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Second Acts

After lives of working, these folks ‘aren’t done yet’
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Jim Houston was pivotal in the creation of Community Promise Credit Union which serves low-income customers in the Edison neighborhood.

Baby boomers were destined to be a different kind of generation. Perhaps because there were so many of them — 76 million born between 1946 and 1964 — or perhaps because the world was changing so quickly and profoundly as they grew up.

Bottom line: Boomers don’t usually do things the same way as their parents and grandparents, and for many that’s true of their approach to retirement. Not only do most eschew the word “retirement,” but they are determined not to spend the last decades of their lives idly. Instead, many are taking up a “second act” or an “encore career,” using their vast store of skills and experience to enhance their own lives as well as those of others in a full and vital way.

In this story, we introduce four Kalamazoo-area “encorers” who have taken up new careers and, as a result, are making contributions that even they are amazed to see.

From accounting to aiding the poor

Jim Houston admits he is a man who is always learning and looking for ways to help others.

The former corporate accountant has found a way to do both in his second act of helping to establish the Community Promise Federal Credit Union in the Edison neighborhood.

Originally from Alabama, Houston’s family moved to Detroit in 1953. When Houston was in the ninth grade, his family moved to Dowagiac, where his father worked as a truck driver and the family helped an uncle whose wife had died and left four young children behind. Houston excelled at athletics and choral music at Dowagiac’s Union High School and won a scholarship to Interlochen Arts Academy. After graduating in 1962, he went to Western Michigan University, where he majored in music for two years.

In 1966, with the military draft looming over him, Houston joined the U.S. Air Force and was sent to Truax Airfield, in Madison, Wisconsin. While there, he took courses in finance, accounting and computer programming and met Marianne Novak, whom he married in 1968 (and who is also profiled in this story). After his service was complete, the couple moved to Kalamazoo and Houston returned to WMU to major in business. After graduation he began a career in corporate accounting and finance, working for the Kellogg Co., Durametallic Corp. (now part of Flowserve), International Research & Development Corp. (now MPI Research Inc.) and First of America Bank, from which he retired in 2000. During that time, Houston earned a master’s degree and a doctorate.

After his retirement, Houston taught business, finance and tax accounting courses at Olivet College and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. He continues to teach today at Ferris State University and as a substitute teacher.

“I love teaching. It is the noblest profession anyone can pursue,” Houston says. “I feel more fulfilled in teaching than I ever felt in my business career — a thousand times more. I feel I have helped enrich students, and when you help enrich another person, you also enrich yourself.”

That desire to serve others, plus his background in finance and business management, helped position him to be a part of the effort to establish the Community Promise Federal Credit Union. Community Promise is a "community development credit union" that focuses on providing financial services to people with low incomes. 

The credit union, which has received grants from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation and the Jim Gilmore Foundation, opened its doors in January 2013. Houston is the chair of its board of directors.

Through this credit union, Houston conducts workshops and teaches people how to manage their finances and do budgeting. Michael Rice, superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools, asked Community Promise to teach micro-financing in the some of the district’s upper-elementary grades, so Houston will also be teaching children about money, budgeting and financial planning.

“We are currently in the planning stages for providing financial education at the Washington Elementary School and the Douglass Community Center,” Houston says.

Houston is also working with the credit union’s board on future expansion of Community Promise to the Northside and Eastside neighborhoods. “This is our 20-year plan,” he says.

Many of Community Promise’s customers struggle financially, Houston says, and need short-term loans for house repairs and various family emergencies. Community Promise allows customers up to six months to repay these loans, while other financial services, such as payday lenders, can require repayment in one to three weeks.

“When people come in and sign up to be members and we are able to help them, they thank us profusely and tell us we really helped them,” Houston says. “These are the kinds of things that bring me much satisfaction.”

Still a spiritual guide

Marianne Novak Houston was18 when she entered the Sisters of Loretto convent in 1953.

“I was a very active, noisy girl in those days,” Houston says. “The first time I visited the motherhouse, I felt very drawn to the quiet there. A feeling came over me that this was what I was looking for.”

As a sister, Houston became a talented teacher and was sent to the Lumen Vitae Catechetical Institute in Brussels, Belgium, to study theology and religious teaching. She subsequently taught at Webster University and Kenrick School of Theology, in St. Louis, and began work on a doctorate in anthropology at Columbia University, in New York.

But at age 31, Houston had a change of heart: She wanted to be married and have a family.

“The sisters, though sad, were completely understanding,” Houston says.

Houston moved in with her younger sister’s family in Madison, Wisconsin, where she worked at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and met her husband, Jim, to whom she has been married for 47 years. 

Jim and Marianne moved to Kalamazoo, and Marianne worked in Vicksburg Community Schools for nearly 29 years as a teacher, administrator, consultant and facilitator while also raising two sons. She says those years helped her hone her skills in organization, patience, humility and appreciation for individual gifts,

But a desire to help people be in touch with their spiritual lives was still there. The perfect opportunity to pair her desire and educational expertise came in 1994. The Fetzer Institute was working with Parker J. Palmer on developing a long-term project to aid in the “spiritual formation of teachers.” Houston joined Palmer and several other consultants in developing the Courage to Teach (CTT) program. The program offered educators retreats where they could work on their personal and professional development and renew their inner lives. The program has expanded to serve educators, health care professionals, ministers and other community leaders and has been renamed Courage and Renewal.

