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The rewards of being part of your university’s retiree association

After retirement, it can be difficult to maintain your social connections – joining your institution’s retiree association can be a great solution.

BY GLADYS WE | MAR 15 2024

When I retired in 2022, I didn’t have any solid plans for what I would do next. I had been at Simon Fraser University for more than 30 years and after the solitude and stress of the pandemic, I just wanted to put my tools down for a few months. Less than a week after I packed up to leave my office, Frances Atkinson, president of the SFU Retirees Association, invited me to join the SFURA board of directors and I accepted. The decision, made on impulse and simply because I always enjoyed working with Frances, was one of the best decisions I have made.

Thanks to the careful work of the sociologists and gerontologists in our midst, we know that it’s important to keep active, both physically and socially, as we age. Academics have found that for most, our social circles peak in our 20s and naturally diminish over time. In the workforce, we meet many new people and if we have kids, there are some natural opportunities to make new friends through their activities. But when we retire from our university careers, we gradually lose touch with most of the wide range of people that we’ve worked with for decades and lose even the loose connections — those friends we greet as we walk across campus.

Frances was the only person I knew when I joined the SFURA board, but I was welcomed by a warm group of retirees with centuries of total combined years of service to the university and who indicated their desire to maintain a close relationship with this institution. We put out a regular newsletter with updates, art and stories from our thousand members and we organize several social events a year with SFU’s support. Our February luncheon was sold out, and the restaurant had to flash the lights to get us to leave, as we were all so deep into conversations with old friends.

Frances and her working group are currently at the last stages of putting together a book, which contains many entertaining stories and photos, about the early years of the arts at SFU, including how this university was founded during the hotbed of 1960s counterculture. Our benefits committee negotiated a beneficial change to our collective extended health plan last year, leading to the fiscal happiness of many of our members. And this year, we hope to put together a new scholarship for first-generation graduate students, to be launched in time with SFU’s 60th anniversary.  These are some of the ways that we intend to continue our close relationship with SFU.

Last year, the SFURA also sent me as their representative to the annual CURAC conference hosted by the University of Saskatchewan, and I met even more interesting people. I was invited to be on their board of directors; and since then I’ve met even more interesting people from across Canada who continue to have ambitious goals of benefiting Canadian university retirees.

New connections

Taking a break was the start of my retirement journey and now I’m glad that I have also found a new community and a new, ever-growing social circle. And the best part is that my social circle continues to grow as my former work-friends retire. One of the great privileges of retiring from a university is that we’ve spent decades with so many interesting people that it’s always a pleasure to see them again, even after years apart, and find out more about their travels and adventures.

Demographic curves tell us that thousands of Canadian college and university faculty and staff have recently retired or will be retiring in the next few years. These people are the last of the Baby Boomers in these settings: non-teaching staff tend to retire in their 60s, and faculty members in their 70s. Yes, do put your tools down and take a rest for a while. But at some point, do take a look at your university retiree association (see list of CURAC’s member associations). And if your university doesn’t have one and you are interested in getting one off the ground, I’d encourage you to contact CURAC.

I can report that all of CURAC’s member retiree associations report that they would love to have more volunteers to support more activities, and CURAC itself would be delighted to welcome more volunteers towards a national effort. (We also send a little bit of funding to our members.) Many CURAC members would also welcome retirees from other universities at their social events and events.

The next CURAC 2024 conference will be hosted by the University of Waterloo from May 22–24 and we’d love to see you there, whether you’re a member of your local retiree association or you’re thinking of starting up a retiree association at your university, or you are a soon-to-be retiree.

Gladys We was director of communications and marketing for the faculty of arts and social sciences at Simon Fraser University. She is now a CURAC board member and chair of the digital technologies committee.

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  1. Marina Sabanadze / March 20, 2024 at 18:05

    Your blog post inspired me to contemplate how a retiree association could be established within my own academic circle. The idea of creating a retiree association at my place of work seems brilliant.
    However, I would add a caveat to this idea. While retiree associations undoubtedly hold great potential, their success often hinges on the quality of relationships forged during one’s tenure. Such associations are particularly enriching when individuals have had the privilege of working alongside exceptional colleagues who have left a lasting impression. I was lucky enough to have such colleagues in my almost 40-year long teaching career on campus. However, many of these colleagues were much older than I and would be unable (because of their age, state of health etc.) to become members of retiree association. In my university of recent years, strong personal connections were unfortunately not cultivated. So, I am afraid that a retiree association in my case would not foster my sense of camaraderie and shared purpose with former faculty members who I may have not even known during my work on campus.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights on this topic. Your passion for lifelong connections and intellectual engagement within your former colleagues in a retiree association of your university sounds like fun!