By LINDA COMINS
For Prime Times
ENJOYING A busy, active retirement after a fulfilling teaching career, Wheeling resident Jody Wharton offers this advice to others contemplating the big step:
“Don’t be afraid to retire. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the beginning.”Wharton, who never regretted her decision to retire, remarked, “It’s the beginning of a whole new life. Your lifestyle changes.”
For example, in retirement, Wharton met Wheeling artist Janet Rodriguez and began re-exploring her long-lost interest in artistic expression.
Ironically, Rodriguez also began to develop her talent as an artist more fully after retiring from teaching.
Another interesting side light is the fact that during their teaching careers, neither woman taught art.Rodriguez, who is one of the featured artists this month at the Artworks Around Town gallery in Wheeling where she is a charter member, began teaching an art workshop for the artists’ cooperative about six or seven years ago.
That workshop morphed into a Thursday morning art class where the students include Wharton.
Wharton, a mother of two, taught students in the dental hygiene program in the then-West Liberty State College for 32 years full-time and three years part-time.Rodriguez, who has eight children, taught in public schools for 35 years. She taught in Beckley until moving to Wheeling in 1973.
She taught English at Wheeling Park High School from 1976 to 1991, then went to Wheeling Jesuit University where she served as director of the teacher preparation program for six years.
“Now I play,” she quipped, as she described her current lifestyle.
Asked what prompted her decision to retire, Wharton said, “I just got tired of the routine — getting up at 6:30 every morning and driving in all kinds of weather, including snow.
“I couldn’t face another winter of worrying about the weather.”
It was the thought of grading more papers that motivated Rodriguez to retire.
“I just couldn’t grade one more paper, one more theme,” she said. “I loved it, but I just couldn’t do it (grading) anymore ... I loved teaching composition, but the demand of time ...”
At that point, Rodriguez said, “I began to paint in earnest.”
Since retiring from teaching composition, her attention has become focused on composition on canvas or drawing paper. She has participated in several art shows and has taught a number of workshops and classes at Artworks.
“I started (teaching art) for six weeks. It was a six-week workshop and I’m still going,” Rodriguez remarked.
She has no regrets, though.
“I’ve made lots of friends, met lots of wonderful people and I’ve had lots of fun,” she added.
Wharton rediscovered her artistic side in a watercolor class that she took at Artworks in 2004, with Rodriguez as the instructor.
Rodriguez recalled that, initially after retiring from teaching, “I missed the kids. I really missed the students. I really missed the relationships.”
On the plus side, she said, “I was painting, so I had more time to read and paint.”
In fact, Rodriguez quipped, “It took me a few months (after retiring) to realize I had free time — that I could read for more than 15 minutes.”
She realized that she could read for as long as she wanted, without having to put a book aside to embark upon a work-related chore, and that she also had time to get organized.
Smiling, Rodriguez said of her life so far, “I got to have my wonderful children and teach school and now I get to paint.”
After retiring, Wharton missed the students, but didn’t have any difficulty adjusting to a different lifestyle.
“I played a lot of tennis, played bridge and read. I did a little traveling with my husband. And then I met Janet. So I’ve been spending a lot of time painting,” she said.
Now widowed, she added, “I have a handicapped friend I take care of. It takes a lot of time.”
In her youth, Wharton was interested in art and did some painting.
“But once I went to college, the drawing and painting were left behind,” she said.
Now, Wharton said of the Thursday art sessions, “That’s my favorite day — to come to class. I forget everything. I’ve met a lot of nice artists. I paint a lot at home,” she added.
In the class, Rodriguez remarked, “It’s nice to share and see what other people are doing.”
Wharton interjected, “Janet is so patient. She puts up with all our little quirks.”
The instructor replied, “I have more fun than they do.”
Wharton advises other retirees and soon-to-be retirees, “Find things that interest you and you’ll never be bored.” Rodriguez agreed, adding, “I’ve never been bored in my life.”
”If you’ve always been active, you’ll continue, or you’ll find new interests,” Wharton observed.
“Join organizations and keep busy with meetings. Try volunteering ... It’s time for you,” she added.
Both women are active in the Wheeling Newcomers Club, which Rodriguez calls “the best advertisement for Wheeling,” as the members welcome newly arrived residents and help them learn about the community.