The Keys to a Happy Retirement

The stories of four Pittsburghers illustrate valuable lessons
Photography by Heather Mull Arlene Henry, Harold Hayes, Cynthia Hallahan, Tom Canfield Arlene Henry, Harold Hayes, Cynthia Hallahan, Tom Canfield
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Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce, or soon will leave it, in an unprecedented wave. Census data tell us that the number of retirees in the region soon could swell to six figures. In this final edition of our “Silver Tsunami” series, we ask, as Butch Cassidy might, “Who are those guys?” Though their circumstances vary, the profiles that follow show that today’s retirees are not content with putting, puttering or patter. For the most part, their lives now are as active as their careers were. The only difference: These days, they don’t draw a paycheck.

Arlene Henry: It takes a network

Arlene Henry slipped into retirement — literally. She fell while on the job as a phlebotomy team supervisor, suffering a severe injury that required spinal fusion surgery and forced her to walk with a cane. The accident was an even more cruel blow than that, as Henry had made a bold mid-​life career switch, taking college courses that allowed her to enter the healthcare profession. Despite all that hard work and determination, the injury knocked her from the workforce.

That was about 25 years ago, and Henry isn’t moping about the blow fate dealt her. She leads an active life that is a textbook example of how support networks of relatives, friends and government can make retirement a safe, satisfying proposition.

Henry had moved back to her parents’ Penn Hills home decades ago and lives there still. Now, with both parents gone and dealing with her own disability, could she remain in the house, alone but for her two dogs, and manage the upkeep?

That’s where her support network comes in. While Henry handles her own cleaning and hedge trimming, a neighbor tends her lawn. Four other neighbors — “They’re like my daughters” — help out in ways that can be as delightful as they are surprising.

They once asked to borrow my car,” Henry says. “I thought that was strange since they all drive, but I said sure. When they brought the car back, it had a set of four new tires.”

Even the Municipality of Penn Hills pitched in, allocating funds from a public program to underwrite installation of a railing that allows Henry to use the outside steps to her driveway.

While the support network enables Henry to remain in her home and close to her grandchildren and great-​grandchildren, she gives much more to the network than she takes. She serves on the advisory council of the Penn Hills Senior Service Center and holds a twice-​monthly bake sale — she does the baking — to raise money for the center. And she’s an active volunteer with People Able to Lend a Hand (PALS), a Highmark agency that provides a variety of services to seniors — transporting them to medical appointments, helping with grocery shopping, stopping by to chat.

When my mother was alive and a senior citizen,” Henry recalls, “Highmark asked her if she needed any help from PALS. She said to me, ‘I have you. Why don’t you volunteer?’ It was all her idea.”

Since that introduction in 1998, Henry has flown nearly 600 missions for PALS; that service to the community may be the signature feature of her retirement.

You get so close to these people,” she says. “Some of the people I help don’t want anybody else but me on the job. They’re all so grateful — that’s why I do it.”

Harold Hayes: In search of the ‘Goldilocks pace’

Harold Hayes always was a self-​starter.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, he thought he could break into broadcasting by recording himself reading news articles and sending the cassettes around to radio stations. Amazingly, that strategy worked, landing him a job at a radio station in Pekin, Ill., where he became almost certainly the only African-​American in that area reading news within a “Beautiful Music” format. From there, he took the initiative again, persuading his boss to dispatch him to a Jimmy Carter campaign stop in nearby Peoria.

That caught the attention of the ABC affiliate in Peoria, which gave him his first television job. When KDKA hired him in 1979, the McKeesport native, who grew up primarily in Beltzhoover, was back home for good.

His assignments over the years were intense and high profile: four national political conventions, the run-​up to Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, the Vatican funeral of Pope John Paul II — “I was the only Baptist there” — and trials of some of the region’s most notorious miscreants, including Jerry Sandusky, Richard Baumhammers and Richard Poplawski. Perhaps the defining moment of his career was coverage of a 1997 announcement by the KKK that it was organizing a march through Downtown Pittsburgh. KDKA initially had no plans to cover the announcement.

I suggested to the assignment editor that if the KKK was finding things in Pittsburgh that made them want to march here, that was news,” Hayes remembers. “He said, ‘Go do it.’ ”

Hayes handled the assignment with his customary professionalism and objectivity, recording the racist diatribe without taking personal offense.

All he was doing was saying out loud what a number of people think but don’t say out loud.”

Yet even as he braved the whirlwind of the newsroom each day, Hayes knew that he couldn’t maintain the pace forever and began planning an exit strategy.

