BY GUY FIORITA | PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
« Richard Zanoni
The day before we met, Richard Zanoni and his daughter were on the tennis court. “We had a 38-shot volley,” says the Brookfield resident. A rather impressive feat for the average player, but a pretty remarkable one for Zanoni, considering
he’s an 87-year-old senior. Then again, remarkable describes a lot of what this
Before retiring in 1985, Zanoni worked in public education, first as an elementary school teacher and later as a principal. For some people, retirement signals a time to slow down, but in his case, it was just the opposite. “I never really like sitting still,” Zanoni says.
So he didn’t. To start, the properties he had acquired as a teacher kept him busy. “I invested in a few duplexes and four family buildings,” Zanoni explains. “I could work on them in the summer. On a teacher’s salary, you have to do the repairs yourself, so I learned about plumbing, electricity and so on.”
Today Zanoni has five children, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He continues to live on his own. “I do get help from friends and family, especially for cooking. I love to eat, but I never could cook,” he says with a laugh, noting that his love for food comes naturally. “I’m Italian; it’s in my blood.”
His heritage also led him to become involved with the organization behind the original Festa Italiana, and he is on the scholarship committee of the local chapter of UNICO National, an Italian-American service association that helps raise money for Milwaukee area students. And every other Wednesday he has an Italian reading class. “It is a chance to practice our Italian,” he says. “We take a story, translate it, and have to be prepared to read parts to the group, and then we discuss it. It keeps the language alive.”
It was even mail from family living in Italy that got him involved with stamp collecting. Zanoni now has stamps from nearly every country in the world — many of which he has visited. He traveled to Hong Kong and Beijing just last year.
It seems the only thing Zanoni will slow down for is music. He currently plays the viola in the Menomonee Falls Symphony Orchestra. “We practice once a week and perform four concerts per year,” he says. “I’m also in a quartet. I play the violin, and even did a little drumming for a while. I think having all of these hobbies not only keeps me active, but I learn things (too). Staying in contact with people old and young helps keep me young.”
You’d never guess it looking at him, but just two years ago Zanoni had a stroke that left him paralyzed for more than a month. He worked his way out of it — the way he does everything else — with effort, activity and the help of his family. Today he wakes up early and does exercises in bed before making his breakfast. “After that I usually take a 25-minute walk, then I might play the viola, or prepare for my Italian class, do some gardening or reading,” he says. “I may meet with old high school or even grade-school friends.”
Zanoni only recently gave up running and skiing. “I celebrated my 80th birthday on the slopes,” he recalls fondly. “I always loved the view from the top (of the hill).” He continues to play tennis and says he only gives up an activity when it is no longer fun.
His advice for those approaching retirement? “Don’t stay in bed. That’s my best advice for anyone facing retirement now. Staying in bed is too easy, and the older you get, the easier it is,” he says. “But you have to fight the urge. You have to keep active. Inside or outside, physical or mental activities, do whatever it is you enjoy, but always be doing something.”
« Linda Short
Cedarburg resident Linda Short spent 30 years teaching fourth and fifth grades for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) system — a job she says she genuinely enjoyed. “God did not give me my own children, so I truly believe I was meant to give more to the children I taught. I was their teacher, disciplinarian, counselor, mentor and friend. It was not uncommon for them to call my home to ask for help,” Short says. “The funny thing is that if I was not home, my husband, Bill, would help them. As a matter of fact, at my retirement he received a standing ovation, as together we touched the lives of hundreds of children.”
Short may have retired from MPS, but her teaching career continues. She’s a water fitness class instructor for the Cedarburg Recreation Department, and she teaches a low-impact exercise class for seniors at the Cedarburg Community Gym. “I still find teaching to be very fulfilling,” Short says. “All of the students are there to work out at their own level and have fun as well. We all really enjoy the camaraderie. I feel grateful for the opportunity to continue to teach.”
