50 Over 50: Following Your Passion

08/06/2014 07:08 am ET | Updated Aug 06, 2014
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Huff/Post 50 recently asked readers to submit nominations of people who've reinvented themselves for the better after age 50 as part of an initiative launched with the TODAY show called "50 Over 50." We were overwhelmed with submissions. Every day this week we will roll out 10 more nominees. Today we focus on "Following Your Passion."

  • Lucy Bolden, 51, Alexandria, VA
    For most of her adult life, Lucy Bolden worked in the retail industry. But, as she puts it, “It’s all about the journey.” Quite by accident, she said, her eyes were opened to the concept of a plant-based lifestyle in 2005. She learned about living a healthier life through veganism at a church function -- which led to she and her sister launching the “Eden Good” cooking show that aired for three seasons and reached 1.5 million viewers. But still she kept her proverbial day job, sprinkled with doing cooking demonstrations at churches, local schools and recreation centers. “I wanted to address the very important need for today’s families to live a more healthy and holistic lifestyle, especially in urban areas,” she said. Ironically, she got the boost she needed when she hit a major road bump: She lost her job in 2009 after working for more than 20 years in the retail industry. For the next five years, she and her sister watched as the requests for vegan cooking demonstrations/presentations as well as other grant-funded lifestyle-related ventures grew. They researched and learned how to market their favorite cookies and hit the jackpot: Whole Foods Market is going to be carrying their product. She said: “Life is like a recipe, you can always change it!”
  • Joe Bottomly, 59, Kalispell, MT
    After over 30 years as a trial lawyer in Montana, in his mid-50s, Joe decided it was time to think about what he truly wanted to do with the rest of his life. He found himself feeling unmotivated, having been in a high stress, ultra-competitive field his entire life. Having previously dabbled in ceramics and drawing, Bottomly decided to leave his career, pack his bags, and move to Italy to enroll in an intensive art course at the Florence Academy of Art. Joe spent three years pursuing his passion, spending around 60 hours a week in the studio, making paintings. Going from being a qualified expert in his career to being a novice learner was “a slice of humble pie” for Bottomly, who was eager to keep learning, even in his 50s. “When you have a profession you got some success in, you identify yourself as that thing. You get a certain amount of ego satisfaction, also, structure in your identity,” Bottomly said, adding that he wanted to show people that you can learn at any age. He just graduated this summer and plans to pursue his career as an artist full time.
  • Alexandreena Dixon, 68, Suffern, NY
    After serving over 15 years as a superintendent for a women’s correctional facility in New York, Alexandreena Dixon knew she wanted to do something to help keep inner-city youth stay out of trouble and out of prison. Growing up, she said, dance and other community activities were what kept her on the right track. “Had it not been for dance … I probably would have been one of my inmates or had an early teenage pregnancy,” Dixon said. Just before her retirement, a friend asked her to join an African dance program, and though she was hesitant at first, she soon saw how it could transform the lives of youth. In 2003, she launched Chiku Awali, a program that brings African dance and culture to disadvantaged youths in New York, through classes and workshops. Hundreds of students have participated, and Dixon said it may have helped set them on the right path. “I consider myself fortunate… a woman who did get an education, who was able to get a fairly great job," she said. "It [Chiku Awali] was my way to give back, to let kids see that you can succeed, you can survive the “ghetto” you have to have resources, support, and a village.”
  • Jo Farkas, 87, Los Angeles, CA
    Jo Farkas spent most of her professional life as a clinical psychologist, championing the rights of children in the Baltimore school system. She always had a passion for the arts but that was relegated to the back burner while she raised her three children and worked as a psychologist. But that changed when she retired in her mid-60s and drove herself out to California, bought a little home in the isolated northern coastal town of Gualala and contemplated her future. On a lark, she auditioned in San Francisco for one of the leads in "Kudzu,” the final work by the ground-breaking playwright Jane Chambers, and won the part. Following a successful run, she reinvented herself as an actor -- activating a part of herself that had been dormant. She moved to Studio City, California, bought an apartment, hired an agent and went to work. During the past 20 years, Farkas has been in dozens of films, including “My Best Friend's Wedding,” “Forget Paris,” “Tank Girl,” and “Meatballs 4”; and has appeared on TV series including “Ellen” and “Weeds.” She has one of those unforgettable character actor faces. Jonathan Burroughs, her son, said she is “on the vanguard of a new societal value that there is no such thing as retirement -- only reinvention -- and that as we get older, we may have the privilege of pursuing a vocational life of passion so that there is less division between our work and ourselves.” His mom kept it simpler. When asked for a quote that summarizes her journey, she said, “To thine own self be true.”
  • Marla Wynne Ginsburg, 58, New York, NY
    Marla Ginsburg was a top TV executive whose portfolio included financing, developing and supervising top internationally produced TV series, including Highlander and La Femme Nikita. After living large, Marla found herself hit hard by the 2007 writers’ strike, compounded by the 2008 economic meltdown. With her mortgage underwater, her 401K in a free fall and two children to support as a single mom, she downsized and searched for a way back in. Having lived in Paris, and inspired by the way French women conveyed an enduring sense of style at any age, Ginsburg started sketching away –- something she had never done before. She knew that women of a certain age in the U.S. were bereft of fashion options. Since experience told her that finding a post-strike job would be extremely difficult, she used her free hours to begin producing in a very new way: working in her garage with a sewing machine, she created a vision for an affordable and stylish fashion line dedicated to the boomer generation. The result today is that MarlaWynne (http://marlawynne.com) is now a HSN mainstay in the U.S. In the last five years, revenues have grown more than nine-fold and she has launched in the Canadian, British and Italian markets as well. Her commitment to her family’s well being was tantamount and she was again tested in 2013 when her 18-year-old son was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s. Happily, he won a hard fought battle and started college in Montreal last year. She said: “A dream doesn’t have to stay a dream, but it does have to be backed by hard work and experience.”
