Retirement in Community
This article originally appeared in our Spring 2016 Newsletter. Thank you to Martha Cownap, Diedra Heitzman, Wendell Holland, and Sherry Wildfeuer.
Camphill Village Kimberton Hills has been established in Kimberton, Pennsylvania for 44 years. Several
residents have been here since the first days with others for more than 30 years. They have spent many years lifesharing, householding, farming, crafting, educating and more. Now in their 60s or older, what does life look like for someone reaching “retirement” in community? We asked three residents to share with us what this new phase looks like for them.
In 1973 I came to Kimberton Hills at the age of 25. I had met the work of Rudolf Steiner in my first year of college, and spent over a year as a co-worker in Beaver Run to see what people did who thought like that. After that I learned biodynamic gardening in New York, California, Switzerland and England, and was working as the gardener and gardening teacher at a Waldorf school. There I found that people spoke about the ‘school community’ but were
comfortable with a pay scale in the faculty that allowed a couple who were both class teachers to build a lovely new house for themselves while the single parent craft teacher was making dolls in every spare moment to sell at fairs to support her child. This, I knew, would never happen in Camphill, where resources were allocated according to need rather than according to the work one did. I felt ready to put my social ideals to work in a community where colleagues would be striving to manifest these same ideals.
The founders of Kimberton Hills, although no doubt in the prime of their lives, were elders to me. I admired and respected them, despite some typical inter-generational challenges and the cultural differences attributable to their European background and my (very) American style. Our bonds were spiritual, based on common aspirations rather than on natural affinity, although of course deep, faithful friendships have evolved amongst all of us over the years.
In that pioneering phase we were all dedicated to establishing this Village. This led to a culture of enthusiasm (and overwork) as we developed the land work and crafts, the households, the festivals and study life, and as some of us were also raising our families.
Over the years I have given many tours of our Village to visitors. Along the way I explained that we do not give each other salaries for our work or accumulate personal money for our retirement. Often they asked whether I was worried about my old age, and I shared how we cared for our elders and that I was counting on the relationships built up amongst us as my real ‘social security.’
By now, I have observed and been inspired by how several of my elders contributed to the community long after they were able to work actively as householders or workshop leaders. They helped in so many obvious and subtle ways too numerous to elaborate. Whereas the needs of others have given structure and direction to our daily life as householders for decades, this year a new phase is opening up for Diedra and Michael and me, which will allow for more freedom and creative initiative in our activity. We are so grateful for the support of the community as we each will discover new ways to serve appropriate to our age.
While Michael and I came to Kimberton Hills about 10 years after Sherry joined, we came with a deep commitment to living in a way that could accept and honor people of diverse abilities within a context informed by anthroposophy. We were also strongly inspired by biodynamic agriculture and Waldorf education.
Our lives have been very full here. There was still pioneering energy when we came, and we have learned much from those who came before us. From Helen we have learned to widen, widen, widen our perspectives, to really explore thoughtfully what is meaningful in others’ lives, and much more. From Herta we learned that hard work can be done gracefully and how music can be incorporated into everyday life in a way that enriches everyone. From Sabine and Lies we learned to straighten up and fly right, so to speak—to become better. From John we received the blessings of his music and kindness. From Hubert we learned some ways to care for the land and for spiritual substance, and from Ruth we have learned the joy of innovative choral and instrumental music and the depth it can lend to so many festivals—as well as many other things. And of course from MC Richards we released our inner poets and potters and got to experience profound dignity and frolic in one creative package. We learned about building community and spaces and much more from Joan. And perhaps most significantly, we experienced the generosity and “can do” spirit that encouraged us to do more than we thought humanly possible.
So we have great examples to follow as we edge into our elder years… (When do they start? Whoops, they already did!). We want to continue to bring what has enriched us to the “next generations” and to be integrated as gracefully as possible, while also experiencing some time without a large household around us. We are ready to pass the torch to younger folks and not press our forgetful selves into service we aren’t able enough to do really well. In short, we want to be within community, embraced and embracing but with new space and time for each other. Thankfully Kimberton Hills is a real community and we are able to be a part of it!
Wendell Holland, by Martha Cownap
If you are ever walking past Martin’s House, you may encounter the friendly figure of Wendell Holland. He is often in the yard raking leaves, shoveling snow, or shooting hoops. Wendell, 65, has lived in Kimberton Hills since 1979 and has spent most of that time working in the garden. Recently he has “retired” from garden work and is doing housework. He is happy to talk about his old days as a gardener. “I worked with Alexander and Nathan and Beth, Birthe, Holly and Cory, Deborah and Leigh, Tim, Sebastian, and Todd,” says Wendell. “I used to work in Morning Star Garden and then we moved the garden down to Sankanac. We did a lot of weeding that way! And I sifted compost!”
Now Wendell enjoys the more relaxed pace of working around his own home, Martin House. “I like my new job,” says Wendell. “I take up the milk can to the farm, I rake leaves, and I scare away the fox so he doesn’t eat the chickens!”
As many people often wonder and ask us about retirement, it is important to note that people who are resident volunteers here over many years accrue no equity, own no cars or houses, or even social security. There is a proportional agreement for Kimberton Hills covering the percentage of a person’s work life spent here as far as daily living expenses go, when he or she is no longer actively involved in village work life. That being said, most coworkers and villagers whom we may consider “retired” are still very much involved in other aspects of village life. Some support households, by helping with cooking or errands. Many mentor young coworkers, sharing life experience and teaching in the Camphill Academy. Some continue to work as part-time therapists in the CHC and others support the cultural life of the village.