Paul von Goertz and his wife, Mary, like to travel from their home in Knife River to Pennsylvania and South Dakota to visit their grandchildren. He also enjoys bringing the Civil War to life for schoolchildren in the guise of an infantryman with the First Minnesota Volunteers.
As a survivor of prostate cancer, he also volunteers on behalf of the Cancer Resource Center at Essentia Health, encouraging other people as they fight cancer.
At 65, von Goertz appears to be enjoying an idyllic retirement.
Only he isn't retired. Von Goertz, with more than 40 years of experience, continues to work part time for JPG Group, a public relations and advertising firm based in Canal Park. He's not sure how long he'll keep working, but at least for another year, he said.
Von Goertz is at the leading edge of the largest generation in U.S. history to enter retirement years: baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. Whether by choice or necessity or both, many don't expect to retire at 65, at least not entirely.
"I tell people that I'll have to work for seven years after I die," said Johnny Northfield, 50, of Duluth, who said he went from being in good shape to having almost nothing because of a "perfect storm" financially.
Northfield isn't alone. In a survey this year by the Associated Press and LifeGoesStrong.com, one in four baby boomers still working said they'll never retire. Moreover, nearly six of 10 said their workplace retirement plans, personal investments or real estate lost value during the economic crisis of the past three years. Because of that, 42 percent in that group are delaying retirement plans.
Malcolm Johannessen sees it a lot.
"A lot of people have been forced to or chosen to either work later than they had planned or done some sort of hybrid with a partial retirement in trying to supplement their income with some cash income on the side," said Johannessen, a foreclosure prevention coordinator for Lutheran Social Service in Duluth.
Some people lost their jobs when they were in their 60s and lost their retirement savings as a result, said Johannessen, who estimates between 15 percent and 20 percent of his clients are baby boomers. "But a lot of people have also lost everything they had in their retirement when the market crashed."
Many boomers are simply ill-prepared. Andy Wheeler, a certified financial planner for Wheeler Associates in Duluth, said he tells clients they need to save 15 percent of their income for 20-plus years. "And if you do that, you have a lot of options."
What if it's too late for that?
"If you're in your mid-50s and you haven't made preparations, I'm going to tell you, one, you're going to work till full Social Security, which is probably closer to 66 and
10 months, and two, you're going to really have to start saving," Wheeler said.
Ironically, Wheeler said, his clients who are least prepared for retirement seem to be the most eager to retire early. He has other clients who could retire at 62, "but they wouldn't know what to do with themselves."
Von Goertz, who was born on Dec. 29, 1945 -- technically three days ahead of the baby boom -- fits more closely in the latter category. He co-founded von Goertz & VanHove Inc. on the upper floor of a former warehouse on Canal Park Drive in 1975. Thirty years later, he sold the business to Jim Glowacki of JPG with a two-year agreement to keep working full time, but after that he could go on a reduced work week.
"I hadn't really planned on it until it happened to be a beautiful summer that third year," von Goertz said. "And I thought, 'I don't really have to be here on Fridays if I don't want to.' "
Von Goertz cut back to four-day weeks that year, then three-day weeks. He officially works two-day weeks now, but he actually works three-day weeks much of the year and saves the extra days for a long summer vacation.
The arrangement is mutually beneficial, von Goertz said. He keeps his hand in work he always enjoyed. His employer gains from his experience. "I've got 43 years of experience that I can pass on to younger people," he said. "I think that we have a younger population that are very technical-savvy. Their knowledge of how to develop and maintain relationships may need some help."
The additional time away from work enables him to spend more time with family and to explore his passions, such as sharing Civil War history with classrooms and counseling men with prostate cancer. JPG has one other employee older than 65, and von Goertz said he wishes more employers, especially in service industries, would offer flex time to keep older workers on the payroll.
Both Paul and Mary von Goertz work part time. They are debt-free and own their home on Lake Superior. Paul von Goertz probably could afford to retire. But that doesn't mean there are no financial concerns.
"Everybody's 401K took a substantial hit," he said. Medicare isn't a free ride -- he's paying $300 a month for Medicare and his supplemental health coverage. Even the cost of his children's weddings caught him by surprise, von Goertz said.
A few years ago, Northfield figured he was in good shape for retirement. The Duluth native lived for 15 years in Florida, where for a time he benefited from a booming construction industry. He owned two businesses and was a partner in another. He owned three houses and planned to use them to finance his retirement.
Then in 2008 the economy went sour. A business partner died unexpectedly, and that business closed. Another business went from almost 60 employees to just Northfield. One of his sons was a drug addict who cleaned him out of $200,000, he said. His son couldn't care for his little boys, now ages 4 and 5, so Northfield was awarded permanent guardianship.
"I left Florida, basically with nothing, and came back to Minnesota, all because I did not want to raise these little boys in Florida," said Northfield, who lives in Lincoln Park.
But the economy was worse here than he had realized, Northfield said. Finally last summer, he got a job doing compliance audits at SuperAmerica stations, mostly in the Twin Cities and Brainerd. That requires being on the road about eight days a month, Northfield said. His grandsons stay with a grandmother during those times.
"What I'm making in a month now is what I used to sometimes make in a day," he said. "I have a few thousand dollars left for retirement, which is just laughable."
How much money will baby boomers need to retire? The financial counselors all said there's no one answer to that question.
"There's no way to pin a number on that," Johannessen said. "It depends on what your expenses are, whether you own a home free and clear or not, if you're renting a condo, if you're a snowbird. I mean, there are so many variables."
Likewise, there's no magic age for retirement.
"There are so many people that say they want to retire in their 50s," Johannessen said. "I think a lot more people are going to be lucky if they're able to retire in their 60s. It gets more and more difficult, I think."
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