Just Don't Call Him Stew

updated 11/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

JERRY HARK, LIKE MANY RETIREES, travels a lot. Some days he flies from Dallas-Fort Worth to Charlotte, N.C. Or Portland, Oreg. Or Chicago, Or Guadalajara, Unlike other retirees, he gets paid to fly, and spends much of the flight on his feet. At 63, he has been an American Airlines flight attendant since September. One passenger has already made the mistake of asking: "Isn't it just about time for you to retire?"

A grandfather of three Hare did retire to San Angelo, Texas, in 1989 after a 40-year career as a technician for the Army Corps of Engineers. "After a while," he says, "mowing the lawn and fishing get to be a little boring." Then, last April, he read an article in Modern Maturity about American's program to recruit flight attendants over age 40.

On his 63rd birthday, Hare applied and two weeks later was accepted into the 5½-week course. Though Hare, who lived in dorm quarters with trainees younger than his two children, breezed through the requisite medical and physical fitness exams, the academic rigors of the course were daunting. "It was rough for someone who's been out of school as long as I have," says Hare. who has since mastered not just the safety features of five types of aircraft, but dozens of FAA regulations and various service and emergency procedures, including CPR and the fine points of delivering a baby.

Today, Hare, who earns about $18,300 a year, flies on an "as-needed" basis on a variety of routes out of Dallas-Fort Worth. "It's been very quiet around the house," says his wife, Ann, 57. "When he's gone, I feel like I'm missing my good right arm. His poor old fishing boat is just sitting out here getting kind of lonely." Hare, however, is an eager frequent flier, with no thoughts of retiring. Instead, he says with a grin, "I look forward to moving up the American Airlines career ladder."

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