Life Begins at 60
Places To Go, Things To Do
Liz Anne and Gordon Johnson
It was the ultimate test of a marriage. A road trip. For seven weeks. Camping in a tent. Many couples will tell you the fortitude of a union is tested during the early years of retirement, when they suddenly spend chunks of time together. For Liz Anne and Gordon Johnson, the National Park pass that preceded the camping trip was the perfect retirement gift from their children, but if they thought it would slow these two down, they would be mistaken.
There is a clear purpose and common thread running through the Johnsons’ 43-year marriage and it continues into retirement. The active Augusta couple each had a strategy. “I picked three non-profits that I could go to on a weekly basis,” says Liz Anne. “I didn’t want to be bored when I retired. Isn’t that funny?”
Somehow those causes—children, arts and the environment—have multiplied since Liz Anne retired as a school psychologist in 2005. A list of the organizations in which she’s been involved is extensive: Storyland Theatre, Jesse Norman School of the Arts, Planned Parenthood, the Augusta Choral Society, the Augusta Library, the Lydia Project, the Augusta GreenJackets’ Diamond Club, the Sierra Club, Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, Earth Day, Sacred Heart Garden Festival and voter registration. Friends gave her the moniker “the recycle lady’ when she took it upon herself to haul all the glass collected from neighbors to a recycling center in North Augusta. “There wasn’t a convenient drop off facility in our area and I thought, ‘I can make a difference.’”
While his wife “tries to make the world a better place,” Gordon zeroes in on endeavors he did not have time for while he was working as an engineer. One of those dates back to his college years in glee club. He sings with the Augusta Choral Society, the Augusta Opera Chorus, various ensembles, including his latest—a men’s a capella chorus. Altruism is a priority as well. Gordon drives a van for the Uptown Veteran’s Administration Hospital, taking veterans from their homes to doctors’ appointments. Like his wife, he’s been involved in environmental causes, like clearing the trail at the Phinizy Swamp and Earth Day education.
Staying active is a priority for the couple, who will both turn 65 this year. While Gordon works out at the gym, Liz Anne takes power walking classes and folk dance lessons. The union of this North Dakota farm boy and Philadelphia city girl has taken them around the world, living everywhere from Chicago to Ohio to Mexico and travelling to China, Australia and New Zealand as well as many Spanish speaking countries, including Peru and Costa Rica, where both can brush up on their Spanish language skills. Gordon, “a big fan of the Mayan culture,” is planning a December trip for the couple to Guatemala.
Then there are the camping excursions. The Johnsons have pitched tents in the Rocky Mountains, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, Roosevelt, the Smokies, Big Bend and Joshua Tree National Parks as well as in the Northwest, including Seattle, Victoria and British Columbia. This summer they are heading to New England and Nova Scotia. In between, they make time to visit their grandchildren in Chicago and Colorado.
When asked about the most surprising thing about life after retirement, Liz Anne starts, “There’s never a dull moment,” and Gordon finishes, “but it’s delicious!”
Like the scenic road trips they love to take, Liz Anne and Gordon Johnson have mapped out a life filled with adventure, mutual respect and helping others. Sounds like the perfect route of retirement.
Bloom Where You’re Planted
Although it perplexes her husband Charles, there’s no place Jan Colvin would rather spend her retirement than digging in the dirt. “He says after working so hard all those years, wouldn’t it be easier to enjoy the air conditioning and read a book?” But what fun would that be? For this master gardener, retirement is a time to learn, to try and to ask ‘why not?’
As a psychotherapist, Jan spent her career helping others sort out the big questions of their lives. But around the milestone age of 50, she had an epiphany: “Life is a time-limited experience and I had to make some choices.” Ten years later, this simple philosophy keeps her focused on staying true to herself.
