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Published: Sunday, 12/4/2005

Last day at work, first day of a new life

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

This is the last in a year-long series offering a look at various firsts for people around the region.

When he retired from the U.S. Postal Service last month, Lou Kerekgyarto knew he was moving to Jacksonville.

But how to get there?

Fortunately, all the West Toledo man had to do was look at his left upper arm, where he d recently gotten his first tattoo a palm tree.

These are my directions to Florida: Hit [Interstate] 75 and go south until you see these, he joked.

For a guy who just retired, Lou is still pretty cool. He s got the tattoo (a retirement gift from his wife), an earring, and a sense on his first day of retirement that he s just out playing hookey.

I feel like I m too young to retire. I really do, the 55-year-old said.

After serving four years in the Navy, Lou spent 34 years with the post office. The starting wage when he began as a postal assistant was $2.44 an hour.

Half his career was spent as a letter carrier; more recently, he worked in worker s compensation and personnel, where it s too perfect he processed retirements.

Golfing on his first day of retirement. Golfing on his first day of retirement.
Enlarge

It was a great career. To do it again, there isn t much I would have changed, he said. That is so rare nowadays, to work for one employer your whole life.

After doing the same thing for years, it can be hard to shake that routine, even in retirement. So on the first day of the rest of his life a Wednesday Lou still woke up at exactly 4:44 a.m.

Just like every day, he said. I m a morning person. I don t stay up late.

He works out six days a week; he has to because of a heart condition. On this day, that meant weightlifting over at the Summit Plaza YMCA for about an hour.

Later, at the Ideal Hot Dog restaurant in South Toledo, it was easy to pick him out at a table of silver-haired post office retirees who meet for breakfast twice a month. They feasted on pancakes and eggs and welcomed their newest member: Lou.

The older fellows talked of family, medical procedures, sports, and a joke involving a nun and a case of Chardonnay. Lou chimed in occasionally, mostly taking it all in.

I can t even believe this is happening, he said.

His friend Cass Gittins III picked up the tab before scooting off to Ottawa Park for a celebratory round of golf with Lou and two colleagues.

In a way, this was Cass, 60, introducing Lou to retired life. He retired last May with one thing in mind:

My goal was to play as much golf as I possibly could in the first five years, Cass said. My wife works three days a week, so I always play those days.

Lou is no stranger to the links, as a casual golfer and a volunteer at the LPGA Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. He hopes to continue helping in Florida at the PGA s Players Championship in March.

Golf courses are wonderful, he said philosophically after the group walked out of the club house, bursting upon a bright blue sky and fiery autumn foliage. It s a game that s wonderful because you can play it for the rest of your life.

And play well, too, if Lou s first game as a retired man was any indication. He started off hot, shooting the best nine holes of his life.

Oh my goodness! You gotta be kidding me! he said after sinking a birdie putt. I m playing lucky today.

Later, the group shared a beer in the clubhouse and Lou went home to pack for his upcoming move to Florida. His wife, Bonnie, was already there, and even though their house here hasn t sold yet, he saw no reason to stay in Toledo.

I had always told her when I am eligible for retirement that I would follow her wherever her career would take her, he said.

In September, she got a job that allowed her to transfer from the post office to the U.S. Department of Labor in Jacksonville. So while she continues to work, he ll have to come up with other plans do some volunteer work, maybe get a part-time job.

At first, I was really physically and emotionally shaken to realize that I m giving up not just my job, but my kids, my home, my church, said the father of two adult children. I was very nervous about giving all this up.

It helped to think of her. Ever the romantic, he tried ways to stay connected with his wife during his last weeks of work, when she had already moved south. They read the same books, went to the same movies at the same time.

Now that he was done with work, he just wanted to be with her.

I kind of just came to the conclusion that wherever her life is, my life is, he said.

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:ryansmith@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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