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Another Door Opens

February 2015

By Sandra R. Sabo

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When considering options for a fulfilling retirement, it’s never too early to begin creating your new network. Sometimes, it’s in your own backyard.

As his 25-year career at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, was winding down, Frank Claus often made retirement-related lists—of countries to visit, places to volunteer, projects to do around the home. “I was constantly worried that I would be bored to death when I retired. Those lists gave me comfort that I would have enough interesting things lined up to do every day,” says Claus, who retired as Penn’s treasurer and vice president of finance, in 2008. 

Boredom is a valid concern, considering that retirement may last as long as an administrative position within higher education. New tables released last fall by the Society of Actuaries, in Schaumburg, Ill., project men’s life expectancy at 87 years and women’s at 89 years. So, if you retire at 65—or even at 70, as Claus did—you are likely to spend two decades or more in retirement.

How do retirees typically spend all that leisure time? You might be surprised to learn that, after sleeping, the most popular activity among nonemployed people over the age of 65 is watching television. According to the 2013 American Time Use Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retirees spend an average per day of 4.4 hours watching TV, one hour reading, and another 30 minutes just relaxing and thinking. 

Claus clearly didn’t get that memo. He still rises early in the morning and heads to his desk to check e-mail and review his schedule for the day. It tends to be full, because Claus serves as an elder in his church, as chairman of a charity trust at his lodge, and as treasurer of a local community festival. His biggest commitment, however, is chairing the board of a local continuous care community, which recently undertook construction of a new apartment building and a medical facility.  “I don’t know that I’ve really retired—I just don’t get paid anymore!” jokes Claus. On a more serious note, he adds, “What’s interesting is that the continuous care community is really a microcosm of Penn. We have medical care, we have residents, we have dining, we have an endowment, and we have debt, so I’m very familiar with what needs to be done.”

While still working, Claus had served the same community as head of the finance committee. After he retired, moving into the time-consuming role of board chairman was the logical next step. “For me, becoming chairman of the board certainly filled the gap in making the transition from a meaningful role at Penn to a meaningful role in retirement,” Claus observes. 

From Campus to Community

Given the responsibilities and long hours that come with a senior position in higher education, your personal as well as professional life can easily revolve around your college or university. “If you’re not careful, you can be defined by just your position,” says Kathy Lindahl, who retired from Michigan State University, Ann Arbor, as assistant vice president of finance and operations. 

Recalibrate and redefine. “I didn’t want someone at my funeral to say, ‘Oh, she was such a hard worker for Michigan State,’” Lindahl continues. “That’s why, when I retired, I consciously wanted to move from a life of success to a life of significance.”

That’s not to say her work in higher education didn’t have a significant impact, Lindahl hastens to add. Rather, she personally defines a life of significance as helping others. Retirement has freed Lindahl to volunteer at an assisted living facility and a nursing home, where she often gives presentations and takes residents on travelogue “virtual and visual trips” to other countries.

“There are a lot of lonely people in the community who just don’t get much interaction and mind stimulation,” says Lindahl, who continues to live in Lansing. “Volunteering in these facilities is invigorating—it lets you know there’s still a lot of life left in those folks.” 

Lindahl believes her frequent interaction with people in their 80s and 90s helps her face her own fears about aging. As another challenge to her comfort level, Lindahl is considering a new volunteer opportunity at a local hospice.

After retiring in December 2012, Lindahl took time to “recalibrate,” first by vacationing in Mexico and then letting the next few months unfold naturally. “We’re so planned in higher education that it can be hard living without structure,” she says. “But I didn’t rush into anything—I wanted to take the time for some self-thinking about what I might do.” 

Let opportunities unfold. Bill Krumm, former vice president and chief financial officer at Texas A&M University, College Station, favored a similar let-life-evolve approach. In fact, after Krumm retired in 2004, he and his wife immediately embarked on a three-month trip in their 40-foot motor home. Also, he purposely did not take on any new commitments for a full year.

“In the months before you retire, you’ll be given a wide variety of opportunities to serve any number of organizations. If you volunteer right away, however, you can quickly become very busy,” Krumm notes. Plus, he adds, you risk getting pigeonholed early in your retirement, which could reduce the type of organizations that approach you later on.  

Just for fun, Krumm says, he decided to attend the local citizens’ police academy. Since then, he has frequently participated in police training drills, in which he has played the roles of both victims and “bad guys.” In addition, Krumm has completed Community Emergency Response Team training, and often washes dishes for a local nonprofit. 

Not Always According to Plan

Because he still lives in College Station, Krumm occasionally returns to the Texas A&M campus to work as a docent at the university’s sports museum or to attend cultural or athletic events. Kathy Lindahl has continued to informally mentor several women employed at Michigan State, and Frank Claus maintains a tie to higher education by serving as secretary/treasurer of the Institute for Student Service Professionals, an affiliate of NACUBO that sponsors an annual conference. 