With a head full of curly red hair and her spunky attitude, it’s easy to think this petite dynamo has it all figured out, but the roots of resiliency were planted long ago. She started college, fell in love, got married, then divorced. While working two jobs and raising two young sons, she was determined to complete her degree. Persistence paid off when at the age of 32, this self-described “late bloomer” graduated “cum laude, yes sir!” She went on to get her masters and moved to Augusta in 1991 to work with the Employee Assistance Program for Westinghouse at the Savannah River Site.
She married Charles, a retired Army dentist in 2005. After 15 years in a fulfilling job helping others, she was ready to concentrate on her own relationships—with her husband and her garden. She will be the first to admit the union of the quiet, contemplative guy and the free-spirited girl is an interesting study in dynamics. “Golf is his passion and he can’t fathom why I can’t have just one interest, instead of so many. But I just love learning new things.”
Colvin, a member of the Pine Needle Garden Club of Augusta, says gardening is the perfect reciprocal relationship and nothing represents the future like planting a seed. Growing up in rural Arkansas, she doesn’t remember a time when she did not have a garden. Shortly after retirement, she started the rigorous process of becoming a certified master gardener. “You couldn’t garden if you didn’t have the ability every year to believe in the magic of that tiny seed. It feeds my soul.” It also feeds Charles, who enjoys the organic vegetables, “but doesn’t understand why we even have a garbage disposal, when everything ends up in the compost bin,” Colvin says, laughing.
Although two back surgeries a few years ago forced her to give up golf, she has recently started playing again. While some would question her decision to try to master the game at 60, Colvin instead asks, “Why not? My back tells me when I need to rest and when I can go get ’em.” She also enjoys scouring thrift stores and finding treasures for the garden. Meanwhile, Charles is there shaking his head, wondering what she’s brought home this time.
Ultimately, Jan is inspired by the youthful curiosity of what lies ahead. This past spring, she wrote an entry in her journal in anticipation of her garden; dig a little deeper and it clearly is reflective of her outlook on life. The last lines read: Come on, dare to get your hands dirty. Grow. Hope. Believe. It’s advice she follows every spring when she plants radishes. Not because she eats them, but because they’re the first thing to come up. Hope springs eternal for this gardener who has mastered retirement.
Just Say Yes
Marcia and Steve Buck
It’s Marcia Buck’s 70th birthday and she’s spending the day doing what she loves most—helping others. Her friends at First Baptist Church of Augusta say she suffers from “helium arm syndrome.” Her hand goes up whenever volunteers are needed. Marcia’s the one you call knowing she’ll say yes.
As co-chair of the church’s Benevolence ministry, she’s the friendly face greeting approximately 30 families a month who come to the church seeking financial assistance. Four days a week she interviews, counsels and encourages those who are precariously close to being evicted or having their utilities shut off. In the 10 years she’s been involved, Buck has seen the numbers rise dramatically, particularly among those who are asking for assistance for the first time. It’s a delicate job that requires compassion and humility.
“Maybe I’m somewhat selfish for saying I get so much of out this, but I do. I get reinforcement and encouragement. These people ground me. It’s not that I look down on them...not at all. I respect them—because they’re fighting and working so hard.”
Buck’s also a church deacon, a member of the flower committee and co-chair of a women’s mission group. She started Hearts for Heroes in 2005 after meeting a young hospitalized soldier at the uptown Veteran’s Administration Hospital. “I’ll never forget that day. I held his hand and I said, ‘You’re going to see more of me.’” It was the start of an enduring friendship and the beginning of the church’s military ministry. Seven years later, the church financially supports the program by furnishing gift cards, sponsoring dinners, giving Christmas parties and even sending area troops more than 600 “love boxes” filled with gifts from home.
Buck’s career in human resources was good preparation for her current volunteer work. Her last job before retirement included laying off the company’s employees and turning out the lights. “I’ve been on both sides of the table and understand what they’ve been through emotionally and financially.”
Her easygoing relatable manner came from growing up “everywhere,” due to her father’s sales career. She met her husband Steve while they both were working in Texas for the same company. The couple ended up in the Washington, D.C. area, where they spent the next 27 years and raised their two sons, Brian and Steve, who was living in Augusta. The Bucks retired in 1999 and headed South to be closer to their grandchildren.
