THE WOMEN OF TTN-NYC
Joan has been a visual artist for more than fifty years, ever since she majored in fine art and advertising art, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Buffalo. Her career took many twists over the years, starting from her first job, with a major New York advertising agency. “I didn’t stay there long,” she told me with a wry grin. “It was just like Mad Men. They liked my portfolio – but then gave me a typing test and sat me outside the art director’s office to handle his phone calls. There was a real double standard.”
The more woman-friendly world of publishing beckoned, and Joan became an art editor at Harcourt Brace and then at Holt Rinehart and Winston. At both firms she was responsible for the entire look of a book and loved the hands-on experience of designing layouts and going to museums and libraries to find historical pictures and fine art for her books. During her twenty-year stint in book publishing, she took off for a year to wander around Europe, drinking in the art there, before coming back and pursuing a different artistic route, through photography.
During her last years of publishing, at The New York Times Magazine and Time, Joan focused (in more ways than one) on cameras. She served as the photo editor at the magazines, hiring photographers and doing research. And she also learned how to shoot, develop, and print photos; sold pictures that she took on her travels; and freelanced for a while as a photo editor. During her freelance years she was recruited by Bill Gates’s new company, Corbis, to edit photo collections. Her cats came with her to Bellevue, Washington, and enjoyed her all-expenses-paid apartment and car.
Then, ten years ago at the age of 62, she decided it was time to retire. “I had been working more than fifty hours a week, racing around, under great pressure – and not enjoying the work as much since the advent of the Internet, which cut out so much of the hands-on work that I really liked.
“I had taken some art courses over the years, and now I decided it was time to get more serious about painting,” Joan told me. She started out with oil painting classes at the 92nd Street “Y” and then, three years ago, took up watercolors. Through a friend in her oil painting class she heard about the free watercolor class at Goddard-Riverside and signed up, continuing meanwhile with her work in oil.
“I get inspired in both kinds of classes,” she said. “I’ll see something someone else is doing that I think is fantastic, and that wakes me up. It’s a form of competition with so many good artists, and that’s a great motivator.”
A friend of TTN co-founder Charlotte Frank, Joan joined TTN soon after its birth and became active when she joined a peer group, which is still meeting ten years later. “After retiring, I didn’t have that many friends who weren't working, and TTN filled this important void in my life, where I can be surrounded with caring, bright, adventurous women.
“Then, when the Caring Collaborative became free with TTN membership, I joined a neighborhood group where we talk honestly about all sorts of things. The most recent discussion was about looking at ourselves in the mirror, and I had to ask myself, ‘When was the last time I stood naked in front of a mirror?’ So I did it.”
Brave questions – and actions – like this characterize Joan’s life, from her risk-taking during the freelancing years, to her determination to lead a full life despite several serious surgeries to treat her severe and painful scoliosis. “I was lucky to come out of it okay, but I had to learn to walk again and I still have to deal with some limited movement and a lifetime of trying to keep myself limber.”
Right now – and in her future – art is the major vehicle that drives Joan’s life. “Adventure and a love of learning are still there," she says, "as well as a striving to face things head-on and as honestly as I can. I find life exhilarating. Defining who one is is a lifelong endeavor and sometimes a bit of a surprise.”
To see Joan’s work, go to: http://joanmenschenfreund.weebly.com/.
~ Sally Wendkos Olds
Sally Dougan has been a TTNer for about 12 years, and “has always looked for ways to contribute.”
Joining the group in its early days, she recalls that her first role was service on the “Annual Breakfast committee,” which planned the fun-filled event still enjoyed by many of us every December. Through TTN’s relationship with the Grace Institute, she also was involved for 2 ½ years in coaching women who were entering the business world for the first time or returning to work. For its duration, she served on the Technology Committee, which provided tech courses to TNNers.
