Longtime Social Security worker prepares to join ranks of retired | PostIndependent.com

Longtime Social Security worker prepares to join ranks of retired

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson Sharon Gallagher is retiring in January after a 30-year career with the Social Security Administration.

When Sharon Gallagher began working for the Social Security Administration, she dealt with new retirees who had been born during World War I.Now, clients born during World War II are starting to collect their Social Security retirement benefits. Their years of birth aren’t much earlier than Gallagher’s, who is 59.”It’s really getting close to me,” the Glenwood Springs resident said. “It’s an odd feeling.”After 30 years of working for the Social Security system, Gallagher will be eligible for its retirement benefits herself in a few more years. But she’s not waiting until then to retire. She plans to finish up her service at the end of January.”I’m thinking I’ve worked my whole life. It’s time to have some fun now,” she said.It’s not a matter of hating her job. Far from it; Gallagher appreciates the chance she’s had to make a career of working for the Social Security Administration. She said if she got bored with retirement, she’d probably go back to work for the agency under a program that allows it to employ its retirees.”I just had a wonderful career with the federal government,” she said.More specifically, she has found it rewarding being able to help people who are retiring, or receiving disability or survivor benefits.”We deal with people at big points in their lives – big turning points,” she said.Gallagher believes strongly in the purpose of Social Security retirement benefits. She said it is designed to insure a person’s wages against loss due to retirement or disability, or death in the case of survivor benefits.

“It’s to give people a bottom rung to hang onto. It wasn’t meant to be your pension plan,” she said.She said proponents of Social Security reform never mention disability and survivor benefits, and what would happen to people such as young widows who can receive payments until their children are grown.”They never talked about that because they had no plan for that,” she said.Gallagher is glad that proposed reform of the system hasn’t gone forward.”I think we would have left a lot of people out in the cold and had a system that didn’t work that well anymore,” she said.Speaking of being left out in the cold, Gallagher and fellow employees at the Social Security Administration’s Glenwood office nearly got a taste of that earlier this month. For three decades, the office has been located on South Grand Avenue near Rivers restaurant. In mid-September, it moved to Colorado Plaza behind US Bank on 14th Street.When a cold spell hit the area in early December, a sprinkler pipe froze and 3,000 gallons poured down into the new offices. The leak damaged some computers and dampened some files, and also forced the office to move into temporary quarters at the other end of the building. The staff will move back after repairs are made.”I’m hoping it doesn’t happen until after I retire because I don’t need to move the office one more time,” Gallagher said.Social Security is Gallagher’s second career. A Philadelphia native, she became a medical technician out of high school, then went on to graduate from Bloomburg University in Pennsylvania, where she studied psychology and social case work.She was fortunate to be hired by the Social Security Administration right out of college, and it was a good fit, she said.

She said people either love federal government work or hate it. Some people don’t like rigid rules about things such as work hours, and as with many places of employment there never seems to be enough staffing. But the benefits are good, she said.”If you like structure or you don’t have any problem with structure it’s a great career.”Gallagher worked for a few years at a small office in Sunbury, Pa., before getting transferred to Philadelphia. There, she rose to become assistant district manager, helping oversee three offices employing about 60 people, right downtown.”I literally worked a block from the Liberty Bell,” Gallagher said.One thing she has liked about her career choice is the number of opportunities it provides, no matter what one’s background is. Besides working with the public, Gallagher has been involved in training and management, and has worked as a systems analyst.The Social Security Administration has a “huge database” with information on things such as people’s wage histories, Gallagher said.”We’ve been into computers really early, since the ’70s primitively, and since the ’80s heavily.”While enjoying working at a big-city office, Gallagher also was interested in moving to the mountains. The parents of her husband, Mike Sussman, had retired to Aspen.”We had always come out to ski and we loved it and hoped to retire here,” she said.They moved to Glenwood Springs in 1995. Sussman, who worked in advertising in Philadelphia and New York City, left that field to become a massage therapist. Gallagher was able to stay with the Social Security system in its much smaller Glenwood office, which has seven employees.

But those seven employees serve a seven-county region. And a fascinating region at that. It encompasses most of Colorado’s ski resorts. People don’t need to be U.S. citizens to get Social Security benefits, Gallagher noted. Her office deals with a big Latino population. During the ski season, it also handles people from many other countries who come to work for the ski resorts.”We literally see a hundred to two hundred people a day this time of year as these young people come in to get their Social Security number for the first time,” she said.Also, Medicare coverage isn’t limited to those of lower incomes, which means Gallagher’s office interacts with everyone from shopkeepers and ranchers to multimillionaires.”You get to meet so many different people from every walk of life, especially here,” she said.Unlike people in other areas who sometimes are unsure about the idea of retirement, people look forward to it here, Gallagher said. As for herself, she plans to ski, read and travel – and act on a longtime goal of learning how to play the cello.”I have always loved the sound of the cello,” she explains.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com

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