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Published: Sunday, 10/13/2002

Women meet the challenges of mid-life job shifts

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Barbara Lane, Toledo's superintendent of parks, looks over a slide at Ottawa Park. Barbara Lane, Toledo's superintendent of parks, looks over a slide at Ottawa Park.
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After years of clerical work, Barbara Lane was thrilled to be accepted into the Toledo police academy. But during firearms training, a supervisor noted that she needed both eyes to aim and shoot a gun.

Being asked to leave was a crushing disappointment for the mother of two who had married at 18. She was transferred to a city job - weed control clerk - and told she might, someday, make it to senior clerk. That was salt in a wound.

For the next 16 years she listened to every sorry weed-related complaint known to man. At night, she worked second jobs to save money for college tuition. She cleaned offices and operated a kiddie train ride at a mall.

She sacrificed free time for night classes for a grueling 61/2 years and earned bachelor's and law degrees.

In December, Ms. Lane, 49, was named superintendent of parks, in charge of maintenance for Toledo's parks and boulevards. She offers encouragement to others laboring up a mountain toward change.

"There's probably a lot of people out there who think this will never work out. But it does if you keep at it," she said. "Don't despair. Don't be discouraged. Just adjust and the path may turn, and it works out."

She plans to practice criminal law after retiring from the city. She'll be 60.

Building a new career in the middle years requires many of the same elements it does in youth -a goal, hard work, and usually money. Identifying someone to emulate is always valuable, said Luanne Momenee, director of the learning enhancement center at the University of Toledo.

But undertaken in our 40s, 50s, or beyond, a big change is likely to be more challenging. We may be responsible for children, spouses, parents, and homes. We may have a routine, financial obligations, and security. We may simply possess less energy, said Ms. Momenee.

"It requires vision. It requires energy, absolutely. And it requires that you not consider your age as a detriment but as an asset," she said.

Whether change is born from necessity or desire, many people reach deep for the courage and energy to overhaul their work lives in pursuit of greater satisfaction.

  • For decades, Marcia Punsalan concentrated on her five children, and she worked part-time for her husband. At 52 she became a teacher.

  • Thirty years ago, Cherie Newbold dreamed of holding the most glamorous job attainable to young women at the time: a stewardess. In June, she graduated from flight-attendant school.

  • With two adolescent children, Doris Harris Mars entered a four-year seminary program 145 miles away from home. She graduates in May. "If you have any ideas, I'd say take a deep breath and go do it. Half your life is over," said Ms. Mars.

  • Toni Blochowski quit the secure but stressful job she held for 20-some years. She started her own business and has more flexibility to spend time with her husband and her 83-year-old father.

    Marcia Punsalan teaches journalism to students at Clay High School.
 Marcia Punsalan teaches journalism to students at Clay High School.
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    It was her daughter's suggestion that Marcia Punsalan, 59, become a teacher. "She said, 'You're always reading and you like school.' She said, 'What's stopping you?' " said Ms. Punsalan, of Oregon. "I thought, how can you let your child challenge you and not take the bait?"

    When Ms. Punsalan attended college in the early 1960s, her goal was to earn an 'Mrs.' degree. "I thought, this time if I went back to school, I could learn!"

    She was 50 and a bundle of nerves when she began taking classes, unsure that she could compete with young minds. "It was overwhelming," she said.

    She weighed 280 pounds, and the walk from parking lot to classroom was tiring. Another challenge was finding a peaceful place to study. She had two sons in high school and one in college, and she continued to do billing for her husband, an anesthesiologist.

    She completed her teaching degree in 2 1/2 years, and was hired as a long-term sub at Clay High School. Shortly thereafter, she noticed her feet were numb. She was diagnosed with diabetes. One day she fell and struggled to get up. "I thought, what am I doing to my life?" She enrolled in a weight-loss program and dropped 140 pounds.

    She is chairwoman of the language arts department at Clay and teaches English and journalism. She has forfeited free time, and her housekeeping and meal preparation aren't at their previous levels.

    But she enjoys a new respect from her family. "I gained a truckload of self-esteem." And she's happy that hundreds of young people have entered her life, people through whom, she says, she will live on.

