Retirees in Touch

illustrated hands gardening

Read stories of adventures and advice from State of Alaska retirees. Are you a retiree? Use the form at the bottom of the page to tell us how you planned for retirement success.

Questions? Email us at

Retiree Stories


Judith Bendersky

Judith Bendersky smiling

“My retirement is a working adventure.”

Judith moved to Alaska with family employed in the oil industry and quickly made it her home. Judith spent her employed years at the State of Alaska working for the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education, managing the Medicare Information Office for eight years, and working for Health and Social Services. For 26 years she spent time in Alaska, working for the people of Alaska, while taking advantage of Alaskan adventures like day hiking to the Chugach Mountains with her outdoor adventure meet-up group. But the call of children, and grandchildren, led her to retire from Alaska and move to Washington State to be with family.

Now Judith spends her days in much the same ways as she did while in Alaska; enjoying family, kayaking, hiking and even contra-dancing in her spare time! “In retirement I most enjoy weekends at our Tumwater, Washington home spending time with our grandchild. We enjoy outdoor play or work in the garden, and visit the children’s hands-on museum in rainy weather,” she says.

When asked about her retirement, Judith said she appreciated the State of Alaska’s guidance in helping her save through the Deferred Compensation Plan. “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail,” she says to other members who might need a nudge in preparing for their retirements. With Judith’s advice and the help of the State of Alaska, perhaps we can look forward to our own “working adventures.”


Linda Layfield

Linda Layfield gets a kiss from a Lemur

An Adventurer and Traveler at Heart

Linda Layfield first got hooked on Alaska in 1978 when she took a vacation travelling on the Alaska Marine Highway. “At that time a person could get on and off the ferry at any port,” Linda said, “So, I got off at every port, snooped around, hiked, and met some very interesting people.” With just one little summer vacation, she was hooked on Alaska. Shortly after returning home to Portland, Oregon, a position within the State of Alaska opened in her field, and she jumped at the chance to return. Over the next twenty years she built a life in Juneau, working in various roles with students of all ages and educators in the education community. She spent time as Director of Community Schools and worked in various programs with SERRC (Southeast Regional Resource Center) in Adult Education, Alaska Close-Up, Improving America’s Schools, and other areas.

In 2000, another opportunity prompted her to travel with the Peace Corps, and luckily retirement afforded her the means. She said, “I left Alaska in January 2000 to serve in Uzbekistan as Administrative Officer of Peace Corps there. Shortly after 9/11 when the United States Government put in a military camp on the Uzbek border with Afghanistan, we had to evacuate all volunteers. After accomplishing that task, I was sent to the Baltic States Peace Corps to close down that post after a ten-year presence, since the break-up of the Soviet Union.” The story doesn’t end there. In her tenure with the Peace Corps, Linda also lived in Latvia, while working in Lithuania and Estonia. She also spent time in Côte d’Ivoire, during which civil war broke out and all volunteers were evacuated. From there she was sent on a temporary duty post to the Kingdom of Lesotho in Southern Africa. She finally settled for a few years in Antananarivo, Madagascar, her self-proclaimed favorite. “I was fortunate to serve for nearly five years,” she said, “Of the over twenty countries in which I have lived and worked, Madagascar is my favorite. The people are so lovely and the biodiversity of flora and fauna is amazing!” Of the work she said, “I never had only an eight-hour day. Most were more like ten to twelve, and sixteen sometimes, but I enjoyed it immensely and loved the folks with whom I worked in every country!”

With her time in the Peace Corps coming to an end, Linda returned home to Douglas, Alaska and reconnected with the landscape, working a part-time job as a hiking guide. As it happens, the summer proved to be particularly wet, so Linda was off again, moving with her husband down to the drier clime of Eastern Washington. “My husband and I loaded a U-Haul in November 2008, got on the ferry and headed for Yakima, Washington,” she said. With that, her adventures in Alaska came to a fitting end as her departure mirrored her arrival, with a trip on the Alaska Marine Highway.

Linda in Uzbekistan inside a traditional madrassah building

During all her adventures and travels, Linda learned some things about how to make ends meet. One trick she shared with us, “I stashed money away for retirement in investments prior to retirement to add to what would be my retirement income.” Of her State of Alaska’s retirement, she said “It has given me GREAT health coverage for which I am very grateful. It has provided me with one of several sources of income to live comfortably in retirement and to travel extensively.” Linda’s parting advice to others interested in an active and adventure-filled retirement is this, “Start saving beyond what you get at work to supplement your retirement income.”