The joke in the newsroom was, every morning Harold comes in and turns on his computer to look at the worth of his 401(k) and his CBS pension, and that when a bell goes off, he’ll walk out the door and never come back.”

The bell rang on April 29, 2016, when Hayes — figuring he had enough saved for himself and his wife, Denise — retired.

With their two daughters grown and on their own, the couple had the whole range of residential options open to them. A train enthusiast, Hayes briefly flirted with the idea of relocating to The Pennsylvanian, the apartment complex adjacent to Penn Station Downtown. When Denise tartly told him she would visit him there, that notion died. Instead, they decided to remain in their nearly paid-​off Squirrel Hill home, though they recognize that adaptations may be necessary down the road.

Neither of us is at a stage where steps are a problem,” he says. “But sometimes, you wake up in the morning and wonder if someone broke in overnight and built steeper steps. So those are some things you do have to consider.”

Now 63 and settled into retirement, Hayes has found the “Goldilocks Pace” — not too fast, not too slow, just right. A number of community service gigs keep his days reasonably, but not overwhelmingly, full. He participates in a project for the National Association of Black Journalists to create a database of TV producers ready for promotion to station management. He serves on the boards of public radio station WESA and the community activity center of Mount Ararat Baptist Church in East Liberty and as unofficial historian for Allegheny Union Baptist Association. And he cooks.

I said to Denise, ‘Now that you’re working and I’m not, I’ll cook for you.’ After a year, I’ve finally started to figure some of this out. I do pork chops Marsala, marinated steaks and a pretty good lasagna. Denise says I’ve moved from being a chemist to being a cook. I’m getting the nuances down.”

Retirement’s more relaxed pace has had a salutary effect on Hayes’ health.

My doctor is amazed at how my blood pressure is no longer high,” he says. “I still take the pills and all that, but it isn’t like it was. There’s a reason for that. When the doctor says your blood pressure is good, your EKG is good, you think maybe I extended a little of the good years by pulling back.”

Still, he occasionally hears the siren clatter of the newsroom.

What I miss most,” he says, “is hearing the verdict at the courthouse at 5:53 p.m., running down the steps to the truck, putting in my earpiece so I can be on the air at 6 p.m. straight up and saying to our viewers, ‘The verdict just came down.’ What I miss least is hearing the verdict at the courthouse at 5:53 p.m., running down the steps to the truck — the exact same things. Dealing with that pressure made it a love/​hate relationship. I’m good with doing what I did and moving on.’’

Cynthia Hallahan: Finding her calling in retirement

For 28 years, Cynthia Hallahan was a Realtor, and a successful one, but something about it just wasn’t fulfilling.

It was fun at first,” she says, ‘‘but it wasn’t challenging in the way I wanted it to be. It was a mechanical thing. Meet the client, find out what he wants, sell him a house, close the house, onto the next, repeat, repeat, repeat. It wasn’t me down deep.”

So what was she down deep? As a girl in her native Winnetka, Ill., on the shores of Lake Michigan, Hallahan had fallen in love with the pristine environment there.

I grew up loving the natural world. And when I look around and see problems, I think, OK, we have to have industry, we have to have gas, but let’s not ruin everything in the process.”

So environmental preservation and protection would be one part of her mission. Politics was another. She was introduced to “the art of the possible” when, as a young Vassar College graduate, she served as a wide-​eyed poll watcher on Chicago’s South Side.

Even the vacant lots were voting for the mayor,” she recalls. “The key precinct captain was helping the residents vote.”

Well before her 2011 retirement, environmentalism and politics coalesced for Hallahan; she became a volunteer with the Garden Club of Allegheny County and subsequently served for six years in conservation leadership roles with the Garden Club of America (GCA), a national organization founded in 1913. GCA boasts 200 local clubs with about 18,000 members nationally and wields significant influence on the shaping of environmental legislation.

We are nonpolitical,” she says. “We go to Washington as mothers, grandmothers and parents who need healthier lives for our children and all Americans.”

Indeed, every year, Hallahan traveled to Washington for GCA’s annual National and Legislative Affairs Meeting. The assignments were intense, involving weeks of online research and two days of meetings before the nearly 300 club members in attendance invaded the hallowed halls of Congress to lobby. She also prepared studies on nationwide air quality problems and wrote papers updating GCA members on the status of a bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976; Congress approved the measure in June 2016.