  • Katherine Lowry Logan, 64, Lexington, KY
    Nominated by her daughter, Katherine Lowry Logan has self-published multiple romance novels. She's run several half marathons and amassed more than 200,000 followers on Twitter. Logan had always dreamed of becoming an author and marathon runner -- but didn't start achieving these goals until the age of 61. Before then, she was -- in her words -- a grandmother allergic to exercise. "She always had a dream of being an author and running a marathon. In September 2011 at the age of 61, she began to accomplish both of these. Together, we decided to run the Susan G. Komen 5K in Cincinnati and after that race, she couldn’t stop running," said her daughter, Lynn Logan Hicks. "Her first 5K, which was mostly walking and a little bit of running, turned into an untamable desire to run. Followed by months of training and several other races, she ran her first half marathon on March 31, 2012." Not only did she run her first 13.1 mile race that day, but she also self-published her first book, "The Ruby Brooch" -- just a week before turning 62. She started the book after her husband's sudden death and then, after 10 years of writing, the book was self-published. She's currently working on her third book and has also launched her own blog. "You are the sum total of your life experiences. Those early defeats build character. Those early disappointments fuel your passion for success. Those early regrets teach you that even though you might fail, not trying is worse," she said. "I couldn’t have lived with the regret had I not put my toe on the starting line. Before you give up on anything, be sure you can live with the decision."
  • Millie Goodman, 101, Grand Rapids, MI
    Two years ago, at the age of 99, Millie picked up a pool stick for the first time at the urging of friends. Before long she became known as quite the "pool shark" around the halls of Clark Retirement Community, a senior living community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Indeed every Tuesday morning you will find Millie holding court in Clark's game room, as she takes on new players. Want to see her in action? Check out this video, which shows Millie taking on a local media personality in the "Great Pool Shark Show Down." But even before she took up pool, Millie has always redefined what it means to live life to the fullest. At 49, she went to college to become a nurse after being told by the university that, at age 50, she'd be too old to go back to school. She was a nurse for more than 10 years. "Millie is redefining what it means to live vibrantly, crediting her faith, constant learning and a positive attitude for a long and meaningful life," said Casey Montgomery, community relations specialist at the Clark Retirement Community. "She's always doing something. She still volunteers. She's at every one of our events. She is just a really positive person and is never grumpy."
  • Jody Martinez, 59, Fullerton, CA
    Like many young girls, Jody Martinez always wanted to be a "stewardess." But, even though she applied with a few airlines in her early 20s, she never landed a job. She said it never occurred to her that she'd be able to try again one day. So Martinez went down a different path, one of lackluster office positions. She got married and enjoyed a nice life. But then she found herself in a very stressful, "un-fun" job that, she said, sucked the life out of her within just a few years. "I had a definitely feeling of, 'is this all there is?'" she said. The year she turned 50, Martinez remembers telling a girlfriend that she would not celebrate her milestone birthday remaining in that job. "So I quit. I didn't care if I had to mop floors for a living, I was done," she said. "I goofed around in odd jobs for a couple of years and then decided to apply at Southwest Airlines." The result? She became a flight attendant at age 56. "I have not looked back. I am thankful every day for taking this chance!" she said. "And, at 38,000 feet, with views that trump any corner office, it's waaaaay better than just 'okay'."
  • Donna McDonald, 56, Lexington, KY
    After losing her young daughter to cancer and finding herself out of a job, Donna McDonald said she didn’t know what was going to become of her life. But it was her daughter’s fearlessness and courage that inspired McDonald to take a chance on something she had always been passionate about. Instead of searching for a new 9-to-5 job, McDonald took a leap of faith and decided she would try her hand at writing romantic comedies. At age 51, most of McDonald’s heroines were in their 40s and 50s -– something publishers didn’t like. “I was told the books just wouldn’t sell since the heroines were older women,” McDonald said. “They said 50-year-olds just don’t have sex like this.” Not relying on a publishing house or an agent, McDonald self-published and has written 27 books in the past five years. Her readers are as young as 20 and as old at 80. “It was very scary putting up that first book, but you’ve got to look fear in the face and take a chance,” she said. “Her [daughter’s] death made me fearless and I realized life is truly short.” The best part about writing? “When I get an email from a reader that my book kept them up laughing all night.”
  • Sybil Sage, 72, New York, NY
    Sybil Sage was one of the few women to write for primetime TV in the early 70s, enjoying a successful career working for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Maude," "The Bob Newhart Show," "Barney Miller," "Alice," "Growing Pains," and "Northern Exposure." But, at 66, she discovered this truism about aging: "One is trusted to make life and death decisions on the Supreme Court but is too old to write an episode of 'How I Met Your Mother'." Looking for work, she said, she applied for "every job on Craigslist that didn't require nudity." She was rejected everywhere. Admiring the vases and frames Sage had designed as a hobby, a friend asked, "Why don't you turn those beautiful mosaics into a business?" And that's exactly what she did. In her home, which now resembles a Home Depot, she's made vases for people including Carl Reiner, Stephen Colbert and Lily Tomlin. Her site is sybilsage.com. She said: "Re-inventing myself got me out of my comfort zone. Instead of luxuriating in neutral, I have hit the road running."

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