These days Linda has proclaimed she has “really retired.” Not to be slowed down, she keeps busy volunteering at the Mission to provide support for homeless, raising funds for her church, and working out almost daily. “I ski in the winter with the Desert Ski Club,” she said, “I hike all summer with a bunch of retired teachers, and my sister and I have loved hanging out with our 98-year-old Mom, who almost made it to 99 when she passed away this August! Life is GOOD!”

Back to Top

Joseph and Miriam Walstad

Joseph and Miriam Walstad

Joseph Walstad brought his wife, Miriam, and youngest three children to Alaska in 1962, taking the pastorate of Hillcrest Presbyterian Church on Government Hill in Anchorage. Joseph and Miriam shifted gears in 1965, taking course work at the University of Alaska in both Anchorage and Fairbanks, earning their Alaska Teacher Certificates and taking up residence near Talkeetna. Miriam taught school in Talkeetna and Joseph taught at the school across the river in Trapper Creek, and later transferred to the school in Willow. The Walstads were able to build their own home on a forty-acre home site near Sunshine with their own hands and occasional help from friends. When away from their responsibilities of teaching elementary students, one would find them serving area churches, performing marriages, funerals, and providing counseling services. On one special occasion, Joseph was flown along with the wedding party to a glacier on Mt. McKinley (Denali) where he performed the wedding ceremony.

After retiring from school teaching in 1977, Joseph and Miriam devoted more time to travel and serving churches in remote places. In ‘78, Joseph and Miriam held Holy Week services in Kaktovik, and the following year they spent two weeks serving on St. Lawrence Island.

Facing health challenges in 1982, Joseph and Miriam sold their property near Talkeetna and moved to Roswell, New Mexico. With health returning, the couple traveled throughout the “Lower 48” and abroad, exploring Joseph’s homeland and looking up relatives in Norway and Sweden. Another overseas trip took them to Korea and Japan, where they looked up longtime friends they had made throughout their lives in ministry.

Though certainly not wealthy by the world’s standards, Joseph and Miriam were able to enjoy retirement and continue their life of service to others due to the benefits provided through the Alaska Teachers’ Retirement system, their own deliberate savings programs, and their own hard work and life of self-sacrifice.

In October 2015, Miriam departed this life having reached the age of 99. Joseph, now living with his son in Las Cruses, New Mexico, continues to live out his days, making it to church every Sunday and enjoying the visits of family members. He celebrated his 100th birthday with a big celebration, planned by his four children, in April 2017.

Back to Top

Lew Brantley
by Lew Brantley

Lew Brantley

Growing up in a military family, I had the opportunity to live all across the nation—from Newfoundland, Canada to California, including Maine, Maryland, Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and on an island in Washington state. After college, I decided it was time for an adventure (the last being Vietnam, compliments of the United States Navy), therefore in 1976 I loaded my backpack and boarded the Alaska state ferry out of Seattle to Alaska. Upon debarking in Juneau, I quickly found work was plentiful—caretaking Taku River Lodge, working aboard a pilot boat, driving a school bus on the early morning run, working at the Auke Bay National Marine Fisheries lab during the day, and overseeing the Community Schools’ programs at Juneau-Douglas High School at night. I was offered and accepted employment as a seasonal assistant (aide) to the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Protection Officer in Yakutat. What began as an exciting seasonal position in 1977 ended in 1998 upon my retirement from the Alaska State Troopers, after a truly exciting and fulfilling career.

In the course of my career, I was stationed in Yakutat, Cordova (where I was married aboard the State Trooper Vessel P/V Enforcer in Prince William Sound), Valdez, Petersburg, Palmer, Dutch Harbor, and finally, Homer. I was very fortunate, as were many of my fellow Troopers, to have had an opportunity to serve our fellow Alaskans, some of the finest folks in the world.

Belonging to the Alaska Public Employees’ Retirement System, I listened to those wiser than I and began saving and investing early. This allowed me to retire at 50 years of age, and more importantly, forced me to pay a bit of attention to investing principles, which I cannot emphasize enough to current State employees. I continue to use this knowledge today as I travel the world, where one only needs a computer to manage his/her finances.

Upon retiring, I sold my house in Homer and traveled around the world for less than a year, home schooling the two kids while we visited New Zealand (where I still visit friends), Australia (where the kids learned to surf), Thailand (where we rode elephants down a river), India (where the kids saw how others lived in such poverty), and England (where we stayed in 600-year-old B&Bs and chatted with “bobbies” as they rode their bikes along village paths). I realized it was time to return to the U.S. when my kids began to complain, “Not another castle today!”

