Silver Dollar City's Silver Haired Citizens

Sep 25, 2014

“Older workers have an excellent work ethic.  Everyday we’re scheduled to be here, we get up, clean up, dress up and show up. ” That’s Jack Farrow, a retired educator and school administrator currently living in Cassville Mo. Jack commutes daily from his home to Silver Dollar City’s   McCaffey Homestead, where as Frisco Jack, he sings songs and tells tales to the tourists who gather round. “Think about a retired history teacher working where their motto up front is You Have a Great Past Ahead of You.  How much fun is that for me to come here to play music and tell stories to people, or to explain a 1843 homestead house to a 12 year old who’s never seen one before.  It’s we older people who are the pillars that keep the walls up.  We don’t care how hot or cold it gets, or how hard the work is because we are committed, and said we’re going to be here, and we show up.”

Jack Farrow is representative of a growing number of Americans who when possible and for a variety of reasons, work for their long term employer past retirement age, or post retirement, seek out new employment opportunities.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 144 million Americans employed in 2013, 7.68 million, or a little over 5%, were age 65 or older.  At Silver Dollar City where Frisco Jack works, 25% of its 1580 workers are 60 plus.   

Brad Thomas is President of Silver Dollar City Attractions, which includes the Branson theme park, Whitewater, and The Showboat Branson Belle:  “This is a place where a teenager is working right beside a 65 year old, and they get along.  And what I love is when the 17 or 18 year old is learning from the 65 or 68 year old.  But equally important, is when the 68 year old is learning from the teen.  That’s that unique environment that we’re blessed to live and work in here at SDC.  We have individuals who have worked here for 3 or 4 decades, and we also have new hires that come in who are over 60 years old.  That’s really important to the lifeblood to this workforce.  There is a culture here that likes to pass on knowledge.  Our seasoned employees love to pass on knowledge to our guests, but also to their co-workers.  We are blessed because we have individuals who want to pass that knowledge along.”

Silver Dollar City’s Master Candy Maker June Ward has worked at Silver Dollar City since 1968: “I plan on working as long as I can be productive, and as long as we have good people to work with where I can teach them what little I still know about candy making. We still make hard candy here.  We make peanut butter filled candy.  We do all kinds of chocolate and every day or so, I think of something  I was taught when I first came here that these people don’t know.  And I’ve told every young person that has come through here, if you like what you’re doing, you’ll never have a job.  It will never be work.”

Carla Byrum is a Candy Merchant, working in the shop above June Ward’s candy kitchen:  “They make the most marvelous candy here, and that was a big draw when they asked me to come to work down here.”  Now in her 2nd season at SDC, 65 year old Carla Byrum is a former stay at home mom and EMT.  Byrum earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work at the age of 45, then went to work for and retired from Hospice, where she still volunteers on her days away from SDC.  “I’ve just got to be doing something, and if it's serving someone and making someone happy, great. I’ve done a lot of volunteerism, and still do through the church when I have time. But here you meet so many neat people. It keeps you young and active.  I have several high school friends back in Kansas who are so sedate and don’t know what to do with themselves, and it’s sad because there’s so many things out there to do.  You can volunteer, or work here for a pittance, but to me it’s not a pittance, it’s my play money.  It’s what I take a cruise on in the months we’re closed, it’s my bucket list money.  I have a Saab Convertible, (laughter) and I love it!”

After working several jobs in his 33 years at SDC, 88 year old Gene Bortner is SDC’s Official Greeter, stationed at the main entrance at Marvel Cave.  2014 also marks the 33rd year of retirement from an industrial job in Kansas:   “They can depend on them being here.  The older folks are sincere about what they’re doing and they do a good job. I looked around and I saw all these old folks and thought, boy this is a wonderful place for a guy like me to earn a few bucks after retirement. You can only mow your lawn so many times and sitting in a boat fishing, you get all cramped up.   So I came over here and they said c’mon, we’ll put you to work.  I’ve been working here ever since.  What is good for me, is that at my age I’m rather limited in what I can do.  I doubt the world has many positions for me at 88 years of age.  Here, I look around and notice all these senior folks, and I believe in my heart that they are here because they are regular.  What I mean is that they are steady, they (SDC) can depend on them being here.  The older folks are sincere about what they’re doing, and they do a good job.  I love it.  I can’t wait to get up in the morning to come to work.”