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Retiree Spotlight & Newsletter

Sharon Schlager


Some people retire but don’t stop working. Case in point: Sharon Schlager, the retired Lewis County Clerk. After some 40 years with the county, she decided it was time to step down in 2014 at age 61. But she’s hardly idle these days, as she and her husband Jim raise registered Angus cattle. This second career keeps her busy, to say the least. “I love it,” she says. “I’ve always loved the outdoors.” In addition to working with her husband, she and her three sisters attend Women in Agriculture conferences around the country. She’s got a full life, and is grateful her health allows her to stay busy. Sharon’s first county job was in 1973 in the Collector’s office. Soon after, Clerk Linton Jenkins offered her a job in voter registration. She continued doing that until he retired. She served as deputy clerk under three people, and eventually ran for Clerk in 1990. She was clerk for 24 years. “I loved it all,” she says. “I liked working with the public. I loved the math and the accounting part of the office. I became friends with all the commissioners.”

She says a reason she succeeded on the job so long is that she tried to stay bipartisan. She thinks remaining neutral is essential for the County Clerk in overseeing elections. Now that she’s retired from the county, she’s drawing two pensions: CERF and LAGERS. In her own experience and in talking to others, Sharon notices that it’s possible to retire at the same or even a higher salary. What has the CERF pension meant to her? “Oh, man, it’s awesome! It’s helped us get through some rough times.”

She also recommends the CERF Savings Plan: “I highly recommend people get on the CERS Savings Plan. Every young person needs to be on it.” She remembers telling Road and Bridge employees they should be in the savings plan. “I’d show them what mine had built to. I’d say, ‘You guys are young. You should be doing this.’”

Don McQuay


Don Mc Quay is a walking advertisement for retirement. “If I knew it was this much fun, I would have retired at 21,” he laughs. The 65-year-old retired as Cape Girardeau County Public Works Director in 2015, after 20 years on the job. He came to county government with a background in construction. He began as a Building Grounds Supervisor, and later became Public Works Director. He says he enjoyed the work, though it could be challenging. “I had a lot of buildings to take care of,” he says, “and two were over 100 years old.” He said older buildings present their own problems, especially when it comes to heating and cooling. “I tried to keep everyone comfortable,” he says. His efforts did not go unappreciated, as the county has dedicated a park shelter to him. That announcement came at his retirement party, and was a complete surprise. “I feel very humbled by it,” he says. County employees still refer to Park Shelter 22 as Don’s Shelter.

Another positive from his time with the county is that he met his wife, Joy, on the job. She worked in the mapping and appraisal office, retiring in June of 2018 after 30 years. Don credits much of his happiness in retirement to CERF. When he was self-employed, he didn’t have a retirement plan. But now he’s drawing from CERF Pension, LAGERS, and from CERF Savings. “With the three of those, you’re pretty well set,” he says. He was always an especially vocal advocate for the CERF Savings, encouraging the younger employees to start saving early. “I advise young people to get involved in that. If they’re young, even a small amount can add up. I sure talked a lot of them into it.”

As Don retired at 62, and Medicare doesn’t start until 65, he used his CERF Savings to pay for health insurance for a few years. Another wise decision he made was to get out of debt before retirement. “You don’t want to be making payments after you’ve retired,” he says. So what’s he doing now? “Whatever I want,” he laughs. He tinkers in his shop and enjoys spending time with his eight grandchildren. Don says many co-workers told him he’d be bored after his career ended. “Everybody thought I couldn’t retire because I was always on the go. I proved ‘em wrong.” His advice for county employees? “Do the CERF Savings, learn to enjoy the work they have, and be glad they live in America.”

Sharon Kleine


Sharon Kleine won’t say her life began at retirement, but it certainly didn’t end at retirement, either. Sharon, 73, retired as Lawrence County Treasurer in 2014 after 16 years in office. But county government was only her latest career. She was a teacher for 31 years. She began teaching fifth grade. But at age 28 in 1973, she suffered a major heart condition and was hospitalized for 55 days. “They shocked me 48 times,” she recalls, resulting in some serious burns. At first, a pacemaker was taped to her forearm. After a couple of weeks, her heart rhythms finally stabilized. “It was a miraculous recovery,” she says. After that health scare, she took a year to recover. Then she went back to teaching, but in a different capacity – working with children of migrant workers in grades K-12. “I was the Parents as First Teachers coordinator,” she says. She loved that work because it allowed her to look at the child as a whole. Often, she says, “My job was helping the family get a place to stay and getting daddy a job.” She continued that work for 28 years.