Lew Brantley

We had departed on our world trip from Portland, Oregon, and returned to the United States at Portland, Maine, where I bought an old car and drove across the U.S., eventually settling in Sequim, Washington. Since that time, I’ve elected to take temporary positions which I find interesting. I have worked as a commercial boat captain in the South Pacific (Kwajalein Atoll) and Salish Sea, ran whale watching and dinner cruise vessels, worked aboard ships in South America, the Caribbean, and the Seattle-to-Alaska run, and skippered armed vessels for the U.S. Army and Navy for various contracts. I was an expedition leader taking folks from around the world via ship through the Aleutians, coastal Russian and Japan, transported clients to remote areas via boats for an outdoor school in Southeast Alaska, led an armed Maritime Counter Assault unit for Homeland security, as well as other adventures, including “babysitting” the son of the King of Saudi Arabia while in Las Vegas for a month. I did all of this solely for the opportunity for adventure and to receive a bit of pay in return. Once one obtains the golden egg, aka retirement, one can take fun, short-term jobs such as these.

Of course, I have also taken the opportunity to volunteer my service, as all should when able. I have over 5,000 hours volunteering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), working as a “caretaker” on a remote 360-acre island, a USFW refuge on which the public is not allowed. I was given a nice boat and a great house which sits upon a cliff overlooking the Puget Sound. While I only planned to spend two weeks, I ended spending six months living by myself for four winters, but that’s another story in itself.

All in all, retirement has been a quite a rodeo. As many before me have done, I have moved back to Alaska, yet still travel. The voices have been calling me to visit the vineyards of Chile and Argentina, but who knows?

Back to Top


Al Milspaugh

Al Milspaugh

Al Milspaugh first came to Alaska while serving in the Air Force; he relocated from the Pentagon to Elmendorf Air Force Base in 1980. Although Al retired from his military career in 1985, he stayed in Alaska and began working for the State. Al retired from the State in 2007 and remained in Anchorage, where he lives today.

Al began his career with the State as a PC Technician for the Alaska State Troopers and later worked as a Case Manager for the Attorney General’s Office. He was working as an Educational Adviser for Alaska Student Loans when he retired from the State in 2007. Al says that his work with the State exposed him to a variety of experiences that have expanded his knowledge and added to his previous experiences in the Air Force and knowledge learned from his parents.

Al has continued to expand his horizons during retirement through his volunteer pursuits. He has served as Vice President of the University Area Community Council, as a Delegate of the Federation of Community Councils, as the Commissioner of the Anchorage Animal Control Advisory Board, and as an Ombudsman with State of Alaska Assisted Living Homes. Al says that all of the experience and knowledge he has gained over the years through work and volunteer pursuits have allowed him to accomplish tasks with confidence and authority. “It has also allowed me to better bond with my grandkids by sharing my knowledge with them,” he said.

Al Milspaugh

Although he is busy staying involved in the community, what Al enjoys most about retirement is having no set time schedule and the freedom to choose what he wants to do and when he wants to do it. One of those things he spends his time doing is traveling. “My wife of 47 years and I have traveled to 45 states, 15 countries, visited numerous famous and non-famous sites, met thousands of people from all over the world, and passed on many stories, mostly during our RV trips. Each year we RV someplace in the lower 48 and then head off to a different country for a week,” he explained.

Al says that he has been able to have a comfortable retirement because he saved the maximum allowed by the State of Alaska retirement plans. Additionally, he explained, “I never lived beyond my financial means, I paid my bills in full monthly, and I saved to purchase costly items with cash.”

His advice to members preparing for retirement is this: “Be open with your financial status to your partner, start your retirement program during your youth by working with a reputable financial adviser, get an education to enhance your financial standing, and live within your means, remembering each day brings you closer to retirement.”

Back to Top

Denise & David Hudson
Retirement Doesn't Always Mean Less Work

Denise and David Hudson

When Denise and David Hudson retired from the State of Alaska, they packed up their Carhartts and Muck Boots and moved to the Southside of Virginia to become farmers. Many of their ex-coworkers and friends tell them they didn’t really retire, but just changed from one challenging job to another. The Hudsons often wonder if they had an inborn need to live a simpler life or to try their hand at working with the land and animals. They have read that since most people are only generations removed from an agrarian background, many people have a latent desire to live a farming and rural lifestyle. When retirement came knocking, that is what the Hudsons decided to do.

Denise and David first came to Alaska when they moved from Mississippi to Nome on Christmas in 1983 on a two-year contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). When their contract was completed, they began working for the State of Alaska. David was an Alaska State Trooper while Denise worked for the Department of Social Services, the Department of Corrections, and the Court system. Both David and Denise were also in the Alaska Army National Guard, from which David also retired. While working in Alaska, they lived in Nome, Ketchikan, Anchorage, Eagle River, Homer, Sitka, and Fairbanks, and also traveled all over the state with their jobs. They ended up staying for 25 years--even though they started purchasing their farm in Virginia (with plans to eventually retire there) the same year they moved to Alaska.

