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Life after work - together

By Melissa Babcock

Publication: Age Of Choice:MAIN

Published September 30. 2012 4:00AM
Photo by Peter M. Weber
Volunteer Bernie Kalinowski, second from left, assists Pat Krause, Sharon McHugh and Sandra Beranek at Mystic Seaport.
As full-time work winds down, couples find community service a great way to connect

They say the best job to have is one you would do without getting paid for it.

After several decades in the workforce earning money to survive and saving for retirement, many people look forward to the light at the end of the tunnel when full-time, often obligatory jobs are no longer required and they can spend their time as they wish.

Some couples - instead of spending their golden years relaxing the days away on a beach in Florida - volunteer together with causes close to their homes and hearts.

THE FAIRLIES

Chester and Joan Fairlie have been married for 38 years. Joan retired six years ago from a full-time job with a major insurance company. "I retired early so I'd have time to do the things that I really love to do," she said.

Chester, who has his own law practice in New London, cut back his hours recently to create more time for community service.

For the past year, the Fairlies have been volunteering as chaplains at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London. The program through which they complete their training is independent of L&M, but endorsed by the hospital, Chester said.

"This is something we had been interested in for a long time," Joan explained. "We had initially explored the possibility of becoming deacons in the Episcopal church." To achieve this, Chester explained, potential deacons must undergo training through a Clinical Pastoral Education program. While in training, the couple discovered that they really liked working with the patients and staff at the hospital, where the training took place, and decided to enter the chaplaincy program instead. They work under the tutelage of Rev. Anne Kowalczyk, director of pastoral services at the hospital. "She has been very helpful and encouraging and an excellent mentor," Chester said.

"You see everything in the hospital, the whole range of human emotion and human situation," Joan said. "People are often frightened and lonely. Part of what we do as chaplains is spend time with them. The hospital staff are wonderful with the patients, but they have a job to do. They can't spend an hour listening to a patient who really needs to talk. We can do that."

She added, "We are also there to support staff. If a nurse has spent time with a patient who passes away, she needs someone to talk to."

The Fairlies joked that they volunteer at L&M so they can actually spend time together.

Chester also volunteers at a soup kitchen, and wrote the curriculum for a criminal justice class he teaches at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich. The course studies crime victims and how they are treated in the criminal justice system.

He was also the facilitator of the Survivors of Homicide group in New London for about six years.

Aside from singing in her church choir, Joan also devotes time to the Literacy Volunteers of SECT, working one-on-one with people whose native language is not English.

"We've been pretty busy," Joan said. "We don't see each other very often, so part of the reason we take these classes is to see each other."

"Joan and I make a good team," Chester said. "We help each other."

Chester also mentioned that the Myers-Briggs test, a personality test used by psychologists, recommended he become a minister or teacher. At the bottom of the list of recommended careers for him? Lawyer.

Like many volunteers, the Fairlies find their chosen activity a refreshing divergence from their paying careers, while also allowing them to channel their strengths and talents into a new activity. "Lawyering is a lot of adversarial work," Chester pointed out. "Chaplaincy is entirely different. We are a presence. We encourage people to share with us what's troubling them and we try to give gentle
guidance."

THE ENGLEMANNS

The Englemanns have been volunteering at Mystic Seaport for about nine years. Marie signed on first and David followed. Marie works in the volunteer office, interviewing potential volunteers and discerning where their skills and interests fit best at the Seaport, as well as providing orientation once they're on board.

David, a retired physician, interprets the Seaport's historical drugstore on Wednesdays.

He said, "When you retire together, you also look for things you can do individually, and the Seaport offers that. Marie is more of a people person than I am. She loves interviewing new volunteers and showing them around the Seaport. I'm less of an extrovert than she is, but I enjoy talking about the history of medicine to
Seaport visitors."

David said the toughest part was forgetting what he knew about today's medicine so he could understand better the thought process of doctors who lived during the Seaport's re-enactment era (1800s).

"That's the type of thing I think the Seaport offers retired folks," he said. "They fully utilize a lot of the skills and knowledge people have. That's Marie's job and Rhoda's job."

Indeed, Rhoda Hopkins Root is the force at the center of Mystic Seaport's thriving community of almost 1,100 volunteers. She said, "I would say we have a considerable number of volunteer spouse teams, 20 or 30 maybe. Usually one comes and likes it, and six months later the spouse comes."

Root, now in her 80s, met her current husband in 2006 when he came in to inquire about volunteering.

She confirmed that some people retire to the area just to become Seaport volunteers. "We've had many couples that have come in the office, saying, 'Our children want us to go to Essex or Boston, but we want to come to the Seaport.' On several occasions they've found houses within walking distance and they've become wonderful volunteers. It literally becomes a lifestyle."

Many of these volunteers dedicate several hours of their time three or four days a week to the Seaport. The same allure that attracts millions of visitors every year also attracts volunteers.

Root said, "One couple came in and the wife initiated the action and helped her husband fill out his application. I said to her, 'Well, how about you?' She said, 'No, no, no - I want him to volunteer to get him out of the house.' Three or four months later, guess who started volunteering with us?"

"There is a great feeling of community here," Root said. "Many people who have retired are seeking new community relationships, and this is the place to do it. We have an annual celebration of volunteers. They are very well appreciated here - we need our volunteers, and I think they need us."

At this writing, the Seaport is home to 1,072 volunteers with three or four new applications coming in every week. "... And this is without seeking them," Root said. "That's kind of the mystique of Mystic Seaport."

THE DIMAGGIOS

Carol and Guy DiMaggio will celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary this November. Carol has been a volunteer with the Child & Family Agency in New London for about 20 years. She started while she was a full-time bank employee.

She enlisted the help of her husband, Guy, for big projects over the years, such as the agency's huge annual tag sale, and his involvement gradually increased until he, too, was a major volunteer. He is now hoping to enter his second year on the agency's board.

"Because he was around helping me out with the heavy-duty stuff, people started inviting him to get involved in more activities with the agency," Carol said. "Guy retired two years before I did, and now he volunteers as much or more with the agency."

On volunteering together, Guy said, "It's very rewarding, there's no doubt about that. You wouldn't believe the behind-the-scenes work."

Carol added, "The togetherness is great. We enjoy each other's company. Some people say the reason they volunteer is to get out of the house and get time away from their spouse. But we enjoy each other, so why not volunteer
together?"

"It's a winning combination," Guy said.

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