Fla. Lawn Bowlers Lose $470,000 in Stock Market

Under a blue vault of sky and a light breeze, members of the Sun City Center Lawn Bowling Club arrive for their morning match, dressed in long shorts, short sleeves, straw hats and visors.

Their laughter and chatter mixes with the clacking of the balls tapping together at each end of the green turf. But the festive scene belies turbulence beneath the surface for many of these retirees: the near disappearance of their nest eggs.

The recent global financial crisis has devastated retirement plans for generations of workers, but those who have already retired are especially hard hit, watching the money they planned to live or travel on disappear.

Fifteen of the lawn bowlers surveyed lost a total of $470,000 out of their retirement investments. The losses, though, are particularly concentrated because eight of those 15 either have been breaking even or had no money tied up in the stock market. Some of the rest have absorbed substantial hits.

"I have to tighten my belt a little," said Cecilia McBride, a 67-year-old widow whose IRA is down $100,000. To save on expenses, she no longer drives her car but instead uses her golf cart to get around Sun City Center, a retirement community located 30 miles south of Tampa.

About 20,000 primarily middle-class retirees live here amid a mix of single-family homes and condominiums that stretch north and south from a lush stretch of highway lined with palm trees.

McBride, who never acquired a pension during her career as a hairdresser, said she still has some money remaining in the IRA, but she now must live off the principal instead of the interest. She also receives financial help from her two adult daughters.

"If it continues, I'm going to have to find a part-time job," she said as the lawn bowlers got warmed up and her partner yells "drats" at her own weak shot across the green. "If I can't make it, I'll go live with my kids," McBride said.

Glenn Baumann: "I want to see people go to jail."

Others at least have a pension to fall back on.

Joe Coleman, 80, is the director of the club. He lost $40,000 from his retirement account. For living expenses, he and his wife depend on the pension he gets from working 31 years as a schoolteacher in New Jersey. But he worries about his wife's future without him.

"If I die, my pension stops. We really needed that savings," he said. Echoing a few others in a territory that leans heavily for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, the financial crisis is prompting him to switch his allegiance to Democrat Barack Obama. Like the others who lost money; he plans to wait out the wild ride of the stock market. "I'm hanging in and hoping for the best."

Others are revising their retirement plans.

Peter Sears, 78, hesitates to even guess how much he's lost out of his retirement fund from the stock market, but he estimates it more than $100,000.

He was independently employed before retirement as an anesthesiologist and has no pension, he said on an adjacent green for beginners, awaiting instruction. He has some money remaining in mutual funds, but he and his wife are already planning to cut back on the cruises they used to take. "We're going to do less traveling," Sears said.

Joe Coleman, head of the club, keeps score. He worries about his retirement losses and what his wife will live on without his pension after he dies.

Others were a little more fortunate, holding diverse investments outside of the stock market, either breaking even or making a little money off of conservative bonds.

"We didn't make a whole lot, but we didn't lose a lot," said Glenn Baumann, 78, before launching a shot across the green and watching it with hands on hips. He invested in mutual funds and received a pension from his years as a welder for a utility company. He feels secure about his own economic situation, but like others here, wants retribution from Wall Street.

"I want to see people go to jail," Baumann said.

Many are optimistic that the market will bounce back. But they don't know if they'll be around to see it.

Cecilia McBride, who lost $100,000 in her IRA, prepares to take a shot in her lawn bowling club.

"When it's all said and done, it'll be OK," said Nancy Spencer, 60, who, along with her husband, lost $100,000 in their retirement stocks, though they live off pensions and income from CDs and money market investments.

"If we live long enough," Spencer said, "it'll come back."