At 68, Jerry Stoddard still wears a white-collar shirt to work. Otherwise, his job ringing up groceries bears little resemblance to his previous life as a sales and marketing executive.

Except for this: "I get to be with people," he said, "and I get to stay active."

More seniors are following the path of Stoddard, who "unretired" and now works 25 to 32 hours a week as a cashier and occasional bagger at the Byerly's in Roseville. Others are staying in the workforce. And it's not just as megastore greeters or the older expert you seek out at the hardware store.

In Maple Grove, a couple of octogenarians might ask if you want fries with that. An older and wiser bus driver carts Edina students around. A woman of a certain age keeps people of all ages smiling at a Minneapolis nightclub. And there are even doctors and lawyers who continue to practice in their later years.

Some keep working (or go back to work) out of necessity or boredom. But all say that being around people is a major motivation.

With life expectancy increasing and health care improving, the trend shows no sign of tailing off, especially with our most populous generation, baby boomers, reaching what had been the standard retirement age.

By 2012, according to the AARP, nearly one-fifth of U.S. workers will be at least 55. The ones we caught up with -- all older than 70 -- plan to remain part of that group.

Burgers, with a side of sass

"You have to watch out for Fran," co-worker Pat Dickinson said. "She might cut up a little."

That might explain why Frances Harper, 81, has become the face of the franchise at the Wendy's in Maple Grove, along with her partner-in-fries, Luverne Penner, 82.

Luverne & Franny might not be a comedy team, but they are a draw.

"A lot of our customers come in because of them," manager Paco Elorriaga said. "You don't want to mess with these ladies. I talked with the previous manager, and the first thing he told me was, 'Don't mess with them. There's a lot of love there.'"

The octogenarians took different paths to the fast-food world.

Harper, who had stayed home to raise six kids, found herself in a tough financial spot when her husband of 42 years "just up and walked out," she said. She got her first job at 66, an age when many people are leaving the workforce, and has been a Wendy's cashier ever since.

Penner has been at it even longer, 19 years, and also took the job out of necessity because of her spouse. She had retired from Burlington Air Freight.

"After two years, I was driving my husband crazy. He was not well, and I have a lot of energy," she said.

"Being off two years, you realize how the bones get creaky, but they uncreaked real fast," said Penner, who comes in early to set up stations and then works the window. "I really like working with all these younger people."

That would be, well, everybody.

Practice makes perfect sense

Owning a cabin in Wisconsin and a condo in Florida might prompt a 70-year-old attorney whose firm had just closed to retire.

Not Jerry Simon. Instead, he hopped on an offer from another firm. Thirteen years later, he's still at it for the Maslon law group.

Like many older workers, Simon stays at it because of the people.

"It may sound strange, but I think I do it because I don't like the idea of terminating the relationships I have with my clients," he said.

And there's no end in sight.

"As a kid I was a big fan of Joe Louis, and toward the end he just got badly beaten by Rocky Marciano," Simon said. "I remember thinking he didn't know when to quit. Sometimes I tell my wife maybe that's me: I don't know when to quit.

"As long as my health is good and my wife's health is good, and as long as my clients still want to talk to me, I expect to keep working," he said.

The keys to happiness

Playing the piano for amateur singers of all ages -- and all stages of inebriation -- has never gotten old for Lou Snider, 76.

"The thing is, it's not like a real job," she said. "It's more pleasant than that, and it's something my little old body can do."

So every Friday and Saturday night, Snider slides her diminutive physique behind the piano at Nye's Polonaise Room in Minneapolis, her ever-smiling face providing a sharp contrast to the glowering portrait of Frederic Chopin above her bench.

Snider has been playing at Nye's for 45 years, after trying some office jobs ("didn't like that") and a stint with the rock 'n' roll band called Lanny Charles & His Harem. ("We were not his harem; we actually didn't like him so much.")

Despite her tenure at the old-style Minneapolis hot spot, she's not the oldest employee at Nye's. Hostess Evie Radke is 81, and accordionist Ruth Adams is 79.

"There's a lot of people my age still putzing around working," Snider said.

Driven to contribute

Retirement clearly didn't suit Bill White, 75, of Eagan.

"I found all the projects I could do and that lasted a year," he said. "At the end it was so bad I started watching the O.J. [Simpson] trial."

Now the former sales and marketing executive is one of several erstwhile retirees driving buses for the Edina school system. It keeps him busy for 40 hours a week, and White has found it rewarding to work with special-needs students for the past seven years. The more tangible benefits, such as health care, are good, too, he added.

Seniors such as White bring something to the job that younger folks don't.

"There's a lot of context here. You need to be able to talk to parents, teachers and aides, plus the students," he said. "You're still dealing with a lot of different kinds of people. Usually, the retiree has had a lot of experience with that."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643