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Graduating at 85 with a mission

By Jennie L. Phipps · Bankrate.com
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

"I don't have time for leisure," says Willadene Zedan. "Life is too short to waste. God didn't put me on the earth to sit and watch television."

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Willadene Zedan

This month -- at 85 -- Zedan became a college graduate from Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wis., with a degree in theology. Next, she's embarking on a new business -- working with her doctor to provide in-home companionship to older people with no friends or family.

"It was his idea. These people are lonesome. And sometimes they are scared to death because they think they are dying. They need someone to listen to them. I think I can bring them hope and be inspirational without being obnoxious," Zedan says.

She's launching this new career with the same determination that helped her raise five children, manage a country club and run the largest greeting card store in Michigan.

Retirement planning has never been a high priority in Zedan's life. In the early 1990s, when she and her husband, Joe, were at the age when most people are working hard to squirrel away enough money in time for retirement, she inherited $500,000. She used some to buy a new car and do improvements to the building that housed her greeting card business. Then she gave the rest of the money away. "I didn't earn it, it wasn't mine. There was absolutely no way that I needed that kind of money. Why let it sit when you can't take it with you?" she asks, rhetorically.

After her husband died,  she made the decision to move to Wisconsin to live with her daughter, the Rev. Margaret Zedan, and her husband Thomas Richardson. She started taking classes to keep her mind occupied. After a while, finishing her degree seemed important, and finding a job to use her new degree the obvious goal. "God didn't let me go to college and learn theology so I could go home and do nothing with it," she says.

Making money for herself still isn't her purpose. Today, she lives comfortably on Social Security, an under-$500 a month pension and retiree health care that her husband earned working for the city of Livonia, Mich. "I have plenty to live on and I can travel," Zedan says.

She spent six weeks on the road last year with her 15-year-old great grandson. "They said the old lady couldn't go by herself, so I found someone to go with me." Together they toured most of the southern part of the country. He drove on his learner's permit while she taught him the rules of the road. It was a partnership.

"If I were a better manager, I could save money, but what am I saving for?" she asks.

A relatively recent convert to Catholicism, Zedan says with conviction, "We are born to die. We're just on earth to improve our souls. The highlight of life is going beyond to be what God wants us to be."

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