Chef, groundskeeper enjoying her next act at the Groton Senior Center
Groton — Lynnsie Manza said she goes to work every day with a smile on her face and leaves with a smile on her face.
The 64-year-old Ledyard resident is enjoying her next act, working at the Groton Senior Center, since she retired after working 23 years as groundskeeper at Connecticut College. Partially overlapping that, she had a more than 30-year career as a chef, including serving as executive chef at G. Willikers in Groton and working at other area restaurants.
As a groundskeeper, Manza mowed lawns, edged sidewalks, fixed potholes and picked up the recycling and trash. “It wouldn’t be unusual for you to do 15,000 pounds of trash in one week,” she said.
“If it snowed, I’d get called in to plow snow, and there were times where I didn’t get back home for two to three days,” Manza said. “I’d have to sleep there, get up and plow.”
While she loved the job and being outdoors, she retired two years ago after her chiropractor and orthopedic surgeon told her the physically demanding job was taking a toll on her body, she said.
Manza wanted to continue to work, so when a job opened up in the kitchen of the Groton Senior Center, she applied. She said that while it used to be a goal to start collecting Social Security and retire once hitting 62, for many people that's no longer possible. She said they need to supplement the income and don't want to dip into their retirement savings just yet.
“I knew I couldn’t survive just on Social Security,” she said. “You don’t want to tap into your retirement right away. You want to save that until you get a little bit older, so I came here.”
Manza said continuing to work became a necessity because Connecticut is one of the most expensive states to live in and she has high taxes. Her wife has multiple sclerosis, so Manza needs to support the household.
The job at the senior center was a good fit for her because her daughter, Jennifer Meakem, who also had worked at Connecticut College, works there as an office assistant.
"I can see her smiling face every day," Manza said.
Manza, who also enjoyed her previous jobs as a chef and groundskeeper, said she loves her job at the senior center. She works 30 hours a week, setting up the kitchen, preparing for the day, taking care of the salad bar and restocking items, and if the chef is out, putting out the hot meals.
Manza said she grew up without grandparents, so being at the Senior Center is like spending time with grandparents.
Finances aside, she also said she wants to work to keep busy.
“You have to stay active,” she said. “Keep your mind alert. Keep your body going.”
She said people today are staying more active, and people at the senior center take classes, from yoga to aerobics, exercise in the fitness room, and walk the halls.
Her colleague Steve Cary, 70, also came to work at the senior center after retiring from Connecticut College after 32 years as a cook. He started working at the center six years ago as a way to keep active.
He said he took eight months off when he retired but got bored and missed working with people, as he had done all his life. When the Senior Center job became available, he said it was an opportunity to work close to his home and do the work he loves to do, but on a 20-hour-a-week schedule, rather than full-time.
"I like the people," he said. "I like the work environment."
Manza also said she likes interacting with people at the center and hearing their stories.
"They're from all different walks of life and you learn a little bit about each one of them," she said.
Each day after finishing work, Manza changes her shoes and hits the center's workout room, where she exercises for 45 minutes, which she called "a big plus."
When she isn't at work, she likes to take care of her yard in the nicer weather and spend time with her 7-year-old granddaughter, whether they're visiting campgrounds or baking cookies and making ornaments for Christmas. She also has her own catering business and loves to cook for her family.
Manza said she thinks she will be working for at least another 10 years, and then — when she is 74 — she’ll consider retiring.
While she may continue to work part time then, she wants to travel with her granddaughter and would love to go on a cross-country trip with her, she said.
Manza said she got her work ethic from her father, who worked two jobs for years. Meakem said her mother passed that work ethic down to her.
"She raised me to work hard and take pride in your work," Meakem said.