More and more, people are working later in life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that Americans age 65 and over have shown the most growth in employment in recent years - a trend that’s expected to continue.
At age 93, Stew Russell still holds down a job. It’s fitting that a man who never stopped working is employed at a store that never stops either: the flagship L.L. Bean store in Freeport.
This story is part four of our series on aging, “In This Life.” Click here for the other stories in the series.
There’s a story Russell likes to tell. One day while he was working at L.L. Bean, a lost and irritated customer asked him, “How do you get out of of here?”
“And I said, ‘Ma’am, I don’t know. I had black hair when I came in,’” he says, laughing.
It was 25 years ago when Russell started working here, and now his hair is white. He wears the trademark green L.L. Bean shirt and khaki pants, and he’s equipped with a shopping cart, which he leans on to help move himself, and other items, around the store as a floor stocker.
“It’s a good job for a guy like me. I can’t see very well, can’t hear, can’t walk very good, except this cart. If I didn’t have this, I’d be bent over. Because I am wearing out. I’m 93 years old,” he says.
But Russell travels at a decent clip as he pushes his cart to the cash registers, where he stocks hot sellers like L.L. Bean boot key chains and
blueberry jams and candies.
“All the impulse items, the small items people pick up. Walk by and they didn’t know they wanted it,” he says.
He does it from 4 a.m. till noon, four days a week, though he likes to say he’d rather work eight days a week.
Russell says his commitment to work can be traced back to when he was 12, living in California. That’s when his dad died.
“When he died, we moved up to where my mother’s dad and mother lived. My grandpa got me a job working in a shoe repair shop,” he says.
Russell worked there all through high school. Then, he joined the Navy.
“I gave all my money to my mother, even when I was in the Navy, I sent it home. She still had five kids there,” he says.
After eight years in the Navy, Russell’s career took some turns. He worked in coffee roasting and auto sales. He started a bank. He made a living buying and selling businesses.
And then he retired, briefly, in his sixties.
“Well, I retired the year my wife died. I told her I was gonna retire, and she died, and I thought gee, I don’t want anyone else to die,” he says.
He lived in Michigan at the time. A couple years into retirement, Russell visited his son in Maine for the summer.
“And one day he said, ‘Dad, all you do all day is sit and read books and drink my beer. Go get a job!’” he says.
So he did, as a temp worker at L.L. Bean. He’s been in Maine, and at L.L. Bean, ever since.
“Everybody asks me, ‘What was the best job you ever had?’ And I says, ‘The one I got right now.’ And if it had been another one, I’d have said the same thing. I just enjoy what I’m doing,” he says.
There are some perks particular to this job. While he lives just down the street and walks to nearby restaurants and a grocery store, the commute to work is a bit too far. But he can usually find a ride.
“These people here at Bean’s, you can’t believe — everyone takes care of me. I’ve got one lady who takes me back and forth to work. Takes me anywhere I want to go,” he says.
His colleagues get him to work, and work, Russell says, keeps him going. It’s become his mantra.
“Do something. Just don’t sit. Because I’m just telling you, you’re gonna die,” he says.
That’s why, at age 93, Russell isn’t contemplating retiring any time soon — or, at all.
“God that would kill me. Two days off, and I’m about ready to walk the plank,” he says.
You’ll find him, instead, walking the floors of L.L. Bean, making sure the shelves are full.