Pension Brings Joyful Retirement

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Wendy Gaskill says she retired with dignity from Hennepin County Medical Center. The former president of AFSCME Local 2474 says she knew her pension and Social Security would be there for her.
Wendy Gaskill says she retired with dignity from Hennepin County Medical Center. The former president of AFSCME Local 2474 says she knew her pension and Social Security would be there for her.

As I aged and started to think about retirement, I felt tremendous security. I knew I had a pension and Social Security that would provide me with a comfortable retirement, and in fact, they have. My pension is wonderful. I truly have retired with dignity.

I was a social worker for 26 years. I worked closely with Child Protection with families that were unstable. I did counseling on fetal demise, stillborns. I met with all teen parents. I gave them support, resources, did a lot of general counseling. I dealt with many women who were struggling with drug and alcohol issues, counseling them on sobriety and recovery, referred them to chemical dependency treatment and was president of my local 2474.

I liked HCMC. I liked the families that we served. I cared about them. They’re my people. I had three directions: The first was to be kind, the second, be kind and finally, be kind.

I started out my career in 1990 there working with women with predominantly cocaine-use issues in pregnancy. Hennepin County was able to reduce the number of cocaine-positive deliveries significantly over a five-year period. The issue now is opioid addiction, heroin and drug prescription addiction, and it’s devastating to many families that are struggling. It was an epidemic unlike any I’d seen, and it is ongoing.

Since the 2007 recession, the rates of homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and significant chronic mental illness have increased dramatically. People have no homes, their mental illness is debilitating, they’re using drug and alcohol in their pregnancy, they have very little social support.

It was very tough to see. The stress and the strain were overwhelming. But I had great support at the hospital, and I have great personal support so I was able to cope.

When I retired, I felt tremendous relief. I decided I wanted to enjoy the beautiful summer, to enjoy my yard, my garden, be with friends and family, and leave a difficult job behind in good hands. I have a wonderful social worker who followed in my footsteps.

I had a rich life apart from work. I knew I would become an AFSCME retiree, which I have done. I’m active in the DFL political party. I’m on the board of directors of the KFAI Fresh Air community radio station. I go to the YWCA several times a week.

I’m very proud of my career, I’m very proud of the role I played in my union. I worked hard to make Hennepin County Medical Center a better place, and my philosophy is a strong union makes a strong HCMC. I wanted to help people and I succeeded, so that’s good.

This story is part of a series exploring the ways that working union means living better.