    "If people don't put forth the effort, they will never know how far they will walk. And they don't have to run, they can take it a day at a time."

    Cheri Newbold, a flight attendant, makes a preflight inspection of the cabin.
 Cheri Newbold, a flight attendant, makes a preflight inspection of the cabin.
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    After graduating from Waite High School in 1968, Cheri Newbold worked as a sales clerk, cashier, and fork-lift driver. Rearing her four children, she cleaned houses and got involved in politics, Boy and Girl Scouts, the PTA, mothers of twins, and Sunday School. She started a support group for families whose spouses were called to serve in Operation Desert Storm.

    Then one day, the birds left the nest.

    "It was awful. It started when my first one was graduated in 1995. I was just devastated," she said. She got a part-time job and babysat for a grandchild.

    Her daughter is a flight attendant, and Ms. Newbold loved hearing her anecdotes about the passengers and pilots.

    "I kept telling her she was living out my dream. I was so happy for her," said Ms. Newbold, 51, of West Toledo. "Then she started telling me I could do it. But I hadn't been to school for 34 years! There's no way I could go to flight attendant school and learn all you have to learn and then take a test every day."

    Another daughter helped mom study.

    Ms. Newbold was accepted to Northwest Pinnacle Airline's three-week training.

    She spent most nights studying, usually sleeping only two or three hours. "I was determined not to let my family down because they were so supportive of me."

    She is the sole attendant on 50-passenger planes out of Detroit and Toledo. She has refreshed confidence and new friends. And she makes it a point to smile and converse with passengers.

    "I like when people walk off the plane and they say 'thank you,'" she said. "And I get the respect that I deserve after all these years."

    Doris Harris Mars preaches at Augsburg Lutheran Church on Sylvania Avenue.
 Doris Harris Mars preaches at Augsburg Lutheran Church on Sylvania Avenue.
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    The kindness of others has been the key to Doris Harris Mars' career transition. Her mother agreed to look after Ms. Mars' two children for the three nights a week she spends in Columbus, where she's completing her fourth and final year at Trinity Lutheran Seminary.

    "It's just so important you let other people help you," said Ms. Mars, 44, a 1975 Rogers High School graduate. "This kind of thing takes a lot of support."

    She's also learned it's essential to eat and sleep well, exercise, and occasionally pamper herself.

    Before marriage, she studied psychology and the cello. She was a homemaker for 10 years. Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, her marriage fell apart.

    She found work as a part-time youth minister, then as a substitute music teacher in Toledo schools.

    Four years ago, she "discerned a call to ordained ministry," she said. "I didn't think about my age. It was a process I'd been in for about 10 years. I was trying to understand God's call."

    Her children didn't want to move to Columbus, and her mother offered to help.

    She has lost income and has incurred debt to pay for tuition. It has been difficult without a spouse with whom to share joys and burdens, she said.

    But she has gained peace. "I know what I'm supposed to be doing in life."

    Toni Blochowski takes a break from her job as a home-based Web page designer. Toni Blochowski takes a break from her job as a home-based Web page designer.
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    Toni Blochowski's long career as an executive assistant at Toledo Hospital was challenging. It frequently involved deadlines and extra hours, and it paid well.

    She tried to accompany her aging father to his medical appointments, but one day, a must-do deadline kept her father waiting and worrying.

    "I realized that I had to decide what were my true priorities. And my true priorities were my family," said Ms. Blochowski, 46, of Lambertville. "I got up one day and said to my husband, 'I think I need to do something about my job.' And he said, 'I'll back you 100 percent, whatever you decide.'"

    Two years ago, she quit and gave her business clothes to an agency that helps women enter the workforce. A neighbor who owns an advertising agency wanted her help. Ms. Blochowski knows accounting and she learned Web-page design.

    "I wanted to work good hours, flexible hours," she said, adding that she works 25 to 30 hours a week and earns about what she did in her previous job. She bowls in a morning league, golfs, and looks after her 83-year-old father.

    She misses friends at her former job, but she's made new connections. And she's delighted to have acquired skills.

    "I have learned that I must be more outgoing in order to survive, am more willing to learn new technology to expand my horizons, and that I have many talents . . . that I am now able to utilize."



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