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Feature Stories

Work to passion: 'LifeTimes' readers share their stories
of post-retirement joys and successes

In our spring 2014 issue, we asked "LifeTimes" readers to share with us their stories of moving from a job or career to finding their passion in life. You told us about supporting nonprofits, writing spy novels and poetry, and many things in between. Your responses are below.

If you missed the deadline for this issue, it's not too late. We'll print more of your stories in the coming months. Email your story to us at LifeTimesDepartment@bcbsil.com.

Janet Isaacman, author and volunteer

I was only retired one week when I realized that this time of life called retirement had the potential to be a very special journey. As I began my journey I took notes which eventually became a book called Transitioning to Retirement: Discovering How to Build Social Networks, Self-Worth and Structure in Retirement that was designed to help myself and others create a "retirement time plan" to ensure that we were getting the most out of our retirement years.

Going through the exercises in the book I was able to figure out what I am passionate about, what I am good at, and that I like to work with children.

Personally, I have found a great deal of satisfaction in doing volunteer work in a nearby school.  The fourth graders I work with participate in one-on-one book discussions. They are eager to share what they have read and the experience gives them a chance to build an ongoing relationship with an adult who cares. I have also helped them see how much knowledge you can gain from reading and how books and a good imagination can open a reader to new ideas and experiences. By asking challenging questions I help develop their thinking skills.

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. But we do have today. I have worked very hard to make each day count. I have developed a plan that has a variety of activities such as volunteering and writing a book which are tied to my retirement vision to help others.

I am pleased with my "retirement time plan." It ensures that I am not wasting the most precious resource in retirement—time-and that my senior years are both enjoyable and meaningful.

Audrey Middlebrooke, runs recycling business

At 86 years of age, I have been retired for quite awhile. When my husband and I returned from his work in Venezuela in 1986, I started recycling aluminum and donating the proceeds to various local nonprofit organizations. As time went on, I contacted neighbors and they started donating cans to me.

I would send a yearly notice to let them know how much money was collected and where it was donated. When a neighboring subdivision discontinued its recycling service I notified its residents about my efforts.

Now I have a half-mile by 2 block area that I collect aluminum cans from for recycling.

About 10 years ago I "incorporated" and established a scheduled "production line" for five days a week so that my "producers/investors" know what day to leave cans by their mailboxes for me to pick up.

Now I produce an annual report for the "Middlebrooke Corporation" telling the "investors" how much profit is made and where it is donated. I deliver it by hand so there is no mail expense cutting into the profits.

One year, our highest, I donated over $700. I feel this serves two purposes; it keeps the cans out of landfills, and the proceeds help local non-profits. A couple of businesses donate also. It's a win-win situation.

Barbara Ferguson, poet and secretary

I loved to cook and sew in 4-H as a kid, so I majored in Home Economics Education in college, intending to become a teacher. I used those skills as a homemaker for 17 years. After my husband died, there were no openings for teachers in that field, so I did various temp jobs to feed the family. My frequent trips to the employment office made me available when they had an opening. At 49, I became an employment interviewer until retirement.

I moved close to a son to be involved in the lives of grandchildren. While explaining to our pastor how to hire a secretary, he hired me for the part-time job. I also lead an exercise class at the local senior center and help cook for the weekly luncheons. I enjoy writing. This year I published "You're Not Too Old," a book of poems to challenge senior citizens to make the most of their retirement years.

Carla R. Khan-van Riessen, writer, translator, and volunteer

After retiring at the age of 69 after spending the last 15 years of my career enjoying "everything that had to do with numbers or dollar signs" at Continental Airlines Cargo, I finally found time for my passion: writing.

I had already been actively involved with Honor Flight Chicago, a volunteer organization that flies WWII veterans, free of charge, to Washington D.C. for their Day of Honor. Rather than checking the veterans in at the airport very early in the morning, I now had time to visit them at their homes and do personal interviews about their war experiences. These interviews are being used for HFC's own records, for our website, and also for promotional purposes. As I was born in the Netherlands during WWII, it still is a humbling experience to meet these veterans, to whom I owe my life and my freedom, and hear their stories.

