Enjoying different hobbies and coming from equally unique careers, Mike and Karen Barson come together in retirement – finding fulfillment in their free time by giving back to their community.
The couple, who have been married for 47 years, volunteer together through various outlets, most recently at Menorah Park, managing its snack shop pre-COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, they’ve done Habitat for Humanity and served at the Ronald McDonald House together.
They also volunteer in various capacities at their synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun Congregation. Mike Barson is a longtime member of the men’s club and is a past president. Karen Barson helps answer telephones and also is a member of the sisterhood. During Purim, the pair helped deliver misloach manot.
At Menorah Park, they also do some activities separately. Mike started at Wiggins Place serving high tea and then added some time at the Piazza. He has also worked at Pearl’s Place. Karen also lends time at Pearl’s Place, where she loves “cooking because the chefs can teach her so many things to use at home.” She also used to be in the community’s choir.
Mike is also a member of the South Euclid recycling committee, belongs to a stamp club and is also a former vice president of the Forest City Hebrew Benevolent Association. Karen also used to volunteer at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital.
CJN: What attracted you to these activities?
Karen: Once you’re retired, you have to have a reason to get up in the morning. You have to have something that makes you feel good. Otherwise, you’re just sitting in front of the TV. I just like to help with things. And with Menorah Park, I loved going there the minute I started. It feels like a community. There are so many different ways you can volunteer there, within the different locations or things. You could also work directly with people.
Mike: I believe in tikkun olam and I like helping other people. I don’t need the money now and I have so much time. It’s a good use of that time and my skills, and it’s really important to have something to do. It’s also about meeting new people. It’s just pleasant.
CJN: Do you like volunteering together?
Karen: I love when we do things together like when we delivered the misloach manot. That was so nice because we drove around the community together. He usually drove because I am terrible at directions. I was glad to jump in and out of the car and bring stuff to people’s doors.
CJN: How has volunteering impacted your retirement?
Mike: With the pandemic, we can’t volunteer at Menorah Park for the time being. So, we appreciate volunteering even more – being able to get out of the house and having a reason to see other people. The things we’re doing are helping people, even if other people are doing more and sacrificing more. But no matter the level, volunteering is rewarding. We miss it.
CJN: How does your connection to Judaism factor into volunteering?
Mike: Judaism constantly reminds you to help repair the world.
Karen: Mike and I feel very fortunate. We don’t feel that we’re rich or anything, and as a matter of fact, we aren’t. But we feel like, in some ways, we have so much and we need to give it to other people. That is what Judaism is about.
CJN: What does the future of your retirement look like?
Karen: I can’t wait to get back on cruises. We were going on about one a year and had a river cruise all lined up for 2020. And it got canceled, so we rescheduled for 2021. That’s not going to happen now either, so we’re pushed back to 2022. We can’t wait for that. Also, I want to be able to see more people. Since we’re retired, we can get out and do things in the middle of the week. I have a brother in Columbus, who we’ve only seen a couple of times since the pandemic began. I’d like to see him more.
Mike: We also want the opportunity to watch our grandchildren grow up.
Asked their advice for recent retirees looking for purpose, Mike Barson explained volunteering can be the answer.
“Volunteering is a great way to spend some of your time in retirement,” he said. “When you retire, you want to have something to do, otherwise it’d be very boring. There is so much out there, just about anything you’d want to do. You can do that by volunteering and helping other people.”