point on life.

The Fullerton couple are in their 80s and
 attribute good living, exercise, family and friendships as
the keys to a healthy retirement. They enjoy backpacking, skiing, golf, socializing and most of all, their daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Financially, they are secure because of some good investments and a lifelong practice of being conservative with their savings.

"We were frugal," said Donna '70 (B.A. English).
"We could retire early. Now nobody is doing that."

In today's economy, it is becoming more difficult for workers to realize financially secure retirements like the Spradlins' generation. So how are baby boomers coping
with the concept of ending their work careers?

Many people are staying in their jobs longer and downsizing their expectations. They are living healthier lives through diet and exercise and others are continuing to work part-time, volunteer and even return to school.

"The retirement that we had dreamed of may not be there," according to Pauline Abbott, former director of Cal State Fullerton's Ruby Gerontology Center and the Institute of Gerontology. "And so there is likely to be a trend of people working longer by necessity, as well as by choice.''

Since the mid-1990s, the average retirement age has risen from 62 to 64 for men and from 60 to 62 for women, according to a 2011 Center for Retirement Research at
Boston College analysis of Census Bureau data.

"What is going to happen in the next 10 years is a bit of a crap shoot," Abbott said. "We aren't sure because the economy can jump back in and people are finding innovative ways to get back into the market."

Abbott, who was director of the center since 1999, believes that the key is to have a retirement plan that
includes solid finances, as well as managing mental and
physical health.

"A lot of emphasis is put on how much we have saved over the years," said Abbott, who retired at the end of the spring semester. "If you have all the money in the world and you are not happy with who you are and what you are doing it doesn't matter. It's your health that is really critical."

Are You Ready?

As daunting as it might sound, there are resources to help with retirement planning and adjusting to life after work.

On campus, the Ruby Gerontology Center is home base to retired and semi-retired people dedicated to remaining active and learning. They are members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers nearly 120 classes a semester, including hands-on computer education, classical music, poetry, film, tai chi, yoga and foreign languages.

Mike Stover, a volunteer and vice president of external affairs at OLLI, said that the institute also has a Transitions in Retirement program that has become hugely popular as people near retirement start looking for answers.

Last year, the program held a one-day retirement boot camp with more than 230 participants eager to learn about life after work. This year's September program included discussions on financial planning, health and socialization.

"Once we reach retirement we need to execute the plan," Stover said. "In these turbulent times that plan has had to be adjusted. People need to come up with a realistic budget for retirement life and their own lifestyle."

The key factors that people need to plan for are:

  • Finances and managing debt

Stover said that determining how much debt you will carry into retirement will play a big role in what you will need to save. Medical costs are also rising rapidly, and state and federal programs will only cover so much.

  • Socializing and keeping active to avoid stress and health-related issues 

Stover said the boot camp encouraged taking courses at programs like OLLI, volunteering, working part time and keeping your body and mind fit.

Roberta Rikli, dean emerita of CSUF's College of Health and Human Development, agrees with Stover, and stresses the need to maintain one's health.

"Keeping mentally and physically healthy in retirement is just as important as financial soundness," said Rikli, who retired last year. "In fact, for some people, retirement may be the first opportunity they've had to spend time focusing on their own physical health and fitness."

Fiscally, Physically Fit

Rikli's advice is not lost on the Spradlins.

Their love for hiking and nature, which started with early car camping trips with their daughters, didn't stop because they retired. The couple, who spend several hours a week at OLLI, have climbed Mt. Whitney several times, as well as to the base camp of Mt. Everest and summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. They hiked the entire John Muir Trail over two summers and have gone on safari in Kenya.

Kirt retired as an electrical engineer from Hughes Aircraft in 1983, and Donna followed a year later, leaving behind her job as a high school teacher to help manage an apartment complex they owned.

After a couple of years of running the 24-unit complex, they decided it was time to sell and free up even more time to enjoy their golden years.

"Selling the apartments was a big jump up," Kirt said. "That investment was really the springboard that enabled us to go ahead and retire."

They never looked back.

The couple has traveled to Japan, France, the Alps, Panama, Nova Scotia and beyond. Kirt, who was president of OLLI from 2003 to 2005, golfs, fishes, skis, jogs at least three times a week and hits the gym. Donna keeps up with Kirt's exercise regimen and they both are deeply involved with the volunteer programs at OLLI.

"I read something interesting that said 'don't come up to retirement and then fall off the cliff,'" Donna said, referring to having a retirement plan. "We keep teasing each other, I say 'Kirt, when is that rocking chair coming?' ... I'm not quite like my grandmother."

Retirement Tools

So you are planning to retire but not sure if you have enough cash to make it through your golden years? Here are links to planning resources that can help you figure out your exit strategy:

A New Beginning

Pauline Abbott, who retired at the end of the spring '12 semester, says that she is looking forward to time with her grandchildren and enjoying her newly found hobby of landscape photography. However, a person who has spent her entire career researching and teaching about the process of aging isn't going off quietly into the sunset. "I'm in the driver's seat. It's my decision and it's time," Abbott said. "The people that I have known who have retired positively say they are busier now than they ever were before and enjoying it. That is a positive."

She is heeding her own advice and will continue to consult, keep active at the university and even take a few classes at OLLI.

Retirement Options

What: Free, public programs and lectures related to a wide variety of topics — including retirement, health, socialization, films, art and foreign languages — are offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Cal State Fullerton.

Where: Ruby Gerontology Center at Cal State Fullerton

How: For more information, contact OLLI at 657-278-2446 or

By: Michael Mahi, 657-278-5143

Tags:  Community