Once upon a time, retirement promised a time to play golf, volunteer, babysit the grandkids and perhaps travel to faraway places.
While for many this still happens, for others their second act is a bit different. Some people in their 50s and 60s are reinventing themselves, changing the whole idea of what retirement means. They’re undertaking new careers, often completely different from their first. Sometimes, these new careers are “what I always wanted to do,” sometimes they happen by serendipity or by deciding to accept a new challenge. Unfortunately, a career change may also mean accepting whatever job is available when retirement savings begin to run out.
Additionally, as people retire earlier but live longer than previous generations, these second careers may actually occupy more years than did their first careers. For them, this isn’t an end game but rather a passage to a new life.
Gene Castellano had been working at DuPont for about 15 years, applying his degree from Villanova in chemical engineering for research work and receiving additional on-the-job training in financial analysis, part of the company’s plan to move people up the corporate ladder. “But in the mid ’80s, it became clear that DuPont was reducing management levels and that long-term opportunities were shrinking,” he says.
He had a neighbor who worked at W.L. Gore, and, “after a two-year courtship,” Castellano was hired there. “I loved the business. It was more consumer-driven than my work with DuPont. I was product manager for skiing products, and then we got into snowboarding. And I worked in financial leadership for seven years.”
Like many people, Castellano had outside interests different from his line of work, in his case history and particularly history of old buildings. “I had heard about the MALS (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) program at Delaware, and I started classes right after 9/11,” while still at Gore, he says. “I graduated in 2005 with a master’s and a certificate in museum studies.”
After leaving Gore in 2013, Castellano first worked as a private archivist, then was hired by Hagley Museum and Library, where he had interned as a student, to start up the museum’s Hagley Heritage Curators. “It’s an experimental program to encourage companies to set up historical business-records retention programs through Hagley,” Castellano says. Once that two-year program startup was over, “I began working with private families to help preserve their histories,” he says. “I help them with digitizing.” He also writes books about the state.
Sitting outside the Deer Park Tavern in Newark after class, Castellano contemplates another career refinement. “I’m intrigued by historic preservation, and I’m halfway through a new certificate program at the university in that field,” he says, his eyes flashing in excitement.
Even at 68, Castellano is still looking to add to his professional CV.
By the summer of 2008, John Riabov was fed up with working for organizations. For years, he had been a marketing executive for large companies that made agricultural and other industrial products. But mergers and downsizings made those jobs tenuous and short-lived. For a while, he headed a government-and-business organization before the grants dried up.
Frustrated and 50 years old, Riabov at the last minute secured the final session slot at the School of Horology, run by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors in Columbia, Pennsylvania. He was able to snag a local internship, rent a room on weeknights and commute the 55 miles back to his home near North Star on weekends. Riabov would become a horologist—a person who repairs clocks and watches—and he would be his own boss. “I didn’t go to school as a hobby,” Riabov says. “I was looking for a career for another 25 to 30 years.”
Eleven years later, Riabov, now in his early 60s, cuts a distinguished figure as he stands in the door of his in-home shop, Wyndwood Tyme, clad in a calf-length professional horologist’s white jacket, his swept-back hair and neatly trimmed mustache almost matching the color of his uniform. “My work is extremely busy, better than I ever imagined,” he says. “I have to delegate out a lot of work to other horologists and, unfortunately, the customer wait time keeps getting longer and longer.”
Meanwhile, while John Riabov was establishing his new business, his wife, Darelle Riabov, was deep into her profession as assistant vice president for corporate communications at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware. The two are alumni of the University of Delaware and have donated time and money to both alumni and student affairs at their alma mater for years.
Darelle was increasingly ready to jump off the merry-go-round of full-time work. When she retired in October 2012, the last thing she thought about was a second career. “For a year, I did almost nothing,” she says. “Then I decided to take a watercolor class. I had never studied art, but my aunt was a watercolorist. I thought, ‘This is really cool,’ but I didn’t get hooked until my second year.”
She was surprised that when she showed people pictures of her paintings on an iPhone, they often wanted prints, so she learned how to get prints made. She also started taking commissions regularly from UD for artwork they needed for special occasions, and today public and private commissions have become the biggest part of her growing art sales.
Darelle emphasizes that she wants to keep her business small and manageable and has not yet tried to get her work into galleries or art shows. But she recently quit taking classes so that she can have two or three days a week to paint in her private studio, conveniently located two floors up from John’s clock repair shop.
Jerry Bilton was not one of the 63 percent of workers who left their jobs between their mid-50s and mid-60s. “I retired on my 70th birthday in December 2017,” he says over a midmorning breakfast at Drip Café in Lantana Square, just a few yards away from his new part-time office. But don’t blame the late breakfast on retirement. “I’ve never been a morning person,” Bilton says with a sheepish grin as he takes a bite of eggs.
Somewhat quiet and contemplative, he is nevertheless a people person and wanted to be sure he had enough to do in retirement that he would constantly be around others. While Bilton received a master’s in economics in 1974 from the University of Delaware and his first job involved statistics, he found his real niche was renovating and managing buildings.
