Trib puts a face on pensions (Updated with video)

The Chicago Tribune did something pretty amazing Sunday.

It wasn’t that they put a story about teacher’s pensions on the front page.

That’s happened many times.

It has seldom been a positive thing.

And by “seldom” we mean “never.”

But that changed Sunday, when retired teacher Daisy Rittgers graced the front page of “The World’s Greatest Newspaper” for the first time in her 105 years.

Daisy Rittgers

The terrific story by reporter Ray Long begins,

Daisy Rittgers rode a farm horse named Prince to the one-room wooden schoolhouse where she taught in central Illinois’ Shelby County during the Great Depression, but now Springfield politicians eager to reduce state pension costs have her riding a roller coaster.

After more than four decades of doing everything from washing the windows to running recess to grading papers, Rittgers retired in 1972 with a yearly pension of $6,327. Forty-one years later, she’s 105 years old and collects $20,796 a year — less than half what the average retired teacher outside Chicago gets.

Long’s interview with Ms Rittgers, who earned $60 a month as a beginning teacher in the early 20th century, does what nearly every media report on  pensions in the last couple of years has failed to do: It puts a face on the pension issue and forces readers (whom we can only hope include members of the Illinois General Assembly) to consider how changing the state’s pension plan might impact retirees, many of whom need every penny of their pension to survive.

The story makes it clear that it is only because of the automatic annual three percent compounded cost of living adjustment (COLA) that Rittgers gets a pension that (somehow) she has been able to live on since the first Nixon Administration.

Rittgers asks, “Why should anybody take it away from me? Right’s right, and wrong’s wrong.”

The pension battle is about money, but it’s not ONLY about money.

It’s about people like Daisy Rittgers, who did what she was supposed to do, paid what she was supposed to pay and who has, you would think, earned the right to not have to worry about her retirement benefits.

It’s a lot easier for the politicians to talk about pensions as strictly a money issue.

Reports like this make it harder to ram through unfair and unconstitutional proposals because they make everyone involved admit there is a human impact to these decisions.

The Tribune and Ray Long deserve a lot of credit for putting a front page spotlight on a person who stands to be impacted by pension legislation.

Read the whole story here .  Watch a video interview. Then, prepare for the next round in the pension fight.

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Daisy is counting on our support.


  1. I work for the IDOC and know the pension problems. Also my Mother is a retired teacher and her pension payment is approx $1800 a month. My father passed away in 2011 and all of his social security that he had paid in since 1959 is going to someone else. The goverment says that my mother’s pension is to much for her to recieve any of his social security. How many goverment official could survive on $1800 a month in these times. I am fortunate to be able to give my mother a home to live in, because she could not afford it on her own. Now the state wants to take more from the teachers and the state workers, while giving themselves raises and COLA. Where is this fair. The goverment should never be paid more that the average mean salary of the state, and should also not recieve a pension for only 4-8 years of service. The state and federal goverment have become a burden and until the people stand up and take it back, there will be no change. God bless us all.

  2. Although I do not know my father’s retirement income from TRS as we destroyed those records after he died in 1998, I am able to share his annual salary. He began teaching in the public school system in a one room country school house back in 1936 for an annual salary of $640. He remained in that district throughout his career with the exception of the years from 1943-1945 when he served in the South Pacific during WWII, retiring in June of 1977 with 39 years of service as his first year teaching in a parochial school and his years of military service did not count towards his retirement. His income the year he retired was $28,033 as the district’s business manager. By using the formula that was in place back when I retired in 2002, I can approximate that his retirement income was under $20,000. Truly, Daisy Rittgers’ situation is not an exception, but rather the rule for her generation!

    Thank you for posting this article on your website and giving me the opportunity to back up this Tribune article by sharing my father’s work history in District # 228.

  3. My pension was a promise of deferred income or I may have gone some place else to work. The contract I signed used the term “irrevocable.” There is constitutional protection. This is all trumped by the state using the pension fund to lower taxes and increase benefits for tax payers for 50 years. How is that different than a mortgage that is not paid and the one that wrote the language for the mortgage papers is the one that is not paying? Then going to one’s children in the home and saying they must kick in the difference for his poor cash management. Let’s not forget the state, with no pressure from organized labor, sweetened the pension with 5+5 and 2+2. That is like the one with the mortgage adding a garage. With all this foolishness, the state thinks they have the wisdom to come up with a one fix for all solution.

  4. Thank you Daisy for speaking out. We need more retirees like you. In many ways I am like you. I retired in 1993 from a rural school district in southern Champaign County. My take home pension today is less than $30,000 year. Our pension is not a right it is a promise. A promise that was made to me on the day I signed my first contract and continued until I retired with 32 years of teaching in the same school district. Teaching was not a job to me, it was something I loved but I would like to have the pension I was promised so that I can live my retired years with dignity.