Giving and paying it forward are both themes that weave throughout all areas of Short’s life. She currently volunteers her time with Interfaith Caregivers of Ozaukee County in Grafton, driving seniors to appointments. “My husband had Alzheimer’s, and when he was ill I could not leave his side. I engaged Interfaith to have a volunteer stay with him two hours, one day a week, so I could run errands,” explains Short. “These volunteers give their time and are great companions to those in need. I was so impressed by them that after my husband died, I decided to pay it forward and volunteer myself. You find that it takes so little to make someone happy. A drive to the beauty shop, a doctor’s appointment, or staying by a senior’s side to free the family member for a few hours is so appreciated.”
For 17 of its 20 years in existence, Short has also volunteered with Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse, which raises money to fight breast and prostate cancers. A breast cancer survivor herself, today Short helps recruit other volunteers and assists with the organization’s public relations efforts.
As if that were not enough, Short also volunteers her time to Riveredge Nature Center, is a sales representative for her friend’s toffee company, KP! Toffee, and works in A Little Pizzazz, a boutique in downtown Cedarburg’s Cedar Creek Settlement.
Her advice for anyone retiring soon? “Pace yourself. Take your time to adjust. We are such creatures of habit that not setting the alarm, fighting traffic, (or) doing lesson plans seems awkward or unreal,” she says. “I do believe in staying active because it gives one purpose. Shutting down, not socializing, or being inactive is not healthy. Seek out something you never had time to do when you were working.
It might be out of your comfort zone, but believe me, if I had not tried new things, I never would have known what I was missing.”
« Gary Sprong
“Being retired is work,” says Gary Sprong. “You wake up in the morning and plan every day. No more getting up and going to work without thinking about it.”
Now 64 years old, Sprong worked as a welder on the frame assembly line at A.O. Smith for more than 30 years. “In 2004, I took an early retirement,” he says. “It lasted for three days, and I went to work at Stainless Foundry and Engineering Inc. doing shipping work. In the nine years I worked there I expanded my role to receiving and inventory and a lot of other things. It became too much, and so with persuasion from my wife I decided to finally retire for good.”
Retirement didn’t mean he’d be any less active, though. “I think that baby boomers have been redefining life since we were born, and now we are redefining retirement,” says Sprong. “I could have another 20 good years, and the best way to make them worth living is to stay involved and active.”
Golf, travel, reading, museum visits and gardening now fill his days. In 2013 — again at the insistence of his wife — Sprong became involved with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). “She was concerned that I did not understand taxes well enough to do ours anymore,” he remembers. “I received a flyer from AARP about the tax aid program. I volunteered, and they trained me to help others, and in doing so I learned myself.”
From there his connection with AARP grew, and shortly thereafter Sprong joined the Milwaukee chapter’s leadership team. “We are working to make Milwaukee a better place to live,” he explains. “For four years now I have been helping educate seniors on issues that affect them, and letting them know what services are available to them. We want to make Milwaukee County an age-friendly community.” Sprong also teaches a course in seniors’ driver safety, is on the retiree advisory committee for the United Way of Greater Milwaukee, and even
recently joined the nonprofit’s public policy and advocacy group.
Volunteer commitments aside, Sprong continues to nurture his love of motorcycles. He began riding in 1973 and purchased his first Harley-Davidson motorcycle in 1994. He joined a local Harley Owners Group (HOG) chapter that year too, but it wasn’t until 2003 that he started taking riding seriously. “The kids were on their own, and we had time for fun,” Sprong says. “Now I ride a 2013 Road Glide Ultra, which already has 93,000 miles on it. My wife and I have taken it to 45 states, exploring our amazing country. I am the communications officer for the Milwaukee Northwest HOG Chapter and (a) road captain.”
Sprong says retirement means that for the first time in your life, you’re really on your own. “No parents to watch over you and no HR department to figure out health and taxes,” he quips.
“Every day is different; the only constant is the morning walk,” Sprong continues. “One day could be yard- and housework, the next riding, then volunteer work the day after. My wife is now retired too. We have traveled a lot, and I try to spend one day a week with my granddaughter. Study after study shows that staying active keeps your body and brain healthier. Remember, there are no guarantees in life, so work at making every day important. Above all, have fun. You’ve earned it.”