Retirement isn’t all sleeping late and doing exactly whatever fits the mood.
Couples strain to adjust to 24/7 togetherness after completing all-consuming careers. Some strain to stretch finances to reach their dreams. Some shuffle restlessly in a trial-and-error search for contentment. And some retirees regretfully substitute a work ethic with a “busy ethic,” says Catherine Frank, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, which offers classes in retirement.
“People who dive right in usually pull back a bit. You need time to enjoy the moment and reflect on your life,” Frank says.
In weekend seminars twice a year, the Asheville institute starts retirees or soon-to-be retirees on a self-help journey to address the right questions before entering life’s next phase. Who am I? How will my identity change in retirement? What makes me happy?
One of these Asheville weekends costs $850, not including lodging and transportation, and they attract a national market. “We get some PIPs, previously important people,” Frank says. “You experience a real sense of disappointment if people don’t call you by your title, if most people don’t care what you think.”
While it’s difficult for most to structure introspective conversations alone, senior centers, YMCAs, churches and even coffee shops can help retirees at far less cost. The Triangle has an abundance of such resources serving an over-65 population that, in Raleigh alone, grew 60 percent between 2000 and 2010.
And today’s retirees are writing their own scripts for second acts worthy of a standing ovation.
Starting a conversation
Computer systems engineer Rusty Edmister of Chapel Hill retired in 2007 after closing out a 39-year career with IBM in a job that took him all over Southeast Asia. He set out to claim the master’s degree he had always wanted, but it was a physical fitness class that led him to his next calling.
“In a flexibility and balance class, there was a World War II vet who gave me a copy of a DVD of his oral history in the State Archive,” he says.
The DVD proved to be a spark for Edmister, a Vietnam veteran who spent 1970 in Long Binh as an Army finance specialist.
Edmister talked with then-state archivist Si Harrington about North Carolina’s collection of oral histories taken from veterans born here or who have a permanent address in the state. Harrington interviewed Edmister to add to the collection, but Edmister wanted to do more. He volunteered to conduct some interviews himself, bought a camera and a tripod and started asking questions.
“Speaking one on one with somebody I have a connection with in the service is easy,” he says. “I’m hearing history from the guy who made it. Each interview is a piece of the puzzle, but the picture is incomplete without every piece.”
With as many as 800,000 military veterans born or living here, North Carolina is fertile territory for Edmister’s project. As he sees things, the 103 oral histories he has done – the archive contains more than 900 – merely scratch the surface of the task before him at age 69. “I’ll do it as long as I can drive. … It makes me feel good to be helping families understand something important about a loved one,” he says. “If the archive had 10,000 people doing these, we could do them all in a year if everyone did 80.”
Pursuing a passion
Retired insurance agent Jean Millard has a yen for writing books for children and reading to them. “That’s my problem: I’m a one-woman show. I want to write my stories and be with the kids. That’s where I get so much of my energy from.”
Millard has created a character – Gray-Haired Granny – to star in her books and to perform with members of her reading audience. The business she started, The Storytime Club, books appearances for Gray-Haired Granny, has published “Charlie the Dimpled Dragon” and is planning to release a longer story about childhood obesity. That is, it will as soon as Millard finishes it.
So far, her passion for influencing children positively has created more buzz online than it has profit. But she has finished eight chapters of the obesity book, to good reviews from an education consulting team, and says she is pounding a keyboard to finish the rest.
While Millard has enjoyed pursuing a lifetime desire to write, depending on its commercial value adds some stress to her post-career life. “At some point, I’ve got to start making a living out of this,” she says. Like most would-be entrepreneurs, Millard has sought help.
As director of the Small Business Center at Wake Technical College, Fred Gebarowski is there to answer calls for help from Millard and others with business ideas. In addition to Wake Tech classes, Gebarowski can recommend classes that don’t require registration, including development of a business plan and protection from copyrights and patents. He also provides one-on-one counseling.
From dentistry to meditation
Former dentist Howie Shareff has turned his struggle with arthritis into a nonprofit organization that uses his practice of yoga to help patients. “I knew that the dental practice wouldn’t last forever when I had lots of limitations. Twisting and turning had led to my professional demise,” he says.
