Elders from West Michigan are being showcased as part of a national movement designed to highlight the special gifts they bring to their communities. It’s all part of a growing initiative called Encore, and with strong support from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF), the local effort is featuring the stories of mature adults who have finished first careers and are seeking ways in their next lives to generate “Second Acts For a Greater Grand Rapids.”
“There are so many people who are retired or are retiring early, but aren’t ready to call it quits,” explained Kate Luckert Schmid, program director for the GRCF. “They’re doing good things to make West Michigan better.”
The Foundation’s relationship with Encore goes back more than a decade, but this past year, it broke new ground in a very visual way by establishing a website to host stories of women and men whose encore acts focus on the greater good.
The stories on www.grfoundation.org/encore are written and produced by Tom Rademacher and Nancy O’Brien, veteran communicators in the Grand Rapids area. Rademacher was a reporter and columnist for over 30 years for The Grand Rapids Press before retiring to freelance. O’Brien has just as much experience in public relations and marketing. Most recently, she served as director of communications at Grand Rapids Community College.
Together, the duo has collected and are continuing to amass stories of men and women who have something valuable to share with their communities, a basic tenet of Encore, which was founded in 1977 by social entrepreneur Marc Freedman.
“While many see our aging society as a looming problem,” Freedman told a gathering of Encore enthusiasts recently, “we view it as a solution poised to happen. Those in and beyond midlife represent a powerful source of talent, with the accumulated skills, experience and wisdom to tackle many of our society’s most urgent challenges.”
“Together,” Freedman continued, “we’re building an ‘Encore Nation’ where social purpose work is a widespread reality and cultural aspiration for the second half of adulthood, much the way leisure-based retirement was a goal for previous generations.”
Encore’s devotees are spread out all over the globe, but Diana Sieger, president of the GRCF, is delighted to roll out the red carpet for locals whose stories are worth sharing. “This year, we’re shining the light on our local Encore superstars,” she said. “And it’s creating both awareness and a community-wide conversation about how to tap into this talent.”
Here are a few Encore examples that touch close to home. Read their stories and get inspired to discover and encourage your own encore!
Marge Wilson and Paul Collins
Pastry and paintings?
It may sound like an unlikely combination, but for a West Michigan businesswoman and a local artist, it’s a match made in heaven.
In less than two years, the relationship between Marge Wilson of Marge’s Donut Den and internationally celebrated artist Paul Collins has rendered the establishment of some 60 wells in Nigeria, with plans to install at least 35 more.
“There are so many things that tend to divide us,” Collins said. “But the one thing that can bring us together is the arts.”
Toward that end, Collins accepted an invitation from Wilson, a bank teller-turned bakery owner, to set up his art gallery in a room adjacent to her wildly popular Donut Den at 1751 28th Street, SW in Wyoming.
“In America, most of us do have a little extra money to spare,” Wilson said. “We’ve had people learn of our mission and go home to save pop cans. One little girl shared with us how instead of receiving presents on her birthday, she asked her friends to donate to our well project. And a woman in Arizona heard about our story and now hosts luncheons to raise money for the Foundation. We’ve met the most incredible, caring people.”
Lori Vorpi’s Encore life is motivated by two things: pets in need of a home and veterans who might benefit from a pet. The perfect solution is a nationwide initiative entitled Pets for Vets, for which Vorpi serves as the West Michigan director. “I’ve always volunteered, even as a kid, and I believe in the power of volunteerism to help along community efforts,” she said.
Vorpi, 52, is still engaged full-time as a chiropractor in Rockford, but couldn’t wait to begin her Encore life as someone who connects veterans in need with pets seeking a permanent place to live. Or, as the organization likes to say, “Bringing together man’s best friend and our returning soldiers; showing them both that we have not forgotten.”
Five years ago, Vorpi signed on to direct the West Michigan chapter of Pets for Vets. In that time, she’s helped to partner 64 dogs, two rabbits and one cat with veterans, many of whom struggle with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and other remnants of their time in the service.
Vorpi intends to stay with Pets for Vets long after she retires. “The mission is too important to ever quit,” she said.
For Diana Barrett, it’s all about “the hunt”; but this long-time resident of Grand Rapids isn’t armed with a gun, or bow and arrows.
She depends instead on her love of history to unearth gems about people, places and things that make West Michigan worth remembering. Her writings can be found on www.historygrandrapids.org and www.furniturecityhistory.org.
With past lives as dress designer, elementary school teacher, stockbroker and writer (“I have a short attention span,” she joked), Barrett has devoted her Encore life of the last 17 years or so to digging up history on everything from the long-gone newsboy band comprised of carriers for The Grand Rapids Press, to the life and times of one of Grand Rapids’ most colorful political sons, George W. Welsh.
Barrett has published numerous papers and delivered lectures about varying facets of Grand Rapids’ history, but her favorite subject has surfaced in the person of Welsh, a feisty transplanted Scotsman who served as Michigan’s lieutenant governor, and was Grand Rapids’ mayor for more than 10 years beginning in 1938.
While others might feel the need to slow things down at 80 years of age, Barrett has no such plan. “I’m fortunate so far with my health,” she said. “I honestly can say that these are the best years of my life!”