If life begins at 50, it sure doesn’t stop at 70.
To suggest otherwise can be fighting words. Consider the case of Rose Nini, the former dean of corporate and community programs at Mercer County Community College. Now 78, Nini filed a suit against her former — and longtime — employer five years ago, claiming that MCCC president Robert Rose told her then that she “had no business working at [her] age,” among other alleged slurs.
Nini had worked for the college for 26 years and as a non-faculty employee was subject to serial contract renewal, according to the filing. According to court documents, Nini claimed in 2005 that Rose had told her that her contract would not be renewed. Nini also claimed that Rose and others routinely made fun of some older employees’ ages, even referring to them as “dead weight,” and commenting that people “lose their effectiveness” after 25 years on a job.
In June the Supreme Court in Trenton ruled that it is illegal to refuse contract renewal because of an employee’s age, and that the law applies as it would to “at will” employees.
Nini’s attorney, Steven Blader of Quakerbridge Road-based Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein, & Blader, stated after the decision that Nini’s case changes the law offering protection for older contract workers.
The case had taken numerous turns until it got to the state Supreme Court. Originally, a trial judge ruled that the college had given Nini ample time to learn her contract would not be renewed. That decision was swiftly overturned by an appellate judge who equated the non-renewal with termination.
Nini declined to be interviewed for and did not say what she is doing now that she no longer works for MCCC, but she is no stranger to news stories centered on her age. Long before her suit against Mercer, she attained celebrity as a trailblazer for older students seeking higher education. She went back to college in her 40s and in 1976 became the oldest female graduate of Princeton University.
She went to work for MCCC and became dean of the corporate and community programs division, serving in that role for about 20 years. During her tenure she built an impressive enterprise for corporate education and training.
Ingrid and Marvin Reed
Do you ever see yourself “retired?”
Ingrid Reed leans back and doesn’t, for a second, know how to answer. It is exactly one week since she formally retired from her 14-year job as policy analyst and director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, and she has just seen her husband, Marvin, off to his latest round of physical therapy for a hip replacement at Merwick. It takes her a moment before she admits, “I don’t know what that means, to be retired.”
Neither Ingrid, 74, nor Marvin Reed, who will be 79 at the end of July, probably ever will know retirement in the sense that some people think of it. There will be no front porches with rocking chairs and blankets. There might be no skiing either, though neither has ruled it out. One of the things aging gives you, Ingrid says, is a sense of caution about things like skiing, especially in the wake of a shiny new titanium hip.
But that sense of caution also eventually seeps into your work, and that, ultimately, is what led her to retire from her job. She found herself wondering if she should start certain new projects because she didn’t know whether she would be able to finish them. She realized that she was not fully engaged, just mostly. So she worked out a deal with Eagleton to work part-time for her last six months while she encouraged Rutgers to “invest its money in someone else.”
Ultimately, she says, this is what retirement means to her. It means not getting paid to go to a job and, ideally, getting a pension that allows you to try new things. Or, to continue with old things. Both Reeds have no shortage of either. They only hope that they have the discipline to be retired well.
Music and the arts are their main shared passion, particularly opera. Ingrid considers herself a minor opera groupie to a couple singers she has known here and in New York, where the Reeds have a studio apartment in addition to their house on Cameron Court. They even have a young opera singer staying with them here.
They’ve also developed a taste for jazz. Marvin says it is an extension of what he and his wife have always enjoyed — new things, many of which build from existing joys. Like travel, for instance. The Reeds just returned from Turkey and hope to go to Rome this autumn. That’s significant because as two people heavily involved in politics, they’ve never been able to travel during election season.
This is part of what Ingrid refers to as their commitment to each other’s retirement: The discipline to enjoy each other’s company in the face of their other obligations.
Marvin, former mayor of Princeton Borough, remains actively involved with local and regional policy. He is on the Princeton Regional Planning Board, where he is a major supporter of the bus rapid transit system (or BRT) to replace the Dinky train; chairman of the borough’s Master Plan Committee, whose projects include redeveloping Palmer Square and Spring Street; a member of the borough Planning Board; co-chair of the New Jersey chapter of the national Congress for the New Urbanism, which promotes sustainable, mixed-use communities; chair of the Redevelopment Task Force for New Jersey Future, a statewide citizens group supporting smart growth; and a member of the state Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission, which promotes shared services and consolidation in the state’s 566 municipalities.
Outside of politics, he is a trustee of the Princeton Public Library and a member of the Mercer Fund Advisory Committee of the NJ Community Foundation.
Marvin used to operate Princeton Media Associates, a public relations firm that concentrated on state government and political affairs, after a long career as communications director for the NJ Education Association in Trenton. Despite needing a new hip, he says surgery and rehab have not slowed him down. He’s a regular at the Princeton Y gym, which he says has helped him adjust to his new part. “I have good muscle tone in my legs,” he says. And he expects to get back to pumping iron soon.
