What's on these baby boomers' bucket lists?

On the Tampa Bay area voting rolls, you can find dozens of First Baby Boomers — all born on Jan. 1, 1946. They arrived as the vanguard for 78 million to come over the next 18 years. Now they're the first to turn 65. We located a batch of boomers born that day to ask how they're doing. Before they go to the Great Woodstock in the Sky, what's on their bucket lists?

They're not so restless anymore. Their hopes mostly mirror an AARP survey asking boomers about their dreams for the next five years. They don't want to backpack to Tibet to meditate with the Dalai Lama. Vegas is better. They want good health, but not the Jane Fonda workout. What they want is Medicare coverage for Lipitor and Viagra.

They may be the generation that vowed to live for higher purposes, but now they mostly want to feel good and feel safe — like their parents did. Most list travel, health and security as top interests. They list family relationships, spirituality and the grandchildren as far lesser priorities.

Many want to keep working because the Great Recession shrank their nest eggs. But that irritates the young folks, who want their jobs. The young already blame them for bankrupting the country and wanting what's left for their hip replacements.

Boomers aren't going to take that lying down. But they dream modestly and optimistically, even as the viability of home equity, pension funds and Social Security wobbles. The Dr. Spock generation seems to have arrived at something like … Contentment.

Survival mode

When Darleen Wagner was born on Jan. 1, 1946, the standard plan for girls was to find a guy with prospects, marry him and have his kids. Her father held her to that. Wagner wanted to go to fashion school. But what for?

That was four children and two rotten divorces ago.

She now shares a rented home in Clearwater with her daughter and granddaughter. She uses everything she makes as a hairstylist to get by.

People sometimes say she should have planned ahead. There is no planning ahead, she replies, when you're a single mother raising four kids. "Make plans for what? To go where?"

When Wagner qualified for Medicare this year, she saw a doctor for the first time in 20 years. Turned out the nagging pain she felt in her back and legs radiated from a bad right hip. She's getting hip replacement surgery March 15.

For now, she uses a cane to rest her feet while she styles hair at the Bangz Salon in Dunedin. She can manage five or six hours at a time, four days a week.

She promised Bangz she'd be back cutting hair just 2½ weeks after she gets her new hip. Most people convalesce for six to eight weeks, an unaffordable luxury.

Her bucket list has one item: to work until she's 85. Then make a new plan.

Live fast, die young

Thomas Fales still has the news clipping that proclaimed him the "first white baby" born that New Year's Day at Tampa General Hospital — 52 minutes after midnight. Because he never expected to live to 65, he didn't plan for it. He should have died a dozen times.

Fales grew up building and racing cars and motorcycles. He still has a couple of hot rods in his back yard in Land O'Lakes. He could fix or drive anything, including airboats, up until a few years ago.

He didn't save, and he didn't go to doctors. The Great Recession passed him by because he had no 401(k) to lose. Fales is regretful, almost apologetic, about living all those yesterdays only for the todays. But the sensible, precautionary things other people do were somehow beyond him.

"I don't worry about tomorrow," he said. "It's not a good way to be, but I've been that way all my life."

Back in 1984, he fell 40 feet to a concrete floor. He broke seven ribs and spent eight days in intensive care. As he got older, he developed Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. He had five bypasses. Three months ago, he was stung by 200 yellow jackets. A year ago, his 44-year-old son died in a motorcycle crash. He seemed to lose all his energy after that.

Until now, his medical bills were mostly covered under his wife Pat's insurance. Now he gets Medicare. It's about to pay for his lap-band surgery.

He and Pat once dreamed of buying a truck and hauling freight all over the country. He wanted to show her a spot in Montana he once camped at when he was young, a golden field where he woke up surrounded by prairie dogs.

But their traveling days may be over. What he wants most now is to stay useful.

Fales has a backhoe parked in his front yard. With that backhoe, he has repaired a neighbor's sewer lines and another neighbor's well. He has buried three horses for a woman down the street who has stables.

The neighborhood depends on him staying alive.

Sprint to the finish

Francene Penhallow's biological clock is ticking. She has planned, saved and kept in shape for this moment all her life. She's earned it. She's entitled to it. She's not going to waste a minute of it.

Penhallow unexpectedly lost her marketing job two years ago. She adjusted her retirement schedule. She was financially ready anyway. Her Clearwater home is paid off. She has been contributing to an IRA as long as she can remember. And, most important, she is divorced with no dependents. That makes her a free agent.

Penhallow is a baby boomer on the run. She's a veteran movie extra. You can see her on DVD in Brainjacked, the 2009 horror film made here. She stays in shape by dancing. She's learning the tango.

She volunteers with local film festivals, two art museums and a center for the disabled. "I'm haunted by the masses of people I see my age and younger who are physically in terrible shape and bad health and can't enjoy basic things, like just smelling the roses."

That's not her. After the dust of that revolution settles, she's off to Egypt.

A new mountain

The first half of Richard Woolson's life was full of adventure and surprise. In his 20s, he backpacked all over Asia, close to the first base camp on Mount Everest. He rode across Afghanistan in the back of a truck filled with sheep and carrying a man with a baleful look and a Kalashnikov rifle. He got a smile from the warrior by sharing a tangerine.

Woolson doesn't need that anymore. He and his wife, Carol, are both licensed practical nurses. At home, Woolson likes to make and repair clocks. He has a pristine little workshop. He and Carol would like to move from New Port Richey to the mountains of North Carolina.

But life is never without surprises.

Carol was stricken by a double whammy of health problems. First, a lung affliction called necrotizing granuloma. It wasn't a malignancy, but it forced the removal of lymph nodes and part of a lung. About the same time, doctors discovered a torn retina that left her unable to see with that eye.

Insurance covered most of it, but the Woolsons had to tap their retirement fund to pay bills. Based on his nursing experiences, Richard wishes every member of Congress would have to wait two weeks to find out they've been denied for an MRI.

North Carolina seems farther away now. They'll get there, they say. They picture a log cabin with a wrap-around porch. They picture hiking paths and canasta games. There's just one word on their bucket list: peace.

Birds of paradise

Toni Young turned 65 on Jan. 1. Her husband, Vernon, will turn 65 next Dec. 31. He likes to remind her that he's 364 days younger. She taught elementary school in Washington, D.C., for 30 years. He was a U.S. Park Police officer who rode a horse at the White House and other national monuments.

When they retired, they did what most surveyed boomers say they don't want to do: They gave up the home where they raised their kids.

Washington, D.C., meant winter storms and daily babysitting. Building a home in Spring Hill meant no snow and no responsibilities. "My oldest daughter didn't believe it," Toni said, "until I put my car on the Auto Train."

They found new family here. The neighborhood has some semblance of a '60s-style commune. Most all the men race pigeons. Vernon has 80 birds. Their Gulf Coast Homing Club has 200 members, the largest in the country. No one ever hires a repairman. Someone always knows how to fix a sink or lay a tile floor. Vernon's contribution is tending the club's Web page. Whenever they go out, they come back to seven or eight phone messages from neighbors.

Toni bowls five times a week. She and her girlfriends have talked about what they'd do if widowhood struck. Hardly anyone said she'd move back north.

"We'll look after one another," Toni said. "For me, life is a little better than I thought it would be."

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What's on these baby boomers' bucket lists? 02/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 4:50pm]

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