When it came time to retire from nursing, Melody Walker was more than ready.
After four decades of long hours serving patients in Valentine, North Platte, Ogallala and McCook, “nursing work has become really stressful,” says the 67-year-old Maywood resident. “Also, I wanted to be able to do some things while I was still able.”
She and her semi-retired husband, Bob, enjoyed her freedom for five months. But in August 2017, Walker signed up as a part-time paid caregiver with Home Instead Senior Care in North Platte. She works 23 to 24 hours a week, helping three clients regularly and others less often with errands and light housework.
It isn’t nursing. But she loves it.
“I couldn’t pay all the bills on Social Security,” she said. But “I can see that if I had not gone back when I did, I would have gotten bored.”
Many senior citizens can relate as they decide what to do with themselves after the full-time workplace, say two North Platte professionals whose jobs regularly involve them with retirees.
Steve Chatelain, who co-owns North Platte’s Home Instead franchise with wife Mary Jo, employs caregivers of all ages to help the agency’s older clients. The city’s Ready to Serve Volunteer Program likewise seeks young, middle-aged and older volunteers after being known for many years as the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Director Dana Songster says.
They said the attraction of unlimited free time wears off for many seniors, whether they simply want to keep busy or need extra money. If they retired with full Social Security benefits, as Walker did last year at age 66, they can work as much as they want without penalty.
They often find another benefit: They live longer, and in better physical and mental health, if they keep active.
“I think the comment that we hear the most is that (volunteers) realize when they’re helping other people, they’re helping themselves, too,” Songster said.
Though Home Instead faces challenges in finding enough caregivers, Chatelain said, it’s more broadly interested in helping seniors live independent, healthy lives as long as possible.
“A retiree may not have the physical strength to do some of the real hands-on caregiving,” he said. “But there’s still a role for companionship and those kinds of things.
“Having someone who’s freshly out of the workforce, who’s compassionate and kind of a comparable age and can relate more easily — someone like that can be a great caregiver and a great companion.”
In her first weeks after retirement with Bob, “if we wanted to go to town (in North Platte), we came to town,” she said. “If we wanted to go to Kearney, we’d go to Kearney. I took care of housekeeping that I hadn’t been able to do.”
The couple does have retirement savings beyond their Social Security checks, Walker said. But one additional reason she joined Home Instead was because she and Bob had started remodeling their house, “which took more money than we planned.”
Besides, “my brother told me I’d get bored and want to come back” to working, she said, chuckling.
Count Helen Lilly, 77, among those who are glad Walker did.
She and her late husband, Richard, served rural mail routes in the Tryon and Stapleton areas until 1998. He died in 2004, but Helen was doing fine in her home near Westfield Shopping Center until cataract surgery and macular degeneration took their toll on her eyes.
“I couldn’t get the regular chores done and keep up,” she said.
Walker and another Home Instead caregiver take turns coming over, with Walker usually helping on Friday afternoons but sometimes adding a second shift.
She’ll take Lilly on errands, wash dishes, clean her bathroom, vacuum and do laundry as needed. She’ll also read Lilly her mail.
“She’s very attentive and very generous,” Lilly said. “It’s just in her. She knows the needs you need, and she tries to help me as much as she can.”
Some seniors find there’s no true bright line between the years they worked full-time and “retirement.” That includes Buster Fear, 78, who grew up and raised cattle 14 miles northwest of Wallace until he and his wife, Patricia, moved north of North Platte near the KNOP-TV tower 25 years ago.
He worked at North Platte’s former Wheelers farm-supply store, then spent 15 years at Staples before it closed last summer. Now Fear delivers copies of the Big Red Auto Book, driving a 278-mile-long round trip up to Stapleton and Thedford, over to Hyannis, down to Arthur and back through Tryon.
“It don’t pay enough, but I still like to see what the grass looks like,” he said.
Cattle aren’t exactly out of Fear’s blood, either. He loves to attend livestock auctions, and he still runs a few head on his acreage during the summer months.
As long as he’s able, he’s going to keep busy, he said.
“I’ve got to have my cows, because no matter what happens, even if I don’t have them during the winter months, I love to go out and talk to my cows,” he said. “Whatever you tell them, they don’t repeat it.”