Ingrid, who formally retired from Eagleton on June 30, says she is “phasing out.” She no longer gets paid by Rutgers, but she is finishing off a few projects for Eagleton, including a report due out this fall on what newspapers actually teach us about candidates in the months leading up to elections.
The short answer is, not much. Part of Eagleton’s findings, she says, is that the state’s five major dailies generally cover the gubernatorial campaigns and their messages, but not so much the candidates themselves. We hear where the candidates are and what their platforms say, but we hear little debate and analysis. The problem is especially bad with respect to the state legislature, she says. The legislature is as powerful as the governor, yet there is almost no coverage from large dailies (because the races are too local for them), nor small weeklies (because the races are too regional for them).
Ingrid wants to fix this problem, and her most ambitious post-Eagleton project is njspotlight.com. This news website has been live for almost two months, and Ingrid Reed is helping to develop it with some of her many contacts in the press — a Rolodex, she admits, one of the advantages of her experience and her former position.
More than simply a website that acts as a community forum, NJSpotlight is looking to be a web content provider of policy and government-centric investigative journalism for the state. It even employs actual investigative journalists with a real salary, and the aim is to shed as much light as possible on the state’s 120 legislators that few people ever talk about publicly.
The site came arose from talks with editors Dusty McNichol and John Mooney of the Star-Ledger and John O’Brien, executive director of the new Jersey Press Association. Reed says the group put a business plan together and, after some convincing that the idea is a sound business, got a $350,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, then added $200,000 from the Community Foundation of New Jersey and another $50,000 from the William Penn Foundation.
Reed says the site’s biggest challenge is the one that has plagued newspapers and print media since the Internet moved into town: how to make money in print journalism. These early grants — the site is an LLC, not a nonprofit — are in part designed to help get the word out about the site.
Reed will also continue doing some things she’s been doing. She will still chair the state Local Ethics Task Force, which was created under Governor Jon Corzine to provide oversight of officials in the state. Governor Chris Christie has maintained the task force, but Reed says it has been badly managed by the state and has almost no staff. “Looming for me is to write that report,” she says.
She will also stay on as a member of the board of trustees of NJ Future, a nonprofit group that seeks better use and redevelopment of communities.
With so much to do, Reed has to remind herself of the importance of time. “I wonder if I will have the flexibility — and the discipline — to do some new things plus travel more with Marv,” she says.
But, like her husband, Ingrid Reed plans to capitalize on certain advantages of her post-work years. Namely, the time to connect with family she never knew through her grandfather’s autobiography, which she wants to translate. Born in Pennsylvania, Reed is the first in her family to be born outside Germany. Her parents immigrated individually, then met and married here. They were the only ones to come to America.
Ingrid was born in 1936 as relations with Germany deteriorated. By the time she was old enough to connect with her family there, World War II was on, and when that ended, her family was stranded in what became East Germany.
With the Cold War long over and Germany long-since unified, she has been able to stay connected with some of her family. “But it’s different, not having had that as a child,” she says. “That natural development is gone.”
Reed, who was born speaking German, never knew her grandparents. She taught her mother and father (a fertilizer manufacturer) English, but she is no longer fluent in German. She speaks enough to get her through much of her grandfather’s memoir, though she admits that translating it will be a lot of work requiring a good dictionary and a healthy investment of time.
She’s also a little squeamish about what might be written in those pages, given the place and time they describe. But more than anything, she says it will just be the discipline to sit down and do it.
Reed grew up in Vineland and studied economics at Princeton University. She started her professional life at ETS managing proposal contracts. In 1972 she tried her hand at municipal politics, running an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the West Windsor Township Committee. She did, however, get appointed to the Mercer County Planning Board a few years later, and she stayed on it for 18 years. She also worked for the state DEP.
Reed became the vice president for public affairs and was corporate secretary of the Rockefeller University in New York City. She later became the assistant dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where she also directed the Rockefeller Public Service Awards program. She took her post at Eagleton in 1996.
Marvin Reed was born in Vineland and, like his future wife (of 50 years now), grew up there. Marvin’s father managed the Vineland Egg Auction. Marvin went on to Rutgers, where he got his bachelor’s in English and, later, a master’s in education. He started out as a teacher before being drafted into the Army in 1952. When he got back, he joined the NJEA, where he worked in the communications department for more than 30 years.
He started Princeton Media Associates, and several years later he got into borough politics. He served as a council member and then mayor in Princeton Borough from 1984 to 2003.
The Reeds’ secret to avoiding irrelevance, then, is to keep making new memories, and both are willing to be a little selfish about it. “When you have a position for which you get paid, you make a promise,” Ingrid says. You promise your time and energy, a certain level of devotion to the responsibilities that come with that position. But that part of their lives is done. “We’ve got to make time for ourselves,” she says. “The structure of my life is our life now.”