Baby Boomer Retirement Profile: How an Army Couple Became The Snowbirding Innkeepers

Category: Adventurous retirement

May 23, 2011 —
Note: This is the first in our series of retiree profiles. Our goal is to portray a variety of active baby boomer retirement lifestyles for our members. If you know a boomer retirement we should know about use the Contact Us link to let us know about it.

Kelly and Demaris Edwards wake up to a dream retirement every day. Picture a historic country inn perched high above the shores of Lake Erie. The sounds of the lake are the first things they hear. The 13 room inn they own and manage provides them with the majority of their livelihood plus a great deal of personal satisfaction. This outgoing couple enjoys running the inn for many reasons, but their favorite is the chance it gives them to meet new people. Over the years many of their guests have become repeat patrons and personal friends.

Their unique lifestyle also frees them to become snowbirds every winter. In January when Lake Erie freezes and the lake-effect snows begin to pile up, the Edwards climb aboard their 30’ RV and head on down the road to Key West, Florida. There they stay in a U.S. military RV park where they relax, read, and exercise in the warm Florida sunshine. This article will help explain why their son Jim…
summed up Kelly and Demaris’s retirement lifestyle this way: “My parents are geniuses”.

What They Did Before Retirement
Kelly Edwards graduated from Old Dominion University in Virginia on an ROTC scholarship. In Alaska, one of first Army assignments, the young Lieutenant met his future wife, Demaris, a native of Erie, Pa. She was in the 49th state looking for job and an adventure – she likes to say she found the job in purchasing and the adventure with Kelly.

During Kelly’s 16 year Army career the couple moved on average every 2 to 3 years, living in places like Alabama, Georgia, Alaska, Germany, and Japan (Okinawa). Kelly also had combat tours in the Middle Eastern desert. An engineer, Kelly helped manage large scale infrastructure projects such as energy resource management, petroleum distribution, and water purification plants. During most of this time Demaris continued to work in materials management, changing jobs frequently as their Army life led them around the globe.

Kelly took early retirement as a Major after 16 years and on the promotable list to Lieutenant Colonel.
His retirement from the Army at such a young age presented them with the decision of where to live and what to do next. Thinking that whatever turned up would help them decide their future, each applied for and were offered jobs in their respective home towns. Demaris received an attractive offer in materials management in Erie. The decision about what to do was made easier when Kelly said to her, “You have been following me around the country for 16 years, now it’s my turn to follow you.” And that’s how they ended up in Erie, Pa. in 1996.


While Demaris started yet another job in Erie that first summer, Kelly played golf and enjoyed fishing from his boat in Lake Erie. The arrival of cold weather helped persuade him to find and accept a position with General Electric as a manager in worldwide inventory management. That job led to multiple promotions and an eventual move to Omaha, Nebraska. After about 5 years the job stopped being fun, so Kelly started looking for his third career and/or first retirement. Demaris remained at her job in Erie, providing income and benefits for the couple, who by now had 2 sons in college.

Initial Plans and Preconceptions about Retirement
The couple never had a formal plan about when to retire, although given the relatively short career span of an Army officer; they knew it would be at a young age. Even though he was very successful in his second career, Kelly began to resent the travel and the painful decisions associated with life in the corporate world. They agreed that at least in the initial phases of this next move, Demaris would keep working.

Their Retirement Priorities
Kelly began to realize that living near the water was very important to him. He also liked the idea of being his own boss and having the freedom to work on his own schedule. That led him out looking for investment opportunities along the shore of some body of water. One of the things he regretted most about his Army days was that he didn’t get to see his 2 boys while they were growing up. Now that the couple has a grandchild, a top retirement priority for both was the freedom and flexibility to play with him. As Kelly says of his grandson, “Jace has to be the biggest joy in my life”. Another consideration was the attraction of having down time, with the opportunity to spend part of the winter in the warm south.

Alternatives They Considered
Even before Kelly started his second career at GE he had talked with the owners of an historic inn along Lake Erie about a possible acquisition. That deal fell through, but Kelly’s interest remained. Upon leaving GE Kelly looked at marinas, inns, and bed & breakfasts situated near lakes, rivers, and bays. A boat lover, the marina concept was particularly appealing to him. Eventually, though, the environmental permitting aspects of that business proved to be problematic. He found that if the facility didn’t already have the correct permits already on hand or docks built, acquiring them was too daunting a task at this stage in his life. That’s when he began investigating other water-side investments.

Remembering the country inn he had investigated a few years earlier, he contacted the owners again. This time, he found them ready to sell. In fact they were prepared to offer owner financing for a portion of the purchase price, making the deal much more attractive. Demaris kept her corporate job (and the benefits it offered) for several years before joining her husband in co-managing the inn.

Their Retirement Lifestyle
Their spectacular property, Lakeview on the Lake, was the former lakeside home of Annie Scott Strong, a wealthy Erie-ite. The property covers over 8 acres and has 13 rooms, cottages, and suites. Located on a beautiful stretch of Lake Erie along Pennsylvania’s tiny strip of lake frontage, it is in a unique lakeside microclimate particularly suited for growing grapes, cherries, peaches, and other fruit. The region’s vineyards, wineries, and orchards have become popular tourist destinations. Being the only country inn in this attractive region that is on the lake insures a steady stream of guests. The couple has a website, www.lakeviewerie.com, which, along with repeat customers and referrals, provide the bulk of their customers.

The inn has a steady rhythm that keeps them busy catering to guests, cleaning, maintaining the property, and managing an enterprise with 8 employees. They enjoy the work and particularly like the people aspect of the job. There are always new people to meet and old friends to greet.

