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Retiring? Here's a good plan

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Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

People facing retirement in this era of longer life spans are scared they'll run out of money. A likelier pitfall is running out of life, says Chester Silverman. “Inactivity creates old people,” he says.

Silverman doesn't set up as an expert on the life after working life.

But he could. He's been at it for 28 years, now that he's “93 and a half,” which is how he states his age.

He's not sure he would have got there sitting home watching TV. “If you let yourself be a couch potato, that's what you'll be,” he says.

Here's how he stays with it.

First, by volunteering up to 10 hours a week visiting veterans. Twenty years ago he helped found a shelter for homeless vets and it's still going strong.

Senior centers offer lots of activities and Silverman gets to one nearby, usually twice a week. He plays bridge at weekly tournaments. Three times a month he goes dancing with a girlfriend — who is 88. He takes a cruise every year, attends operas beamed into movie houses, still drives a 1995 Cadillac, cooks his own breakfasts and goes out to dinner most evenings.

All this on far from a millionaire's income. With no pension either.

An ideal end-of-career plan should reduce one's lifestyle not a whit, but Silverman finds that “living expenses go down in retirement.”

True, he's been lucky. A pack-a-day smoking habit didn't flatten him. A hip replacement at age 90 left him walking with a cane, but he leaves it at the table when dancing with pal Florence Rogow, a widow and retired school teacher. One day 11 years ago he suddenly couldn't catch his breath and threw the cigarettes away permanently.

There are energetic oldsters like this everywhere, of course. Chester Silverman was tracked down in Baltimore, Md., where he retired at 65 from work that may not exist anymore: “collection salesman.” He sold clothing, appliances and furniture, then went around to customers' homes to collect weekly payments. Credit cards didn't exist then.

It wasn't until age 50, after three kids were through college, that Silverman could save in earnest.

He managed to put enough away in bank savings certificates, not stocks, that despite miserable interest rates of late he's able to withdraw “a few thousand bucks a year” to supplement Social Security. If necessary, he could cash-in his house, bought decades ago for $20,000, now worth probably 10 times that.

An Army medic in World War II, Silverman kept active as a veteran. He served as commander of both Jewish War Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and also as state commander of the JWV. In 1993 he helped found a homeless veterans shelter in Baltimore. McVET Inc., the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training, has grown to 100,000 square feet, a staff of 43, and annual budget of $3.1 million. It's housing and counseling 225 men and women and has about 70 percent success getting them back on their feet, Executive Director David T. Clements told a caller.

A weekly visit Chester Silverman never misses is to the grave of his wife Gloria, who died a decade ago after 60 years of marriage. “I talk to her,” he says unabashedly. “When she talks back I'll know I'm gone.”

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email

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