It's Sunday night, and Judi and Ed Campobenedetto are at Playhouse Square.
But not because they’re seeing the hottest Broadway revival. They’re wearing red coats and meeting with the house manager to learn what position they’ll be assigned to when the doors open to guests.
Then, they’ll provide directions to patrons’ seats, scan tickets, offer wheelchair escort services, or simply greet and welcome people.
“We meet so many lovely people. The guests are just wonderful, and the volunteer experience is amazing,” says Judi, 68, adding that she and Ed, 68, get to stay for the show if there are extra seats. “We got to see Joan Rivers do a full rehearsal. It was awesome. That was thrilling!”
Red Coats like the Campobenedettos commit to volunteering at least twice monthly, and many spend much more time than that, says volunteer manager Gina Glorioso Rendall, noting that one avid 30-year volunteer has put in more than 22,000 hours.
“Volunteers feel like they have a family here,” she says.
The Campobenedettos retired in 2012, and they’ve been volunteering at Playhouse Square since then. They are also Travel Backer ambassadors with Destination Cleveland and serve as “yellow jackets” at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, where they greet guests in the baggage claim area.
“We volunteered at Tall Ships, spent a full week helping with the MLB [All-Star Game], had one day off and then we were ambassadors at the airport,” says Judi, who already put her name on the list at the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission to volunteer with the NFL Draft when it comes to Cleveland.
Retirement usually means getting off the clock, but it doesn’t have to mean slowing down completely. It’s an opportunity to begin a second act — to explore hobbies, travel or volunteer.
“You’re never too old to learn or try something new,” says Jessica Kulczycki, community life and CARE director at Judson Park in University Circle.
In fact, there’s no shortage of ways to live your best retired life in Cleveland.
Encore Cleveland, launched in 2013 by the Cleveland Foundation, connects and funds a network of organizations that provide experienced adults with a range of meaningful community opportunities.
That includes a range of experiences — support to start a small business, to train other workers or volunteer to help children learn to read.
It’s part of the Encore movement, which is a national initiative to leverage the energy and experience of those in or nearing
“Some decide they want to start a different career,” says Encore Cleveland’s Dianna Kall. “Others retire and still want to do something to give back.”
For many retirees, the golden years are a time for staycation days when they can explore Cleveland’s cultural venues, try new restaurants and attend lectures.
University Circle Inc.’s Senior Connections employs video conference learning so you can “travel the world” in real-time with field trips to cultural institutions for concerts, lectures and exhibitions across the globe, while the Western Reserve Historical Society offers coffee and a conversation with University Circle’s curators.
As for the Campobenedettos, they are dedicating their time to being true Cleveland advocates.
They have stood in front of the Cleveland sign at Edgewater Park to take pictures of people who want a group photo as part of a Destination Cleveland effort.
Now that they’ve moved to Lakewood from Medina, they’re even closer to downtown, which is where they love to spend time meeting people, sharing their love for the city and staying active.
“To me, the biggest thrill is telling people about Cleveland, because I grew up here and it has transformed itself, and it’s just a wonderful place to come,” says Ed, who is a retired chemical engineer.
Judi, who formerly worked as a meeting planner, is a Washington D.C., transplant and echoes her husband.
“You’d think I was born here the way I talk about it,” she quips.
Get Out, Get Active
As Clare Bechtold, an 83-year-old resident at Judson Park, points out: “If you don’t use your brain, you’ll lose it.”
Her efforts to use her “gray matter,” as she likes to call it, involve attending classes that Judson hosts through its Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program, which brings Case Western Reserve University classes to the Judson campus.
She takes advantage of outings to the Cleveland Botanical Garden, Cleveland
Metroparks Zoo and Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
“All of these things are wonderful,” she says. “It gets you out of your own head.”
Right now, Bechtold is fascinated by the Panama Canal.
She’s been there before, but never delved into its complex history until she took a CWRU course at Judson on the topic.
“We are learning all of those things,” she says, fascinated with the information.
During one of the Conversations in the Park speaker series at Judson, Bechtold took in a talk about Islam across the globe. She’s also watched the Cleveland Museum of Art’s curator of medieval art show pottery and artwork from this early era.
“She had us at hello!” Bechtold says.
It’s all about learning new things and maintaining a healthy curiosity, and that is what has made life so rich during Bechtold’s retirement.
“I just keep as active as I can,” she says.
Bechtold worked until 70 as a data manager for cancer trials, then she continued another five years as a cyber contractor.
“As long as the gray matter is still working, I just keep going,” she says.
Now, she’s well past retirement and still living her best life.
Kulczycki notes that with the wide range of people who move into retirement communities, it’s important that they can explore a variety of things that they might have enjoyed in the past, while tapping into activities they’ve never tried before.
“We try to provide programs that focus on community and physical health along with the mental, spiritual, social and psycho-social well-being,” she says.
You don’t have to be a Judson member to enjoy programming like the CWRU classes through Judson though.
“It’s a public venue and people are welcome to come from anywhere,” Bechtold says, noting that Judson is a CWRU class location. It hosts one 8-week class during the fall, winter and spring.
At Altenheim Senior Living in Strongsville, “Spark of Creativity” week involved a large-group art project that was featured in the resident art show and wine & cheese night.
Also on the calendar: an annual clambake and fall fashion show. The list goes on.
“Staying physically active as you age offers a variety of health benefits,” says Kim Schulz, resident director at Altenheim Senior Living’s Shurmer Place. “But the connections you make with others, and the relationships you build and maintain, also have a major impact on overall wellness. It gives you a sense of purpose and belonging.”
A retirement living facility’s activity department makes sure there’s never a dull moment — and always something new to try.
Altenheim also offers bus trips to local restaurants such as Bistro 130, Macaron Tea Room and Jo Jo Carloni’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, cultural institutions such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, Playhouse Square and Trinity Cathedral Concerts, and shopping centers.
“In this community environment, we encourage people to do things they never would have had the opportunity or time to do while at home,” Schulz says.
Resident Lois White can attest to that.
“Every day, I look at the calendar and see what I want to do that day,” she says. “Whatever I join, I’m active in it. The driver here knows, whatever it is, I’ll go!”
White, 90, who has lived alone since her husband passed, likes to play blackjack, so she always signs up to join the casino trips.
“Sometimes we go downtown to the Jack [Cleveland Casino], and I like that because of the tables,” White says, noting that they sometimes travel to MGM Northfield Park in Northfield.
“They only have slots,” she quips, but she enjoys the trips and the good company. “I like to go out.”