From the beginning of their employment with the State, the Hudsons contributed to the Deferred Compensation Plan. “Our accountant at that time and financial advisor told us that our ability to contribute to this program would be very beneficial to us in the future. Anytime we received a pay raise or promotion in our jobs we took the extra money and put it in Deferred Compensation, so we really always lived on the same salaries and really never noticed that we were contributing more to our retirement. Our retirement and associated benefits have allowed us to change careers upon retirement and start over as farmers. Farming is hard and challenging work and requires some form of financial resources as well as health care. Our State of Alaska benefits have helped immensely,” Denise explained.

When the Hudsons began developing Hudson Heritage Farms, they were interested in helping to ensure the future of agriculture through promoting endangered breeds of livestock. Their interests are in raising heritage breeds of animals and sharing their farming experiences through agritourism and agri-education. Some of the animals raised on Hudson Heritage Farms are Highland Cattle, Horned Dorset Sheep, Large Black Swine, Boer Goats, and various breeds of chickens. They sell all-natural pasture-raised goat, lamb, pork and beef, and periodically have breeding stock available. Their products are available at a local farmers’ market and are also shipped throughout the United States. The farm offers a limited number of vacation farm-stays for folks who would like to spend a day or two experiencing farm life firsthand. They offer classes on cheese making, food preservation, cooking, herbs, animal husbandry, milking, butchery, and other farm related topics. They also recently added a historical property to the farm and refurbished an old building where they offer a unique venue for special occasions and events.

Denise Hudson

In retirement, the Hudsons wake up each morning eager to get outside and begin the never ending tasks that are part of their daily routine of molding their farm into a healthy, sustainable, and respectful atmosphere. As friends come to visit, they are amazed at how Denise and David have adjusted to the reality of a farmer’s daily workload and responsibilities. At a time in life when many friends are retiring and living their dreams of less work and more play, the Hudsons have chosen more work, physical labor, and a sometimes demanding but ever-changing and interesting lifestyle. They enjoy their new life as farmers and find each day challenging and interesting as they discover what they are capable of.

For those members thinking about retirement, the Hudsons recommend staying busy, following your dreams, and starting another career. “It will keep you healthy and young!” said Denise. “As David and I are currently entering our 60s, now we are starting to realize that we may not always have the physical capacity to run a large farm like we do now with hundreds of heads of animals, so we are starting to explore other careers or things we can do.” David has returned to college to pursue a degree in physical education with an emphasis in coaching and personal training. He hopes to specialize in personal training for older clients/geriatrics. Denise is also considering becoming a yoga instructor once they quit farming full-time.

More information about Hudson Heritage Farms can be found on their website and Facebook page.

Back to Top

Lee & Robert Grogan

Lee & Robert Grogan

Lee and Robert Grogan’s story was first featured in the PERS Newsbreak in January 2008. You can find the original story here.

Since retiring in 1998 from his 25 years as the director of the Alaska Coastal Management Program and budget analyst for the Alaska Legislature, Robert has explored his artistic side through his second career as a plein air painter. Robert spends his time painting and teaching. He has become an accomplished painter and his work has appeared in various galleries and journals. Lee sent the Division an update of what they have been up to since we first featured their story.

Robert and Lee now live in Sun Valley, Idaho, but have spent a large portion of the last ten years painting and teaching in a town called Franschhoek, South Africa. They have enjoyed a life of adventures and new experiences. As Lee explained, “I enjoy keeping journals of our travels and work in the African bush. Recently we had a very surprising experience in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in northwestern South Africa.” You can read about her experience here.

Robert Grogan Book

A few years ago, Robert had a coffee table book of his landscape paintings and wildlife photos published by Random House Struik in Cape Town. In November 2014, Kalahari Summer in Photographs and Oils was launched at a reception for the opening of his exhibit of the paintings from that book at the William Humphreys National Art Museum in Kimberley, South Africa.

Robert was also honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award from Robert and Lee’s alma mater, Texas State University, for his lifetime achievements in Alaska State Government, his art career, and his philanthropy. The couple traveled to San Marcos, Texas, for him to receive the award from the President of Texas State University, Dr. Denise Trauth.

You can find more information on Robert’s work at and

 Editor’s Note: If you would like to learn more about how your State of Alaska retirement can allow you to enjoy a comfortable retirement, please contact the Division toll-free at (800) 821-2251 or at (907) 465-4460 in Juneau.

