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Former Wanamaker’s employees, now of retirement age, can’t track down their

Bill Whiting’s job at Wanamaker’s holds a dear place in his heart. For Whiting, who worked there in his twenties and thirties, it was a deeply formative time — and a whole lotta fun.

He was hired as a corporate designer in the `70s, back in the renowned department store’s heyday, and during his nearly seven years there, he worked on fashion shows, window displays, and even designed a massive Shinto shrine for the store’s Japan fair.

He immortalized the tie and shoelaces he wore to the interview, using them as upholstery on two tiny French chairs he made for a 19th-century replica of a Spruce Street townhouse. Decades later, he still keeps in touch with many of his coworkers.

But there’s something about the job that doesn’t sit right with Whiting, who’s now 74:

He never got his pension.

He’s certain he contributed to it — and he’s not sure how to access it. Through a Facebook group, he’s found more than 40 former employees who are in the same boat.

Some tried Macy’s — the current owner after several Wanamaker’s acquisitions — and had no luck. Others, like Whiting, tried the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the government agency that protects workers’ pensions. A representative told him that in order to help the former workers, they needed to know the pension plan number. But Whiting didn’t have any records from that time. His colleagues didn’t either.

“You know, from your twenties to early thirties, I don’t think it ever dawns on you that you’re gonna get old, let alone die,” he said.

Many, he said, have given up on ever getting the money they were promised.

» READ MORE: An author who was sold on Wanamaker’s

A Macy’s spokesperson said the company would evaluate each request from former employees regarding their pensions and send a written response.

Whiting and his colleagues’ situation is not uncommon. Employees who worked at a company like Wanamaker’s that was bought and sold over the years, are especially vulnerable to losing track of their pensions.

The PBGC holds benefits for 61,000 workers — known as “missing participants” — whose employers terminated their pensions plans and transferred the benefits to the agency, a PBGC spokesperson said.

Wanamaker’s and two of the companies that acquired it over the years, Woodward & Lothrop and JCPenney, terminated their defined benefit plans, the PBGC spokesperson confirmed. When a pension plan is terminated, it no longer pays out recurring benefits. Instead, the money is converted into lump sum payments or annuities.

PBGC said it could not comment on specific cases but encouraged former employees to contact the pension guarantee corporation.

Ron Garwood worked at Wanamaker’s for 45 years through five different owners including Macy’s. It was the best career he could have had, he said. As a visual merchandise manager, he was in charge of a team that designed how goods were displayed across the store and the company allowed them creative…

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