Sharon grew up on a 40-acre farm a few miles north of Nappanee, Indiana, right in the heart of Amish and Mennonite neighbors. Though she was neither, the influence was still there on her, and her younger sister (by six years) and parents....in how they managed their lives, farm and business.
She started taking piano lessons in fifth grade, and then started accordion lessons in ninth grade. After high school she also took organ lessons and then bought a Conn Rhapsody organ. She began playing for church and other things, and has continued her playing all through the years, so she has been playing all three instruments now for over 55 years.
The girls lost their parents much too early, their father first, at 55, in 1974, from a massive coronary, and then their mother to cancer at 58, four years later. Obviously, neither ever reached retirement age.
Even so, while they were alive, the parents made sure the girls traveled, and taught the importance of it in a well-rounded education. Those of us on Facebook have probably all seen the phrase that life is like a book, and to fail to travel is the equivalent of only reading one page. We both firmly believe in that. Too many people don't bother to read and sometimes what they read, they do not comprehend.
Even though their family traveled light and inexpensively, often packing meals, staying in cheap motels (they never got into real camping), and never wandering too far for too long...it gave them both a small taste of what the world has to offer, and they craved more. The sisters often took trips together, and sometimes with other groups.
Before I met Sharon, she had already been to all but two provinces in Canada, Hawaii, and most of the continental states. Shortly after we met, she and her sister went on a three-week tour of Israel, Cairo, and Rome. Later on, when I was too busy to go, they also took an Olsen Tour to eight countries in Europe. Other times, they have used time-shares in Cabo San Lucas and Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. Sharon and I have also been on a Carribean cruise, and took trips to California and Florida, sometimes for three weeks at a time. We usually drove, although we have flown a few times when time was tight.
And on top of that, right after high school, she had also purchased property in Cherokee Village, Arkansas, the first planned retirement community in the country (est'd. 1955). Shortly after that, in 1971, she traded one of her empty lots for a brand new model home on a corner lot.
Sharon's sister moved away shortly after high school, but Sharon remained at the farm until she was 33 years old, when I met her. We married the following year, in 1981.
She had graduated early from high school, and wasn't able to work yet, so she attended the South Bend College of Commerce and graduated as salutatorian of her class, She started working for Miles Laboratories immediately after.
She had also been accepted by the CIA, but chose not to go that route. It would have meant leaving her home area and paying all traveling, food and lodging expenses for the first two months, before she would receive a first paycheck, and that simply wasn't affordable. After all, she wasn't even 21 years old yet.
She remained with Miles even after it was absorbed by Bayer, AG, for a total of over twenty-seven years, when she finally took early retirement. At that time she was executive assistant to the VP and plant manager where the Miles (formerly Ames, and now Bayer) glucometers for testing blood sugar are made. Prior to that, she had been the administrative assistant to the Director of Plant Engineering, where Alka-Seltzer and other products were made, but he retired when Bayer took over in '82.
During that time, she was involved in many Miles sponsored projects and other things, including the Miles Activities Association, sports car rallies, and travel.
On their own, she and her sister decided to try square dancing, and went through the thirteen weeks of "Mainstream" lessons in 1973, before attending their first national convention, where they learned about other clubs and opportunities. Upon returning, and not finding any singles clubs nearby, they decided to start their own and organized a chapter of the Bachelors and Bachelorettes national organization in 1974. Then they started going every year to the national conventions all over the country.
Sharon got me into lessons in 1981-82, and then we also went to nearly every national convention from 1982 until around 1992, when we left Indiana and got out of snow country. Between the two of us, we have been to close to thirty national conventions. We have danced some since then, but not like we used to. We hope to get back to it again, but more with the Square Dance Camper's Association, to stay out of the big cities and crowds.
Now it's my turn. I grew up on a 100-acre estate east of Knox, Indiana. I never knew another home until I went off to college in Indianapolis. Typical of farm life, I learned to work on and fix everything in sight. That was my talent. Just don't ask me what crop to plant, when to plant it or what fertilizer to put on it, because I still don't have a clue. My thumbs aren't the least bit green. I just drove the tractor where I was told to.
We also had a small saw mill on the farm, and it was originally used to cut all the lumber that built my parent's house in 1941. By nine years old, I was driving tractors and pulling logs out of the woods, among many other chores. Over the years, the saw mill also cut other stock for surrounding farms.
During the early years, we also had cattle, hogs, and even goats on the farm. I can remember doing our own butchering, although that certainly wasn't my favorite thing to do. I have trouble even cleaning fish. It's easier to go buy them.
I vaguely remember Buster, the only horse we ever had, but he died when I was still a baby. By the time I was out of grade school, the animals were mostly gone, and it was crops only after that.
We raised corn, wheat, oats, sorghum and other grains. Besides the commercial crops, we also had roughly five acres of gardens on the farm, mostly for our own use. In addition, we would go into Michigan during fruit season and bring back other things that we couldn't raise in our area, and we did a LOT of canning and freezing.
