Working as a medical technologist, Natalie Skall found herself pulled in many directions – filling in where she was needed. All of the time she spent at the office left her little time to do anything after work. She held many roles at several hospitals and labs, and at one hospital, she was chief technologist, dealing with day to day problems as well as managing many satellite labs, making sure everything was going right at every single location. Now retired for 14 years, the 77-year-old has all the time in the world, and she loved it the first two years of retirement.
“After retiring, I was really happy to be at home,” she recalled. “I was never bored because I was so happy to not be scheduled for a few years, but then I started volunteering because I was so used to helping people and handling schedules.”
Deciding it was time to get back to some semblance of a schedule, Skall divides her time between InMotion, University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center, her temple, Suburban Temple-Kol Ami, and a local garden club.
CJN: What do you do when volunteering?
Skall: I’ve been with InMotion for five years and started volunteering there when they opened in March 2015. Before the pandemic, I worked at the front desk one day a week and I was also trained to be an assistant to the coaches for new clients. They started this new client exercise program where they do an initial assessment of the person and have them do different exercises once a week for six weeks. Then, they know the client’s ability and can place them in a proper class. We serve over 1,200 clients and care partners.
At Ahuja, I volunteered there once a week before the pandemic. I also started there when the hospital first opened. The first two years of my retirement, I loved being at home so much and doing whatever but I worked in the medical field for so long, I realized I missed it. But, I didn’t want to go back to the lab. So, I started in the integrative medicine department and learned a lot about the different modalities they have like reiki, acupuncture and things like that. It got to the point where I didn’t feel like I was being used to the best of my abilities, so I had them move me to the surgical waiting room reception desk. I found that so interesting and I was doing that up until the pandemic.
I also sing in the temple choir and meet with my garden club once a month.
CJN: How has volunteering in your retirement impacted you?
Skall: It makes me feel like I can still contribute, that I’m not just sitting around the house. Some of my friends say, “Oh, you’re so scheduled out,” and I am. Sometimes I think to myself, “How did I get myself back into this?” But, I do think it’s so much better when you’re active with something to do every day. It keeps you young. With five children between my husband and me, they’re all married and we like visiting them. With them, we have 10 grandchildren – some out in Seattle, others all the way east in New York on Long Island and another in Boston. We only have one couple still in Cleveland.
CJN: What have you learned about yourself?
Skall: I don’t know if it is new, but I knew from my jobs that I was a people person and liked to be around people, so I continued that. It makes me feel worthwhile that I’m not just going to sit around. This pandemic has been something else for those of us that like to be active. It’s really difficult to just be home all the time. We’ve made a very small bubble of people we do see, but everything we do like going to the symphony or the theater, we can’t do that. I just know the two of us have always been very active.
CJN: Was volunteering something you always planned to do?
Skall: My parents were both very active when I was growing up. My mother, for instance, used to volunteer and was the president of the PTA when I was in grade school. She was also very active with Easter Seals. My dad belonged to a lot of different groups. But, I didn’t exactly have a plan for when I was going to retire, which was somewhat unfortunate as my last two years working became so overwhelming. I was ready to retire and I am so happy I don’t have to deal with all of those problems anymore, but I soon found that I also wasn’t one to sit at home and do nothing. So, I guess medicine was in my blood since I used to volunteer at a hospital in Youngstown in the summer while growing up.
Knowing how much volunteering changed her retirement, Skall suggested other retirees also find something to make them feel fulfilled.
“It depends on the person,” she said. “I have friends that volunteering is just not right for them, and others that live in apartment complexes and are involved with all committees there. Or, they have family in town and they’re happy to just go with the flow. I have friends that play mahjong three times a week and they’re happy with that. That is what they do and what they enjoy. It took me a while and I didn’t do anything for two years, but I wanted to find the right mix of what I was comfortable with. I wanted to be of use, and I come away from my activities feeling good.”