Following Their Dreams
Delving into one’s passion—later in life.
At night, Ricki Rogow dreams about tennis. Most mornings she dresses for it. Sometimes she has plans to play; other times she’s just hoping she will. Her planner and her mind are filled with tennis dates and her closet is lined with tennis outfits.
At 56, Rogow has delved into a passion that remained inside her since she played the sport at Detroit Country Day School as a teenager.
While much time and energy were focused on raising a family, tennis was relegated to the bottom of her list of priorities.
Thirty-five years later, with her three children grown, Rogow is among those allowing a longtime, deep-rooted aspiration to finally take a front seat. For others, that sort of dream may be a new one, discovered through a sudden wealth of time after retirement or as a change or addition of a new career, either by choice or necessity. Some find it in the form of a new profession; others in a fulfilling, dedicated avocation.
“It is a true blessing when one finds passion in what they do — regardless of age,” said Belle Kohen, a certified life coach who counsels clients and runs the coachbelle.com website. “Increased enjoyment, happiness and inspiration in any area of your life, whether personally or professionally, is empowering.”
A dental hygienist-turned-corporate consultant, pet store owner and advertising specialties salesperson, Kohen of West Bloomfield found her “life’s calling” as a life coarch and shares her expertise as publisher and editor for online Unleashed magazine and as a web radio and television personality.
“My clients are daring women age 50 and above looking to ‘unleash their bold’ as they are entering a new chapter in their lives,” she said.
Kohen sees those who have found something they are passionate about as “feeling energized, looking forward to their day, becoming more focused and suddenly having deeper meaning in life.”
Rogow has found all that in ways she never expected since getting back into tennis four years ago.
“Besides the amazing physical feeling and overall health benefits, tennis has given me lessons I use in life,” she said. “Patience, respect, dedication and focus are the skills I use on and off the court. I take great pride and I am very grateful to be able to play as much as I do, at the level I do and with wonderful people who share my passion.”
A Different Court
Jay Levine turned a continuing interest in coaching into the reality of becoming a high school boys’ varsity basketball coach after retiring from his position as president and COO of the Harvard Drug Group in Livonia, which he co-founded 23 years ago.
“I played basketball my whole life, and I was always interested in coaching but never had the time because I traveled a lot for work and couldn’t make the commitment,” said Levine, 59, of West Bloomfield and Parkland, Fla.
“I have a friend, Harry Glanz of West Bloomfield, who has been a part-time volunteer coach at Walled Lake Central High School for almost 10 years,” he said. “When I retired five years ago, he asked if I wanted to work with him and the school’s paid coach.”
After a year of volunteering as the team’s assistant coach, Levine coached at Hartland High School for three years and went back to Walled Lake this past year.
“I am very committed to this opportunity,” he said. “I travel back and forth to Florida every week so that I don’t miss any practices or games. The biggest reward for me is watching a young man grow from ninth grade to a senior and the maturity that goes with it. It’s fun to see them after they graduate and they greet you with, ‘Hi, Coach,’ and they give you an update on their post-high school life.”
A real estate agent for 20 years, Carol Shapiro Havis turned a necessary career change into the chance to catch a dream.
“I worked mostly for builders and they all went down in the recession around 2009,” said Shapiro Havis of Bloomfield Township. “It was around that same time that I was turning the big ‘5-0’ and knew in my heart that it was the right time to follow my passion if I was ever going to do it.”
That passion was to blend both business ownership and a mission to promote health and well-being through vegetable and herb gardening. In 2010, she created TheraGardens (www.theragardens.com), named for the therapeutic benefits derived through gardening.
“When my real estate clients disappeared, I finally had time to put some real energy into growing my own pesticide-free veggies at home,” Shapiro Havis said.
“At the time, I was extremely stressed about finances and my uncertain future, and all I wanted to do was to be in the garden because I found it to be extremely rewarding and incredibly therapeutic.
“I always wanted to have my own business and I knew it would involve helping others, and that anything in the ‘green’ sector would be timely and also help the planet,” she said. “I also understood that whole foods nutrition would have a comeback in popularity for preventing and treating obesity and disease in the coming years, and it has.”
Shapiro Havis was aware she needed some training. So she turned to the Women to Work program at JVS in West Bloomfield, whose focus is to help women who have been out of the workforce obtain emotional support and receive the confidence to successfully find employment. The program also evaluates and matches job skills with interests and abilities, providing financial education, instruction on resume writing, interviewing and job searching, referrals to support services and computer training.
“I learned to use the computer through JVS,” Shapiro Havis said.
In 2012, Shapiro Havis was honored with the annual JVS Women to Work Award.
“The program often results in a life-altering experience for the participants,” said Judy Richmond, Women to Work coordinator. “Often the women are experiencing a sudden loss of confidence and self-esteem due to abrupt changes in their personal lives.
“When a woman finds employment in her field of expertise and is able to use her exemplary skills, she seems to ‘blossom,’ knowing she has reached a goal that seemed only a dream, and then realizes her dream has come true.”
A master gardener, Shapiro Havis now designs gardens at homes, offices, restaurants and agencies, including those serving clients with special physical and emotional needs.
On June 15, she launched a KickStarter campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/theragardens/theragardens-urban-learning-farm) to create a community Urban Learning Farm in Southfield.
“Our mission is to create this urban learning farm where groups can come to us,” she said.
Keep On Reading
Books have had a meaningful presence in Sharon Schwartz’s life for decades. An English teacher — for five years at Akiva Hebrew Day School of Metropolitan Detroit followed by 22 more at Farmington Hills-based Hillel Day School — she now is a facilitator of area book clubs.
