Editor's note: The Post-Journal is looking for your stories on how the continued tough economic times are affecting our readers. Call or email suggestions to Scott Shelters at 487-1111, ext. 253, or email@example.com.
It was October 2010 and Kennedy resident Kay Allwood had just retired.
"I had spent 30 years in geriatrics. I was ready to be done," said the longtime employee of Heritage Park Health Care Center. "I got the retirement party and the whole thing. I was gone; I wasn't going back."
The economy has caused some difficulties for Theresa Perrin, JoAnne Osman and Connie Whitman of the Busti Golden Agers over the years.
P-J photo by Scott Shelters
At 65, Mrs. Allwood knew she could work longer if she needed to, but she had a long-awaited dream to fulfill.
"My dream was to sell the house and hit the road with my 30-foot travel trailer full-time," she said. "I just wanted to live in my camper and be a gypsy. I told my boss, 'You won't see me. I'm gone.'"
In part, Mrs. Allwood began to fulfill her dream in November of last year. Her husband, Jim, wasn't ready to part ways with their home yet, so they held on to it.
"We took off in November," said Mrs. Allwood. "We joined a camping organization. We stayed a week here and a week there all over the place. I really enjoyed it."
By March of this year, the Allwoods - with their diesel truck and travel trailer - ran into a financial wall.
"The price of gas in Texas got to the point where that diesel truck was eating us alive," she said. "We had to find a place near San Antonio for the whole month instead of traveling around from place to place."
They returned to Kennedy in April as they had scheduled, but their travel plans fell victim to the Texas gas pumps. No longer could the Allwoods see the sights and make the stops they had hoped to.
"This economy is messing me up," said Mrs. Allwood. "We had to cut into our savings more than we planned on. I planned on just being able to get around on the money we had for the retirement amount and the Social Security."
Some might say she should've saved more along the way, but for Mrs. Allwood, that wasn't a realistic option.
"Like a lot of people, I was living in the present," she said. "You've got to spend the money as you're going along. You have your house to keep up. You've got clothes and food. You don't make that much money in this area. You don't bank thousands of dollars in your 401(k) every year."
The economy of 2011 looks no better than that of 2010 to Mrs. Allwood. She and her husband won't be hitting the road this year.
"We just decided that with the money we had put away - and the money we were getting on retirement and social security - we just couldn't do it this year. My retirement didn't roll like it should've with the last few years' downturn. We put the trailer in storage. It's kind of like I've lost something."
Some seniors don't have dreams of travel. They just try to get by. Connie Whitman, JoAnne Osman and Theresa Perrin of the Busti Golden Agers fit into this group.
Mrs. Whitman, 71, retired from her job as a home-health aid nearly 10 years ago.
"It got to the point where it was a drag to get up in the morning and go to work after a while," she said.
Her post-work life has presented its challenges, particularly when her husband's job was abolished when he was 63.
"That left us in a bind. He was planning on working until 65 to get his full Social Security. He's going on 72, and he's still working part-time."
With possible cuts to Social Security on the horizon, Mrs. Whitman is nervous for American seniors.
"If they cut back on Social Security, that would be devastating. We depend on that."
For some, like Ms. Osman, an 81-year-old former Chautauqua County employee, the unexpected can hurt. Her husband, a National Guard retiree, passed away.
"We had it figured out. We were going to be fine," she said. "I still don't have to worry about things now, but if Social Security went down the tubes, then I would be in trouble. You have to think ahead. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring."
Mrs. Perrin, 62, spends a lot of time thinking about the future. The uncertainty keeps her working.
"I can't think about retirement," said the life enrichment director at Emeritus Senior Living. "Social security was a wonderful thing years ago, but it has never really kept up with the cost of living. The Social Security that I accumulated is not all that much."
At times, Mrs. Perrin couldn't save as much as she would've liked, as unforeseen circumstances forced her hand. "The company my husband worked for 33 years closed down," she said. "He had to buy out his pension plan so we could get through because we had four kids."
During the course of her employment at Emeritus and her involvement with various other senior organizations throughout the county, Mrs. Perrin has seen some disturbing trends.
"Some people were smart and have money saved, but some haven't saved enough. I think seniors have tough decisions to make," she said. "Their money can only go so far. Sometimes, it's a decision between medicine and food. I know there are soup kitchens around, but people are proud."
Mrs. Allwood's pride was hurt earlier this year. With her dreams of nationwide travel on hold, at age 66, she returned to Heritage Park. "After being gone for a year, it was kind of like admitting defeat," she said. "I still tell them I'm retired. I'm just there two days a week."
Although Mrs. Allwood enjoys her job, she would much rather be out on the road.
"It's a great place to work. I knew, as a good nurse, I wouldn't have any trouble going back," she said. "That's going to be my travel money unless the price of gas and electric eat me up this winter. I'm planning on working until next fall. Then, we're going to hit the road again."
Mrs. Allwood knows that traveling the nation is a time-sensitive issue for her, and the clock is running.
"I want to do all of this before I get too old," she said. "This has been a dream of mine for many years. Someday, I know won't be able to do it anymore."