Courage and Renewal retreats are spiritual in nature, though not partial to any religious tradition. Participants are invited into a quiet setting with time for reflection and inner work. Houston has led Courage and Renewal retreats in Australia, Singapore, Costa Rica, Canada and Haiti and across the U.S.. 

"When we first began our work, we shied away from using the word ‘spiritual’ because it was too ‘out there,’” Houston says. “But when Educational Leadership, a leading education journal, asked for a submission of articles on the subject of spirituality and education in 1998, the editor reported that they received more article submissions on this theme than any other in their history. That’s when we knew we were onto something important."

Houston also facilitates other retreats, including “Living from Within: Journeying Toward an Undivided Life” and the “Courage to Lead” retreat series at Transformations Spirituality Center.

Leading spiritual retreats for educators and others has “truly been an extension of what I was prepared for as a sister,” Houston says. “The sisters sent me to Brussels so that I could be a spiritual director for new sisters and be a teacher of teachers. Through Courage to Teach, that's just what I'm doing.

“I left the Loretto sisters, but Loretto never left me.”

Building community through fitness

Ken Dettloff grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood on Detroit’s east side where the houses were close together, the streets were narrow and neighbors talked to each other on a daily basis.

“In my neighborhood, you could walk down the street from one corner to another and hear Tiger baseball on the radio coming out of each house without missing a play,” Dettloff says. “You could hear your next door neighbors’ conversations inside their house. But you felt safe because someone was always around. You also watched yourself because if you got into trouble, your mother would get a phone call about you. We’ve lost so much of that.”

As a result of this childhood experience, Dettloff wanted to build communities and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in community planning from Wayne State University. His first job out of college was an urban renewal project with the Detroit Housing Commission. He went on to work as an urban planning consultant for more than 40 years in Detroit and Toledo. He came to Kalamazoo in 1978 to work for the former Wilkins & Wheaton Engineering Co. and later became a partner in the Kalamazoo office of McKenna Associate, a planning and design firm.
Dettloff said that during his career he watched urban planning trends move away from the tight-knit neighborhoods of his youth to more decentralized communities.

“I saw the destruction of community through an approach that inadvertently promoted isolated, sterile development,” Dettloff says. “These elements included wide roads, high-rise condos, one-way streets, housing with big yards, single-function buildings and separation between workplaces and homes as well as schools, stores, recreation and nature.”

These trends flew in the face of what Dettloff had once dreamed of doing, but he did what he could.

“I have always tried to impart the building of community in concert with stewardship over the land, space and resources so that people could have a sense of belonging,” he says.

After he retired in 2006, Dettloff discovered a new way for him to build community — through fitness.

Dettloff has been physically active since he set out to abandon his “Pillsbury Dough Boy” physique at the age of 30. He became an avid runner, participating in 50 marathons by the time he turned 50. Dettloff found that he had lots of support — from his family to his running club — that kept him moving.

“Without their support, I would never have stayed with running,” he says.

But when Dettloff retired, he discovered that as a physically active older adult, he was in the minority and many of his baby-boomer peers saw retirement as a time to “just sit.”

“If you talk to men who recently retire, they say they just love it,” Dettloff says. “However, six months later they wonder what they did to themselves. They often have no purpose in their lives.

“For me, life at this stage has got to be much more. So I rechanneled my original career and took the skills with me.”

When the opportunity to volunteer as a spinning instructor at the YMCA arose in 2000, before he retired, he grabbed it. That job evolved into a paid, part-time position at the YMCA. Dettloff also became a certified personal trainer and wellness coach, working with clients one-on-one as well as coaching marathon runners.

“This was a dream job for me because I could build community through physical fitness. I couldn’t think of any two things I would rather do,” he says.

After almost a decade at the YMCA, Dettloff joined the staff of the Bronson Athletic Club last month, teaching balance, kettlebell and spinning classes and providing personal training. Dettloff says many of his clients are parents who want to lose weight and get into shape.

“They are doing this for their family more than themselves,” he says. “They want to be good role models for their children.”

As a father of two daughters, Dettloff understands the influence parents can have on their children regarding physical fitness. Gretchen Dettloff, of Kalamazoo, is a marathon runner, while Jocelyn Dettloff, of Grand Rapids, who became a paraplegic in 1997 while traveling through West Africa, is a wheelchair tennis player.

“I doubt if I were a couch potato during my daughters’ formative years that they would value physical fitness as much as they do,” Dettloff says.

Developing faith leaders

The Rev. Denise Posie has been career-driven since she graduated from high school at 16.