A certified Retirement Options Coach, Sally had served two terms as President of the New York Chapter of the Association of Career Professionals International. Borrowing from her business experience, she conducted a series of focus groups that eventually led to the founding of TTN’s unique Caring Collaborative, a health-related mutual support program. She was instrumental in preparing CC’s Health and Wellness Directory, and now serves on the program’s board – the CCC.
A member of TTN’s current Steering Committee, she also co-chairs the Program Committee, which strives to provide, through the monthly Third Thursday meetings, learning opportunities, and other activities, to satisfy an umbrella of member interests.
Despite being actively employed as an executive recruiter in the publishing industry, Sally has found that the addition of her roles in TTN to her busy schedule makes her more of a “whole person.” “I have always been drawn to do more, to reach beyond the confines of my career,” she explains.
A factor in Sally’s satisfaction with TTN involvement is a surprising one – a diagnosis of ADD (attention deficit disorder). “I think it allows me to do several things at once,” she notes. “I have a knack for getting things done . . . and then I can’t stop doing it.” One recent outcome is creative; she scans live flowers into her computer and creates artistic prints with them.
Finally, her long-lasting relationships with other TTNers have helped her cope with the recent loss of her husband to Alzheimer’s disease. Supportive members helped her to maintain outside contacts, she said, an important factor in that experience.
~ Marticia Moore Madory
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Member Profiler spoke with Elizabeth Hansen when she was fresh off the plane after a week-long respite in Oaxaca, Mexico, steeped in her most-refreshing form of yoga.
No, she wasn’t short of breath – despite an additional recent return from a tour of India, where she traveled to the mouth of the sacred River Ganges. She’s in shape for all kinds of treks, having also walked the Santiago de Compostela in Spain and climbed Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro in the near past. To top it off, she celebrated her 65th birthday on Cape Verde Island off the coast of Africa!
Maintaining this level of energy has long been of interest to Elizabeth – and it powered her initial effort to explore TTN membership more than 10 years ago.
“I heard about it on NPR,” she recalled, “when two of the founders were interviewed.” She immediately looked into TTN-NYC programs and attended a meeting, where she hit the jackpot right away: A long-lost friend and work colleague also showed up, and the pair were able to recall old times and catch up on their lives to date.
The peer group she participated in had a unique profile, an interest in expanding the diversity of the TTN membership. A very successful multi-cultural panel presentation at a Third Thursday meeting grew out of that group’s discussions, Elizabeth recalls.
Following that project, Elizabeth’s interests segued into the field of health. Partly in an effort to meet more people, she eventually became involved in TTN’s Caring Collaborative program – specifically, the East Side Single Neighborhood Group, which normally draws 8 – 15 attendees at monthly meetings in members’ homes. In fact, she’s still involved – to the point of hosting this year’s holiday gathering.
She’s been involved in TTN leadership, too, assisting with the production of “strategic health services” sponsored by the Caring Collaborative. One of these presented a talk by a surgery specialist who explained how sun-caused skin cancer can be detected.
“I think TTN’s Caring Collaborative is visionary,” she declared.
But Elizabeth’s interest in health predates her TTN membership. After years of running for exercise, her 50-year-old body began to complain of pain in her hips.
“My hips were hurting from running, so my sister gave me 6 weekly sessions in athletic yoga,” she recalls. She describes the experience as “love at first sight”. It coincided with the agony of watching a friend take a year to die without the benefit of physical therapy. That settled it: She would focus her yoga explorations on learning how to help older people.
In the meantime, our Energetic Elizabeth served in the Peace Corps in 2006 -07, with her project located on Africa’s Cape Verde islands, a key launching site in the slave-trade diaspora from the African continent to the Western Hemisphere.
“In the Peace Corps,” she points out, “all volunteers are expected to handle two assignments: their official one [in her case, teaching linguistics and English literature] and one they choose for themselves.” Elizabeth’s choice was – you guessed it -- teaching yoga, with her extra earnings dedicated to expanding her host school’s tiny library.
She notes that her practice grew slowly but steadily, helped by referrals from a physical therapist who lived on the same island. Most satisfying of all, she has learned that a successor has continued the sessions in her absence.
