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Adjusting, thriving in retirement

“She’s busier now than when she was teaching!” said Kyle Knudson, describing his mother, Mardi, who had recently retired. His description of a woman who runs marathons, volunteers, and maintains a schedule that many don’t keep up even in their younger years was filled with admiration.

But Mardi Knudson hastened to explain that she does the things she does because they bring her joy. She wants to be able to get out of bed in the morning with excitement about what she will be doing that day.

And, she said, “I retired so I could have some choice in the way I wanted to do things.” Mardi didn’t want to do anything on a regular basis, she said. And she wanted to make her own schedule.

Retirement, for Mardi, was a way to do things she wants to do, instead of things she has to do. However, Mardi is inspired by the philosophy of giving back. So she has chosen volunteer projects that allow her to do that.

Mardi taught in the Sauk Rapids School District for many years, first as an elementary school teacher, then as a middle school science teacher, and finally as an instructional coach for math teachers. While teaching science, she was impressed by the number of organizations that devoted time and resources to helping teachers and children with science studies. So, to give back, she took the Master Gardener course through the University of Minnesota’s Extension Program. As a Master Gardener, Mardi is able to give back and can also still be involved in teaching kids through programs such as the Science Rocks! Hands-on Science and Nature Conference, held yearly at St. Cloud State University, and designed to “introduce 5th and 6th- grade students to a variety of science and natural elements through presentations and hands-on learning,” according to the Resource Training and Solutions catalog.

Mardi also feels strongly about helping young teachers. Again, as part of her philosophy of giving back, she is currently involved in supervising student teachers at the College of St. Benedict. Volunteering through her church, she is also devoting a few hours a week to working on a Habitat for Humanity home.

Besides asking how she can give back, Mardi has also asked herself, “What floats your boat?” And so she has made time for writing, joining two writing groups – one for poetry and one for prose writing, and is working on a children’s book. She has also joined several book groups and is enjoying painting and photography. She has found the Whitney Center in St. Cloud to be a great resource for seniors.

“When I tell people I’m retired, they all ask what I am doing – am I traveling? Playing golf every day? I tell them no,” said Mardi. “I am doing what I love.” For one thing, she adds, “retirement doesn’t come with a travel fund. If that’s what you want to do, you have to plan for it.”

Mardi’s recommendation for people who are thinking about retirement: “Do an honest inventory. What makes you happy? Are you making plans to get there? What are you doing to get ready for that?” She adds another question: “How do you take care of yourself so you’re physically and spiritually able?”

Saving for Retirement

Holly Munson, a former teacher at the St. Cloud Children’s Home, said her sister-in-law repeated a friend’s advice on retirement:

“You know you are ready to retire when:

1) You HAVE enough (money)

2) You HAVE enough to do

3) You HAVE HAD enough!”

Holly credited her husband with helping her to plan for a retirement filled with travel and all the projects she dreamed of completing.

Holly Munson and Tim Griffin on a boat in the Amazon during a recent retirement vacation. Contributed photo

“If you want to retire when you are 60, and travel, you need to have money,” Holly remembered her husband, Tim Griffin, saying. Holly found the discipline difficult – like most people, she still wanted to “have stuff now,” but she reluctantly followed her husband’s advice and began to put money away when she was 32. The planning worked; Holly was able to retire just three years ago. She and her husband have been able to take the kind of long trips abroad that most people only dream about. Month-long trips to Central and South America have already been part of the plan. Trips across the country have been frequent as well, and at home, Holly has been able to focus on sewing and pattern-making, gardening, cooking, baking, spending time doing massive jigsaw puzzles and other projects and/or putzing that she had looked forward to doing when she retired.

For Holly, the money question was one that came up early and that she and her husband mastered. But the nitty gritty details of retirement were a surprise. Some real adjustments needed to be made. As Holly pointed out, “After years of working two schedules….all of a sudden you are both in the house ALL DAY!”

Holly and Tim struggled with different schedules and different ways of doing things. Finally, in frustration, Holly mentioned her frustration to a friend. Having gone through the adjustments a few years previously, her friend laughed and said, “Ah, yes…Those early days of retirement when you are learning how to get along all over again.”

Holly and Tim realized that they needed to find a new routine. Respecting each other’s different approaches to their time at home was the beginning. It took some time, but eventually, they found a rhythm that works for them both.

