Seniors content to keep clocking in

Department of Aging workers note benefits

March 09, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Rosalie Coffman could be playing cards, watching vintage movies or just enjoying her retirement at Bykota Senior Center in Towson. Instead, she's happily ensconced in her office down the hall, where she supervises a staff of 40 for the Baltimore County Department of Aging.

Coffman is one of more than a dozen employees who could be clients, but have decided they would rather help run the agency. They are people in their 60s and 70s who find work invigorating.

At 62, Coffman manages County Ride, Baltimore County's senior transportation program, which served almost 5,000 clients last year. And she has no plans to leave - even when friends call from Florida to say, "Come on down."

Referring to her age, the white-haired Coffman says, "I look it, but I don't act it."

Charles L. Fisher Jr., director of the Department of Aging, says Coffman and other seniors who work there "fit the perfect image."

"If we advocate that seniors need to remain independent and an important part of the community, what better way than to have them work for the department?" he says.

Coffman began at the agency 23 years ago. In the early days, she says, her clients would tell her, "`You can't tell me what to do, you're too young.'

"Now they can't say that," she says, laughing.

Coffman says she keeps working because she is single, wants to pay off debts before she retires, and counts on the county's health plan to help pay for $5,000 worth of prescriptions she needs every year "to keep the motor running."

Helen Bronstein, 62, is another county government veteran. She began 25 years ago as a secretary for then-County Executive Theodore Venetoulis. She's been with the Department of Aging on and off for 18 years.

She now runs the Catonsville Senior Center - one of the county's largest - serving 1,700 members who go there to eat, dance, take art classes, play pool or learn about Medicaid fraud.

It has never occurred to Bronstein to retire.

"What I'm doing is very vital and makes me feel vital," she says. "The seniors themselves are an inspiration and a role model. They have their high level of energy and their ability to bounce back from adversities and losses."

Arnold Eppel, the Department of Aging's deputy director, says that Rosalie Dashoff is the perfect person to be running the agency's job-training program. Dashoff, 62, has worked in county government for 25 years in positions involving job training and employment.

She now manages the agency's senior employment and housing services programs, providing job training to low-income seniors.

Seniors can look at her age and say, "If she can do it, so can I," says Eppel.

Dashoff says she derives "a great deal of satisfaction" from her work. She particularly enjoys helping seniors who have "no work experience, no self-confidence or no self-esteem, and providing them with an opportunity to work."

Doris Karpook, one of about a half-dozen workers in their 70s, has been answering phones as a secretary for the Department of Aging for 26 years. She remembers when county employees would have to pass a physical examination to work beyond age 70.

She doesn't know what she'd do if she stayed home. A widow, she works to get county health and prescription coverage.

Karpook, 75, has enjoyed watching the agency grow from its founding in the 1970s. When she started, there were six senior centers. Today, there are 18 and the department serves an estimated 32,000 seniors each year.

Karpook has spent years watching younger workers retire, but it doesn't faze her in the least. "More power to them," she says.

Each day when she goes to work at the agency's headquarters in Towson, Karpook passes Bykota Senior Center, where retirees play basketball, pool and cards, watch old movies and eat lunch. But she's not ready to join them.

"I'm a senior, but I'm not old," she says. "When my time comes, I'll retire. And I'll volunteer in a senior center."

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