Upon her return from Africa, Elizabeth felt the need to further sharpen the techniques she could employ when providing older people with yoga instruction. That required her to take a big step: enroll in a geriatric course at Duke University’s integrative medical center. Her research for that course, which was known unsurprisingly as Yoga for Seniors, concluded in a practicum she was able to serve in Harlem and coverage in The Journal of the Association of Yoga Therapists. Exposure in that journal has led to the publication of articles in other periodicals and further study of the effects of yoga on both arthritis and diabetes.
However, she has found that yoga can be a hit across generations. Between 2000 and 2013, she and a friend taught students at an elementary school in Kenya, where yoga was all new.
“They were surprised by it,” she notes, “but they loved it.”
Since graduating from the Duke program, Elizabeth has been teaching at senior centers in East Harlem and also working with small groups and private individuals, either at their homes or hers. TTN has occasionally been the source of referrals, and she meets regularly with a small group of 3 or 4 TTNers.
Remembering her dying friend, she practices a form of quiet physical therapy that includes all three approaches to yoga, including the poses, the breathing practices, and meditation. A recent fall, which injured both rotator cuffs, has taught her a great deal about the powers of yoga.
“I couldn’t do much with either arm,” she recalls.
She says the experience has enabled her to talk more effectively with clients about their pain and how they can deal with it.
~ Marticia Moore Madory
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Nineteen years married, together 24/7. How does a widow go on after such intense closeness? Victoria Weill-Hagai anticipated from the start of her marriage that her husband would precede her since he was nearly 30 years older. His health was already deteriorated when they married, and the last seven years he was debilitated. She never resented her caretaking role, which she described as “the most peaceful, loving and fulfilling of my life,” but the point came when “he ran out of things to repair.”
Like many others in her situation, she joined a grief group, which gave her support. Yet, “for three and a half years I was completely flattened by sadness.” Grief was becoming a habit. “I tried different things to break it, but nothing worked.”
Unlike many widows who are pretty much abandoned by friends, she found that hers “flocked around,” including ones she hadn’t seen for years. Yet, despite her friends, as an artist who worked at home without an office to go to or a structured schedule, she found herself alone a lot.
Ironically, her own health problem eventually led to a positive change. When she was in the hospital recovering from a burned foot, friends “dropped their lives” to help take care of her. “Much as I appreciated my friends’ kindness, I thought there must be some organization to help with medical issues such that people would not have to drop their lives.” She broadcast her search to everyone she knew, and another woman in her grief group told her about The Caring Collaborative of The Transition Network.
In The Caring Collaborative, members voluntarily provide health-related support services for each other. In addition, CC members meet regularly in Neighborhood Groups to discuss health-related topics, but mainly, to meet their neighbors who will help them and whom they will help when they have a health problem. It was exactly what she had searched for.
And she got the Transition Network as a bonus. The Transition Network describes itself as “an inclusive community of professional women, 50 and forward, whose changing life situations lead them to seek new connections, resources and opportunities.”
Victoria jumped in. “I knew it wasn’t enough just to join; I knew I had to participate.” In addition to her Neighborhood Group for the Caring Collaborative, she went to the monthly New York City TTN chapter meetings and to the Caring Collaborative Health Strategies Seminars; she joined committees and several peer groups, TTN’s small peer groups focus on discussing life transitions or specific interests. “TTN got me out of the aloneness and the sadness. It saved my life.”
Her calendar filled up with activities she finds meaningful and satisfying. While it was not her motivation to join, she has found “a whole bunch of new friends.” And, she found out something unexpected about herself: that “I'm a leader, and I can use my creativity to benefit TTN and CC, helping other women.”
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Jamie Russell is a pioneer TTNer – one of the first wave of members who created the first two peer groups, defining -- through their own experience -- the peer group concept. Her group still meets, after nearly 14 years of sharing.
