So you think that you’re ready to retire. Mazel tov. Just keep in mind that the big “R” isn’t all Hawaiian shirts and drinks with little umbrellas in them.
Doing it right takes effort — and who better to guide us through such a momentous life transition than Boalsburg’s own Gert Aron, who at 90 years old has been doing the whole post-career thing with gusto for more than two decades now.
And he’s about to do it again.
Know when it’s time to walk away
Walk being the operative word here — no running allowed.
The year was 1991 and a very content Aron was in no hurry to vacate his position as a professor of civil engineering at Penn State.
His specialty was hydrology. Basically if you were on University Park between the late ’60s and early ’90s and wanted to know something about stormwater, you went to him.
“I was really quite happy with what I was doing,” Aron said.
He was planning on calling it quits in the summer of 1992, but when the great state of Pennsylvania offered him a deal on his pension ... Well, there’s no time like the present.
“I had pretty close to 30 years in that field and so why should I stay there forever?” Aron said.
Accept that there are only so many books in the world
Say what you will about the afternoon staff meeting, but it does have a way of breaking up the day.
Under the wrong circumstances, an empty calendar can be just as daunting as an overstuffed to-do list.
“How many things can you do? Unless you are an avid reader you really have to find something to do,” Aron said
He has a friend who traded in his 9-to-5 job for winemaking and time in the garden.
That wasn’t going to work here.
“If you look at our garden, it’s just to get a few tomatoes out,” Aron said.
Travel to new(ish) and exciting places
Shortly after retirement, Aron and his wife, Jean, purchased a Plymouth van to travel the world — or at least the parts of it that can be found squarely within Pennsylvania state lines.
They put 25,000 miles on the van in the course of a single year.
“When we started yelling at each other we knew it was time to come home,” Jean said.
Save something for the audition
A few years back, Aron was talking to a minister friend who was preparing to appear in a local theatrical production.
“If a minister can go on stage, why shouldn’t a civil engineer do that?” he asked himself.
Perhaps you’ve caught his rendition of Grandpa in “Broadway Bound” or in “You Can’t Take it with You.”
Either way, Aron said getting involved with State College’s theatrical circuit added a balcony or two onto his social circle.
“There you meet completely different people from what you meet in the technical field,” he said.
Remember that although careers may end, gym memberships live on
About three times a week, Aron joins the senior class at Victory Sports and Fitness for an hour of marching, weights and stretching rubber bands.
“I get all the exercise I can take,” he said.
If at all possible, spend your youth in the jungles of South America
There are practical reasons for a father to move his young family to a homestead near the South American wilderness. Good ones, too.
“If you wanted to emigrate — get out of Nazi Germany — you didn’t have a lot of options,” Aron said.
As a consequence, he knows his way around a set of tools. Sheds and thatched roofs are also not a problem.
“We had to build everything,” Aron said.
Bare in mind that volunteer work yields more smiles than an invoice
For the past two decades and change, Aron has enjoyed a second career under the shingle of Habitat for Humanity. He started at the bottom and worked his way up the ladder of volunteers.
Actually, reverse that.
After helping HFH erect a few houses around town, Aron began looking for projects that kept him closer to the ground.
“At 65 you don’t feel like working on the rafters anymore, you know?,” he said.
His “small projects program” specializes in building ramps and handicap-friendly stairs.
It’s a different brand of engineering than the one that Aron enjoyed at Penn State — heavier on the nails and altruism — but he likes providing for his fellow man.
Plus a job that’s done for free tends to yield very few complaints.
“Nobody is happy when you have to pay for it,” Aron said.
Know when it’s time to walk away (again)
This time it’s Father Time, probably not the great state of Pennsylvania, that will tell you that it’s time to hit the bricks.
“You just kind of slowly find out that you can’t lift things anymore,” Aron said.
As you can probably imagine, such a revelation is of some concern to a man who job requires the use of a power saw.
Don’t worry about sliding any last minute ramp requests under the door just yet. Aron has yet to set a hard and fast retirement date. When he does, the hope is to attract a worthy successor to take up the cause.
“I would let that person handle it and just help a little bit as much as I can,” Aron said.