A New Way of Imagining Retirement

Ethel Andrus was born in California but spent much of her growing up years in Chicago where her father was an attorney. Her father instilled in her the belief that the greatest rewards in life come from supporting others. Ethel was a volunteer at the Hull House where she learned of the struggles of those with limited resources.

When Ethel and her family returned to California she became a teacher. At the age of 32, she became the first woman to be a principal at a high school in California. Her school had one of the highest dropout rates of any school in California. Her high school was in the heart of one of the most depressed areas of California.

Ethel worked on not only improving the quality of classes but also the quality of the lives of her students. She worked on instilling pride in the cultural heritage of her students. She was able to reduce the dropout rates substantially, and the school became a role model for other schools.

Ethel realized that she needed to also focus on the education of parents so she started an adult education program where parents could earn a high school diploma. Ethel wanted to be a model for her adults so she also continued her education eventually earning a Ph.D.

Ethel retired after 40 years when she reached the age of 60. A visit to the grocery store launched her into another career. She was asked to check on a woman who the grocer hadn’t seen for several days. What Ethel found was the woman was living in a chicken coop and was near death. She was a retired teacher living off of her meager pension.

Ethel created the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA) to restore dignity to retired teachers. She established a relationship with an insurance company to provide for the health needs of retired teachers. This became the model for Medicare 18 years later. She created retirement communities and became an advocate for better pensions.

With the success of the NRTA, Ethel then created the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for all older adults. AARP has since become the largest volunteer association in America other than the Catholic Church.

Ethel became an advocate for tapping into the talents of older adults based upon her belief that “creative energy is ageless”. She worked to abolish mandatory retirement age laws. She founded the NRTA when she was 63, created the first retirement community when she was 70, and founded AARP when she was 74. She passed away at the age of 83.

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            “Remember one person with face and love for his fellows is equal to a force of ninety-nine with only selfish interests.”– Ethel Andrus

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