Back to Top

Mark Warner

Mark Warner

Mark C. Warner and his family moved to Alaska in 1978, when Mark accepted the position of Chief of Sport Fisheries Research for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Prior to moving to Alaska, Mark had been working as a research scientist in aquatic toxicology for the Department of the Army in Frederick, Maryland. During his time in Alaska, Mark had many opportunities to fish in various areas of the state. His favorite place to camp and fish during his vacation each summer was at Point Couverden in Icy Strait, Southeast Alaska. While in Alaska, Mark was a member of the Juneau School Board and served as Commissioner for the Boys Scouts in Southeast Alaska. He also held leadership positions in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When his position with Fish and Game was eliminated, Mark wanted to stay in Alaska. He began selling real estate and realized that he really enjoyed dealing directly with people.

It was during this time that family duty called, and he moved to his home state of Utah to assist caring for parents with declining health. In Utah, Mark worked for a technical writing company, training companies and governmental agencies in preparing environmental impact statements, spending one week every month in Washington, D.C. His favorite topic when business concluded was what his heart has always been tied to—fishing in Alaska.

Since 1981, Mark’s friends and family have spent vacation time every summer fishing in Alaska. In 1999, Mark finally decided to quit his “real” job and become a full-time Alaska fishing lodge owner and operator in Excursion Inlet near Icy Strait. When he applied for his Alaska business license, the clerk at the State office asked for the name of the business. Since he didn’t already have a name, the clerk suggested the name “Doc Warner’s,” since Mark holds a PhD. in fisheries. Thus, Doc Warner’s Alaska Fishing Adventures was established. It continues today on thirty-three acres at Excursion Inlet, helping people have a wonderful Alaska fishing experience while enjoying good food and great accommodations.

Mark and his wife have been able to serve three missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the islands in the South Pacific, assisting the local people. This service would not have been possible without all the help of family, friends, and the Alaska Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS). PERS, and especially the AlaskaCare retiree health insurance plan, have been critical to making ends meet for Mark, and have provided peace of mind while dealing with the challenges of raising a family of seven children, as well as while building and operating a business in a remote location in Alaska.

Currently, for at least four months every summer, the Warners return to Alaska to greet their guests and provide a memorable fishing experience. Doc’s son (also named Mark) manages the lodge today. “We invite you to come and fish with us in beautiful Alaska,” says Mark. You can check out Doc Warner’s Alaska Fishing Adventures at

Back to Top

Bob & Judy Weeden
by Bob Weeden

Bob & Judy Weeden

Judy Weeden (UAF 1959-1973) and Bob Weeden (ADFG 1959-69; UAF 1970-1990)

Judy and I drove to Alaska in July 1959; “You can’t get lost,” they said, “just stay in the dust plume.” Jim Brooks, Chief of the Division of Game, had offered me a job, and Judy got a teaching post in biology at UAF soon after we arrived.

My job was to design, then supervise, statewide research projects with fur animals, waterfowl, and game birds. My own research involved watching ptarmigan at Eagle Summit along the Steese Highway from May through September for 11 years. I grew with the agency, and had fun. Then, late in the 1960s, the State and the Department of the Interior came to loggerheads over subsistence and new parks. Relations had been collegial among federal and state biologists; now they weren’t. I left ADFG and joined the faculty at UAF in 1970.

I liked teaching. I had a lot of freedom to design new upper-division and graduate courses spanning biology, management, law, politics, and more. However, in 1989 I got a strong hint that I should switch to administration. That made me think about retiring. In 1990 I did.

We retired to Salt Spring Island, near Victoria, British Columbia. We bought a 17-acre former farm. We converted an old pig barn to a pottery studio, and in 25 years Judy has built a wide and appreciative following for her superbly formed and decorated pots. She spends half time (35 hours a week) in the studio; the other half in the garden or tending to home and kin.

I planted an orchard of 200 heritage varieties of fruit trees, mainly apples and pears. Harvests have been growing; last year I harvested about 10,000 pounds. In 1992 I joined the volunteer board of a group raising money for a community arts center. Ten years later we opened an 11,000 sq. ft. performing arts theatre and exhibition space, a real asset in this community of 10,000 people. Meanwhile, I helped start a land conservancy. This spring we celebrated 20 years by opening a nature center on a 40-acre nature reserve that includes a small lake and wetlands. We own other lands protecting about 3000 acres. Great fun!

Mostly, I write. While in Alaska I wrote about 80 science-based articles and a whole bunch of stuff on conservation issues, including a book published by UA Press and another published by Houghton Mifflin. I have turned recently to natural history essays. A bunch of them formed a book (2013, The Country of Heart, Eye, and Hand), and our community newspaper has run one each month for almost 3 years. Judy and I jointly have drafted a book of stories about our family time in Alaska, meant for family and friends.

We are still pretty active, kayaking on quiet days on Salish Sea waters nearby and canoeing on lakes in British Columbia's interior. I play tennis 4 hours a week. We visit our son in Fairbanks every year or so, and try to get to our cabin in Homer. Its detached bathroom, aka outhouse, has the best view in the world.

