When working with seniors we often sense their frustration with the process of downsizing and moving to a smaller living space with unfamiliar surroundings and anticipated restrictions. They feel that they are losing much of their freedom by leaving their home of many years and getting rid of their possessions that are not any longer necessary. Needing to sell their vehicle due to losing the ability to drive safely can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The perceived loss of freedom and control during downsizing activities can be quite unsettling and leaves many folks with the belief that they are at the end of the line as far as their ability to function in society. For anyone who may feel that way due to advancing age or changes in living surroundings, take heart! There are thousands of examples of people who have either flourished late in life or found their calling at an age when many are content with rocking chairs and bingo parlors. Below are some examples of late bloomers for inspiration.
Better known as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, Harlan was born in a small Indiana farmhouse in 1890. His father passed away when he was five and he helped his mother raise his younger siblings by cooking meals for the family while she was working. Harlan dropped out of school in the 7 th grade and had many different jobs over the years including; insurance salesman, painter, train fireman, filling station operator, hotel/restaurant owner, lawyer, farmhand, blacksmith and streetcar conductor. Many of those jobs ended badly…he was fired from his railroad job for fist fighting with co-workers, fired for insubordination from his insurance job and ended his legal career due to a roughhouse courtroom brawl with his own client!
At the tender age of 62 he decided to explore franchising his secret fried chicken recipe that he had been experimenting with for years. He had modest savings and a small social security check to keep things going but by the time he was 73 he had sold his company of franchised chicken restaurants for 2 million dollars (about 16.2 million in today’s dollars). He continued with related business ventures and was a salaried brand ambassador for KFC up until his death in 1980 at the age of 90.
At the age of 52, Carol was facing divorce, she was in debt, had no job or income and was suffering from depression. Her divorce attorney gave her some advice, “Get a therapist or get a dog.” Carol decided on the dog!
She got a four-month-old English Bulldog and named her Zelda. Shortly after that Carol entered a Christmas card contest at a local pet store using pictures of Zelda. They won the contest and received the grand prize of a years worth of dog food! With an initial offering of 24 different Zelda cards, Carol decided to start a greeting card company and named it Zelda Wisdom. She designed and sorted the cards in her living room but in a quick 6 months she had sold over a million cards! Zelda Wisdom is now an international company with over 50 million dollars in sales. There are Zelda books, greeting cards and Carol has many speaking engagements. Carol credits Zelda with getting her focused on the future and says, “At the core of Zelda Wisdom is humor and healing. She always makes me laugh. Zelda and I started out as underdogs, but we are proof that you don’t have to be thin, rich, young or wrinkle-free to be successful. More importantly you don’ t have to be perfect.”
A household food name for many years, the company origin is quite interesting and starts with Duncan Hines who was born in 1880, the son of a former confederate soldier. Duncan’s mother passed away when he was 4 years old and he was raised by his grandmother. When he got out of school, he had several jobs including working for Wells Fargo and he spent a lot of time on the road as a salesman for a Chicago printing company. By the time he was 55 years old, he had eaten a lot of meals on the road in the years prior to the American interstate highway system being in place. Chain restaurants had not really developed yet and travelers in those days had to depend on local restaurants for good food. Duncan and his wife started a list of the best restaurants around the country. The original list had well over one hundred establishments and was so popular with friends that they published the list and called it “Adventures in Good Eating”. They eventually added another popular guide to good hotels and motels around the country.
When he was 62 years old, Duncan delved into the baking industry and started his own line of baked goods. At age 63, he sold the rights to his name and the books of travel recommendations. Shortly after that he sold his cake mixes and other food items to Conagra. Duncan proved that it is never too late to try new things and to enjoy what you are doing.
Anna Mary Robertson – aka Grandma Moses
An American folk artist, Anna left home at 12 years old working and handling chores for a neighboring farm family. She kept house, cooked and sewed for wealthy families for over 15 years. Married at 27 years old, she and her husband Thomas lived and worked on several farms for almost 20 years, finally buying a farm of their own. Thomas died at age 67 and their son helped keep the farm going. Anna retired at 67 years old. She had a passion for art her entire life but never had time to pursue it due to family and work. She began painting in earnest at age 78 focusing on farm and rural settings. Her work has been featured in many museums and she appeared in magazines and on television to talk about her art. One of her paintings sold for 1.2 million dollars! Another painting, entitled “Forth of July” is owned by the White House. “Grandma Moses” died at age 101 having created over 1500 works of art in her lifetime.
These are just a few examples of people who started off in difficult situations and/or began a new passion at a late age! Their stories serve as inspiration for many of us as we look to the future. As we get older, life’s rear-view mirror fills up with experiences and memories. We should still remember that we also have life’s windshield with its own experiences and forthcoming memories to make.