Ronni Hannaman: The queen of Burger King serves with a smile

Dee Smith

Dee Smith

Once upon a time, the American Dream for older Baby Boomers was to retire at age 65. That dream was not to come true for many who had been working since high school and surviving several depressions that kept them worrying about keeping a stable roof over their head and food on the table.

Parents in those days didn’t subsidize non-school activities or even clothing. We were told to get a job if we wanted anything beyond room and board. Guys who wanted an old car worked after school or any time they could. Girls worked in retail or offices to buy the latest clothes or prom dresses. If they were college bound, they were expected to finance some, if not all, of the tuition.

Once, teenagers were the stable workforce of the fast food industry. And, minimum wage was accepted knowing that if the hard work was put in, the reward was to climb up the financial ladder. It was just exciting to get a paycheck! Talk to any Baby Boomer who grew up in Carson City, and you will hear the fond tales of working at the still missed Penguin or at one of the two A&W Restaurants owned by the Livermore family.

Today, the American Dream of early retirement is out of each for those who did not work for government or larger companies offering pensions. Those who found themselves retired due to ageism were shut out of the job market and finding another job was almost impossible – that is until younger workers shunned the jobs so important to the early Boomers.

Today’s retail and fast food industry is looking to those over 65 to fill the critical jobs once held by our youth. Until robots take our order and cook our food, we’ll be stuck with humans to serve us.

As I go out and about around Carson City, I see more and more Boomers – and older – trying to make ends meet by working at jobs they may once have held during their teen years. Forced to reenter the job market because the cost of utilities continue to rise (water may again rise by 3% annually), governments continue to impose taxes needed to maintain services and salaries, and the cost of food and gasoline is ever-increasing, many older Americans are finding themselves forced to supplement their Social Security pensions that do not nearly keep up with inflation and the higher costs of living. While some may have saved for their old age or that proverbial rainy day, low interest rates have caused them to dip into their savings. Once, many could live on the interest from their savings alone. In 2000, prime interest rates were as high as 8% vs todays rates at about 1.5% depending on how much is invested.

Last month, I stopped by the busy Burger King in North Carson and was greeted by 81-year old Dee Smith who can be seen Monday-Friday between 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. taking orders, scooping French fries, and bagging food as fast as her younger co-workers who told me she works as hard as anyone half her age.

“We all love her,” said manager Christopher Jones. “She is the most dependable worker I have and always shows up, no matter the weather.”

When asked why she is working at her age, Smith said, “I need to keep a roof over my head.” She lost her husband over five years ago, thereby losing one income. Though she has worked in various food industry jobs for over 40 years and a stint at Kmart, she sometimes would rather be at home doing what she would like to best – reading and just being able to enjoy some down time. Instead, she works 40 hours weekly, mostly standing on her feet and feels lucky to be employed.

Asked when she plans on retiring, this little energetic woman said, “Until my legs give out or I am six feet under.”

Those promised golden years and the dream of retirement for many seniors has not been realized. We thank those employers who realize just because one is no longer young that they are no longer able to do the job. And, mostly we thank the seniors who cheerfully fill needed jobs.

The next time you stop in at the Burger King in North Carson, be sure to smile at Dee Smith, for she’ll give you one of her equally great smiles in return.


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