But now, former teachers like Mary Olson are worried they won't get the financial return they expected.
"We paid our part," said Olson. "And the state of Illinois has used our retirement as like a checkbook or a charge card."
Lawmakers say years of skipping pension payments have left the state with an unfunded liability of more than $96 billion.
To fix this, one of the proposals includes capping the percentage of money retired teachers get.
Current educators could also have to pay more into the system--and even work an extra five years, till age 60.
"What do we do now? How do we go back and get what was deserved for us?" asked Olson.
Their answer is to rally.
That why teachers across the region joined forces on a cold Thursday morning to protest the plan at the capital.
"We want to be proactive, and be on top of things, and make sure the public, the media, and the legislators know exactly how we feel," said Janet Kilgus.
So they boarded a bus headed for Springfield in an effort to preserve their pensions before it's too late.
"My insurance is going up yearly," said Kilgus. "Then to think about my income maybe being cut in someway...that's scary."
"They're making us feel like we're the bad guys, it's the teachers that are causing the problems," added Olson. "The teachers paid their money. We just want what was promised."
Now with plans to meet lawmakers face to face, they only hope a revised benefit deal moves forward, so they can enjoy the years ahead.
Governor Pat Quinn's office says without reform, unfunded pension liability grows by $17 million each day.
Some lawmakers believe drastic measures are necessary to pay down the debt.