Now that those issues are resolved, Holly and Tim have settled in to a comfortable schedule that includes hobbies, travel, and spending time with family.

Enjoy life a little

“You’ve got to go out when what you want is in place,” said Terry Mooney, who retired in 2004 from many years of teaching in Maple Lake schools. “But, you’ve got to make sure it’s what you really want.”

Terry remembered how she and her fellow teachers used to complain about how much of her salary was put into the pension fund – but now she feels blessed to have a good pension. She was able to retire fairly young and has had time to do many things that she feels are important.

She keeps a busy schedule in her position as vice president of the board of directors of the Friends of the Maple Lake Library, volunteers with a hospice, works part time at the retail flower mart in town, and keeps up with family – both with her elderly mother in the area, and children and grandchildren on the West Coast. As part of her position with the Friends of the Maple Lake Library, Terry chairs the fundraiser for the all-volunteer Maple Lake Library. This year is her fifth year – and she says it is time to step down.

“I’ve evolved in my retirement,” she said. Having taken on a full load of volunteer activities after she retired, Terry feels that, “My real retirement is yet to come.” She envisions long trips, perhaps visiting “each of the 50 states and seeing something of interest there.” She also knows that she “needs to loosen up and enjoy life a little.”

“Retirement is very individual,” mused Terry. “This is what worked for me.”

After working for over 30 years as a teacher, Terry knew it was the right time to retire when she was no longer excited about her job. “Things had changed,” she said. Yet, she chose to volunteer at the school after she retired, did a little substitute teaching and “floated” in the classroom. But she still didn’t feel she was making a difference.

“My goal in life is to make a positive impact in what I can do,” said Terry. That must be the reason she has taken on so much with her volunteer activities, putting in hours to bring in donations for the library, helping to recruit new volunteers, and all the other activities that are required to keep the all-volunteer Maple Lake Library going.

One of Terry’s favorite quotes is: “Purpose is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s needs.” Terry added, “I use this to make choices as to how to use my time.”

Stay Active

According to John Rouse, of St. Cloud, “Anybody who’s planning on retiring – regardless of age – needs to have a set of activities that they have passion for.”

After teaching for years at a private university in Connecticut, John decided to retire 15 years ago. It wasn’t a difficult financial decision, as he had always lived a modest lifestyle. John looked around for places to live that were not as expensive as the East Coast and purchased a home in St. Cloud for less than the selling price of his two-bedroom co-op in the Bronx. It was an easy decision to move to the Midwest, where the cost of living is much lower than in the Northeast.

John acknowledged that the key to a good retirement is to have the financial resources set up ahead of time. But the main requirement after financial resources is to have interests that you are passionate about. “Retirement,” he said, “gives you the opportunity to more fully indulge in them.”

John doesn’t feel these are activities you can pick up when you retire – you have to already have a love for them before you retire. Otherwise, he said, “You hear stories about people who retire, and within a month, one of two things happens – either 1) they drop dead; or 2) they get so bored they take a part-time job!”

John brought his passion for reading, watching movies, and playing golf into his new post-retirement life in St. Cloud. He joined numerous book groups and indulges his love of movies, often ordering a few at a time from the Great River Regional Library, and paying close attention to the schedule on his Turner Classic Movies cable channel. During the summer months, he plays golf every day when the weather is good. And, unlike many golfers, John prefers to walk the entire course, often walking for as many as four hours when playing. “You have to have good health and be keeping it up to be able to walk the course,” said John.

Some golf courses are harder than others, of course. When he took a drive to Kimball to play on their course, John was surprised to see how many younger folks were using carts. He found that walking the course is not common at the Kimball Golf Course. It is a very hilly course, and it took him 4 ½ hours to play 18 holes – a long walk up and down hills.

It is not so uncommon to find others who want to walk the course in St. Cloud. At the Angushire Golf Course, John happened to meet another retiree who is 80 years old. They both expressed interest in walking the course and enjoyed a competitive game together. “His game was better than mine!” he exclaimed.

“He is in great shape for a man who is 80 years old,” remarked John. “I can only hope that I will be in such good shape when I am 80.”

In the meantime, John takes pleasure in his hobbies and plays golf as often as he can, truly enjoying his retirement in St. Cloud.

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