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Retired Educators Rock!

Called to the stage, many retired educators find their ‘second act’

By Susan Belford

 
Florence Roach sings at her Memphis church.

Some of our generation’s most gifted performers began their careers as teachers. Sheryl Crow worked as an elementary school teacher in her native Missouri. Sting taught in Newcastle, England, under the ordinary name of Gordon Sumner. Roberta Flack was the first Black student teacher in an all-White school in Maryland before she was hired to teach music and English in Farmville, N.C. Art Garfunkel—who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math education—taught math in 1971 and 1972 to Connecticut high school students. Rocker Gene Simmons instructed sixth-grade students in Spanish Harlem before forming his legendary band KISS in 1973.

But these professional music legends have nothing on NEA-Retired members who are also brimming with talent and venturing into the world of music as their “second act.” They play in bands, sing in choirs, write music, direct and act in musicals, clog around the world, and organize summer camps for the arts. Now these retirees finally have the time—and the energy and enthusiasm—to focus on their love of music and the hidden talents that have been itching for release!

Alan Weatherford plays drums in a Missouri community orchestra.

 
Alan Weatherford plays drums in a Missouri community orchestra. 

Carol Weatherford, Missouri Education Association–Retired (MEA-R) president and her husband Alan relocated to the Lake of the Ozarks in 2002 from careers in education in the Blue Springs, Mo., school district. Both had been members of their church choir, and Alan is an experienced percussionist who played in his high school band and local rock and roll bands. Neither Carol nor Alan pursued their musical passion as a career. Instead they taught language arts and driver’s education respectively before moving into counseling and administration.

Upon retirement, they joined the chancel and bell choirs at the Harper Chapel United Methodist Church, began singing with the Lake Area Chorale and Alan played percussion in the Lake Area Community Orchestra while Carol became their narrator. Carol, who constantly travels the state for MEA-R, explains the fulfillment and relaxation gained from music: “Singing, playing, and performing is a wonderful psychological boost and an emotional release.”

Tennessee Education Association–Retired (TEA-R) member Florence (Flo) Roach taught vocational education at Treadwell High School in Memphis before retiring in 2002. She immediately launched a thrilling career in a multitude of creative activities. Roach is an actress, vocalist, writer, choreographer, director and producer of plays, operas and award-winning musical productions. She also owns the Ettaro Theater Company and the Ettaro Music Publishing Company. She writes, produces, and directs “Black Soap,” an original soap opera production that sells out year after year. Roach sings with the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, the Memphis Community Singers, and also appeared in “The Help,” and “Rising on Up.” She created and performed in “Calling All Men”—a one-woman, hundred-man performance that “pays tribute to good men on Father’s Day.” She says, “Better than being on a desert island with one man is being the center of attention of one hundred. It’s all good!”

Roach explains why her new career is so meaningful. “I love being able to give others the opportunity to express their talents and share their gifts. Many performers have told me that it has meant the world to them to perform before families and friends.”

In addition to bringing joy and music to the people of Memphis, Roach volunteers her talents to raise funds, organize and teach Summer Camp for the Arts for underprivileged children in Memphis. For many years she has produced and directed “Umoja,” (The Swahili word for “unity”)—an inspirational African American show held at her church featuring hundreds of dancers, singers, and actors. “I get my ideas from God,” Roach says. “I love my community—both young and old. The youth keep me young and the older ones give me their wisdom and advice. I am a lucky woman.”

Going Solo in Act II

 

Michael Saarie (left) pursued his love and talents in music as a choral and classroom music teacher at West Middle School in Binghamton, N.Y. (NYSUT). However, when he retired, he returned to his first loves: playing classic rock and writing and arranging original music. Saarie says, “Musically, I have created quite a feast over the years: solo singing spots, choirs and the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton. I was the assistant artistic director of our Downtown Singers, the local oratorio group. I performed directing engagements, appeared in all-county productions and played in lounge and rock bands. But when I retired I dropped everything, and became the essential figure for any musician, an audience member. At the same time, I developed into a ‘one-man, one-genre sort of guy,’ performing classic rock.”

