'Over 60' job service closes after 28 years

May 03, 1991|By David Conn

An article in Friday's Business section about the demise of the Over 60 Employment Counseling Service of Maryland incorrectly named the original director of the agency. He was Arthur Wyatt.

On better days, the Over 60 Employment Counseling Service of Maryland bustled with activity. Senior citizens, retired and bored, or in want of a little extra money to supplement their Social Security payments, lined the office, two floors above the Van Dyke & Bacon shoe store on Liberty Street downtown. They waited to be interviewed by other senior citizens, most of whom worked as volunteers to find their clients jobs, free of charge.

Yesterday, only Executive Director William H. N. Shure, Chairman Hugh P. McCormick and a few others were in the office, packing things up and taking care of a few final details. The place is empty now except for the utilitarian furniture, some classic photos of Baltimore on the walls and a bunch of plastic trash bags on the floor.


After 28 years of service, Over 60 has closed its doors, the victim of too few donations from individuals, companies and foundations.

"Don't forget to say Van Dyke & Bacon needs a tenant up here," Francis Bacon, the landlord, reminds a reporter.

"All we wanted was a modest budget to help support the community," says Mr. McCormick, a former division manager with the Baltimore spice company that bears his family name. "But when that dried up, it was all over."

A modest budget, at least in 1990, was about $30,000. About half of that went toward the salaries of four staffers; the rest of the 15 to 20 part-time counselors were volunteers.

"They paid me enough to get my wife out to dinner maybe once a week," says Mr. Shure, a retired Bethlehem Steel Corp. manager who has been Over 60's executive director since July 1986. "I didn't need it for money purposes. I needed it for time purposes."

Over 60 was perhaps the only agency in the city devoted solely to the employment needs of older citizens, regardless of their income. It was hatched from a 1962 study of the economic needs of the elderly by the Maryland Conference on Social Welfare.

Arthur Wyman, a retired Savings Bank of Baltimore executive, was the first executive director. He rounded up the original contributors, both individuals and companies, telling them about the findings of the social welfare conference: While more and more companies were instituting mandatory retirement plans, advances in medicine and nutrition were keeping people alive and healthy far longer than in earlier generations.

That trend continues today, exacerbated by the graying of the "baby boom." In 1980, 9.37 percent of the state's population was 65 or older, according to the Maryland Office on Planning, and by last year that figure had grown to 11.42 percent. By 2000, the Office on Planning projects, 12.54 percent of Marylanders will be over 65, and by 2010, they will represent 14.03 percent of the state.

In the early part of the next century, "We're going to see a big demand for older workers," said Rosalie S. Abrams, director of the Maryland Office on Aging. With fewer young people entering the work force, she said, "We expect to see older workers who are going to need to be trained and retrained."

Over 60 managed to place some 20 or 30 clients in jobs a month. Of the 18,000 or so job applicants since the doors opened in 1963, the agency found work for more than 11,000, Mr. Shure said.

Robert Kemp, manager of the Washington Apartments in Mount Vernon, was a satisfied employer. Nearly everyone who works at his condominium building -- doorman, elevator operator and security guard -- was placed through Over 60, he says.

"When I got a call yesterday morning that they were closing down, it almost brought tears to my eyes," Mr. Kemp says.

Margaret Anne Edberg feels the same way. A volunteer at Over 60 for 25 years, she was the counselor who first interviewed Mr. Shure, at the time just another applicant looking for a job. But her favorite applicant in all those years, she says, was the ex-convict, on parole for killing a man.

"He said he'd done society a favor," she recalls. "He'd killed a crooked lawyer." She found him a job as a parking lot attendant, where such things apparently don't matter that much.

At 81, Mrs. Edberg lives in a retirement community with her husband. The nursing home nearby has asked if she can work there, and she says she probably will.

Mr. McCormick is not bitter about the closing, and he and Mr. Shure don't want to blame the private foundations that have decreased the funding enough to lead to Over 60's demise. "We're not failing," he says. "We're paying all of our bills. We're not leaving anything undone."

Norman Holden, age 71, steps off the elevator and looks around the almost empty office. He has come here looking for jobs off and on for about five years -- "janitor work, washing dishes, anything," he says. He'll probably head over to the unemployment office instead, he says as he steps back onto the elevator.


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