How women bridge from career to retirement can be as simple as, “Call me Grandma”, to Mary McKSchmidt’s (pseudonym for Mary Schmidt) challenges faced in her episodic memoir, Uncharted Waters. It relates her transition from high-powered pharmaceutical executive to obsessive fresh water sailor, Great Lakes advocate, photographer and writer. After the press of career, she found her new passion, but not exactly what she planned.
Developing new skills in retirement
MckSchmidt’s first choice of retirement was to live on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and sail the Great Lakes with her husband, Rubin, on their aging 30-foot sailboat.
“I feel Lake Michigan before me, sense its power, its ability to adjust to the ever-shifting forces of weather and seasons. Its many moods mirror my own. In its presence, I feel strong, connected to a force far greater than myself.”
Along the way, she developed her photographic skills, wrote and illustrated a book on wildflowers (Tiny Treasures: Discoveries Made Along the Lake Michigan Coast) along the Lake Michigan shore, began a monthly column in the local newspaper (The Holland Sentinel), featuring her poetry and reflections. She was good at these newly honed skills. Readers who never knew her as an executive recognized her for a different type of achievement.
Problems plague the Great Lakes
As she and Rubin lived and sailed along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, they witnessed the decay and pollution that plagues the local harbors. Not only is it unsightly, it is dangerous. Hazardous pollutants are dumped in violation of law, or there is no law prohibiting it. Cables and pipelines that run under the lake and harbors are housed in deteriorating protective sheathes, the owners ignoring potential risks. Legal fresh water intake for communities adjacent to the lakes become illegal when these communities “sell-on” to their adjacent communities at a huge profit. Fresh water is not an endless commodity. Who takes responsibility for our Great Lakes?
Mary Schmidt becomes a community organizer
Mary Schmidt took the time to learn about the legal and environmental groups concerned with preserving and improving the Great Lakes. As her awareness grew, so did her anger, which she channels into her writing and then into public appearances. Her anger becomes action, first like David against Goliath. As groups begin to recognize her talent, she assumes a community organizer role, bringing groups together for greater influence. Can one person make a difference? Mary Schmidt does, and her book challenges others to join her.
“Rather than turning my back on northwest Indiana, I want to learn more. Gary, Indiana, is an example of what can happen when a diverse people in a seemingly impossible situation decide to collaborate and choose to blend passion with purpose, so they can leave a clean, health and economically vibrant place for future generations to call home. It is democracy at its best.”
Uncharted Waters is recommended reading for new retirees
Along with advocacy, Uncharted Waters shares the unpleasant surprises of aging—husband no longer fast at furling the sails, she set back by injuries that would have been of no consequence in her forties. Some of these obstacles can be overcome with greater dependence on technology: a new sailboat with electrical winches and other assists; embracing more dependence on health care, using sunscreen and wearing sun proof clothes. Perhaps the lesson here is that as we age, we feel it is only our surface that wrinkles. Inside, we will always be people in our prime, no older than our mid-forties. Uncharted Waters is an excellent primer for those seeking a proactive way to use their skills for a fruitful retirement.
Photos courtesy of UNCHARTED WATERS
Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders. Please visit her website for more information.
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