She found a job as a part-time clerk typist with the Detroit Public Schools and quickly progressed to a secretary position in the school system. When Posie was 23, her supervisor said she had great potential and arranged for her to visit the president of Wayne County Community College to enroll her in classes. After Poise was admitted, she made it her goal to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 30 while continuing to work full time. By age 29, she had a degree in business from Marygrove College and bought her first house.

After working at General Motors Research Laboratories as a secretary, Posie moved on to IBM as a customer service representative. Within 10 months, she moved up to an administration support role, and six years later decided to pursue a position in marketing.

“I need new opportunities to stretch myself,” Posie says, “and marketing provided more interface with customers and more travel.”

However, during her yearlong training period in Atlanta, Posie felt an “internal nudge” telling her it was time to end her career at IBM, she says. She spent the next three years working as a substitute teacher in Detroit as she tried to discern which new direction to pursue.

“I wasn’t praying for a job like my friends were,” Posie says. “My prayer was for God to show me His will. I didn’t want to be driven by my circumstances. Third-graders taught me patience; God used them to build my character.”

Posie says this time helped her determine that she wanted to become a pastor. She left Detroit and headed to Columbia International University Seminary & School of Ministry, in Columbia, South Carolina, where she received a Master of Divinity degree in pastoral leadership. Posie was the first African-American resident assistant in the seminary’s women’s graduate dorm and the only student to serve as a representative on the school’s race relations committee.

“In addition to theological, practical training, I was exposed to people from all over the world from different traditions, and I was really excited about learning about their cultures and building relationships,” she says.

After graduation, Posie came to Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, in Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood, where she served as pastor for 13 years. “The church became more racially integrated, and we grew spiritually while I was there,” Posie says.

However, in 2012, she decided to leave Immanuel and enter another time of discernment.

“One lesson I’ve learned is to have the courage to take a leap of faith even when I don’t know where I’m going,” Posie says.

Turns out she didn’t go far. The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) was embarking on an effort to change its culture after a 2013 racial profiling assessment and hired Posie to work on the project as a community relations specialist. When that role ended, Posie used those culture-changing skills to work as a congregational consultant in the Office of Pastor-Church Relations for the Christian Reformed Church in North America, based in Grand Rapids.

“We support churches when there is internal conflict and during times of transition,” Posie explains.

Posie’s vast experience has been called upon in a new role, which she began in July. As the co-director for the Reformed Leadership Initiative in Grand Rapids, Posie helps both the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church create leadership learning networks in the U.S. and Canada.

“This is pretty exciting,” Posie says, “because it involves both the pastors and lay leaders, which needs to happen more frequently in our denominations. These networks take a posture of listening and learning from each other about how to engage in mission and ministry in their ministry context.”

But what Posie likes most is the leadership aspect of this role.

“I have had good people ‘poured into me,’” she says. “I’ve read good books on leadership and attended Leadership Kalamazoo. I’ve learned how to help leaders identify and use their strengths, practice spiritual disciplines and build efficient teams. I like to be part of change and transition and to work with people who want to engage with visioning, faith, commitment and adaptability and who are willing to experiment with future prospects.”

Posie also founded DLP Ministries (Daily Living with Purpose) in 2012 and wrote a book, Consider a Greater Purpose.

Despite all she's already done, Posie believes there are more “second acts” to come for her.

“I don’t think I’m done yet,” she says. “As far as I’m concerned, God just might have a greater purpose for me.”

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Nonprofit Urges Seniors to Embrace Action, Improve Society

“Second acts for the greater good,” says the banner headline at Encore.org, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that is “building a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world.”

The organization claims that with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, people could easily view America’s aging society as a problem — or as a solution.

“Those in and beyond midlife represent a powerful source of talent with the accumulated skills, experience, and wisdom to tackle some of society’s most urgent challenges,” says Encore.org. The organization espouses “embracing this unique opportunity” and “creating a better future for generations to come.”

This paradigm shift, Encore.org says, requires that we redefine retirement not as “freedom from work” but as “a new life stage that offers freedom to work and to contribute in new ways — and to new ends.”

Encore.org promotes this alternative perspective via communication and networking. People seeking to contribute are connected with leaders in various sectors and programs that share and showcase the Encore.org vision.

With the intent of making a social impact, experienced adults address issues such as poverty, human rights, health, education, social justice and environmental protection in order to meet the ultimate goal of improving the lives and prospects of future generations.

Encore.org, originally called Civic Ventures, was founded in 1997 by social innovator and writer Marc Freedman. In 2014, the World Economic Forum and the Schwab Foundation recognized Freedman as Social Entrepreneur of the Year. He is the author of numerous articles and four books. His latest book is The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife.

One of Freedman’s major accomplishments is the establishment of Experience Corps, now AARP Experience Corp, which has mobilized thousands of individuals over age 50 to improve the school performance and prospects of low-income elementary school students in 22 U.S. cities.

Encore.org asks Americans — regardless of the number of years they have lived — to shift their views on “retirement” away from thinking of it as a time of reduced, ineffective activity. As Freedman wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 23, 2015, “Embrace action … (and) get out into the world.”

By Robert M. Weir