In 1998, she felt it was time to retire from teaching. Several Lawrence County office holders were retiring. “I just knew that the Treasurer’s position was something for me.” She ran against a field of five, and won her first election. She would be re-elected three more times. She says the Treasurer’s job appealed to her because it combines her two loves: mathematics and community service. “Math put the world in order for me,” she says. She combined her love of higher math with accounting courses. “It was an even an even better job than I anticipated. It was the best of two worlds: social interaction and working with numbers.” But her health convinced her it was finally time to retire. She fought through a breast cancer scare, and then a week after she retired she had hip replacement surgery. She says she is doing well now.

She and her husband, Bob, have a passion for landscaping and travel – especially in the Southwest. And she credits CERF with helping her follow those passions: “CERF meant I can have my outdoor heated pool at 90 degrees,” she laughs. “It means we can have a zero-turn mower, and get the lawn work done sooner.” In addition to the CERF Pension, she took advantage of the CERF Savings from the start. “CERF brought me some security,” she says, “and the personal contact CERF has offered has been a very positive factor.”

Betty Knight


Betty Knight never looked at serving in county government as a stepping stone to something else. The retired Platte County Commissioner says, “I had no ambition to go elsewhere. I enjoyed serving my friends and neighbors. Those 16 years in county government were the joy of my life.” Betty began her career as Deputy Treasurer in 1989. She worked for Treasurer Judy Stokes for six years. Judy was active in many aspects of county government, including the Missouri Association of Counties; Betty said she learned a lot from Judy, and eventually Betty would go on to become MAC president herself. Because Betty was involved in so many facets of county government, including budgeting, she was encouraged to run for County Commissioner. She was elected in 1994 and took office in 1995. She’s proud of her accomplishments as Commissioner. Among these was construction of a new county jail. She helped spread the word about the need for a new jail. The result was a sales tax that passed with 78% of the vote, at the time the largest yes vote for a law enforcement tax in the state.

Other sources of pride are the county’s parks plan, road plan and a plan for growth. Betty says none of these accomplishments would have happened without the help of others. “I worked with a lot of really good Commissioners over the years,” she says. After being elected four times, Betty retired in 2010. Now 70, she enjoys spending time with her husband, who is also retired. They have traveled to such locales as the Panama Canal and Alaska. A trip to the Gulf of Mexico is forthcoming. The couple has two daughters, both married to Marine Corps pilots. They also have three granddaughters. By working with MAC, Betty developed an appreciation for CERF. “I saw how important it was,” she says, “especially for people who didn’t have LAGERS.”

She gives CERF high marks: “It’s viable and the financials look great. I think the board and the investment advisors serve the retirees well.” She adds, “CERF does a really good job about communication with retirees.” She’s especially impressed with the Member Self-Service Portal at www.mocerf.org, which she calls extremely important these days. In summation, Betty says, “It’s important for folks to have something coming back to them as a retirement benefit.” She knows counties can’t pay as much as the private sector, but she sees public pension plans like CERF as “a reward for public service.”

Tom Layne


Tom Layne was involved in the early stages of CERF, and he knows firsthand what a difference it makes in retirement. In 1983, Tom answered an ad in the paper for data collectors in Cooper County. Reassessment was going to take effect in 1985, and this was going to be a major undertaking. So he started working in the office in 1983. When the assessor at the time passed away in 1984, Tom was then appointed assessor, and he ran for the office at the   next opportunity. He remained Cooper County assessor until 1997. “I enjoyed the work,” he says. “I got to get out and see the people. I enjoyed working at the courthouse too.” He admits that assessor can be a thankless job. “Everybody thinks you’re raising their taxes, but you’re just assessing the property.” He often pointed out that “When you vote to raise your taxes, they’re going to raise. You never have to vote on anything that lowers your taxes.”

In 1994, Tom was in on the early planning stages for CERF. He made a lot of trips to Jefferson City and helped with studies that determined how CERF would function. “We put the figures together, and it really turned out nice,” he recalls. After his time in county government, Tom worked for an insurance company for about 12 years, allowing him to delay taking his CERF pension until age 62, the full retirement age. Now 70, Tom lives in Benton County. He credits CERF for allowing him to retire. “You can’t make a living on Social Security, that’s for sure,” he says. “CERF is one of the better retirements going.”

“It’s made it so I can meet my bills and live comfortably. And we’ve always gotten a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) increase.” He also praises the CERF staff. “Anytime I’ve had a question, the people have been so helpful,” he says. “I can’t say enough good about it.”