“I made sure that before I left teaching that I had some of the most up-to-date gear and the ability to move it and set it up on a dime. It has made retirement very interesting. The baby boomers are so ready to bring back classic rock!” Saarie exclaims.

Continuing to Create Music for Others

 

Barbara Smith (left) is a member of the Ojibwa Tribe, also known as the Chippewa Tribe, which settled in northern Minnesota around Lake Superior. Both of her parents were Native Americans and they raised their family on the Cass Lake Reservation, where Smith has remained her entire life. She taught fourth grade in three different Cass Lake schools, finishing her career with the Title 1 program. The Education-Minnesota-Retired (EM-R) member took piano lessons and sang in church as a child. When she and her brother grew older, their parents formed the “Smith Family Quartet” and, in Smith’s words, “were invited to perform in churches and events near and far from home. We had a lot of wonderful travel and great family times.”

 
Ruth Rodgers plays several instruments, sings at weddings, and composes music.
Today, at 79, Smith plays the organ for her church and also recently cut a CD for the Wisdom Steps Program for elders who live on the reservation. She said she learned many of her performance skills from singing for years with the “Smith Family Indian Singers,” a Gospel group created by her nephew, which performed around the U.S. and Canada.

Other NEA-R members have found that their musical interests are unique and fulfilling. Lois Sady sings with the Sweet Adeline’s a cappella barbershop harmonizers. Nashville’s Donna Davis dances with the Cripple Creek Cloggers—a group that performs Appalachian-style square dancing with a clogging step. She has traveled to international folk dance festivals in France, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, and England. She says, “In addition to the wonderful international travel and associations afforded me, I have learned a new skill, get great exercise—and an opportunity to make new friends.”

Colorado’s Ruth Rodgers is a vocalist at weddings, composes music, and plays the piano, flute, bassoon, guitar, piccolo, pipe organ, and more. The retired language arts teacher sums up the feelings that each of these NEA–R members has discovered, “Music fulfills a unique need for me—satisfying a part of me nothing else can. It is a passion and a joy—and is precious to share with others.”


Looking Past the Finish Line

 

If 70-year-old Rose Meyers’ longevity is anything like her mother’s, she still has more than two decades to achieve her goal of running a half-marathon in each and every state.

True, she got a late start, running her first half-marathon at 64, but with seven races under her belt, she’s on track to make all her dreams come true, including optimal health in retirement.

“I always walked for exercise, but after I retired from teaching in 2008, I thought, ‘Why not start running?’” explains Meyers, of Phoenix, Ariz. After running on her own for six months, Myers joined a running group, which helped her learn the “ins and outs” of running.

Crossing the finish line of her first 13.1 mile-race, Myers knew she was hooked. She marveled at how her body could move, how her mind could focus, and how she could accomplish a feat usually reserved for those decades younger than she. Myers also realized what running could do for her health.

“As an African American woman, I know that many in our community suffer from obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Even though my blood pressure had always been in the normal range, I was always concerned because my father died as a result of high blood pressure,” says Meyers.

Exercise and proper nutrition are equally important to Meyers, who runs five days a week and eats a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein, and fiber. No doubt, Meyer’s dedication to healthy living has helped her to maintain a normal blood pressure and a 50-pound weight loss since retirement. Training for races is a key to her success.

But Meyers realizes that running half-marathons isn’t for everyone. She does, however, believe that just about everyone, including senior citizens, can move more than they currently do. “It’s important for seniors to do what they can,” says Meyers, who also cross trains.

“I’m glad that I inspire inactive people of all ages to start exercising. Taking care of oneself is a responsibility to be taken seriously,” says Meyers.

Fortunately, Meyers knows all about long life; her mother will celebrate her 100th birthday this November. With those good genes and a healthy lifestyle, Meyers’ goal of running races in every state seems very realistic indeed.

—Janet Rivera Mednik

 

 

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