Editor’s Note: If you would like to learn more about how your State of Alaska retirement can allow you to enjoy a comfortable retirement, please contact the Division toll-free at (800) 821-2251 or at (907) 465-4460 in Juneau.

Back to Top

Barbara Brown
Children’s Books, Tree Sweaters and Retirement Blogs

Barbara Brown

Barbara moved to Alaska in 1985 to work for the Municipality of Anchorage as the People Mover (Anchorage’s public transportation system) Manager of Operations and Maintenance, and she has lived in Anchorage ever since. “Previously, I’d managed San Francisco Municipal Railway operations, but I wanted to be in a smaller system where I could manage both the operators and the equipment and try out some of my ideas in labor relations,” she explained. Barbara lost her job when a new mayor was elected, so she shifted careers to work for FedEx and the Anchorage Daily News. When she had her daughter, she decided to work part-time. “Since we spent a lot of time at the library, I chose to work for the library, museum, and Parks and Rec. By then, I’d been working heavily in the P.R./public information field, so I moved easily into my position as communications officer,” she said.

Although she retired at age 55 from the PERS, she continued working for organizations in Anchorage, including Best Beginnings, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to early childhood learning. “While there, I was in charge of expanding Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (free books mailed monthly to the homes of children from birth to age 5) around the state of Alaska, as well as translating early childhood materials into Yup’ik. I also helped create ‘Babies on Track,’ a DVD-and-board-book set for families.” In addition to her work with Best Beginnings, Barbara also volunteers as a teacher for the Alaska Literacy Program and OLÉ, teaching writing in an elementary school classroom, and doing both management training and consulting.

No bonbonsWhile Barbara stays busy with her post-retirement jobs and volunteer work, retirement has given her the opportunity to explore her creative side. “While I was working, it seemed I was spending my whole day on the computer. By the time I got home, I didn’t want to face a monitor so I simply stopped writing. As a former columnist for the Daily News, this was a major drought in my creativity. I simply stopped. With retirement, not only could I write again, but I expanded into painting and illustration, adding them to my blog,” she said. Barbara wrote and published a children’s book, “Hanukkah in Alaska”, which has also been made into a video. After taking a UAA class in Fiber Arts, she organized the Anchorage Guerrilla Knitters to “yarn bomb” the trees in front of the Anchorage Museum and Loussac Library with colorful “tree sweaters.” “Now we’re mobilizing to re-cover the old ‘people chairs’ from Loussac Library,” she explained.

One of the things Barbara enjoys most about retirement is the freedom of being on her own clock, with one caveat: “It took me a while to realize that I also need to have some structure built into my days in order to enjoy my freedom. I like being able to run or ice skate in the middle of the day, to see friends in the middle of the day. I like that I have met a whole other group of friends—other retired folks who are free during the day—and have the time and flexibility to develop those friendships. I like that I can cook dinner without having to race around like a crazy person when I get home from work; our meals have gotten tastier!” Barbara has also had the opportunity to travel with her new found time. “I took a dream trip to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos and have been on many trips to places in the U.S.” Barbara’s next planned trips include New Orleans, hiking the Chilkoot Trail, and rafting the Grand Canyon.

Barbara appreciates that her State of Alaska retirement offers her the peace of mind of having health insurance. Before retiring, she “invested to the max in both my 401K, Deferred Comp, and IRA every single year. Period. No exception.”

In addition to investment advice, Barbara has this to pass along to members preparing for retirement: “The first ten months of retirement were full of boundless energy to tackle undone projects, art, travel, etc. But then I floundered. I came across an article that said everyone needs three things in retirement: purpose, structure, and a sense of community. Without the external demands of a schedule, I was feeling unproductive, which was very uncomfortable for me. Once I firmed up my volunteer commitments and established a demanding writing schedule, things fell into place. I would recommend everyone pay attention to those 'big three' things and make sure you have them in place before retiring.”

Barbara started a blog about the retirement experience called “Our Third Thirds”. “If the first third of our lives is what I call ‘Preparing for Adulthood,’ and the second is ‘Parenting/Professional Life,’ then the ‘Third Third’ is the one we create for ourselves,” she explained. “I look at how we find purpose; the questions of relocation/staying put; downsizing and decluttering; prospects of employment; and how we keep curiosity alive.” You can read her blog at

Back to Top

Karen Chesler Cox
Seeking Sunshine and Finding Purpose in the Beehive State

Karen Chesler Cox

Karen Chesler Cox grew up in Idaho and moved to Alaska in 1961 with her spouse, Leon Chesler, when he took a job with the FAA in Anchorage. In Anchorage, Karen spent her career teaching social studies in the Anchorage School District from 1969-1990 at Mears, Service-Hanshew, and Hanshew Jr. High. Karen and Leon planned to stay in Alaska for two years, but their enjoyable jobs and the great people they met kept them in the state­—they didn’t end up leaving until 1992.