Diana Barnett


Diana Barnett was initially skeptical. The Webster County deputy clerk heard that a new pension plan was beginning in 1994, but wasn’t sure if she wanted to participate. At its inception, the County Employees’ Retirement Fund was optional. “I didn’t start CERF right away,” she remembers. “But I saw that it was a pretty good deal and I did the     buyback.” Now that she has retired, she’s grateful for CERF. “I’m glad I did the buyback. I think it’s good that  (participation) is mandatory now, because a lot of people wouldn’t do it.” Diana’s career in county government started in 1991, when she went to work for County Clerk Lois Minor. “She knew me and wanted somebody part-time to work on records.”

Soon, she was filling in in just about every office in the courthouse. “The only office I didn’t work in was the assessor’s,” she says. Diana continued floating from office to office even after she went to full-time. “Lois retired in 1999 and I knew Stan (Whitehurst) was going to run, so I talked to him about being deputy clerk.” Whitehurst was elected, and Diana settled into her new duties, which included human resources – giving her even more appreciation for benefits like CERF. She retired in 2012, and faced a decision about which CERF Pension option to take. She wasn’t able to draw Social Security yet, so she took the Level Income Option – paying her a larger amount at first, which decreased after her Social Security kicked in. “I don’t draw a big amount, but it helps,” she says. “I know it’s going to be there.”

Reflecting on her time in county government, Diana says, “I enjoyed the excitement. I got along pretty well with everybody.” The one thing she doesn’t miss is the stress at election time and at the end of the calendar year. Diana’s husband Larry retired in March of this year. Together, they operate a flea market with their son. Their two grandkids are involved in sports, so Diana attends lots of events. “And the grandkids like my swimming pool,” Diana laughs. Reflecting on the importance of CERF and other retirement plans, Diana says, “With the economy now, a person needs to look ahead because you never know if Social Security is going to be there. Social Security is here for me, but the younger people may not have the opportunity to draw any.”

Ernestine Doss


All job interviews should be as smooth as the one Ernestine Doss had in 1984.   The Howell County treasurer, Max Burk, had a position to fill and he knew that Ernestine had done some bookkeeping, prior to taking time off to raise her children. So he called Ernestine on a Friday and asked her to come in the following Monday.   “I walked in and he took my coat and hung it in the closet and said, ‘Well, get to work,’” she laughs.    “I never dreamed I’d stay 30 years .”  

But stay, she did. She worked for Burk for 10 years, then for his successor, Truell Harrison for 11 years. Harrison died in office, and Gov. Matt Blunt appointed Ernestine to fill the remainder of the term. She then ran for the office and was elected and then re-elected.   What kept her in that office for 29 years? “I loved bookkeeping, and the people were really nice to work with,” she says. “I can honestly say I never had a cross word with either one of my bosses.”   Ernestine, 73, retired in 2015. But she’s hardly been idle. She and her husband, Donald, have a farm in West Plains, and she still keeps the books and does the payroll for the farm. And scrapbooking is her major hobby.   

Now that she’s drawing her CERF pension, how has it made a difference in her life? “The pension is the reason I can stay home,” she says. “Without it, I couldn’t spend the money on my hobby. And the pension always helps with other expenses, too.”    Ernestine is also a believer in the CERF Savings Plan. “I should have started that before I did,” she confesses. “I regret not doing it earlier.”    For now, she’s got family to keep her busy. She has two children, one granddaughter and three grandsons, all living within a mile of her home.    “I’m very fortunate.”   

Dixie Wagner


If you ever doubt what a difference CERF can make in a retiree’s life, just talk to Dixie Wagner.   Dixie, 68, retired from Taney County in January 2015. She now lives in Ozark, to be closer to her two grandchildren.    She worked for the county for 26 years, starting as a part-time employee in voter registration.    As she transitioned to full-time, the county gave her more and more duties.   And it was with employee benefits that she found the most satisfaction.When the county started a human resources department, Dixie was the natural choice to run the department.

“I loved my work,” she said.    “The employees were great to work with, and they appreciated everything you did.”   She was there when CERF was created, in 1994.   “I grew with it,” she said.    Because she knew CERF from the beginning, it was easier to explain to new hires.   And now that she’s drawing her pension, what difference has CERF made in her life? “Financially, CERF has taken the stress out of my retirement.   By the end of the month I still have a little bit of money that I’m saving.”   Her immediate goal is to visit her son in Anchorage.   “I don’t think I could do that if I didn’t have my CERF,” she said.   Dixie is grateful for all the friends she made with the county.   But she’s even more grateful that her husband, John Bledsoe, is in remission from Stage 4 esophageal cancer.    “He is doing very well and riding his motorcycle,” she said.  

So watch for Dixie and John on the roads of Christian County. They’ve got a lot to celebrate.