My aunt (Dad's sister) lived across the road, so she was part of the estate, also. Their brother lived and worked elsewhere, but came out for a couple of days each week and helped with the gardens, for which he also reaped some of the rewards.
A sister preceded me by thirteen years, so she was already gone from home and off to college before I started riding the school bus, so we were never close, and she never helped out on the farm until her own kids were grown and I had moved away. Circumstances since then have driven even more of a wedge in that relationship. It's her loss. 'Nuff said.
In school I did reasonably well...let's say "above average". I did a back-slide in my middle years after fourth grade, but made a decent comeback at the end, with becoming the first "student teacher" totally responsible for grades for other students during my senior year, and managing to win the North American Rockwell Corporation Award for Excellence in Industrial Arts upon graduation. That award was responsible for me being approached by recruiters to go to Indianapolis to college.
Future Teachers of America pulled me in during high school, and I taught remedial math to fifth graders, but that was totally unconnected to the other teaching I did, as founder of the high school's first print shop, and teaching two sophomore students how to run it after I graduated. Unfortunately, they lost interest in it and to my knowledge it has never been operated since I was there.
The newspaper office that provided the equipment to the school also provided me with employment after school all three years of high school, and then I helped in the family's appliance shop in another town during the summer months. I also took driver's education at that other town, in a different school system, so I made many friends there.
After coming home from college early, I made a bad decision to get married at 19, had four kids in five years by a tumultuous relationship that should have never happened, and got out of that by my choice (but with very good reasons) nine years later.
In 1974 I became a licensed union journeyman electrician, but got out of electrical work for awhile when union work was slow in '75, and I ventured into a very successful career in luxury apartment management, which is where I was when I met Sharon in 1980. Soon after, my kids moved three hours away, and in order to make the most of the weekends, we bought a small pop-up trailer, and that started us into the RV'ing life.
The way Sharon and I met was through a local paper. Since I could not fraternize with apartment residents, and I wasn't a bar-hopper or a church-goer, my social scene was bleak. I picked up a Penny Saver paper one day and noticed they had singles ads. One of those that I wrote to happened to be Sharon. She liked what she read and called me. We agreed to meet at McDonald's at 7:30 one evening and we were still there when they were closing for the night. We began dating, and got married the following year.
In 1984 I left the apartments, and we bought a 2250 SF quad-level about four blocks away. We stayed there until we moved out of snow country in 1992. By that time, we had already spent the previous winter in Michigan, in our motorhome, because our house had already sold the previous October.
We left snow country in April of '92 to manage an 866-acre resort membership park in Arkansas, twenty miles from our vacation home that Sharon had owned since 1971, so that's how we ended up here. After we saw what was happening with the park and the company, we left (by our own decision) in January of '93 to sell site maps for Southeast Publications, but between me being a bad salesman and the costs of our 40-foot Bounder eating us up, we gave that up in the fall of that year.
Soon after, I started another company and did building and home repairs for awhile, and then we bought a computer imaging system (mugs, T-shirts, etc.) in the summer of '94. That took us to the Phoenix Valley in November of '94 and then to Mesa for the next ten years. And we thought we were only going for the winter! Wrong!
While there, we started "temping" for awhile, while we tried to manage a photo booth on the weekends, but after the Christmas rush died out, our venue wasn't getting the traffic it needed and we shut down the photo booth. Then I ended up running service full-time for an electrical contractor and worked all over the state until a month before the 9/11 attacks. That event ended up stealing half of my 401k plan.
Sharon finally ended up working a permanent job at Bank One, working for a VP on the 35th floor of the Bank One Tower in Phoenix (the tallest building in the state, at 38 floors). I obtained my state electrical contractor's license, formed a corporation, and took over many of the accounts that I had already been servicing while with the other electrical contractor, plus acquired many more, some related to manufacturing, but most of them in the aerospace industry, and continued to run that business until we left Arizona.
In the meantime, I could feel my back situation becoming worse, and knew where that would be headed as I got older. I knew I had to get out of the situations where heavy lifting was required. We were already studying online marketing prior to 1999, and went to many seminars and training sessions. You can read more about that on Azgrand.com.
After we returned to Arkansas in 2005, I started another home repair company when one of my sons came here for awhile in 2006, but after he left, we decided to keep it going, and many of the projects from those days can be found at HardyHandyman.blogspot.com. Due to a back injury 40 years ago, I found I couldn't do many of the things I used to, and coupled with the high heat and humidity here in the summer, was forced into drawing my Social Security in 2010.
Sharon had been working by my side, but without that income, she decided to take a job at our local Walmart until we could get finances in order, so that we could leave here without ever having to work for anyone ever again. That will happen in July of 2015.
And then the "why" of it all can be found on the page by that name.