As with most retirees, Hallahan and her husband, former Koppers Inc. executive Don Hallahan, faced the decision of where to live during retirement. Weary of the upkeep responsibilities of their longtime Fox Chapel home, they relocated to a townhouse complex. Then Don experienced a serious medical issue — he’s since recovered — and they knew they needed a residence that offered on-​site medical facilities. In 2016, they moved to an apartment at Longwood at Oakmont, a continuing care retirement community.

We thought, OK, let’s get smart,” she says. “Don’s had a problem, and we don’t want it to recur, but maybe we better make arrangements to be in the right place if it does. We didn’t really want to come here because it’s giving up independence in a sense, but it’s been great. We like it very much. Life here has been fantastic and stimulating.”

Though her national role with the GCA has ended, Hallahan remains active with the local club. Turns out her influence was even more far-​reaching than she realized. Elizabeth Dempsey, one of the Hallahans’ three children, recently founded an environmental nonprofit in her adopted state of Connecticut.

Now that she’s enjoying her ultimate role, Hallahan, in her early 80s, is looking for more ways to serve… and satisfy her lifelong curiosity and intellectual restlessness.

I probably will get into something more,” she says. “You want to stay busy, physically active, for a long life. So I work out. I swim. I use the equipment in the gyms here. But at the same time, I need to get out into the world for future challenges here in Pittsburgh, maybe again in Harrisburg, definitely in Washington. I have discovered retirement gives you the time to be the best you can be.”

Tom Canfield: Writing the book on retirement spending

When Tom Canfield retired a decade ago at 62, he was pretty sure he and his wife, Patti, who continues to work as a physiatrist (rehabilitation physician) at LifeCare in Wilkinsburg, had sufficient savings to finance a comfortable retirement. But was pretty sure enough?

I always thought so,” he says. “But when Patti would say, ‘Can we afford this hotel room? Isn’t it too expensive?’ or when she would buy another new pair of shoes, it frazzled me. The money question gnawed at me.”

Canfield considers himself a problem solver. During his career, he helped solve problems for young tech companies as founder of Equity Catalysts LLC, president and CEO of The Enterprise Corporation and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University. That emphasis on project-​specific work characterizes his retirement as well. When he learned, for example, of an international program called Stop Now And Plan (SNAP®) that works with troubled kids, he raised $2.1 million to support the launch of an affiliate here.

Several years ago, the Canfields purchased and renovated a two-​story home in Squirrel Hill that features an elevator — that solved the steps problem.

But not knowing if their retirement savings were adequate was a persistent irritant. So, in typical sleeves-​up fashion, he formally assigned himself the problem: How much could he and Patti spend each year and not risk outliving their money? Using his knowledge of investing and financial analytical tools, Canfield went to work.

He found calculators, freely available on the Web, that predict year-​by-​year portfolio performance based on historical returns. They’ll also project, for a given spending rate, how long a portfolio will last if markets melt down. Then, Canfield took a unique next step, marrying those results to life expectancy charts. Say the charts indicate you’ll likely live another 20 years. You can find the spending rate that gives you zero chance of depleting your portfolio for those 20 years and an acceptably low probability for the years you may continue to live. Canfield calls this rate your Safe Spending Rate (SSR). Apply that rate to your initial portfolio and you determine your annual Safe Spending Amount (SSA).

His computations exclude such income as Social Security benefits and pension income, so those dollars can be spent over and above your SSA. Since it’s rare to have a complete market meltdown, you can recalculate and find your SSA increasing over time. For the Canfields, their initial SSA was more than they thought it would be, and it’s grown from the start of their plan.

Understanding all this gives the Canfields the confidence to spend their annual SSA to fully enjoy retirement now, to travel while they’re still vigorous, and to gift to family and favorite nonprofits while they can see the positive effects of their gifts.

Knowing your SSA makes a big impact on the way you think,” he says. “You’re worry-​free, and you can make the most of your retirement — now. We’re committed to spending or gifting all the money we allocate for a given year. The most positive personal benefit for us has come from giving now. We know we are positively changing the lives of others and especially of those we love. Nothing’s better than that.”

While addressing his own situation, Canfield may have solved the retirement spending problem for others. He’s captured his approach in a book called “Nest Egg Care — Find Your Safe Spending Rate to Maximize the Joys of Retirement,” available from Amazon, with key excerpts on a companion website, www​.nesteggcare​.com.

Evan Pattak

Evan Pattak is a Pittsburgh freelance writer and publicist. His work appears regularly in TEQ, Pennsylvania Manufacturer, Pop City and Pittsburgh Quarterly Magazine.

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