“We based our group’s first discussions on the structure recommended in the book Don’t Retire: Rewire,” she notes. “We’ve lost a few members but also gained a few and, like a family, we have gone through many transitions together.”
Jamie attributes her group’s longevity somewhat to luck – “People either jell or they don’t. But everyone needs a support group that looks at ways to explore the next stages of life.”
“The issue is change and how to cope with it.”
When her group started meeting, all were still employed. Now just one member – the oldest – is still working full-time. Jamie is the youngest member.
After a career as a corporate business librarian, Jamie recently launched a new service that builds on her skills as a “resource collector.” Called Tame My Stuff, the service helps people downsize and clear out their physical space. It started with friends who knew of her interest in antiques and asked her to help them decide what to do with jewelry they had inherited from their mothers.
Personal events often precipitate her clients’ requests for help – a divorce or death of a parent or spouse, the need to move to smaller and less-expensive quarters, an inheritance that requires evaluation and disposal of myriad items. Most of them involve emotional decisions that are difficult to make on one’s own.
“I had the experience myself,” she recalls, “of needing to settle the estate of a close relative who died in another state. I know what’s involved.”
The slogan on her Tame My Stuff business card is “Together we can get it done.”
Working with local antique dealers, she helps clients decide whether to sell items or give them away – occasionally through charity auctions. Large dining room sets are an example of possessions that were once prized but are no longer valued by today’s households.
“We need to acknowledge that we don’t live the way our parents did,” she points out. “We don’t need to give big dinner parties, and store 12 place settings of fine china.”
“If you don’t want it, chances are no one else will want to buy it.”
Jamie also works with estate lawyers, assisting executors of wills. Depending on her resource network even when she works out of state, she recently took on a task in Maryland, helping to dispose of thousands of items a collector left behind in his five-bedroom home after he died.
Death is not the only impetus for clearing out stuff. Jamie urges everyone to leave not only a will but also directives to a trusted associate about what to do in the event of sudden disability – e.g., a stroke or debilitating accident.
Although most of her business comes through referrals, Jamie is developing a website that she expects will raise her professional profile considerably. You can explore it at email@example.com.
~ Marticia Moore Madory
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Exploring for New Experiences and An Emotional ‘Home’
TTN is for exploring women -- women who search for both new experiences and an emotional “home”. Both objectives can be met through TTN’s peer groups and Special Interest Groups (SIGs).
After a busy whirlwind of sampling TTN activities to see what suited her best, the breakthrough for new member Pamela Brown came with the recent Third Thursday program called “People and Passions”. At that meeting, attendees were divided into small discussion groups that explored possible interests to pursue. It was an inspirational experience for Pam.
This was her chance to fulfill a dream she’d had for a long time: Join with other opera-lovers who would like to get together and share their enthusiasm. She asked TTN to publicize her idea on its website, and the first person to respond was Ellen Murphy, who christened it “Arias R Us”. Altogether, 15 people responded to Pam’s idea, and a snowstorm of emails among them followed.
Eventually, they decided to meet for dinner to make some plans. Pam made reservations at a restaurant, and arrived before the scheduled time. Then it hit her: I’m sitting here waiting for all these people I’ve never met!
No need to worry, she discovered. As each one arrived, lively conversations took off and everyone had a great time.
“We just tried to figure it out. We wanted to do more than attend expensive Metropolitan Opera performances together,” she noted. They learned about inexpensive and free activities available to New Yorkers, such as rehearsals and productions performed in small theaters and area churches. Some members of the group have already enjoyed a few events, including a performance at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. After that performance, the group had dinner together and discussed their impressions of the production. Plans for more events are underway.
Another interest that arose for Pam at “People and Passions” was a new SIG that patronizes moderately-priced restaurants. Because she is already chairing Arias R Us, this group is being chaired by Susan Shilling. Members suggest unique restaurants in their neighborhoods, and a different neighborhood is visited for each meal.
