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Member Spotlight: Roger Dempsey

Meet Roger, a Hively member in the Boston area. After a fulfilling career in teaching, educational research, school development, and community outreach, Roger retired in January 2021. We sat down with Roger to talk about his career, experience retiring during covid, and what was unexpected about retirement for him. Roger also shares his experience making a genuine connection through Hively.


Thank you Roger for your time today! Please tell me a little bit more about your career prior to retirement.

My pleasure! I have been lucky in my life to do interesting things, and to try and live out some things I believe in. I truly believe there’s a better world we can create through education, building community and working toward equal opportunities. After college I got involved with Koinonia Farm in Georgia, teaching kindergarten and working with Koinonia’s Partnership Housing Program that became Habitat for Humanity, and in helping to start Jubilee Partners Refugee Welcome Center, a service community whose primary work is to offer hospitality to refugees, and to help them in finding sponsors and homes in the US.

After 12 years at Koinonia, I moved to San Diego and married Linda. I continued to teach kindergarten and we performed locally as a flute and piano duo. Five years later we went to Boston for what we thought would be one semester so she could take courses at Berklee College of Music. We ended up staying for her study at New England Conservatory. Building on my experience as a kindergarten teacher, I was lucky to find meaningful work as a research assistant for Howard Gardner at Harvard on his theory of multiple intelligence. That theory, which is very useful to educators, proposes the differentiation of human intelligence into a range of specific intelligences including spatial, linguistic, logical, kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal and interpersonal. That range is helpful to educators in identifying important strengths students have that might otherwise be overlooked and to help parents to value their childrens’ unique intelligences. After that educational research, I did school development and community outreach for Harvard in the Boston metro area. I planned professional development opportunities for school leaders, and provided access to Harvard faculty and relevant research programs. My last few years at Harvard I focused on career guidance with students to make sure they met the requirements for the licenses they needed to become Principals, Teachers, Counselors, and Specialists. I enjoyed helping to launch a new generation of educators into the schools.

You really devoted your career to education! It must have been challenging to retire from your career. How did you turn a decision to do it? I worked with Harvard for about 32 years, and I can tell you whenever there is a financial crisis, Harvard first deals with it by providing early retirement benefits [chuckles]. I was offered early retirement in the 2008 economic slump as well, but I wanted to continue working then. When the Covid crisis hit and Harvard offered early retirement again, I took it. I was 72 and I felt more ready. It was hard to leave work because I loved what I did, but Covid had changed a lot of the things I loved about work - especially being with people.

Were there any major initial steps you took to prepare yourself for retirement too?

Central on everyone’s mind is having a financial plan and trying to come up with one that makes sense. With the mix of annuities, retirement savings, social security, all the elements of income added up to roughly what we wanted to do. Medicare was also a challenge, but I was able to keep the same healthcare providers, which was a key goal of mine.

You mentioned you took on some volunteer roles. Did your experience in education influence what you did afterwards (in retirement)?

Volunteering with the church was an activist role, working towards peace, reconciliation, equal opportunities for LGBTQ folks, and for racial, social, economic, environmental and gender justice. These aspects of volunteering were so important to me, trying to live out the values that have become central to what I want to do in building community. So this kind of work felt like the right thing to do.

I love that. You also mentioned that being around people and having a social community was an important facet of your work. How did you find a new community in retirement?

It was difficult during Covid. But I was able to reconnect with older friends on the phone and zoom. I joined a peace group that meets on the main street corner of my town once a month to hold signs advocating for negotiation between nations rather than building up nuclear arms. I also joined small groups around book topics, and once things opened up a little but I tried to go to more concerts and gatherings with my wife. She’s a musician and composer and teaches at New England Conservatory and Berklee School of Music and so we were able to go to a lot of student and faculty concerts. My wife also wrote an oratorio for chorus and orchestra about ecojustice and saving the environment.

Was there anything unexpected in retirement?

I was around the house a lot at first and my wife was like “you need to get out of the house” [laugh]! I was like - “You didn’t realize that after I retire I would be at home more?” [laugh]. I didn’t think about the impact before. I felt a push toward getting which was good for me. This was probably the biggest adjustment. My wife no longer had the house to herself [laugh]. So you have been a member of Hively since August 2022. How has joining Hively benefited you?

Oh, it has benefitted me tremendously. Right from the start, being part of the group of people who were going through this retirement transition together was so beneficial. Everyone was on different stages, but it felt like we were all in it together. It was great to talk about things, learn from each other, and have all the resources that Hively provided. It was a valuable experience meeting people on zoom and in person with some of the people I met in the group. Yes! I heard you connected with one of our members in person via our small-group cohort! Tell me more about how that came about.

It was fun! It started with talking with Tony on the zoom chat one on one. Tony followed up on something he thought was interesting and it turned out that once a week he is not far away from where I live. We arranged to meet and sit down at Cafe Nero. This was new to me in retirement too! I had never just sat around in a coffee shop [laugh]. I would always just leave with my coffee before work! Anyways Tony and I sat and talked about not only the topics we cover in Hively, but also our lives, childhood, families, and the work we’ve done and the work we need to do. Tony is a good storyteller and he has great ideas about staying active in retirement. He is an inspiration to me around all of these things. We have a good time!

It’s so wonderful that a genuine real connection spurred out from Hively. It makes me so happy. What do you think is a differentiating factor about Hively, and why do you continue coming back? There is an openness in the group. There is no one right answer. It is so welcoming, people are willing to share experiences. You and Angela (facilitators) have shown that you value everybody in the group and their opinions regardless of the topic we are discussing. I love going around the group and receiving feedback and support as we listen respectfully and thoughtfully. It’s a great model of a community we can create while building our knowledge together as we consider improving our lives and those around us who are not only navigating retirement but also different transitions in their lives. I have been in other groups before, but Hively is definitely very different from the other ones I have been part of. Thank you Roger for being an amazing Hively member! Also thank you for your time today. We look forward to seeing you in a future Hively event again soon.

You're welcome! I want to add appreciation for Hively’s ability in building community - getting people together, sharing, learning, and providing helpful resources through the links you share immediately after every session. It really is central to Hively!

It really is! I’m glad you feel our efforts! Thank you, and hope you have a good weekend!

Take care!

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