The sports-minded Shareff had learned about yoga from one of his dental patients nearly 20 years ago. He began to explore how to start a business based on yoga. A connection to the N.C. Center for Non-Profits helped him focus on his mission to improve quality of life for the disabled and underprivileged while bringing the benefits of yoga to a wider community. In 2010, he retired from dentistry at 57 to plot out the second act of his professional life.
In just three years with his 501(c)(3) and two part-time volunteers, Shareff’s life has become active and fulfilling. He teaches free yoga classes at senior facilities, public libraries, a women’s shelter and on Raleigh cable Channel 10, as well as private classes for $36 to $54 a session. He organized Yoga Fest 2012 at a North Raleigh hotel and wants to register 250 to 400 people for Yoga Fest 2013.
Shareff’s reward for pursuing a second passion is accomplishment. “One of my students, who has MS (multiple sclerosis) is now able to drive her car.”
He’s gone to the dogs
Succeeding in business is possible in retirement. Craig Springer’s bustling retail store at the State Fairgrounds – Stella’s Pet Stuff – offers evidence of that.
Springer retired from a 25-year career as a UPS agent in 2001. Living on a company pension and Social Security, his first move was to sell his Cary townhouse and downsize his household to fit an apartment. His new digs left him with less work to do.
During that intermission, “I decided I didn’t want to be a couch potato. I was afraid I’d go to seed,” Springer says. He considered how he enjoyed spending his time, and Stella, his Yorkshire terrier, came up No. 1. What’s more, he had enjoyed selling pet supplies on weekends, a small operation he bought from a friendly customer on his route and ran during his last two years at UPS.
When offered a chance to relocate inside the fairgrounds education building, Springer and a new retired buddy, Ed Craig, decided to combine Craig’s pet tag operation with Stella’s Pet Stuff in the inside space. Since then, Springer has expanded Stella’s, surrounding Craig’s pet tags on two sides and adding a multitude of toys, treats, grooming supplies, nylon leashes, plush beds, cages and other geegaws for dogs mostly.
“Five years being inside, without the effort to set up and break down, has helped me to focus on merchandising and expand the business,” Springer said during a recent Saturday with customers bustling all around him. So far, he has plowed all of Stella’s profits back into the business, but he expects the business to supplement his retirement income eventually.
With only 5-pound Mitzy to take Stella’s place at home, Springer, 72, said he’s still learning and has registered for a bookkeeping class at Wake Tech this fall. “I had to learn how to do everything, but I just enjoy it so much. It’s a creative outlet for me,” he says.
Riding the rails
Bill Cole of Charlotte and Bob Warner of Cary are spending their retirement serving their home state while indulging a lifetime love of railroading. Cole, 84, and Warner, 72, spend many of their golden days conveying information about North Carolina to passengers riding one of the state-supported Amtrak trains.
Cole boards the Carolinian in Charlotte on Fridays, rides to Rocky Mount and, after a 3-1/2-hour wait there, returns to his home station by 8:13 if the trains run on time. “I help unload and by the time I get home, it’s after 10, but I’m always energized when I do it, never tired, which always amazes me,” says Cole, a retired minister. “I’ll be on the train sometimes 48 hours in a week, but I get to talk to 300 to 400 of my closest friends.”
Besides offering passengers helpful information, train hosts are intended to be North Carolina ambassadors. The train serves commuters between Raleigh and Greensboro, veterans headed to the VA Hospital in Durham, college students, families on weekend outings and the disabled who couldn’t travel any other way but by rail, Warner and Cole say.
Warner, who retired from IBM after 42 years, typically rides the Piedmont from Cary to Charlotte and back to Cary on the Carolinian every Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
“I get plenty of exercise walking around the train,” says Warner. “We do whatever needs to be done, especially if an elderly lady asks help lifting a bag.”
But it isn’t exercise that motivates him. “I’ve always been interested in trains. For my third birthday, I wanted a caboose,” he says. “The satisfaction comes from helping somebody who’s lost.” Oftentimes, he says, they’ve been sound asleep.
Warner, a smiling serial volunteer, also stays active with the Cary Band Boosters and the First Methodist Church. “I don’t have any changes in mind right now, but I’m always open. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be doing some of the things I’m doing now.”