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Meet the never-retired: the inspiring innkeepers


A gray stone house surrounded by trees and red rocking chairs

Sixty. That’s the average age at which Americans retire. As a 31-year-old, I can’t even begin to imagine what my life will be like in two years, let alone 29 years.

Much has been said about us “millennials” and “retirement.” Type those two words in a search engine and you’ll get hit by literally millions of articles, ranging from how we’re not doing enough for retirement to how we flat-out hate the thought of it. According to one study, 66% of us have nothing saved for retirement. Not one penny.

Retirement feels like an outdated idea to most of us. It’s boring. It also feels impossible. As a generation that graduated right around the 2008 recession, the idea of working comfortably in the same job for decades seems unlikely. And leaving it with enough money saved to live out the rest of our days seems like a fantasy.

More importantly, we have passions. We feel more defined by our personal projects than we do our careers. We are hungry for the hustle. And we want our passions to evolve and grow with us.

What if retirement wasn’t about retiring, but about reinvention?

There are already people out there who have shunned the thought of going gently into their golden years. They chose to start something new at an age when their peers are winding down. They proudly consider themselves the “Never Retired.”

Pat and Ron Ernst are in that club. They may not be millennials, but they share our passion for doing things differently. I recently spoke to them about how they were able to reinvent retirement for themselves.

Who are Pat and Ron Ernst?

Ron is a former educator with a passion for cooking. He worked as a science teacher in a private Catholic school in Maryland before becoming an aerospace education specialist for NASA. He spent the last 17 years of his career working with NASA on what he considered his dream job, as it combined his teaching experience with his lifelong love of airplanes and space exploration.

Pat is a former management accountant with an MBA and a certified CPA. All of her career was spent in not-for-profit institutions. In 2017 she left her position as the vice president of finance at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in Lancaster, where she was able to combine her profession with her love of the arts.

The married couple decided the end of their careers wasn’t going to be the end of their working lives. They wanted to work on something together, combining their skills on a project that brought them closer together and brought them joy. That something was a bed-and-breakfast.

“I have always loved old houses,” said Pat. “Our house, here, is over 250 years old. So, that was an attraction.”

But that wasn’t all it took for them to take the plunge. Pat took classes, they went to business workshops together and visited all kinds of B&Bs. For Ron, the key was to investigate the topic of bed-and-breakfasts deeply before heading down that road.

In April of 2006, they started welcoming guests to the Osceola Mill House Bed & Breakfast in Gordonville, Pennsylvania.

It wasn’t smooth sailing

When the 2008 recession hit, their business was near collapse. Pat was still working full time and was forced to postpone her transition to innkeeper.

“There were days that Pat worked 10 hours at the college, then came home and after dinner would immediately start working on the bookkeeping,” said Ron.

Ron took a part-time job doing inspections in Amish farms in their community. He and Pat got to know their neighbors better and discovered a need within the community.

“I discovered that there was a need among the Amish community for someone to help them with their bookkeeping,” said Pat.

Pat quickly developed a side gig providing business services to her own community.

Staying flexible

Ron and Pat recognized that their passion was a lifestyle, not just a business. They also quickly realized that they had to continuously be on the lookout for ways to keep the revenue stream flowing.

“I think the main thing for us was our ability to be flexible in how we approached this,” said Pat. “A bed-and-breakfast is an odd business model. It doesn’t fit into an MBA portfolio very well. So, you have to be flexible and a little creative when you face it.”

Keeping your savings untouched

While Pat and Ron had retirement savings from their previous careers, they decided to not dig into their savings for this project. They knew of other innkeepers who had lost all their money when their businesses had failed. For them, investing their savings was just too dangerous. Their inn would sink or swim on its own merits, and their funds would stay intact.

“That’s our play money,” said Pat.

Reinvention all over again

After more than 13 years as innkeepers, Pat and Ron are once again considering a change—the possibility of transitioning out of the innkeeping business to follow new passions. They both want to travel more. Ron is also curious about becoming a docent at one of his favorite museums in New Orleans.

“We’re just kind of looking for the next thing,” said Pat. “We are looking at where do we want to live and what do we want to do with that time. Because the thought of getting up and sitting at home just doesn’t fit with our lifestyle. We’re not used to that.”

Pat and Ron Ernst embody the meaning of “Never Retired.” They don’t settle for what society dictates they should be doing with their time and didn’t let circumstances halt their journey. So, what will your “Never-Retired” story look like? Start designing the future you want by making a plan for amazing with one of our Financial Planners.

Please note: Financial advice should be tailored to individual circumstances and the content of this article should not be viewed as recommendations. This article is not an endorsement of any particular product, service or organization; nor is it intended to provide financial, tax or legal advice. It is intended to promote awareness and is for educational purposes only. The specific applications and services noted are not necessarily endorsed by John Hancock or any of its affiliated businesses.

Advisory services offered through John Hancock Personal Financial Services, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. Boston, MA 02210.