Trib puts a face on pensions (Updated with video)

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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.