Retiree Smells The Roses, Then Balances Town Books

Sykesville Treasurer Tired Of Being Retired

October 14, 1990|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr.

SYKESVILLE - Seldom is the pace frantic at Town Hall, but the stress level rose in recent days as state auditors came calling for the yearly review of the town government's financial records.

It's been doubly hectic for Vincent J. Diffenbaugh, the town's new clerk-treasurer, whose job it is to keep Sykesville records and oversee finances. He's been trying to master his job while jumping through hoops for the auditors.

But prodding state officials and imposing volumes of records are nothing new to the new clerk-treasurer.

When Diffenbaugh, 59, took the town job, he emerged from a restless retirement he began after more than 31 years as comptroller for Maryland's second-largest liquor distributor.

At Baltimore-based Kronheim Co. Inc., Diffenbaugh learned plenty about dealing with state officials, who are fastidious in their demand for precise record-keeping by companies that sell alcoholic beverages.

"It's a very heavily taxed industry, and you had to account for every gallon of liquor, beer and wine that came in and every gallon that went out," he said. "We were subject to a great deal of federal and state regulations."

Diffenbaugh accompanied the company through a period of seven-fold growth, as it became a $70 million-a-year distributor.

But after three decades, Diffenbaugh, a native of the East Baltimore community of Highlandtown, began to do some soul-searching and decided it was time for a change.

"It reached a point where I didn't feel like I could do anything more for them," the soft-spoken Diffenbaugh said last week. "They thought I was crazy."

So, in 1987, Diffenbaugh left the high-stress world of big business and now has landed squarely at the center of sleepy Sykesville's town government.

"When you talk about small-town America, this is really it," he said with a smile.

One of the few things with which Diffenbaugh had little success was retirement. After doing some gardening and tackling about every possible fix-up project at his Piney Run Court home, he grew restless. He decided to "unretire."

And he's not alone.

Although there's little data on leaving retirement, Phillip Rones, senior economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said it's becoming more prevalent.

"That's really hard to capture (in statistics), but I've read that about one-third of the people who retire come back into the labor force," he said.

A study commissioned by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York philanthropic group, showed that three times as many older, non-working Americans ages 50 to 64 are interested in re-entering the work force than the U.S. government previously believed.

Emblematic of this growing cognizance of older workers as a valuable labor source is the recent television advertising campaign by McDonald's Corp. restaurants, celebrating the senior-citizen employee.

In the Sykesville town office, though, Diffenbaugh's responsibilities certainly will be more pressing than those of manning a drive-through window.

Town administrators consider landing Diffenbaugh a coup, for they have a staffer with corporate experience assisting with management of the town's modest, but growing, $1 million budget.

"It just makes life a lot easier for us when these things are running smoothly," Town Manager James Schumacher said.

Not that the transition to his new job has been easy. Erika Brandenburg, who served as clerk-treasurer for more than 18 years before announcing her retirement this summer, spent last month helping Diffenbaugh get acclimated.

But to hear Diffenbaugh, it sure beats retirement.

"I had no idea what I wanted to do," he said of when he left Kronheim after working out an early retirement package with the company.

Over the past three years, Diffenbaugh did some temporary work as an accountant and financial consultant.

"Then my wife said, 'Why don't you seriously retire?' I said, 'All right, I'll try it.' "But after about a year, I ran out of things to do."

He read an ad seeking applications for the Sykesville clerk-treasurer's job and pursued it, thinking it was a long-shot. Diffenbaugh said he was overjoyed when he was hired.

And he has been delighted during his first few weeks on the job.

"In my dealings as a comptroller, I'd almost forgotten how to smile," he said. "When you're dealing with great amounts of money and numbers, you can become stone-faced."

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