“I worked for 10 years for Family Court in management analysis, then 10 working with the Bank of Delaware starting with a construction project, then 21 with Community Services,” he says. “I was hired to renovate a building and to do a parking garage,” but he ended up being director of the services corporation. On the side, he ran an art gallery for several years.
In many ways, Bilton fits the traditional retirement profile. Shortly before retiring, he and his wife, Michel, moved into a carriage house in Milltown Village, a 55-plus community off Kirkwood Highway. He serves on that community’s board as well as the board of Opera Delaware and on committees of the Delaware Historical Society (he has a special interest in Colonial Delmarva churches) and Goodstay Gardens. “I’m busy every day,” he says.
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And yet… “I’ve had my Realtor’s license since the ’80s, but I’ve never used it,” he says. And so, in January 2018, a month after Bilton retired, he made a cold call, walking into the Lantana Square office of Fox & Roach, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, and asked for a job.
“They were really nice and decided to hire me,” he says. In spite of his commercial real estate background, he chose instead to work in residential real estate. “My first transaction was as a buyer’s agent for a home just outside of Wilmington off Maryland Avenue,” he says. “Real estate takes about 20 percent of my time, but I again have my own office to go to.”
It wasn’t easy for Christine Armstrong to give up her lifelong job as neonatal and pediatric nurse. “My career had served me well,” she says. “It was solid and well-respected. But for many years, I felt the need to branch out, to work in another area more interesting to me.”
A Baltimore native, Armstrong graduated from Towson University and St. Joseph Medical Center and began her nursing career at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Marriage brought her to Delaware, where she and husband Patrick, who owns an engineering business, raised three daughters.
“Between Baltimore and Delaware, I spent more than 35 years as a nurse,” says Armstrong, 58. “I worked as the nurse at Friends School and then for about 10 years was with Brandywine Pediatrics. But nursing is a career you take home with you, and that can be draining.” So about four years ago, she started looking around for other possibilities.
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“All three daughters now live in Manhattan,” she says, “but then one was still in college, so I needed to continue working. But I had long had the intention to eventually stop and get a graduate degree.” In 2016, Armstrong, who lives in Hockessin, enrolled at the University of Delaware in its Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS), a full degree program that caters to the needs of older students.
“I started taking classes but continued working as a nurse,” she says. “Then a job opened as an administrative assistant in the MALS program, and I applied for it. So here I am,” she says in a conference room at MALS’ modest headquarters, located in an old brick building along Newark’s Main Street. For a former pediatric nurse, the atmosphere must seem amazingly quiet.
“Now I want to get into something different than science and technology,” she says. Museum studies is one area that interests Armstrong, and she once did volunteer work at Winterthur. “But with a degree in liberal arts, I can pretty much make of it what I want,” she says. “My husband, Patrick, is very supportive, and my daughters are all independent in their own ways.” She smiles. “And there is still so much out there that interests me.”
Joe Teti sits outside the door to his large, detached garage, his “CASE” baseball cap pulled down against the morning sun, a thumb bandaged as a result of a work mishap.
A large red dump truck sits a few yards away, and other heavy equipment rests nearby, all tools in his excavation business.
For 30 years, Teti commuted from southern Chester County to his job at the Chrysler plant in Newark—today the site of the University of Delaware’s STAR campus—operating a forklift inside the huge auto manufacturing facility, mainly on the night shift, sometimes filling in on the assembly line if that was what was needed.
“Man, I was ready to go when retirement came,” Teti says, still with considerable enthusiasm. “I started at Chrysler in 1971 and worked there for 30 years.”
Yet, it wasn’t the world’s steadiest job, with shutdowns during slow periods and during changeovers when new or different models replaced the old one. Plus there was the threat of strikes and the real fear, eventually realized, that the plant would close.
“We have three kids, two girls and a boy, and they all went to college. I’m ready to turn 67, though. It’s a business I want to be in. But it’s time to slow down.” —Joe Teti
“We had just built our house after I started working there,” he says, “and during that period we didn’t know if Chrysler would survive or not” in a time of product recalls and an oil crisis that made the company’s large-car line suddenly unattractive.
“I had a mortgage to pay. We were working two weeks on and two weeks off,” Teti says, “So I put an ad in the paper that I had topsoil to sell, and I began hauling dirt. I took many loads of dirt to Hagley. I thought then about getting into the landscaping business.”
When Teti did retire in 2001, he decided to make excavation his full-time “retirement” business. Almost 20 years later, he is still at it. “Most of the work I do today is with a backhoe,” he says. “I get business by word of mouth, and I’ve never had to advertise after that first time.”
He looks down at his gray sweatshirt. “I’ve always been an outdoor person,” he laughs. “Back then, I’d tell myself that I’d stay at Chrysler for another year, and then I’d leave.”
His morning break over, Teti rises to get back to work.
“We have three kids, two girls and a boy, and they all went to college,” he says proudly. “I’m ready to turn 67, though. It’s a business I want to be in. But it’s time to slow down.”
Published as “Second Act” in the April 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.