still working

The satisfactions of the workplace often fade as we grow older. We may   lose our drive for advancement, tire of the commute or office politics, and/or yearn to step back from the rat race. But not everyone feels this way. The Westchester residents featured here have continued to work—willingly, eagerly, even joyfully—well into their late 60s, 70s and beyond, with no plans to retire. Here’s what they told us about the intrinsic value of working that keeps them on the job.

Vera Cheek, Funeral Director

Ever since she was a teenager, Vera Cheek wanted to be a funeral director. The unlikely ambition was inspired by her grandmother, who served as a “mother”—lay assistant to the pastor—of the Baptist church the family attended. Watching the older woman minister to grieving families in her community, Cheek longed to do the same. Even the embalming process fascinated her as a young girl. “I felt a calling, but my family discouraged me. Mortuary services wasn’t a common career choice for women in the 1960s,” she says. Instead, she embarked on a 30-year career in education, both as a paid staffer and a volunteer, before finally answering her “higher calling.” She applied to mortuary school while continuing to work full-time, studying at night after putting her kids to bed. Today, she is a licensed funeral director with the venerable Barney T. McClanahan Funeral Home in New Rochelle. She recently became certified as a celebrant, which qualifies her to lead funeral services and deliver eulogies. “I live, work and worship in this community. My kids went to school here. I personally know the families we serve,” she says. “I’m proud to be associated with legacy black-owned institutions like ours that have stood the test of time.”

Millie Jasper, Executive Director

Millie Jasper has spent much of her adult life focused on two things: education and the Jewish experience. At the schools, synagogues and community centers that fill her resume, she says, “I’ve sat on, or presided over, every kind of committee that exists.” In her current job as executive director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in White Plains, Jasper oversees a team of board members, volunteers and paid staff. Together, they work to enlighten others through the lens of the Holocaust, “by building communities that will join us in reducing hate in Westchester County.” Recently, the Center expanded its school outreach programming in response to an uptick in antisemitic incidents in Westchester.

Their goal is to educate, not condemn. “When young people commit an act of antisemitism, we assume ignorance, not malice,” she says. “Almost invariably, the offending student will admit they never thought about the consequences of their actions.” She plans to keep working at the Center for as long as she is needed. “You couldn’t surround yourself with a better group of people,” she asserts. “It’s a very healthy place to work, and it aligns closely with my ethical and moral standards.”

Christine Boutross, Personal Trainer and Health Coach

Christine Boutross was in her 50s and, in her words, “burned out” when she left her career as an educator. An elite athlete and marathoner, she decided to launch a career as another kind of educator: the kind that supports the health and development of other athletes. Now 75, she is a certified master trainer, a cancer exercise specialist and a national board-certified health and wellness coach. Boutros designs customized workouts and wellness improvement plans for her clients, and mentors health coaches preparing for their own national certification testing. She enjoys working with people at midlife and beyond because, she says, “They are becoming the best versions of themselves.” Most come to her in reasonably good health, hoping to improve their energy, flexibility and endurance. For those wanting more, she refers them to a hand-picked team of consultants: professionals in acupuncture, functional medicine, chiropractic care, and nutrition, among others. She has never been happier and has no intention of retiring. “I have a purpose each day and look forward to connecting with clients and students. I’m a highly motivated individual and I love what I do.”

Steve Saper, Adjunct Professor

After a 30-year career as chief information officer at a major law firm, Steve Saper was “invited” to retire at age 59. “I was unprepared for the retired life,” he says, and took a year to decide what he wanted to do next. Eventually, he signed up for a Westchester Community College (WCC) program called Conversation Partners, which pairs native English speakers with WCC students for whom English is a new language. He enjoyed it so much he went for his TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certification. Now a senior adjunct professor at WCC, he’s been teaching ESL for nine years. Saper relishes working with students on building a skill that will significantly impact their welfare. “I like learning about their lives, and I treasure the fact that I’m doing some social good,” he says. He also recognizes the benefits he derives from his career switch. He doesn’t miss the pressure or the politics. “And I never get called in the middle of the night when computer networks are down,” he says. “Life is short, and it’s good to do different things.”

Marv Zatz, Insurance Consultant

When in his late 40s, after practicing dentistry for 25 years, Marv Zatz switched careers—taking a job as a health benefits consultant with a large insurance company, where he worked happily until he hit the company’s mandatory retirement age. Instead of retiring, he found a new gig. He’s now 91—having worked full- or part-time for nearly 75 years—and still going strong. He likes the young people he works with. “They’re nice to me, and they don’t make me do any selling or front office stuff,” he says, adding that his job consists mainly of “answering silly questions.” As someone who dislikes traveling to in-person meetings, he thinks Zoom is the cat’s pajamas. “Nobody knows how old I am because I keep my video turned off,” he says. “For a while, I used a picture of Cary Grant for my profile and nobody was the wiser.” Zatz claims a big bonus of continuing to work is being able to buy his grandchildren’s love by paying their college tuitions. He’s joking, of course, but, he says, “I made a promise to my wife before she died that I’d put our grandkids through college and grad school.” He has no plans to stop working. “It’s better than playing canasta. And, sometimes, I actually feel productive.”

Sara Bridger, Assistant Librarian

After retiring from her job as a buyer and catalog manager for a doll company, Sara Bridger decided to satisfy her wanderlust. She and her husband boarded their sailboat and spent their last years together exploring the southeastern coastal U.S. After her husband’s passing, she kept herself occupied by volunteering at the public library in White Plains. There, she discovered a deeper calling, and readily accepted their offer to join the library staff. “I get paid, but I don’t work for the money. I work for the satisfaction,” she says. Bridger, who was recently promoted to assistant librarian, wears her job title lightly. “I thought I’d be helping people find books, but that’s the least of what I do,” she says. “My real job is talking to people who are lonely and crave human interaction.” Though she often assists patrons who need help using a computer or writing a resume, she never balks at odd requests, such as providing driving directions or random phone numbers. “Isn’t that what a library is for—to be an information resource?” she says. Bridger embraces this part of the job. “Some of our regular patrons have nowhere to go and nothing to occupy their time. What they really want is human connection,” she says. “I know their stories and I don’t judge.”

Robin Goldstein, Office Manager

Robin Goldstein likes to keep busy. She’s been working and volunteering since she was a teenager. So, when she was abruptly laid off a few years ago, she wasted no time looking for her next opportunity. “I like working, and I never thought I’d be out of work at this stage of my life,” she says. Her daughter-in-law introduced her to a neighbor who was looking for someone to replace her as a paid office manager at Meals On Wheels in Scarsdale. To Goldstein, “It sounded perfect—like a volunteer position, except I get paid,” she says. Each weekday morning, she heads to the Scarsdale Presbyterian Church, where she sorts the day’s meals and distributes them to volunteers for delivery to participants’ homes. Goldstein relishes her interactions with clients, and never loses sight of her higher purpose—providing human contact that’s vital to the well-being of older people, especially those who live alone. Some patrons call her just to chat, while others offer small gifts—a loaf of banana bread, a potted plant—to the delivery volunteers. “The people I work with are all givers,” she says. “It’s a very enjoyable part of the job.”

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