Back to work

Published 10:11 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mike and Debbie Tierney prepare to fly home to Manteo, N.C., after visiting friends in Courtland, Va.

By Gwen Albers


By the time she’d turned 41, Debbie Teirney had made enough money to retire to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

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But within five years, her son had left the home they shared in Manteo, and she’d grown weary of watching mindless television.

So, she decided to give up on retirement.

Today, the 56-year-old substitute teaches in Dare County Schools; the kindergarteners at Manteo Elementary School are her favorite. It’s just one of a variety of jobs she has held since coming out of retirement.

She is one of between 5.3 million and 8.4 million people age 44 to 70 involved in “encore” careers, according to a survey by Civic Ventures and the MetLife Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the insurance giant.

For Baby Boomers, “retirement may just be a transition to a new career or a new stage of work after a midlife career,” said Phyllis Segal, vice president of Civic Ventures, a nonprofit focused on redefining the second half of life.

An encore career combines compensation, personal meaning and social impact, Segal said.

A total of 3,585 people surveyed in encore careers work in education, health care, government, nonprofit organizations and for-profits that serve the public good.

Debbie Tierney’s story

Debbie Tierney’s story starts in Irvington, N.J., where she was the third oldest of eight children. Her father was a firefighter; her mother, a homemaker.

In the early 1990s, Tierney and her contractor husband, Mike, got in on the ground floor of the cell phone industry. For five years, the couple operated a publicly-held company that served central Alabama and employed 50. She was president and chief executive officer.

After selling the company, the Tierneys left Alabama and settled in Manteo. Mike Tierney liked it for the fishing; his wife liked it for its proximity to family on the East Coast.

“I got restless and started volunteering,” Debbie Tierney said. “I just think if you don’t stay productive, you stagnate. Your body shuts down. You need to stay active as long as you can.”

In 2001, she began working as inventory manager for West Marine, a boating supply store in the Outer Banks. Tierney remained there for eight years.

She also did some map work for the U.S. Census Bureau and for the last year or so has been enjoying her gig as a substitute teacher.

A friend, who is a retired teacher, recommended the job.

“I like it,” she said. “It’s diverse. One day you work with small children, the next day at the high school.”

It’s been a good fit, because it gives Tierney time off in the summers to manage her rental house.

The home in Pirates Cove, a gated waterfront resort community on the Outer Banks between Manteo and Nags Head, sleeps 22. She markets its availability; Tierney and her husband do all the upkeep. A group will leave by mid-morning Saturday, and the Tierneys have six hours to prepare the home for the next group’s weeklong stay.

She also liked doing the census, because it allowed her to work at her own pace.

“And I like meeting people and I enjoyed the walking part of it,” she said.

Sometimes Tierney thinks about returning to work full time, possibly as a teacher’s aide for kindergarten or first grade.

“I like teaching children and the emotional feedback,” she said. “You get hugs and kisses, and it’s exciting when they get something right.”

Patsy Marks’ story

Once Patsy Marks’ three children were grown and out of the home, the 56-year-old Capron, Va., woman had more time to focus on her peanut business.

“The ball games kind of came to an end, school functions came to an end, and I learned to channel all that energy into a growing business,” Marks said.

Marks founded Belmont Peanuts of Southampton in Capron in 1993, and she remains its president today. The company processes and sells peanuts grown on the family farm.

“We take the Virginia peanut type, we cook them, pack them and ship them all over the country,” said Marks, whose partner is General Manager David Peck. “We have a large Internet business, we wholesale and we sell at shows.”

Marks Farms, which supplies the peanuts, is operated by brothers Bob and Mike Marks. Mike Marks is Patsy’s husband and has been instrumental in the business, she said.

Internet sales have picked up in recent years.

“I think there are more people that use the Internet to make their purchases,” Marks said. “It’s a very easy way for people to shop.”

Growth in the business couldn’t have come at a better time.

“My children have grown up and moved on, and I have had many good customers that I’ve been able to keep and maintain,” she said.