Pam Brown had worked as a law firm administrator for 30+ years, for both large and small firms. Her husband, a college professor, was still busy with his career; and there was plenty of space in their Park Slope brownstone for pursuing each other’s individual interests .
Her son, proudly, is very busy working on a Ph.D. at Harvard.
She decided it was time to retire.
“I woke up one day and said, ‘It’s time to do something for myself’.” First thing on the agenda, planned before the decision to retire, was a trip to Tuscany and Paris with girlfriends – a step she recommends for any occasion.
“I think that’s something everybody should do, don’t you?”
At first, through connections at her law firm, she volunteered at Sanctuary for Families, assisting women who are victims of domestic violence. Her “very rewarding” role involved working with women as they pursue employment, conducting mock job interviews.
“I have my MetroCard , and I go all over the place,” she points out.
Then she got a tip about TTN and promptly made a commitment by joining.
“I thought it would be a fun way to meet interesting women,” she said, and has since concluded that it certainly is.
She went on a gallery tour sponsored by ExploreNYC (“that was great”), and joined the Weekend Explorers for an activity. (She’s noticed that there is a spillover of membership among the various groups and types of activities, one way TTN helps individuals form relationships over time.)
Even though Pam is a rank newcomer to TTN, she has hit the ground running. Complete immersion seems to be the key to TTN happiness.
~ Marticia Moore Madory
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Sandy Merrill recalls that she heard about TTN, probably through a newspaper article, when she was in her 50s. But she didn’t act on that knowledge right away.“I kind of put it in ‘deep storage’, thinking it was a good idea for my retirement years.”But later, after a career as an executive in hospitals and nonprofit organizations, Sandy decided she wanted to do something different – but somewhat related. Her solution was to go back to school. Five years ago, she began training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in Manhattan and, in the process, created a new identity for herself as a certified nutrition and wellness coach.
Armed with referrals from physicians and word-of-mouth exchanges, her business grew apace, but she found herself feeling a bit isolated and adrift as she worked alone in her home office and with individual clients. It was time to take TTN out of Deep Storage.
“I’m a joiner and a doer,” she points out. TTN fit the bill.
“I like working in teams, and I’m a social animal,” she notes. “TTN has been a wonderful support group.”
“I have met fabulous women I would not have met any other way, and at this age, making new friends is more difficult.”
Sandy recalls that, sometime in 2010, she attended a Third Thursday meeting and decided to explore TTN offerings a bit more. She attended an informational meeting about peer groups, joined two of them, and even became a member of the Peer Group Committee, which helps organize new groups and mentors existing ones.
About two years ago, her peer group activities led to membership on the NYC Chapter’s Steering Committee, which helps set policy for the Chapter. Her role on that committee has expanded to appearances as moderator of panel discussions on the transition experience, including recent ones staged by the Jewish Community Center, the New York Public Library, and several outplacement firms.
Sandy was also recently asked to form and chair the Special Events Committee of the NYC Chapter, which has developed one-off activities such as a series of workshops on Personal Finance for Women. That committee is planning to stage other creative events in the upcoming year.
“TTN has worked well for me,” she declares. “It was the right thing for me at the right time.”
~Marticia Moore Madory
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Still In the Process of Retirement
“Retirement is not an event,” points out TTN veteran Marilyn Stetar, “it’s a process.”
At least 10 years ago, Marilyn read an article about The Transition Network in The New York Times and knew right away. She was anticipating her own retirement from the M&M Mars candy company, and thought, “that sounds fantastic.” She met with other members at a dinner in Greenwich Village and was sold.
Over the years, Marilyn has been involved with TTN at various levels, including transition peer groups. She and fellow TTNer Marion Schulteis also started a self-help peer group that focused on financial matters.
“Our premise was that nothing is so complicated that we can’t learn it,” she recalls. Instead of inviting experts to come and share their expertise, members would select a topic and devote the next month to studying and researching it. At the next meeting, each would report what she had learned and lively discussions would ensue. That group was so popular that a second one was cloned and may still be functioning, she noted.
