For some retirees, the best work begins when work is done.
By Edgar Allen Beem
Photographed by Cait Kimball
Peggy Hamilton, 63, Cornville
Peggy Hamilton had a satisfying 33½-year career in public education, most of it as a second grade teacher at Cornville Elementary School, but by the time she retired in 2007, high-stakes testing, state mandates, and standardized learning results had taken a lot of the fun out of her job. Hamilton didn’t stop teaching, though — she just changed fields.
A student of Iyengar yoga since 1997, Hamilton enrolled with Kim Valeri, who trains yoga teachers all over New England. It took a full year of Friday-to-Monday classes once a month to log the 200 hours necessary for certification.
Hamilton has taught yoga in jails, schools, gyms, and adult ed programs around Somerset County and in her own studio in Cornville. Her students range from young schoolchildren to the elderly. “I love physical activity,” she says. “We ski, we kayak, we hike. When we get older, we have got to be in touch with our bodies. We have to pay attention.”
To that end, Hamilton has adapted her instruction to meet the needs of older students who don’t want a highly ballistic-style yoga. Her accommodations include the use of blocks, belts, blankets, and bolsters that allow students to bend, stretch, and pose comfortably and with support. “Yoga should not hurt,” Hamilton says, “but as a new student, you have to give yourself time.”
“I’m a born teacher,” says Peggy of her new career. “This is just a way to continue that passion.”
Volunteering Gone Wild
Barbara Bentley, 69, Hope
“I require a lot of activity and intellectual challenge to stay healthy,” Barbara Bentley says, “so it seems perfectly natural to throw myself into something where I could learn and help other people.”
Since retiring in 2001 — she taught French in the 1970s, English in the 1980s, and Spanish in the 1990s — Bentley has been a volunteer pastoral counselor at local hospitals and nursing homes, and she served six years as a Hope selectman. She also has built upon her lifelong passion for wilderness recreation — and, in particular, for Baxter State Park — by volunteering for Friends of Baxter State Park, serving as the organization’s president from 2006 to 2013. During her tenure, the Friends of Baxter State Park grew from 250 to 750 members, and its budget increased from $17,000 to $140,000. When she stepped down, it took four people to replace her – a paid director, a newsletter editor, a board member, and a development director (she had been logging 75 volunteer hours a week).
Bentley grew up in a prominent Bangor family. Her father, Dr. Charles McEvoy, was a surgeon and the medical director of Eastern Maine Medical Center. Her mother, Mary Whittemore “Whit” McEvoy, was a pioneering mountaineer who served on a number of state panels, including the Baxter State Park Advisory Board and the Land Use Regulation Commission. Whit McEvoy took her children to Baxter every summer, a tradition that Bentley has continued with her husband, Bill, a retired science teacher who has become an accomplished nature photographer. “This was summer 54 in lean-to number 3 at Russell Pond,” she reports.
“I guess I learned the value of wilderness experience early on,” she continues. “My efforts with the Friends of Baxter State Park have been to work with the next generation of wilderness stewards and to make sure there is wilderness left to steward.”
Discovering the Art of Living
Bob Thomas, 70, Edgecomb
Bob Thomas had a long career in corporate communications, working for AT&T, Ashland Oil, and several consulting firms. It wasn’t until he retired that he discovered his love of art. Now he is a painter.
“It was always in there,” Bob says of his artistic inclination. “On my 62nd birthday, I decided if I don’t try this I am going to regret it for the rest of my life. The next day I went to Artist & Craftsman Supply in Portland and bought paints and brushes and canvases, and I haven’t stopped since.”
Thomas and his wife, novelist Lea Wait, live in an 18th-century house that overlooks the Sheepscot River and is jammed floor to ceiling with books and art.
Wait also worked in corporate communications with AT&T before she retired to write, setting up her studio on the second floor of the ell.
Thomas started out tentatively in art, taking photographs and making collages before taking up the brush in earnest. He made rapid progress, working his way from painterly landscapes to landscape-inspired abstracts distinguished by heavily textured bands of color. “This is the first thing in my life that I wasn’t good at in the beginning and didn’t stop,” says Bob. “This truly is what I should have been doing all my life.”
A couple of years after he started painting, his neighbor, Barbara Mason, asked him to exhibit his work at her shop, Alewives Fabrics, in Damariscotta Mills. For the past five years, he has been a member of the Stable Gallery artists’ co-op in Damariscotta, and this year he was invited to show at the Blank Canvas Gallery in New Hope, Pennsylvania. “I’m not sure I could have made the progress I’ve made anywhere else,” he says. “I was welcomed by the art community. I was welcomed by everybody. I am really, really grateful for that.”
A sign over Bob Thomas’s studio door perhaps best sums up his personal reinvention: “Life Is Art. Paint Your Dreams.”
Giving Comfort at the End of Life
Herb Hartman, 76, Whitefield
In retirement, Herb Hartman has done his share of fly-fishing and reading, but the former director of Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Recreation also has pursued his love of the outdoors as a member of the Maine chapter of the International Appalachian Trail and the Friends of Baxter State Park. He has continued a lifelong involvement with the arts, serving until recently on the board of the Carlo Pittore Foundation, established to administer the estate of the late painter. But he has found some of the most rewarding work of his life on an unexpected path.
For the past 10 years, Hartman has been a volunteer with Miles & St. Andrews Home Health and Hospice in Damariscotta. He provides companionship for the dying, respite for caregivers, and a helping hand when needed.
Hartman was inspired to take hospice training after seeing his mother through her own difficult end-of-life experience. “If I had taken the training before my mother died,” he says, “it would have been immensely helpful.”
Hartman is captivated by the stories that people share at the end of their lives. “All patients and families are extraordinary in some way,” he says. “Their lives — not read but told to me directly — are the broad story of human existence. This is enlightening and moving.”
He sometimes misses the busy 10-hour days that marked his 30-year career in state government, but he finds that his weekly hospice work allows him to put aside his own concerns and engage with others.
“As a hospice volunteer, I feel privileged to share in the intimate, spiritual, and universal experience of the end of life,” he says. “This for me can transcend feelings of loss and sadness. This is not a situation I have in my everyday life, or had in my life prior to retirement with the exception of my mother’s death. It puts me in a different frame of mind. And I hope I can be of use.”