How Don Stark turned a passion for diving into a major retirement activity is the latest in our series of interesting baby boomer profiles. Here is his story as told to Patricia Kennedy. If you know a boomer retirement we should know about tell us via the Contact Us link.
I went to college thinking that I wanted to be a pharmacist because that would be a good way to own my own business. By the time I graduated, chain pharmacies were taking over. After college, I did work – for a short time — for one of those mega-chains, decided I didn’t like it, and headed off to graduate school. Eventually, I became a business development consultant for pharmaceutical and biotech companies specializing in oncology. I still do projects for a couple of clients, but no longer reach out to develop new business.
Initial Plans for Retirement
In the early 90s, I friend introduced me to scuba diving which has been my passion ever since. My wife and I now spend about half the year in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. The rest of the year we’re in Burlington, Vermont.
With a partner I direct the Turks and Caicos Reef Fund (www.tcreef.org), a non-profit organization to help protect the marine environment in the Turks and Caicos. We only started two years ago, but we’ve already completed one major project – the restoration of an underwater snorkel trail in Provo. We hauled out the trail markers, cleaned and repaired the mounts, and then re-installed them. We’re also working to repair dive boat moorings to protect the coral. There are too few moorings now and too many dive-operators which put pressure on the dive sites and surrounding environment.
How I Manage This Lifestyle
One of our biggest challenges is raising money to support this work. Neither my partner nor I are paid, but we still have basic expenses such as gas for the boats and equipment. Our most successful fundraiser is modeled after the ski industry by selling distinctive plastic tags for divers to put on their gear. It becomes a real badge of honor – “I dove Provo” and the like. Divers tend to be a competitive lot so they love these tags which give bragging rights on how many dive sites they’ve experienced.
Diving is always exciting. Recently I was diving with a group fishing for lionfish. I speared one, put it in my catch bag and brought it up to the deck. Because a shark had been following us, we decided to end the dive early. Unfortunately, I hadn’t sealed the catch bag properly allowing just a little bit of blood to seep out and into the water. By the time my fellow divers were surfacing and ready to re-enter our boat, we had five sharks circling and bumping into our lines. Everyone got in safely, but that was one scary moment. My dive partners all said the same thing, “Wow, that was cool, but I was really terrified.”
What’s the most important quality you must have to do this work?
A passion for diving and a deep commitment to protecting the marine environment. And, you can’t be afraid to ask for money because you always need more.
Where’s your ideal retirement location?
Anywhere that has deep sea diving sites such as the Turks and Caicos. I love the environment, climate, being on the water, and the ability to go diving whenever I want.
Do you have support for this work?
There’s a huge need for what we’re doing. The Turks and Caicos government is fully behind us with the director of the Environmental and Coastal Resources on our board of directors.
Do you wish you had done this job when you started your working life?
I never even dreamed of this kind of a life until I was introduced to diving about twenty years ago. If I had started doing this right away, I would never have earned enough money to actually do this. That’s the wonder of being retired – you can really indulge your passions.
Any Advice for People Looking to Pursue a Recreational Activity in Retirement?
While you’re working, save as much as you can, as early as you can. It’s worth the sacrifice! And, make sure that you don’t convert your recreational passion into a job – it won’t be fun and you’ll lose your enthusiasm. Don’t make it become work!
Turks and Caicos Reef Fund — www.tcreef.org
Turks and Caicos —www.turksandcaicostourism.com
Scuba Diving www.scubadiving.com
About the Author
Patricia Kennedy, a branding and marketing consultant, is transitioning to a more relaxed way of living. She lives in Boston but escapes in the winter to Key West, Florida and to Plymouth, Massachusetts in the summer. Pat’s website is www.PKCBoston.com.
Comments: What is your dream retirement? Like Don, can you turn a hobby into your major retirement activity, or even an occupation? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.