Their retirement looks a lot like work to some, but they love it
OPELIKA, Alabama — On Millard Fuller Legacy Build sites, you’ll often find volunteers who use their precious personal or vacation time from their employment to help others have simple, decent places to live.
Others work for companies who promote volunteerism by allowing and even encouraging their employees to take time away from work to help others without it taking away from their personal time.
And then there are the retirees who do not need anyone’s permission to volunteer. They have time on their hands, but they are not interested in their hands being idle or their time being noneventful.
Coon Rapids, Minnesota’s Jim Tomascak is one of the volunteers who is used to taking time away from work to help others, but this year is different. He took early retirement from his job as a network architect/engineer on March 10 so that he could spend more time building a better world.
“This is my hobby,” said Tomascak, again serving as a Legacy Build house captain this year. “This is my third build this year. That was actually part of the reason for taking early retirement. I’ve only got so many more years left of crawling up on roofs. I wondered why was I going to keep working when I’ve got enough that I can live comfortably, so let me focus on this.”
Tomascak has been volunteering to build homes since 1987, but the service bug actually sunk its teeth into him in 1985 when he began leading teams in a weeklong summer service event called Paint-A-Thon.
“Every summer, we would paint homes of people in need,” he recalls. “We’d do about 150 homes — all in a week. We had lots of teams, and I always led a team. It’s always been in my blood, I think.”
He has been a volunteer and leader on multiple Fuller Center and Habitat for Humanity builds and is a fixture with the Blitz Home Builders association.
“I love doing it,” he said. “I love meeting the homeowners. It’s my way of doing service. Serving is one of my spiritual gifts. I just love doing it. I love the construction, and I love working with the people.”
What he doesn’t love about retirement, though, is having to adjust his thinking about personal finances.
“The transition I’m going through right now that’s just kind of hitting is seeing the checking account balance going down,” Tomascak said. “I’m four or five years away from Social Security, so it’s like, ‘Wait, I’m supposed to take money out of savings. You’re supposed to put money into savings.’ Making that transition from save to spend is what I’m going through right now.”
House captain Peter Salemme of Americus, Georgia, retired from Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa in January. He also has been a fixture and house captain at multiple Fuller Center builds, including Legacy Builds. The homeowner partner who will be moving into the home build he is leading this year is Julia Finley, who retired in 2022 but has gone back to work at East Alabama Health because she missed the patients and co-workers.
Salemme, though, intends for his retirement to stick.
“I was doing a five-hour commute every week (to Tuscaloosa from Americus) and staying in an RV there and then coming home to enjoy the house that my wife and I built in Americus and not spending much time there. Plus, my truck died from the trips. I decided, OK, that’s a sign.”
He indeed built a beautiful home in Americus and does want to spend more time there with his wife, but don’t expect to find him sitting around very long. He is not done helping people in need have simple, decent places to live.
“My retirement plan is work until I drop,” Salemme said. “I see some folks who’ve retired, go home, and watch TV, and that’s it. This is my exercise program and retirement combined. Keep moving, keep moving. Plus I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy teaching, and both The Fuller Center and Habitat fulfill that desire. I love teaching and sharing what God has blessed me with. I plan to keep doing what I’m doing until I’m called home, I guess.”