Twelve years and nine grandchildren later, Buck still eagerly takes “grandma call” whenever she’s needed. Saturday evenings are reserved for the six grandkids who live in Augusta (three are in Maryland).
Like his wife of 40 years, Steve is involved in church missions, as a deacon and as a member of the sound committee. Even the late family dog, Lily, was a pet therapy “volunteer.” But don’t expect the same from their five-year-old wire haired fox terrier, Bailey, who Buck describes as “a bit on the wild side.” The couple loves to travel and, with both having significant birthdays (Steve will be 80), they are heading to Hawaii this summer.
Even after retirement, Buck finds meaning and purpose in her full schedule. “I worked in a job my whole life. But I felt that was for me. It was to buy me things, take me places. And this work is not for me. It’s for someone else.” It’s likely that arm will go back up in the air many times in the coming years, but this busy retiree wouldn’t have it any other way.
Leading the Way
Dr. Rosie Allen-Noble
Dr. Rosie Allen-Noble remembers the best advice she ever received. It came from her grandmother: “Keep your head in those books!” Growing up in the segregated South, this smart, quiet little girl would one day influence a generation of medical students from all backgrounds. She has lived life knowing knowledge is power. For this former educator, it’s an adage that holds true even after retirement.
“You have to develop an identity that will psychologically support you when you’re no longer chair of the department, when you’re no longer working. You wake up and you don’t have any place to go. You have to realize, ‘I’m doing this for the rest of my life. Am I going to be satisfied?’”
The 74-year-old Evans resident finds fulfillment through educating herself and others. As the president of the Church of the Holy Comforter’s order of Daughters of the King, Allen-Noble guides women from Episcopal, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Greek Orthodox churches. Each takes a lifetime vow of prayer, service and evangelism. She readily shares examples of God’s hand at work in her life. “There have been many occasions where I have had to ask for God’s help and I am amazed and stand in awe of His power,” she says triumphantly.
She credits her grandmother and her father with instilling in her a steadfast faith and a love of learning. A bright student, she knew she would study science and “in my being, I knew I was going to teach.” Born and raised in Andersonville, Ga., she taught high school and then moved to Spellman College, teaching anatomy and physiology. In 1970, in the midst of desegregation she was recruited by Rutgers University’s Newark campus, the only African-American in the zoology department. She took additional positions at Seton Hall, Fairleigh Dickinson University, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Montclair State University. Meanwhile, she was raising her daughter, a step-sister, caring for her grandmother and working on her two doctorates. Looking back she wonders how she did it all. “God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.” She pauses and adds, “God also moves in mischievous ways, His wonders to perform!”
In 1995, Allen-Noble returned to the South to advance her career at the Medical College of Georgia as the Associate Dean of Special Academic Programs and an associate professor in the department of cellular biology and anatomy. With retirement in 2004 came new horizons. “I wanted to do three things—tithe my treasure, my time and my talent.”
A member of Church of the Holy Comforter, Allen-Noble is a lay Eucharistic minister and visitor, a member of the prayer team and the pastoral care commission. She is enrolled in a four-year study, Education for the Ministry, through the University of the South. She volunteers in the juvenile courts of Columbia County, coordinates a scholarship program, writes grants and runs a consulting business. She enjoys shopping for herself, daughter Antoinette Noble-Webb and granddaughter Jacquie, who is in the masters program at Rutgers. She is an “English mystery buff” and an avid reader, whether it’s P.D. James, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, historical non-fiction or spiritual books. “This is my time. I can dictate what my life, day, week, month and year will be. I can stay as busy as I want or do as little as I like.”
Although the subject matter may have changed, one thing remains the same. Whether looking back or pressing forward, her love of learning, teaching and reaching others inspires Dr. Allen- Noble to fearlessly forge ahead. Her grandmother would be proud.