Local News

Seniors spend $40 million-plus in Ketchikan

Ed Zastrow speaks about senior issues at the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce.

One of Ketchikan’s best-known residents, who also is a senior advocate and a former Citizen of the Year spoke at Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce lunch. He talked a little about Ketchikan’s history, but he focused on what life’s like now for people of a certain age.

When Ed Zastrow arrived in Alaska in 1954, the area was still a territory, and Ketchikan was a quaint little town at the base of a mountain.

“Board sidewalks, board streets, lots of bars where you could go into,” he said. “There was one on every corner, and in about 30 seconds, you could get yourself into a lot of trouble. And, do other things that will go unmentioned.”

He reminisced about the past 58 years during a recent Chamber of Commerce lunch, and says there are a few things that he misses, old-fashioned shoe and clothing stores, in particular. Some services have improved, though.

“The big event was, obviously, running down to ACS. That’s presently where Island Tile and Marble is today,” he said. “You could go down there and use the telephone, hard line, and call someone in the Lower 48. Very few telephone calls, there was radio, so (hard lines) was the only way you could call the Lower 48. And then you suffered from a bill of $10 or $12.

The focus of Zastrow’s talk was seniors in Ketchikan, their needs and how they affect the local economy. He says Ketchikan’s senior population grew last year.

“There has been a 12 percent increase in our senior population, and we anticipate another 10-12 percent increase in the senior population in the coming year,” he said. “Why? It’s no secret. We have neighbors who lived here years ago, and they’re coming back.”

But what’s bringing those former residents back? Zastrow says Ketchikan is a safe place to live, and offers many benefits, including three new senior housing facilities. He referred to a senior directory, which provides details about various agencies and what services they provide.

“When you go through it and use it, it not only tells you the name of the organization you’ll be working with, it’ll give you the name of a real person and a real telephone number, and you aren’t talking to a computer. Plus, it’s in large print,” he said.

Zastrow says seniors have a significant impact on the local economy, and tend to spend just about all the money they have. Per person, seniors get $1,180 per month from Social Security. He says many seniors at least double that through pensions and investments. If they spend all that on food, fuel, rent, condo fees, etc., seniors spend about $40 million here annually.

Zastrow talked a little about Social Security and other federal benefits for seniors. He says it’s upsetting to seniors when they hear what he says are inaccurate rumors about those programs and what Congress plans to do with them

“What is the truth on that? I personally feel that Social Security is going to be around for a long time,” he said. “Granted, in 2034 it’s going to have to be tweaked or some of those checks are going to be a little bit less. But that fund, from the latest information I have from various sources, that fund is intact. Of course, the government owes a lot of money to it.”

Zastrow is the president of the local AARP chapter. He was the 2010 Citizen of the Year. The Chamber of Commerce will announce the 2013 Citizen of the Year during its annual awards banquet on Saturday.

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