Mountain climbing may have been an unlikely third act for Baltimore resident Gail Lipsitz, but it turned out to be a passion that was simply realized later in life. She had taught English to high school and college students, spending a little time in France in the process. She then spent 27 years as a public relations coordinator for Jewish Community Services before recognizing that the time was right for a busy life that did not involve a career.
“It was my decision,” she said. “I was able to choose the timing, and my basic motivation was that I just wanted to do a lot of things while I could still do them.”
Lipsitz retired in December 2013 and began to partake in exercise courses at the Edward A. Myerberg Senior Center along with a hiking club. Not long after, her son, David, asked if she would join him in his quest to climb Mount Bierstadt in Colorado.
“A good retirement is one in which you do go out of your comfort zone and try new things.”
Lipsitz ended up hiking all 14,065 feet of the mountain last summer with her son with little difficulty, which she attributes to the regular hiking she has done in retirement.
“Your adrenaline kicks in when you see people on the summit,” she said.
With her newfound hobby, Lipsitz has perhaps reached the summit of her life as well. She admits she was somewhat concerned about retiring because she thought the community would no longer view her as a professional. Lipsitz’s husband, Allan, had died in 2007, and she needed to find fulfilling ways to spend her days, even if that didn’t mean being in an office.
“I had to redefine how I wanted to spend these years, and since I was still working when he passed away, I had time to think about that,” she said.
Clarity came on a January trip to India when Lipsitz ran into an acquaintance, and upon telling her about her retirement, the friend exclaimed “I can’t imagine ever retiring,” she said. “I’d be so bored. What do you do all day, get your nails done?”
In addition to hiking, she teaches literature to adults at two synagogues and the Myerberg Center.
Neal Cierler also chose to lead an active retirement by becoming involved in JCS’s Mitzvah Mobility program as a volunteer driver. Cierler retired two years ago after a career with the Social Security Administration and saw an ad in the JT for volunteering with JCS.
“I was going to take care of the house or find some interests,” he said. “I wanted to find something I really wanted to do besides work.”
Most of Cierler’s clients are elderly and lack mobility. He accompanies them to doctor’s appointments, trips to the grocery store and other errands. Arrangements are typically made through a client’s social worker who contacts the volunteer coordinator and lets volunteers such as Cierler know they are needed.
“It’s just fascinating to talk these people,” he said. “They have a lot to tell and they have a lot to say. A lot of them just want to have somebody to talk to.”
Beth Hecht, JCS’s senior manager for community engagement, said it is often older adults who volunteer to take care of other older adults.
Whether it be through an institution such as JCS or through another means, retirement has the potential to be just as meaningful as a career. In Lipsitz’s case it is the last chapter in a life that has taken her to a variety of physical and mental places.
“It’s extremely fulfilling and stimulating,” she said of her current life. “It keeps my mind active but it’s far from full time work.”
Lipsitz said she recognizes that some do not have the luxury of retiring when they choose, and she said the purpose of her retirement is to stay active.
“I was not a person who felt like my whole identity was tied up in my job,” she said.
“On some level many are doing caregiving for their parents as the older generation lives longer,” she said.
Hecht said many volunteers also teach English as a second language and spend time with children as part of a Big Brother, Big Sister program. She said retired attorneys help run a free legal clinic for those who need advice.
“That’s a wonderful way where attorneys can stay connected and have some personal satisfaction,” she said.