After retiring, Karen moved away from Alaska and has been living in North Salt Lake, Utah. Karen said, “I left Alaska for two reasons: the weather—I like it sunny and warm—and my family lived in the west and I wanted to be closer to them.”

In Utah, Karen filled her time working for the Utah State Senate, first as a page and then as the Senate recorder. “When the opportunity arose to work for the Senate, I took it. It was a fun job and I met some really wonderful people,” she said. It was an appealing option to her given that the Utah State Senate only meets for six weeks each year. Karen later worked in the office of U.S. Senator Robert Bennett. “Both experiences were wonderful. Teaching social studies gave me insight into the political process and working in the Senate and for Senator Bennett gave me a different perspective on how our government is run,” she said.

After a time away from Alaska, Karen grew fond of the Beehive State. “I fell in love with the history of Utah, my adopted state, and shared that history with others,” she explained. She was able to share this love of history through working at the Salt Lake City Convention and Visitors Center, giving city tours for Meetings America, and working as a docent at the Utah State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion.

Apart from working, Karen has spent her retirement in Utah pursuing other interests and activities. She and her spouse were involved with the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and were volunteers for the opening ceremony of the Paralympics and at the SLOC Visitors Center, where they met and assisted visitors from all over the world.

One of the hobbies Karen has picked up in her retirement is researching her family history. “I have gained lots of knowledge and computer experience because of it. I have been able to pursue my research at the Family History Library in [Salt Lake City] and have volunteered on the British floor for about ten years. I have really enjoyed the experience,” she said. After several years of research, Karen wrote and published a history of her parents.

Karen’s immediate family has grown and spread out across the country. She and her spouse love having contact with her four children and seventeen grandchildren who live in Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, Las Vegas, and as far away as Argentina. The distance is no obstacle as they enjoy getting away whenever possible. “We have had the opportunity to travel widely…our favorite trip was to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan in 2009,” she said.

Karen explained that what she loves most about retirement is, “the freedom to spend my day accomplishing things that I think are really important. I love to walk, pursue my studies, read, meet new people, volunteer, travel, sew, [and] serve others. I enjoy the small and simple things of life like a beautiful mountain, a sunrise or a sunset…life is good! I am grateful for the good health I enjoy that makes all of this possible.”

Karen attributes being able to enjoy her retirement to her Alaska retirement plan and smart investments earlier in life: “My Alaska retirement has been a great blessing in my life. It has given me the money and opportunity to go to new places, do many different things, and meet many interesting people along the way.” In addition to her retirement savings, while employed Karen invested as much of her salary as possible in tax-sheltered annuities in order to help reach her financial goals. “It has added greatly to my retirement and has made travel and other things possible for me,” she said.

For members preparing for retirement, apart from smart financial investments, Karen gave this advice: “It is important to have a number of hobbies or things that you really enjoy doing. I love to quilt, read, garden, research family history, go out to lunch, and be with family. I don’t know how I had time to work.”

Back to Top

Ada Kathryn Deal

Ada Kathryn Deal

Kathryn Deal and her husband were living in Michigan with their 14-month old daughter when his mother, who was living in Alaska at the time, suggested they drive up and check out the “the land of opportunity.” “If we didn't like it, we could always go back,” said Kathryn, “so we drove the Alaskan Highway (what a trip) and crossed the Alaskan border May 31, 1964.”

Once in Alaska, Kathryn and her husband began looking for jobs. Her husband was hired by what is now AT&T Alascom on Government Hill in Anchorage as a maintenance man/supervisor. Kathryn worked for the customer service division of Municipal Light and Power, where she was a trainer for the customer service employees. “My job was fun and the staff even more so. Every training class was taken very seriously and the staff put their all into serving the customers as nice and quick as possible. These people, the staff, are all wonderful performers at their job because they are wonderful people to begin with, and working with them was a privilege all on its own,” she said. Kathryn retired in April 2015, while her husband retired approximately sixteen years ago.

Kathryn and her husband now enjoy running "Deal’s Bed & Breakfast" out of their home. “Doing this helps to give us additional income and also something to do now. We are not sitting around much,” she said. “We enjoy the guests, share many stories from our homestead days, and have made many new friends,” she said. When the Deals travel, they visit some of those new friends when they can.