Third Thursday programs have been another TTN option for Marilyn. She particularly liked the recent presentation on balance, entitled “Fall Stop – Move Strong.”
Meeting new members is an important ingredient in TTN’s appeal, according to Marilyn. “Every other organization has a homogeneous membership – members tend to be similar to each other. But TTN offers such a wonderful mix, with so many interesting backgrounds.”
Like many other TTNers, she tried a number of activities after she retired, a number of which didn’t work out. But one of her first efforts – volunteering at The International Center, a nonprofit group now associated with Catholic Charities and located on Maiden Lane that helps foreign nationals improve their spoken English -- has led her to a new “career”. After a few pleasurable years of volunteering as a conversation partner, she decided to acquire some training and entered The New School’s English as a Second Language (ESL) certification program. To complete her certification, she was required to do a stint of student teaching, which she was able to do in Poland.
It wasn’t her first professional activity in Eastern Europe. She had helped M&M Mars establish its business in Ukraine and the former USSR in the early days after the Iron Curtain fell. And the success of her mission in Poland gave her a new bold idea: Maybe there was future paid employment in this field for her.
She decided to look for a job. Just one prospect that answered her letters of inquiry – the test-prep company Kaplan International – did indeed have something for her. She now teaches Business English on Fridays, in yet another of her life’s transitions.
~ Marticia Moore Madory
Mary Lou Floyd, co-founder of a blog known as Second Lives Club, knew she’d made an important connection when she heard about The Transition Network.
“I noticed that TTN’s mission was very similar to that of Second Lives Club,” she recalls. An entrepreneur at heart, she remembers thinking the two entities could work together somehow.
So she became a member. It didn’t take long to click with other new TTNers.
“Right away, at the orientation meeting for new members, I met a couple of women who were on my wave length,” she says. One of them was Nancy Gold, who had a similar corporate background and was now very involved with TTN-NYC’s Caring Collaborative. Other get-togethers followed, and eventually a project was born.
Drawing on her own career as a video producer – as well as her brother’s experience as a professional cameraman – Mary Lou has created a valuable tool for explaining CC’s benefits to members.
The result of her efforts is now available for viewing on the Caring Collaborative website (www.thetransitionnetwork.org/connect/connect-caring-collaborative): two testimonials by TTN members who describe their experience with services provided by Caring Collaborative members. One had accompanied another woman to her doctor’s office, where she took notes on the doctor’s explanations and advice and even asked a few questions the patient forgot to ask. In the other case, a CC member describes how a fellow TTNer had accompanied her as she returned home following a colonoscopy.
After decades of working in interactive advertising and marketing for corporate giants like ATT, IBM, and British Telecom, Mary Lou has welcomed the opportunity to return to video production, and she continues to envision other entrepreneurial possibilities. One might be the production of a documentary film that illustrates the challenges faced by – and opportunities available to -- women at this stage of their lives. But she points out the need to have at least one other person to work with her in thinking through such a project. The objective of their brainstorming would be to build the business model for a new enterprise.
Mary Lou tells Member Profiler that she would welcome the establishment of a Special Interest Group for Entrepreneurs, in which members could use each other as a sounding board. Eventually, members might form partnerships and undertake the projects together.There could even be some collaboration with the newly-forming Life Writing Group, whose members could share their work in brief video profiles.
She concedes that the path to such an undertaking can be littered with pitfalls; even big well-financed corporations can fail. For example, she notes that the Gannett Company recently closed its NowU website. But the demographics still dictate a growing interest in TTN’s mission and the business activities it can spawn.
Her latest video production has had a more personal component: Helping her adopted daughter, who recently graduated from the School of Visual Arts, with her senior project. The project involved researching her daughter’s Russian birth family and recording the experience of her re-connection with that heritage during a wintertime visit to Russia.
You can visit Mary Lou's Website: www.secondlivesclub.com
~ Marticia Moore Madory