The inn played handsomely into their 2nd retirement priority, the ability to have some built-in downtime. Lake Erie’s brutal winters provide that benefit – a slow season that allows the Edwards to go south and “just say no” to part of the winter. During that period one of the couple’s sons and his wife and baby come to live on the property, an ideal arrangement for everyone. The younger Edwards keep the driveways plowed (sometimes a 3 times a day job on Lake Erie!), buildings maintained, and check in and clean up after the occasional wintertime guest. That frees Kelly and Demaris for one of the highlights of their year – taking their big RV on a week-long drive to Key West, FL, the warmest spot in the continental U.S.

Once in Key West the Edwards park their 5th Wheel RV (the kind that is connected to the bed of a truck) at the Sigsbee US military RV Park at the north end of the U.S.’s southernmost point. This very special military benefit allows them to park their 30’ RV in this MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) Facility for the bargain price of just $12-$20/day. Equivalent civilian facilities can run $100 or more per night. They also take advantage of the many other benefits available to career military in Key West: PXs, medical facilities, etc.
In Key West the Edwards live their dream perfect winter lifestyle for about a month. About 8:30 AM each day Kelly, a former Division I Collegiate tennis player, hits the Bayview Public Tennis Courts for his daily workout. After a few hours of that exercise he rides his bike home to read in the shade all afternoon, or join Demaris on one of the many excellent outings available in Key West – the home of the “Conchs”. Demaris exercises every day and then relaxes, reads, shops, and rides her bike around this bike-friendly town. On other days the pair might play golf with neighbors or take advantage of the excellent fishing available on the keys and reefs surrounding Key West.

If you choose this lifestyle
One of the beauty’s of the seasonal innkeeper’s lifestyle is that you can do it just about anywhere. Inns and B & B’s are generally located in great tourist areas. Making the decision to be an innkeeper or run a B & B is not a light one, however. You need to carefully investigate the business and real estate you are purchasing. You also have to make sure you have the right temperament – the job is not for people who don’t enjoy being around other people 24/7, or who don’t mind working hard. The snowbirding that Kelly and Demaris do at their relatively young age is pretty easy. Military RV parks are located throughout the country, and are also usually located in nice places that permit you to sample different lifestyles. There are many resources that make finding a park easy. You mainly have to enjoy driving the rig and living in somewhat of a communal environment.

Resources
Fortunately there are a number of resources to help you decide whether you should become an innkeeps. Read these books, visit the websites, and attend a seminar to get prepared.

Websites:
http://www.innspiring.com/
http://www.lanierbb.com/innkeeperscorner/

Books:
So You Want to be an Innkeeper
How to Open and Operate a Bed and Breakfast
Complete Idiot’s Guide to Running a Bed and Breakfast
Woodall’s
Big Rig Guide
Trailer Life Directory
Best RV Tent Campgrounds in America
Frommer’s Exploring America by RV

More Boomer Retirement Profiles:
Jane and Jack: Retired in Place, But Mighty Busy
Sandy’s 8 Year Adventure with Active Adult Communities
The Seafaring Couple Start an International Literacy Non-Profit

Posted by John Brady on May 23rd, 2011

8 Comments »

  1. Great profile! I checked into the innkeeping lifestyle several years ago and made the decision to not do it. Talking with multiple B/B owners, I realized that it truly is a 24/7 commitment. And location is everything! They are fortunate to have family who can give them a break but the B/B owners I talked with all had the same complaint: they were tied to the business.
    Look forward to future profiles.

    by Sue — May 24, 2011

  2. B&B is the perfect and exciting business for retired/near retired folk who have a heart for hospitality. In our little historic home in the mountains of Virginia, the Spring through autumn season brings wonderful folk to the healthy clear air/water of our area near Roanoke. The visits from these “only once a stranger” visitors make light the work of owning the business. The winter then brings quiet and a period of recharging during which we travel. It’s a great life in Craig County, VA.

    by Cary Mebach — May 24, 2011

  3. John, great idea for series of articles. Innkeeper is probably not for me (never had the ‘handy man’ gene), but keep ’em coming. Love hearing about different retirement “careers”.

    by Scottp — May 24, 2011

  4. I’m sure that the Edwards enjoy the B&B lifestyle and I hope that it’s a good fit. I’ve retired from the hospitality industry, so I want to be a far away from the headaches that come with this lifestyle. If you are seriously thinking about hospitality as a retirement lifestyle, please get professional help. There are medications that will help you get past it!!

    by Jack Posey — May 25, 2011

  5. If you want something similar and not as demanding, try owning and managing a vacation rental. I have done this for 5 years now and it is a lot less trouble than a B&B. You don’t even have to live nearby. I am 350 miles away from my vacattion rental and have a cleaning lady that looks after things. I go there about 3 times a year to do maintenance and I can use it for pleasure anytime as well. I never see the guests and I do most of the booking and inquiries by email or phone. You probably won’t make as much as with a B and B but you don’t have any employees and you can manage a VR in your spare time.

    by LarryS — May 25, 2011

  6. […] This is Part 2 in our series exploring different retirement lifestyles. Part 1 profiled “The Snowbirding Innkeepers“, don’t miss it! If you know a boomer retirement we should know about use the Contact […]

    by » Retirement Profile: Staying in Place – and Very Busy Topretirements — July 5, 2011

  7. […] Blog) This is Part 2 in our series exploring different retirement lifestyles. Part 1 profiled “The Snowbirding Innkeepers“, don’t miss it! If you know a boomer retirement we should learn about use the Contact Us link […]

    by » Retirement Profile: Staying in Place – and Very Busy - Topretirements — September 10, 2014

  8. […] a great suggestion, so this article is part 3 of a series on that subject. Part 1 profiled “The Snowbirding Innkeepers“, while Part 2 took a look at the busy lives of a Connecticut psychology professor and his […]

    by » Retiring in Place – Part 3 - Topretirements — September 23, 2014

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