In addition, I finally could fulfill another one of my lifetime dreams and that was translating my very favorite childhood book for my grandchildren. The book, "A String of Miracle Beads," was published in 1948 and consists of dream-like tales taking place in rural Holland. Rendering the 220 pages from Dutch into English and keeping the content the same while also giving it a 21st century flavor for my American, suburban grandchildren was quite a challenge.

The next test was to try and find the author and obtain a copyright waiver. After a long search and lots of luck, I discovered that she was still alive. The book was printed in December 2013 and I was able to present the 92-year-old author with a copy during my visit to the Netherlands in February 2014. This had been her only book, and she was delighted to find out that even after 63 years, someone had loved it enough to go through the effort of translating it. We had a delightful visit. I was shocked to hear that she passed away just three weeks after we met.

Honor Flight has just begun its 2014 season and I am looking forward to interviewing many veterans over the course of this summer.

Ernestine Alfonsetti, community volunteer

About a year and a half ago I retired from the insurance business. This was my second career in life, the first being a neighborhood beauty salon that brought me delightful clients and a fun community where people would pop in many times to just say, "Hi."

But my real passion began while I was in the Lakeview East community of Chicago while serving that area with my multi-line agency. I got involved with the chamber of commerce. I joined the committees, I volunteered at the Halloween Hoopla, served on the board for the chamber, was voted president for three years, and became a commissioner with the city of Chicago for that area.

I knew I would "fall in love" just one more time in my life. However, I didn't know that it would be with an entire community. The energy, friendships, fun, and engaging teamwork that I embraced cannot be believed. After my retirement, I missed the community so much, I decided to join the 19th District Police Steering Committee so that I could continue to serve this incredibly wonderful neighborhood, along with the Fine Art Festival committee and the landscaping committee to see that our neighborhood is beautified and ever-changing with the seasons.

If you find your passion, hang on to it with both hands. It's quite a ride.

Russell R. Miller, author

I have had five books published since turning 70, and my sixth book is finished and on its way to the publisher. These books include two scholarly nonfiction, one nonfiction narrative, and two novels. As a result, I have pretty well covered the major publishing categories.

Prior to retiring, I spent 20 years as senior vice president of international marketing for Zenith Electronics. This provided an opportunity to travel to over 100 countries-many of them 50-60 times. Most of the countries were located in developing economic areas, and required working with individuals in both the private and governmental sectors. I used this experience as the basis for my first book Selling to Newly Emerging Markets that provided practical information for companies with little exposure to the global economy.

After I retired, I also worked as a consultant for the World Bank and agencies of the United Nations on projects advising organizations in former Soviet countries on how to convert their business operations from a command to a free market structure. This experience was the basis for my second book Doing Business in Newly Privatized Markets.

I also did a volunteer consulting assignment for the senior citizens Peace Corps assigned to a former Soviet-closed city in Ukraine. The town had been isolated by the Russians because of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile installations they concealed in the surrounding Carpathian Mountains, and the numerous secret defense facilities located within the town itself. I was the first person from the outside most of the residents had ever met, and certainly the first one from their former enemy - the United States. This challenging experience provided the basis for my nonfiction narrative Journey to a Closed City.

My next book was a spy novel titled The Spy with a Clean Face. It was based in post-Soviet Ukraine, and won the Silver Quill Award from the American Authors Association.

Another consulting project was for the Vienna-based UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. This assignment was a pre-privatization project centered at a mine (a former gulag) in the remote Tien Shan Mountain area of northern Kazakhstan. The resulting book was also a spy novel titled Death on the Silk Road, which relied heavily on my experiences in Central Asia.

I am now 85 and have just submitted my most recent manuscript to the publisher. The narrative Death of a Spymaster is centered in contemporary Kiev as well as Vienna, Tel Aviv and Cairo. Hopefully, it will be released this fall.

I have greatly enjoyed my writing experience. It has allowed me to remain active and productive; as well as permitting further use of my experiences and associations that were formed during my working career.