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I retired almost six years ago after 40 years in the teaching ministry, 37 of those as a Lutheran elementary school principal. And each year, I notice a growing number of new retirees listed in church publications. So…maybe it is time to share just a bit about this major life event.

Forty years before I retired, the year we got married, Diane’s dad had just retired. Somewhere along the way between our marriage and our retirement, we were gathered around a table with many members of Diane’s family one evening except her dad who had already gone on to glory.

Diane’s mother was at this gathering, as were Diane’s brother and sister. At some point during our visit, Diane’s mom announced that she had a question for us kids. Mom was 10 years younger than Diane’s dad and had worked for another 10 years at the library after my father-in-law’s retirement. “I’d like your opinions on something. The first day of Al’s retirement…”— my brother-in-law and I shot each other a look, and it was like both of us knew what was coming and wanted to get out of there as fast as we could — she continued, “…I made a list of things for him to do — a To-Do List.”

Now my father-in-law was a guy who managed a huge garden, canned or froze a year’s worth of fruits and vegetables every summer, did all the maintenance on their vehicles, cooked all the meals, did the grocery shopping, worked full-time in a GM plant, and on and on. And in retirement, he went on to be a major caregiver to two granddaughters.

Diane’s mom continued, “Well, when I got home that night, there was not…one… single… thing done on that list! I calmed myself down, gave it some thought, and I figured, ‘Well, it was his first day of retirement.’ The next morning, I added a few things to his To-Do List and again set it out on the table. Do you know when I got home the next night, there still wasn’t a single thing crossed off that list! So I tore up Al’s To-Do List, threw it in the trash, and I never ever left him a list again. Now my question to all of you is this: Do you think Al was trying to send me a message?” We jut all smiled at one another and held it in.

Back in June 2014, as my first day of retirement approached (July 1), Diane and I took our traditional "first day of summer” afternoon drive up to Saugatuck, Michigan. Saugatuck—home of the Dune Schooner Ride, the Singapore Yacht Club, the lost lumbering town of Singapore (swallowed up by the drifting sand dunes), Duck rides, The Star of Saugatuck Riverboat, and two Kilwin's Ice Cream Shops almost across the street from each another. Diane and I typically did this the first Friday after closing faculty meetings and after wrapping things up from the past school year. A nice lunch together and some shopping in one of west Michigan’s popular tourist spots!

Out to lunch, walking around town, taking pictures, hitting all the little shops, warm chocolate chip cookies, and a Kilwin's ice cream. Although that particular day, I also had a frozen chocolate covered banana. Time for a little extra celebrating. And, I had homemade split pea soup with my lunch, the soup of the day at The Butler. Diane can't stand split pea soup, but I’ve always loved it.

On the drive home, Diane shared some thoughts about retirement. My retirement, not hers, as she still planned to teach one more year. These thoughts from Diane were totally unsolicited. "I think now that you're retired, we should set some goals about eating out—not to eat out as much, to eat at home more often; it will save money. Also, to eat more fruits and vegetables."

"I agree about the fruits and vegetables, especially if vegetables include homemade split pea soup. Plus, I think we ought to choose a theme for next year, my first year in retirement. And we should adopt a vision statement too. What about branding our retirement plan? Best practices too! Let's develop a list of best practices for retirement— like getting up in the morning. It would seem to me that as long as we continue to get up each morning, this retirement thing is moving along in the right direction.”

"Are you being sarcastic about my choice of the word 'goals'?"

"No, not at all. Maybe just trying to ‘send a message.’ Oh, and I would have preferred the term ‘measurable goals.’”

Chuck Strohacker retired at the end of the 2014–2015 school year after serving 40 years in the Michigan District, 37 of those years as a principal. He and his wife, Diane, live in retirement in St. Joseph, Mich.

Illustration © iStock/13spoon, enhanced by Kathryn Brewer.