Even before she retired from teaching six years ago, Schwartz was delving into this extension of her love of books, and now helps the groups choose what they will read and facilitates their discussions.
“Each one operates a little differently, but there is a person in each one who organizes locations and emails the members,” she said. “One is for members of the steering committee of the Jewish Book Fair and will meet this year at the JCC in West Bloomfield. I also give two book reviews during the year at the West Bloomfield JCC Library as well as an occasional book review at Adat Shalom Synagogue.”
Schwartz, 66, of Bloomfield Hills, says, “Books, reading books, choosing new ones and facilitating discussions about them are a passion and always have been.
“It seems to be a perfect retirement activity for an English teacher. I love to read and explore new books and writers and enjoy doing this with adult readers.
“Quite a departure from discussing literature with eighth graders,” said Schwartz, who also directed 18 annual musical performances at Hillel and several more at Akiva.
“The musicals inspired me to join a community theater, and I appeared in three or four productions while I was teaching. Another desire of mine fulfilled.”
To The Kitchen!
Attracted to culinary arts since he was a child, attorney Keith Sirlin has just earned a degree in the field.
“My standard line is I was the only 9-year-old who not only liked eggplant, but knew how to prepare it,” he said. “My parents were both great cooks so I got the interest as a result of eating great food as a child and wanting to know how to do it.”
Continuing to work in the private practice law office he has run for 36 years, Sirlin enrolled in the Culinary Arts Program at Schoolcraft College.
“With the continued encouragement of my friends and family, I decided it was either now or never to pursue a goal that interested me my entire life: learning how to be a professional chef,” he said. “Besides, I qualified for a senior discount.”
Earlier this month, he graduated with honors with an associates’ degree in applied sciences in culinary arts.
“Since graduation, I continue to entertain my friends and family as much as time permits,” said Sirlin of Bloomfield Hills.
“I have also become very involved in making lunches for Shabbos and holidays at the Woodward Avenue Shul, where my wife and I belong. It is a lot of responsibility and hard work, but is worth it because the members express their appreciation very liberally.
“Rabbi Chanoch Hadar is a real ‘foodie’, so we get along real well even though I am not Orthodox. He couldn’t be a better friend and is totally supportive, giving me freedom to choose the menu and execute it as I see fit, so long as I follow the rules of kashrut strictly.”
Sirlin is contemplating his next ambitious step. Describing himself as “63 and getting younger every day,” he is considering implementing a food truck. “It would be a lot of hard work, but fun at the same time,” he said. “I would specialize in Mediterranean cuisine — good, healthy, flavorful food.”
Sirlin is overjoyed with his decision to pursue his dream. “Every day that I was in school, I would tell myself that I was the luckiest guy in the world to have the opportunity and ability to go back to college at age 60. It was the most fulfilling thing I can remember doing. I was taught by mostly master-certified chefs, who shared their passion with the students.
“Even though baking class started at 6 in the morning every day, I would do it all over again. My only regret is that my mom and dad could not be here to share in the fruits of my education.
“Part of the fun is also being asked a lot of questions when I am wearing my chef’s coat in a grocery store after having prepared a meal somewhere,” he said.
Never Enough Time
Like Sirlin, Dr. Jeffrey Eisman discovered a passion doesn’t have to replace full-time professional involvement; it can go along side it.
In practice as a chiropractor for 35 years, Eisman found an artistic love of glass blowing through an eerie coincidence 10 years ago.
“I had a dream that I was blowing glass,” he said. “The next day a flyer came in the mail inviting me to a glass-blowing class in Pontiac.”
He studied the art form at the studio where the class was offered. “In the next room there was an artist working on a lamp or torch. I stood by as he took glass rods, held them in the flame and began to create arms and legs. I spent every Thursday night the next year watching and, gradually, took my place at the torch. Then I was hooked on lampworking.”
Soon he created his own space in his West Bloomfield home.
“We vented a room in the basement, ran a 220 line for a kiln, brought in a gas line and mounted a torch known as a midrange lamp,” said Eisman, 61. “Then came the exhaust fan — and, of course, speakers for music.”
First he made beads for jewelry.
“Gradually my interests turned to Judaica. I began sculpting hands and eventually began creating yads (ritual pointers for reading Torah), tallit clips and plates — functional art. Currently, I am working on fusing glass, mounting them on exotic woods and making mezuzot.”
Everything he has created so far has been for personal enjoyment or to give as gifts.
The benefits he gets from creating his art are great, but hardly relaxing.
“On the torch, the work can be fast and furious,” he said. “To see a round rod of glass that is hard and rigid become malleable and then shaped into an object amazes me each time I sit at the torch. I have an idea what I want, but the end product may be different based on the glass and temperature.”
No matter how many hours Eisman spends at his craft, he says it is “not enough.”
Rogow, too, is always looking to squeeze more and more into her schedule.
“I play tennis five to six days a week,” she said. “I hop out of bed ready to play. I play singles and doubles. I play USTA (United States Tennis Association), recreational leagues and in local tournaments. I play all over. If it’s a racquet club, I have played there.”
During her 35 years off from the sport, she watched her sons play recreational tennis and her daughter play on the varsity team for four years at West Bloomfield High School.
Now she plays with them. And she shares her love of tennis with the next generation. “I also play with my 18-month-old granddaughter. We put her in her tennis outfit and her little racquet and just have her walk around the court.”
Rogow couldn’t be happier with the commitment she has made to a deep-rooted passion.
“Just when you think life is going to go down one path, everything changes,” she said. “My advice would be to embrace it and to be grateful for the changes you are able to make. When you are happy and healthy, that mood transfers to everything you do in life.”
By: Shelli Liebman Dorfman, Contributing Writer