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WCU retirees organize to renew old bonds

While many professors and staff members enjoyed their careers teaching, assisting students and helping to keep the ever-growing Western Carolina University operating on a daily basis, retired life inevitability beckons. But a movement afoot hopes to maintain a stronger connection amongst former workers at the institution far into their golden years.


A group of active retirees and university leaders have taken steps to form WCU’s first Association of Retired Faculty and Staff. For some, it will be a way to maintain stronger ties with the happenings in Cullowhee. For others, it will be the perfect solution to maintain bonds with other retired staff who moved far away. For them, an association with periodic meetings, updates and events may prompt the trip back to their old Catamount stomping grounds that they’ve been putting off.

“Once they retire they’re pretty scattered,” said Gordon Mercer, co-chairman of the newly formed association. “Without the association, people would probably never see each other again.”

Mercer began to notice the lack of a retiree association following his own recent retirement. He gathered the same sentiment from the former co-workers he kept in touch with, and a survey of retired staff and faculty — conducted by the university — cemented his notion that the association was in high demand.

WCU was one of the few universities without one. N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill have had retirement organizations in place since the late 1980s, Mercer said.

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“What we were finding, realistically, is that universities all across the U.S. have retired faculty and staff associations,” Mercer said. “One of the things WCU lacked was any kind of structure where retired faculty and staff could get together.”

Even for the one in four staff members, estimated Mercer, who stay in the surrounding counties following retirement, the proximity can be deceiving and doesn’t automatically lead to meaningful run-ins or catch-ups with former co-workers.

Chance encounters at the post office and super Walmart just aren’t the best venues to reminisce about the old academic glory days. Mercer hopes the association can alleviate that, or at least give people the excuse they need to call up old friends.

“As faculty and staff renew acquaintances, they may start to get together to eat outside of the association,” Mercer said.

And the response has already been promising. About 120 WCU retirees have registered for association’s upcoming kick-off event. Heading into the future, the plan is to hold meetings each semester, keep members informed of the happenings on campus and provide updates from Chancellor David Belcher.

The relationship will be a two-way street, too. With an organized group of retired professionals and experts in their former fields of work, the university will be able to more easily to tap into the talent for short-term teaching gigs and to recruit help for research or service projects.

Norma Clayton bleeds purple and gold. She is a WCU alumnus as well as retired staff member from the college of business. Although she already takes advantage of a multitude of scheduled events on campus, she is optimistic that the association will bring more retired staff like her back into the fold.

“It was a career for me — it wasn’t just a job,” Clayton said. “I made a lot of lifelong friends there.”


Retired from WCU? Want to keep in touch?

An organization for retired Western Carolina University faculty and staff members who want to stay in touch with each other and the university will host its inaugural event at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 25, with a Dutch treat luncheon in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center on campus. The association will be the first of its kind at WCU that is exclusively for retired faculty and staff members. $13 per person. 

WCU retirees who wish to be added to the association’s mailing list or electronic listserve can contact 828.369.2693 or 828.293.5620.

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