Judge Avern Cohn

They are some of Metro Detroit’s most seasoned professionals — doctors, lawyers, judges, academics, business owners and more — still making an impact, imparting wisdom and achieving career successes and accolades well after the traditional retirement age of 65.

Bloomberg News recently reported that “almost 20 percent of Americans 65 and older are now working, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the most older people with a job since the early 1960s.”

What is driving them? And why do some say they will never retire? We talked to several prominent Jewish professionals — who are still hard at work every day — to find out.

On The Bench

When he graduated from University of Michigan Law School back in 1949, U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn says he never expected he’d still be on the bench and on the job at age 92. But, he is. He’ll be 93 in July.

“I never thought about it,” Cohn says.

He has never thought about retirement, either.

“It’s just not in my vocabulary,” he says. “As long as I can handle the job and I can do the work, I’m going to continue working.”

President Jimmy Carter first appointed Cohn to the bench in 1979. He has earned a decades-long reputation as a brilliant, insightful and thorough judge who is tough but fair. Cohn still handles a full caseload and he’s still quick-witted and sharp. He pours through piles of paperwork stacked on his desk and around his office, which is filled with mementos — photographs, awards, artwork, gifts — reminders of a rich and full career that continues to this day.

“If I truly retired — I’ve got a bad set of legs, so I don’t play golf and I don’t travel — I’d have nothing do to,” Cohn says. “As long my health holds out and I can function effectively, I’m going to continue to work.”

Love Of Life

“I wake up every morning; I look in the mirror; I feel like I’m 43,” says Florine Mark, president and CEO of Weight Watchers Group in Farmington Hills. “I get dressed and I put on heels every day. My personality would not allow me to retire.”

Mark has been named among the leading female entrepreneurs in the world, and she is still leading the way. She is a savvy businesswoman, philanthropist, adviser and board member on approximately 40 committees and civic organizations, including the Jewish Community Center (she is immediate past president and co-chairs its executive committee) and the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness.

Every week, she hosts a radio show that profiles remarkable women (like herself) and a weekly “Ask Florine” TV segment on WDIV-TV. In addition, she is a motivational speaker and author of the inspirational book Talk to the Mirror. Mark is working on a second book.

In the midst of it all, she still finds time to exercise regularly, travel and spend time with family and friends, including her seven children and 23 grandchildren.

“I feel so grateful every day,” she says. “I meditate and thank God for the opportunities I’ve had in my life. I love what I do and I love helping people. I have a Type A personality — I have to be giving back and I have to be working with people. I wouldn’t consider retirement unless I absolutely had to.”

Golden Circle Honoree

Attorney Henry Baskin says the last 50 years have gone by in a flash and he is still as passionate as ever about the law and broadcasting. Baskin was honored Feb. 26 at the Townsend Hotel with a Gold Circle Award for half a century in broadcasting, both as an on-air radio and television personality and a key decision maker behind the scenes. The award came from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Michigan chapter, which he co-founded in 1978.

“It happened so quickly,” Baskin says about the last five decades. “I’m doing something I love to do, so it’s not work. It’s something I’m blessed to be able to do.”

Baskin still serves as president of the Baskin Law Firm in Birmingham, the private practice he founded in 1958, focused on family law and entertainment. He is still on the job handling high-profile cases along with his daughter, Dana Baskin Coffman. Over the years, clients have ranged from Motown legend Marvin Gaye to renowned anchorman Bill Bonds and countless others in between.

Baskin has served as a pioneer in entertainment law, authored Michigan’s personal protection order legislation in the battle against domestic violence, served as chairman of the board of trustees of Oakland University, and currently serves on the board of trustees of Wayne State University Law School. He also supports numerous charities including Variety-Detroit, The Children’s Charity, Haven and others.

“I don’t know what else I’d do,” Baskin says, noting he has no plans to retire. “This is what I’ve done my whole life.”

College Conundrum

For Jack Sobel, M.D., dean of the Wayne State University School of Medicine, the topic of retirement presents an interesting dilemma. In the academic world, in other countries, there is a mandatory retirement age of 67-68, but not in the United States.

On one hand, Sobel wholeheartedly supports university professors and others remaining on the job into their 70s and beyond. He became dean two years ago at age 72. But he says those who are not productive in their roles are doing a disservice to themselves and others.

“If you’re preventing progress, it doesn’t matter how fulfilled you are — you need to get out of the way,” he says. “If you can still contribute and you are not subsidized, stay on as long as you like. If you’re not productive, take up fishing.”

Sobel joined Wayne State in 1985 as a professor of internal medicine. He served as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases for 30 years. He is a noted researcher with a long and distinguished career that includes serving as a consultant for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and as president of the Michigan Infectious Diseases Society.

Earlier in his career, Sobel lived in Israel for nearly a decade and worked at the Technion Medical School in Haifa.

“Medicine was always my first love. I aspired to be a physician from childhood and I’ve never doubted for a second in my life it was the right decision,” he says. “I’ve always been thoroughly fulfilled. I still see patients 8-10 hours a week.”

Sobel says his medical career continues to provide an enormous intellectual challenge. He is married with three children and loves to travel (he’s visited 50-60 different countries), but he made a conscious decision to continue working and continue his research into his 70s.

“People function better at an older age today than ever before,” Sobel says. “Life expectancy has increased; physical and mental health have improved. There are some people in their 60s and 70s who are dying to retire; there are others at the other end of the spectrum.”

Dollars And Sense

It’s not always just about passion. Making money or earning benefits is another reason many people delay retirement. Norm Pappas, president and founder of Pappas Financial in Farmington Hills, helps his clients build financial roadmaps for the future.

“I’m kind of a student of retirees — some do it really well; some don’t,” he says. “I’m not going to retire. I like helping people.”

Pappas, 70, is in his 47th year providing financial expertise with estates, business succession plans, retirement planning, real estate investing and more. He has more than 20 employees and countless clients.

He’s the author of the book Passing the Bucks, which reveals his secrets for effective business succession and estate planning, and co-host of the Startup Nation radio show on WJR-AM that provides insights and expertise for entrepreneurs. He also plays tennis three times a week, travels and sits on various charitable boards.

“I can do everything I want to do and still be productive in my career,” he says. “I do have clients who retire and then say, ‘Boy, I don’t know if I were still working how I could get everything done.’ If you feel like you’re helping other people, keep doing what you’re doing. As long as I can help people meet their goals and objectives, why not?”

Robin Schwartz JN Contributing Writer