Modern-day disciples

Catholics demonstrate the role of faith in daily life

by Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

Dick Downs, a banking officer and reverse mortgage specialist at M&T Bank in Syracuse, is living out the teachings of the Catholic Church. “For the longest time, the Catholic Church has stressed the importance of helping other people. This, for me, is the most fulfilling job I could ever have,” said Downs. “I’m satisfied about what I am doing to help people. I used to be a financial consultant, but this position is more rewarding to me.” Downs has been with M&T for the last three years.

A parishioner at St. James Church in Syracuse, Downs said he tries to educate as many people as possible about the advantages of securing a reverse mortgage. Reverse mortgages are a special type of loan that allows people age 62 and older to convert home equity into cash while they continue to live at home for as long as they want. These types of loans are called “reverse” mortgages because payments flow from the lender to the homeowner. Particularly now, with the troubling financial markets, these types of opportunities hold significance.

Using home equity through a reverse mortgage could be an important strategy for seniors to help deal with the financial challenges of living at home. Over time, continuing to live in their home can present unique challenges. Activities once taken for granted can become more challenging and may necessitate making changes to improve accessibility, comfort and safety.

The reverse mortgage can also help seniors to meet the increased costs of quality health care, especially prescription drugs, in-home care and physical rehabilitation.

For many senior homeowners, making monthly payments on a home equity loan, mortgage, car loan or credit cards can be difficult. With the reverse mortgage, homeowners can eliminate their mortgage and home equity loan payments and often pay off revolving credit cards.

Downs said that the myths surrounding reverse mortgages prevent people from taking advantage of them. Downs dispelled the myths by explaining that “the bank will not assume ownership of your home, you can qualify with an existing mortgage, you won’t get forced out of your home, your income and credit history don’t matter, a reverse mortgage has no out-of-pocket expenses, your heirs can inherit your home and you won’t have monthly payments. When you sell your home, when it is no longer your primary residence, or when your estate is settled, the loan must then be repaid.”

Downs listed the benefits of the reverse mortgage: it’s a tax-free source of income, it doesn’t affect Social Security or pension benefits, monthly disposable income is increased and, if  you choose the credit line option, the amount of credit available to you will increase until you withdraw the funds. “This program can provide people with peace-of-mind,” said Downs.

The reverse mortgage is a solution that is gaining in popularity. “It’s really grown in the last five years,” said Downs. “People are learning about this and understanding that it is a good program.”

Janice McKenna, president of Warne/McKenna Advertising in Syracuse, lives her strong faith through her community, the Tipperary Hill area. She is president of her neighborhood association. Her business is also located in the area. “A nice thing about living on Tipp Hill is that I’m able to walk to St. Pat’s for church,” said McKenna.

McKenna also served on the committee at St. Patrick’s that examined  the future of St. Patrick’s School a few years ago.

McKenna was recently appointed to the Alumni Board of Directors at Le Moyne College. “I‘m looking forward to finding ways to give back to Le Moyne, too,” said McKenna. “There is nothing more rewarding than giving back.”

“As children, we were always taught, through the example of our parents, to live our faith through service to the community, and that has stuck with me throughout my life,” said McKenna.

A native of Massena, N.Y., she and her siblings all attended Catholic schools from first grade through college.

McKenna came to Syracuse to attend Le Moyne College in 1971 and has called the city her home ever since.

Bob Warne, founder of  Warne/McKenna Advertising, hired McKenna in 1977, after she had completed graduate school. In 1988, Warne offered to sell the business to her. “What an incredible opportunity they gave me,” said McKenna. Now, 20 years after McKenna bought the business, Warne and his wife Virginia still work for the agency, and it celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.

McKenna said that the Warnes share her values and work ethic. “In our business, we have always sought out clients whom we respect. We do business only with organizations we are proud to be associated with — people who run honest businesses and believe in truth in advertising,” said McKenna.

In addition to several well-known retail accounts (East Syracuse Chevrolet, Geddes Federal Savings and Loan, Coleman’s Irish Pub, Cashel House and Tarson Pools and Spas), the agency does a great deal of business with non-profit and religious organizations. It works with the HOPE Appeal and on several other major fund raising efforts in the Syracuse Diocese, including the Fund for Retired Sisters. “We’ve enjoyed working with the Catholic schools, not only in our diocese, but in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, the diocese where I grew up,” said McKenna. “I’ve seen first-hand the value of a Catholic education, so seeing Catholic schools thrive is important to me. We also handle the advertising for several of Loretto’s programs. It’s exciting to watch Loretto take the lead in new programs to enhance the quality of life of our older adults.”

McKenna attributes frequent correspondence and her ability to produce quality written product in a timely manner for her success. “I work a lot and I enjoy it,” she said. 

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