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Second Acts Redefine ri-ˈtī(-ə)r-mənt

by Beth Rowland & photos by Turner Photography Studio

Some area residents see retirement age as a time to rekindle interests and take a creative leap into the future.

Dick Seibert could have done retirement by the book, or by the dictionary, to be exact: “Retirement (noun): the act of ending your working or professional career; the act of retiring; the state of being retired; the period after you have permanently stopped your job or profession.”

After a successful career as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and as founder and CEO of the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, Dick had earned the right to just sail on the Bay or putter around in his garden once he reached retirement age. Instead, though, in 2007 he and his wife Mary Beth returned to the Clear Spring farm that had been in his family for over 200 years, and redefined his career. And Knob Hall Winery is the happy result.

Dick is not alone in choosing a “second act” instead of a more traditional retirement. The Pew Research Center says roughly 10,000 baby boomers retire every day, leading to almost 4 million people retiring each year. Of those, 74 percent plan to get a new job at retirement age, according to the annual retirement expectations survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Of those, many have no choice and must find work to fill gaps in their retirement savings. But a growing number of today’s retirees, who feeling much “younger” than their parents or grandparents did at the same age, are choosing to stay active and, in the case of Dick and Mary Beth, follow a dream.

Some, like Saundra Ferguson, begin making plans for a new career as they approach retirement age. While working as a branch manager for a large Allstate insurance firm in the Hagerstown area, Saundra always had the idea of working for herself in the back of her mind. But this year, as she turned 52, when many people would be making retirement plans, she opened Mason Dixon Insurance Group, Inc. She set up an office in her home (her husband David, who is also self-employed as a voice-over artist with Loose Cannon Communication, was already home-based). She now has a busy office on the Dual Highway.

“I’m doing what I like,” she says. There’s also the joy of building something for her kids to take over some day if they want to. Saundra’s son Jordan is in the process of getting his insurance-agent license and currently serves as her IT guy, while her daughter Stephanie is currently a social worker in Baltimore, but sees herself joining the family business someday.

It’s that family business connection that allowed Peter Wright, now 69, to step back and hand the business over to his children, Sam Wright and Julie Wright Truby in 2009. His children had been raised — quite literally —  at Tri-State Printing, their “home away from home,” as Peter says of his “shop brats.” Because they knew the business inside and out, Peter could step away for his second act, what he calls “polishing the apple” as he begins his seventh decade. A Renaissance man, Peter says, “My life is my job now.”

A short list of his activities these days includes: hot yoga every day, chasing hurricanes, farming “the old way” (with his horses), bicycling on his “paper boy bike” all the way to Massachusetts at 68 years old, and mastering the harmonica. And that’s not even including his “giving back” activities that have in the past included missionary work.

There’s strong evidence that such second acts instead of traditional retirement can provide real benefits. A research study conducted in 2002 by Jungmeem Kim and Phyllis Moen of Cornell University found that retired men who adopted second careers experienced high morale and little depression, compared with those who made retirement permanent. Second acts can also provide the opportunity to work at something one loves, rather than what one has to do to pay the bills. It’s satisfying. As Peter notes, “There’s a big difference between earning a living and just making a buck.”

That’s born out by the Seiberts’ experience as well. For Dick, every day offers a challenge to use the skills he honed over decades in his career. Admitting that sometimes he was bored in those days, he’s definitely not bored anymore. “There’s so much to do running a winery,” he says. Growing, tending, and harvesting grapes are just part of the story. Even for a flourishing estate winery producing high quality, award-winning wines, the marketing side is key, says Dick. “You have to sell what you make,” he says — and innovative marketing ideas are his contribution.

For Mary Beth, it’s learning something new, researching new wines and new ways of doing things that she enjoys the most and that keep her brain actively engaged. Any drawbacks? “Winemaking is physical work,” she says, noting that these days she feels aches and pains a bit more than she used to. “You’re carrying trays of grapes from the harvest or buckets of pressed grapes up a ladder to load into the tanks.” It must be working, though, as both she and Dick are energetic and fit and neither looks anywhere near their chronological ages.

When asked if there were any concerns when they made their decisions to begin their second acts, Saundra says while she may have felt a tiny bit of hesitation, she was confident in her experience and talents. “Sales have been my whole life. I’ve always loved working in this business and the people I worked with, but now I get to do it for myself.” Saundra says she’ll probably never retire in the traditional sense. “I’ll never stop working.”

Mary Beth Seibert agrees that she won’t stop either, at least not any time soon. “I think I’ll always have a hand in the winemaking, though I might pass off some of the day-to-day operations. I’d like to do some traveling.” And although Dick did mention that he does miss sailing a bit, he’s the picture of contentment, too.

While taking on a new career may not be for everyone, these should-be-retired-but-aren’t folks are clearly flourishing with new challenges, new interests, and new accomplishments that have led to happy and fulfilling second acts.