March 4, 2024

Brighton Journal

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3 people working in their 90s and 100s

3 people working in their 90s and 100s

Jane Burns, Bob Rohloff, and Melba Mebane are part of a rapidly growing share of the labor force: Americans who work after age 75.

Photos courtesy of Gene Burns, Bob Rohloff and Terry Mebane

More Americans over the age of 75 are now working than ever before.

It’s a shift that comes as older baby boomers approach their 80s, and better health care enables many seniors to extend their working lives.

This group may be a small portion of the workforce, but it is the fastest growing segment.

In 2002, about 5% of people over the age of 75 were working in the United States, and by 2022, this percentage will rise He jumped To 8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2032, the Labor Department projects that one in ten people over age 75 will still be working, even as the share of younger workers remains flat or declines slightly over the same period.

Many Americans are working into their 70s and 80s — or longer — because of longer life spans, changing attitudes about retirement, and insufficient savings. Others simply say they enjoy what they do and have never thought about giving it up.

CNBC Make It recently asked three people who continued working into their 90s to share their best tips for building a long, happy career. Here’s what they said:

Jane Burns at her 100th birthday party last summer

Photo: Elizabeth Hosvar

Jane Burns, who turned 101 in July, has been working the same part-time job as a fabric cutter at Joann Fabric and Crafts in Mason, Ohio, for 26 years.

The elderly woman tried to retire several times from her career as an accountant throughout her 70s and 80s, then “did not retire” after only a few months, working part-time jobs in veterinarians’ offices and accounting firms.

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“I like routine, and I like to keep moving,” she says.

Burns, who has been a seamstress for most of her life, began her work as a client of Joann’s. She quickly built a relationship with the store staff and enjoyed recommending different fabrics to other shoppers.

In 1997, just a few months after her husband, Dick, died, a fabric cutting shop opened in the store. Her daughter, Donna Burns, was working at the store part-time and recommended her for the role, thinking it might be a welcome distraction from the grief.

Donna was right.

Burns feels her job is less a chore than an opportunity to learn more about a hobby she loves and meet “interesting and nice” people.

“I enjoy what I do, so I want to keep doing it,” she says. “I will work as long as I can or as long as they will stay with me.”

Plus, she adds, “Staying busy keeps you from focusing on your aches and pains. It makes it easier to keep going.”

Melba Mebane, 91, recently retired from the job she held at Dillard’s Department Store in Tyler, Texas, for 74 years.

Photo: Terry Mebane


Melba Mebane, 91, retired from her job as a sales assistant at Dillard’s department store in Tyler, Texas, in July, leaving behind a career that spanned more than seven decades.

Mebane began working as an “elevator girl” at the Meier & Schmidt’s department store in 1949 when she was just 17 years old, through a work-study program at Tyler High School. Dillard’s acquired the store in 1956.

She moved to the menswear department and then the cosmetics department, where she remained until her retirement.

To be happier at work, “it’s important to invest in your relationships,” says Mebane, so you can tailor your job to your interests and craft a more fulfilling career.

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Mebane leveraged her close relationship with the chain’s founder, William T. Dillard, to adapt her job to her changing needs and desires throughout her career.

When she was 65, she considered retiring, but Mr. Dillard persuaded her to keep working, only after Mebane asked him to adjust her schedule so that she did not have to work after 5 p.m. or on Sundays.

A few years ago, she also convinced her manager to replace the hard linoleum on the floors behind the makeup counter with soft carpet, as standing most of the day had become less comfortable.

During her time at Dillard’s, Mebane had many opportunities to become a manager, but always turned down the offers.

“Nobody likes management, because they have to make the tough decisions,” she says. “I loved my friends at work, and I wanted to keep them, so I just focused on being the best salesperson I could be.”

Those friendships made working at Dillard’s “the best job I’ve ever had,” Mebane says.

Bob Roloff, 91, cuts hair for his wife, Marianne, in his new barber shop.

Photo: Mark Carwick

Bob Rohloff has been a barber for 75 years, and at 91, he doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon.

The Wisconsin native began cutting hair in 1948, apprenticed to his father, Irv, a barber. At that time, a haircut cost 75 cents.

“Believe it or not, we made a lot of money every week and got excellent tips,” Rohloff says. “Plus, my dad was my best friend, so it was really fun working with him.”

He attributes much of his success to his father, who introduced him to other barbers they would hire, and always gave him honest advice about “what it really takes to be a barber, and how I could improve my work,” he says.

Up to this point, Rohloff’s career has taught him the importance of working with people you like, whether it’s your boss, co-workers or clients you interact with.

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Rohloff tried to retire 15 years ago, but he “did not retire” after just a few months because he missed the camaraderie and conversations in the barbershop.

“Retirement is not that easy,” he says. “You need to stay active in something, whether it’s a hobby or a job, and I happen to enjoy my job a lot… It’s fun to go to the store, I love doing it and I feel good, so why should I stop?”

In June, Rohloff and another local barber, Mark Carwick, opened Bob’s Old Fashioned Barber Shop in Hortonville, Wisconsin, a 20-minute drive from his hometown, Black Creek.

Rohloff says the best part about running his own store again is meeting new people.

“They’re not just customers, they’ve become fast friends,” he says. “We have customers who bring us maple syrup, people who bring us vegetables from their farms or even homemade sauerkraut… You can’t make that happen in a big city.”

As for what Irv would think about his son still cutting his hair at age 91, Rohloff says, “He wouldn’t believe it.” “But he worked until he was 85, so I think he would be proud.”

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