Mary Anne Johnston is a retired educator who found an outlet for her interest in promoting literacy with Rotary International– in Colorado and Guatemala. Her story is the latest in our series of interesting baby boomer profiles. Here is her story as told to Patricia Kennedy. If you know a boomer retirement we should know about tell us via the Contact Us link.
As we began to transition into retirement, my husband and I moved to Colorado from Connecticut. An active outdoor life is important to both of us, so Colorado was an ideal location. We both enjoy the beautiful trails, scenery and the many skiing options. I don’t downhill ski anymore but am out on my cross-country skis frequently and love hiking. We have a small condo in Denver, but it is our home in Silverthorne, in the Rocky Mountains’ Summit County, that is the major draw for our children and grandchildren. They all want to come here for skiing and the cool summer days.
I had spent most of the later part of my career directing educational programs for medical schools at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale. In my last job I was the Director of Office of Education for the University of Colorado School of Medicine. I loved the work, but at a certain point I was ready to move to the mountains. I had no idea how fulfilling the retirement life could be.
Rotary Wires a Community Together
After a period of time, I was invited by a friend to join the local Summit County Rotary. Why not, I thought, it’ll be a way to become a part of this community. I would never have considered myself to be the Rotary type, which reflects my lack of knowledge about the mission of this organization. I had no idea of its important work and how effectively a local Rotary club can bring a community together. I’ve always been interested in promoting literacy so was thrilled to find out that literacy is one of their key missions. I joined the literacy committee – the only woman in a group of seven – and ever since I’ve become even more passionate about education.
Our superintendent of schools and the editor of the local newspaper are members of the literacy committee, which I now chair. Among the effective programs we’ve developed is the Reading Buddies Program. We work with the six elementary schools in the county and have 29 volunteers who are paired with students needing extra support to improve their reading skills. The one-on-one relationship works so well with the young student. The results have been surprisingly positive over the course of a few months and very gratifying to the volunteers. We’ve also developed a yearly short story contest for high school students. We had more than 60 entries last year, and the top 3 stories have been published in the county newspaper.
Guatemala Literacy Project
Our Rotary Club also participated in the Guatemala Literacy Project this year
(www.guatemalaliteracy.org). We represented one of 60 North American Rotary Clubs supporting this project, which focuses on improving Guatemalan children’s literacy.
I have two Guatemala-born grandchildren, Teo and Nico, so you can imagine that this project really appealed to me. Last month, I went with a group of 26 Rotarians to Guatemala to deliver textbooks and computers. We spent 11 days visiting Guatemala City and small villages around Lake Atitlan and Quetzaltenango. We were honored and thanked with ceremonies and traditional dances performed by the children.
These people — who have so little — gave us gifts. One older gentleman presented me with a small hand-woven textile carefully wrapped and tied up with a ribbon. He wanted to say thank you. His gesture of appreciation moved me deeply. He had singled me out of our group to be the recipient, perhaps because I was an older gray-haired woman and looked approachable. He tapped me on the shoulder, presented his gift with a lovely smile. I teared up as I thought about our own little Mayan boys, now students in a great school in San Francisco. Perhaps the gentleman sensed my special bond with Guatemala.
What’s the most important quality you must have to do this work?
Passion and enthusiasm. It’s contagious and goes a long way to inspiring other people to get involved. There’s a great need for volunteers in the schools in almost every American community, and there are not enough monies to cover extra services. In a small town, you feel a connection to the people in your community so it makes it so much more satisfying to get involved.
Where’s your ideal retirement location?
Living in a small town has become highly rewarding to me after having lived in large metropolitan areas all my life. Now I know the editor of the local paper, the superintendent of schools, the representative to our state legislature, the mayors of the small towns in the county, as well as many of the local characters who make it so much fun to be here. It’s not so easy to do that in New York, Atlanta or Boston.
Do you have any special advice for women who are retiring?
Find something you love to do and build a community that helps you in that endeavor.
Do you wish you had done this job when you started your working life?
I’ve always loved teaching in any setting – pre-school to medical school. This new experience has given me another opportunity to enjoy the thrill that comes from seeing another human being learn something new.
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: Do you have a passion for helping others to learn? Have you spent time in similar projects that have been rewarding? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.