Roll with reality. The idea of having such an ongoing campus connection in retirement had always appealed to Pat Gustavson during her 29 years at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark., most of them spent as chief business officer. Then she and her husband purchased a retirement home in Texas. After both retired from the university in 2009, however, a different reality took hold. 

“We thought we had it all planned out, but our area was strongly affected by the recession,” says Gustavson. Unable to sell their home in Arkansas for nearly four years, the couple switched gears: They rented out their retirement home in Texas and spent much of their time in the small Florida condo they usually used for vacations. 

“Learning to body board wasn’t in the original plan, but I’ve come to really enjoy the ocean and walking on the beach,” reports Gustavson, who is grappling with how much time to spend in Florida versus Texas now that the couple has officially moved into their retirement home. “Retirement is a continuous process of figuring out the new normal,” she believes. “Some days, it’s totally experimental!”

To maintain contact with the university environment and ease the transition into retirement, Gustavson considered working as a consultant, although she ultimately didn’t pursue that path. However, John Palmucci, who retired in 2010 as vice president of finance and treasurer of Loyola College in Maryland, did decide to make that transition.

Review and repurpose. “In retirement, the lack of having a calendar with specific tasks or appointments or deliverables for the day took some getting used to,” admits Palmucci. “The consulting piece is a good way to go to keep your head and your mind going while still being able to control your time and level of activity. In many ways, it is repurposing yourself.”

Palmucci, for example, scheduled his consulting assignments so none interfered with a five-week trip to New Zealand and Australia, or a six-week trip to Rwanda and South Africa. He has also been back and forth to Hong Kong over the past four years, in his consultant role as vice president for finance at a Jesuit college still in development. Palmucci, who is currently serving as senior vice president for finance and administration at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, notes, “Starting from scratch in Hong Kong, with both the program and the physical plant, has been pretty exciting, as has being able to use different skills I acquired during my career.”

Those financial and planning skills make chief business officers strong candidates for board service at other educational institutions, says Palmucci, who serves on the board of trustees of the New York Chiropractic College, Seneca; the Maryland University of Integrative Health, Laurel; and the Tuition Exchange. And higher education isn’t the only interested sector. 

“Every board wants someone who understands dollars, numbers, and financial statements—and can help others understand them as well,” confirms Gustavson. “Business officers can contribute a lot, particularly in nonprofit organizations where your business skills can be a huge help.” Within six months of leaving a hospital board in Arkansas, for example, she became treasurer of her condo association board in Florida. 

Some Surprises

In contrast, after decades of chairing various finance and budget committees, Bill Krumm decided to start fresh in retirement. As much as he enjoyed finance, he wanted to try something new.

He explains, “As a business officer, you always get typecast as the financial person, so I deliberately chose to change my role. In my job, besides all the financial skills, I learned about organizing people, developing volunteers, doing fundraising, meeting and greeting, and speaking in front of small groups—all skills I wanted to continue to use while doing something fun and interesting.”

In addition to being trained in emergency and disaster management, for example, Krumm expanded his woodworking hobby to include wood turning. Using a wood lathe, he crafts bowls and canes that he enjoys giving away. 

“If I started selling the items, wood turning would become more of a job—and I don’t want the pressure of a job!” Krumm emphasizes. 

Krumm says he went into retirement “lock, stock, and barrel” and was never tempted to return to higher education as an interim administrator or consultant. In part, that decision was based on his health. “I have been fighting cancer for a number of years and recently finished eight months of experimental chemo,” says Krumm, who also volunteers as a peer counselor for others on what he calls the cancer journey. He adds, “Cancer is just something I have to go through life with, and with a positive attitude and exercise, I plan upon living to 90-plus.”  

Gustavson, too, was diagnosed with cancer shortly before she retired. Now fully recovered, she saw her diagnosis as confirmation that the best retirement plans in the world carry no guarantee. 

“Things can happen, especially with health issues, to change your situation and options very quickly. It’s important to plan but also to have contingencies,” says Gustavson. “My advice is to do what you want to do, when you can still do it, and always be ready for change.” 

Neither she nor her husband has ever had second thoughts about taking advantage of John Brown University’s early retirement incentives. Gustavson reports, “The biggest surprise is how little I miss the work. While I miss the people I worked with and being in a university environment, I made the transition to retirement very easily.”

Similarly, says Frank Claus, “I don’t miss Penn, because my life is so full and I’m doing some very rewarding things. There’s more to do in retirement than I realized—and it’s fun!”

And those activity-laden lists that Claus used to make while still employed? He has never looked at them once in retirement. In fact, he doesn’t even know where they are. 

SANDRA R. SABO, Mendota Heights, Minn., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

Related Topics

Those financial and planning skills make CBOs strong candidates for board service at other educational institutions.