How a retired couple find adventure working and volunteering at home and around the world

By Barbara J. Tuttle

“With all the knowledge we’ve acquired over our careers, why should we sit around and waste it?” They started a new phase by using their professional skills to help others.

This article is reproduced with permission from

After a particularly stressful week at work, Jane Tafel told her husband, Mark, “I don’t want to work this hard anymore.” She had a rewarding job as vice president of development at a community and nonprofit organization in Minneapolis. Still a few years past 60, she planned to work indefinitely. But she often found herself waking up in the quiet pre-dawn hours to prepare for a full day of work ahead.

Having had this realization, she and Mark, a retired English teacher in his early 60s, visited a financial planner for the first time, to see if they could move their plans “someday.” “: plans that would take them around the world. world to teach, work and volunteer, just as they had lived before having children.

As a young girl, Jane lived and worked in Nepal, Norway and the Caribbean island of Antigua. Later, as a married couple, the Tafels spent four years in Taipei. Mark taught English at an international school and Jane was the first Montessori teacher and educational director of a kindergarten in Taiwan.

When their two children were growing up, Jane and Mark maintained their international ties, traveling as a family to Taiwan and mainland China. From their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Jane served as the US Executive Director of Hagar International, a Cambodia-based organization dedicated to helping women and girls escape trafficking.

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Here we go: Launch of the new phase

When their financial advisor said, “You’re good to go! Jane gave work off. The Tafels didn’t call it “retreat” at first, but rather their “next phase.” The couple has always lived their lives in phases, depending on their situation at the time. They balanced stability, strong family ties, and community involvement at home with exploration and new adventures.

When their youngest child left the nest, they moved to the Twin Cities to enjoy its rich culture and be closer to their adult son, who had moved there. Jane got her new job with the community organization and Mark taught ESL part-time in public schools and at a non-profit organization.

Now, with their kids launched and not yet grandparents, they devised a plan to alternate blocks of time, about three months each, between their condo in Minneapolis and another location they wanted. explore. It would be an active trip that would involve immersing yourself in the community and culture, not just passing through as tourists.

Their adventures basically fall into two categories. The first are domestic stays in beautiful places in the United States, where they worked in resorts and retreats while exploring their surroundings. In their international forays, they have used their decades of professional experience to teach and help organizations overseas.

American Landscapes: The Cascades and Beyond

The first, in the fall of 2016, was Holden Village, an arts, education, and contemplation center in Washington state associated with the Lutheran Church. They had heard it described as “the most beautiful place on earth” and learned that anyone could volunteer there. The place is so remote that you can only get there by hiking or by boat.

Jane has worked in communications, as well as lawns and gardening. Mark was an operations float, doing an assortment of odd jobs. Lodging was provided and in their free time they enjoyed beautiful fall hikes in the Cascades.

In other fall American adventures, the Tafels worked at Minnesota’s historic Gunflint Lodge in the northern woods near Lake Superior, near the Canadian border. Most recently, the couple worked at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, where they lived in an efficiency apartment right in the park. Their job titles have included dining room server, maintenance worker, housekeeper, field crew, front desk agent, general store cashier, storekeeper, and cook.

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Sharing professional skills in Asia and Africa

In their international destinations, the Tafels have shared a lifetime of professional experience. “In 2016 we asked ourselves, with all the knowledge we’ve gained in our careers, why should we sit around and waste this?” said Mark.

They taught English at a nursing school in rural India, an opportunity found through the worldwide mission of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). “The students were nice and respectful, Mark said. The couple lived in a guest house with a veranda and bougainvillea vines, a flower garden and a lily pond.

In Tanzania, through the United Methodist Missions volunteer program, the couple shared their skills at Wesley College, which was only in its second year. Mark served as a consultant for their English language program while Jane helped launch their development efforts.

“Our colleagues were very welcoming and respectful. The worship experience was amazing, with singing and dancing,” Mark said. Again, being absorbed in the activities of daily living was an important part of the experience. “Just going to the grocery store was an adventure,” Jane noted.

Taiwan was a homecoming, during which Jane reconnected with one of the founders of the Montessori school in Taipei, of which she had been one of the first teachers. She had lunch with the kindergarten children she had taught, who were now 38.

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Home base and lasting connections

The advantage of this life in stages is that it is possible to marry the best places with their most beautiful seasons. And also to be home for holidays and important family events, such as milestone birthdays of aging parents, or the wedding of an adult child and the birth of their first grandchild.

The generosity of the Tafels with their professional skills led to lasting bonds with their hosts. The two have been contracted to do remote work from home for Wesley College, Holden Village and Taipei Montessori School.

Springboards for exploration

For those who would like to follow their example by pursuing seasonal work in beautiful places such as national parks, the Tafels suggested the Coolworks website. The site has a section called “Older and Bolder”. According to the organization, more than 30% of job seekers who use Coolworks are in the retiree demographic.

Matt Moore, co-owner of Coolworks, says recruiters are thrilled to get applications from people in the second half of their lives because “they have a great work ethic, they’re reliable and there are all sorts of unintended perks – – being mentors to young employees and adding great diversity to a staff.”

All employers listed on Coolworks have been vetted and, according to co-owner Kelcy Fowler, “the only qualification to post a job on Coolworks is to be in a great location.” According to Fowler, many of these jobs are in national parks across the country, as well as resorts, lodges, ski resorts, ranches, summer camps and even game viewing expeditions. whales.

Find your mission

Religious and charitable organizations are rich resources for those seeking to improve the world through volunteering. Reverend Elena Larssen, minister of volunteer engagement at United Church of Christ Global Ministries, places individuals and couples in positions that last from one to 11 months. A favorite project is Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi. Some volunteers are “snowbirds” who spend the winter months helping the poor in various ways, including improving and building housing. UCC also sponsors half a dozen disaster recovery sites.

Long-term volunteers often serve as short-term or weekend volunteer coordinators. In a COVID innovation, this can sometimes even be done in a hybrid way, with the coordinators working remotely from home with the managers on site.

Larssen emphasizes the great diversity of opportunities for volunteers. She sums it up by saying, “The people I work with are the happiest. Volunteering is good for your physical and spiritual health. If you are retired and able to volunteer your time, make your retirement years a time to work on your mission.”

Whether your end-of-life “happy place” is beautiful for its ideals or its landscapes, there are a multitude of options that can enrich your retirement, whatever your circumstances.

Barbara J. Tuttle is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. His stories have appeared in the Star Tribune, Denver Post, Wildlife Conservation, Cricket Media children’s magazines and many other publications.

This article is reproduced with permission from, (c) 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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