Bed & Breakfast

“My retirement will allow my husband and me to have additional monies, health care, and of course, more time to spend with each other, as well as enjoy our Deal’s Bed & Breakfast, which is our home,” she said. While employed, in anticipation of retirement, Kathryn had the goal to work for ten years for the Municipality of Anchorage in order to receive benefits from the AlaskaCare Retiree Health Plan for herself and her husband. This paid off, as her husband became ill and retired with a disability. The Deals also prepared for retirement by setting aside monies in a saving account and a 457b.

Kathryn’s advice for those members preparing for retirement is to plan for the future as much as possible. “I encourage everyone to save as much independently from Social Security and work as possible. Learn how to become your own investor so the retirement dream is a dream—not a nightmare,” she said. As part of planning for the future, Kathryn encourages members to “get your house, car(s), everything paid off so life is easier. The more retirement monies you have, the better off you will be,” she advised.

Although the Deals are enjoying their life running their bed & breakfast, Kathryn predicts that the day will come when they want to downsize, and they continue to plan for the future when that day comes. For folks who may find themselves in a similar situation, Kathryn suggests they “sell the big house for a smaller one where the costs are less.”

Apart from their new gig as bed & breakfast owners, the Deals are enjoying the other aspects of their retirement. “We plan to travel in the winter, in the warmer states where we have family and friends. Alaska is home as we came here and never left (except for vacations). The summer is the best time here and the long daylight gives us so much energy to do multiple tasks at hand. Additionally, we plan to travel some in the winter months—to the warmer climates—and enjoy more sun,” she said.

The Deals enjoy spending time with their nine grandchildren and a great-grandson, which they can now do more often in retirement. “They come over often, spend nights with us, and in the summer when they are out of school, we get to spend more time with them. It is amazing to see them grow up so fast,” she said. “Our grandchildren do such different things; exchange student, hockey, swimming, learning French, learning German, cooking, babysitting, learning to drive, working at the bed & breakfast, traveling, and much more!”

“I love retirement, it offers my husband and I the chance to do more together and to look forward to spending family time with our daughters and extended family. Life is wonderful!”

Back to Top


Mary Jane Sutliff
Retiree Rediscovers Her Roots in California

Mary Jane Sutliff

Since retiring from the State of Alaska, Mary Jane Sutliff has spent her time rediscovering her roots in California. As Mary put it, “I do some of my best thinking while pulling weeds. Retirement in California has taken me back to my first love—farming.”

Mary Jane retired from the Alaska Department of Transportation as a Planner for Southwest Alaska. She had also previously served as a State of Alaska Assistant District Attorney. She ended up in Alaska when she was sent to the state to hire an attorney to handle some cases for her employer. She found and hired an Alaskan attorney and later ended up moving to Alaska. After a year, she married that same attorney.

After retirement, Mary Jane left Alaska to return to her home state of California. “Our agreement was to move to California upon retirement,” she explained. After purchasing one third of an acre in Sacramento County, she took a home farming course, joined the Arden Park Garden Club, and recently graduated from the University of California Master Gardening Program. She is also the Director of the Sacramento River Valley District of the California Garden Clubs.

Mary Jane is in the process of turning her third of an acre into a demonstration garden. She has a twenty by fifty foot vegetable garden, water-wise plantings, a small fruit orchard (eight fruit trees pruned to remain dwarf) and a seven-vine grape vineyard. “The abundance of the garden brings birds, bees and butterflies daily. Come visit for coffee in the garden when you are in Sacramento,” she offered.

Mary Jane described what she loves most about retirement in California: “the song birds, teddy bear bees, fresh luscious vegetables and fruit, wineries, the art, the architecture, the politics, the universities and colleges in and around Sacramento, the beaches along the coast, my grade school, high school, and college friends, and my family.”

Mary Jane Sutliff Garden

Besides spending her time maintaining her garden, Mary has spent some of her retirement traveling. One of her trips included walking one hundred miles of the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain with ten high school girl friends. They also spent a week at a friend’s house in Italy. Mary claims that her time in Alaska came in handy because, “I was the only one who could start a fire!” Mary also visits Alaska frequently to visit her son and friends who still live here. “Of course, friends have visited me in California. I love it when they do,” she said.

Mary is able to enjoy her retirement because of her Alaska retirement and smart financial decisions she made earlier in life. She explained, “Before retirement, I saved using Deferred Comp and I am so pleased I did. It is the account that has the highest yearly interest. I have always been a saver. In the 1990s, while raising my son and caring for family, I became an investor. I was very fortunate to turn my accounts into bonds before the crash. This experience made me comfortable managing money during retirement.”

While her own retirement planning has worked out well, Mary gave this advice: “The one thing I highly recommend to all State of Alaska employees is to educate yourself about managing money while you are employed. I waited until I was forty to do it. I did quite well but if I had started sooner I would probably be able to buy that house I stayed at in Italy!”

Back to Top

Submit Your Retirement Story

Back to Top