Geezers At Work

When men age long enough to be true and real geezers, they must have had work creative and rewarding enough to allow them to reach geezerhood—or close to it. Some (Orrin Pilkey and Roy Schmidt) have written books about their journeys through multiple life experiences. As you read this post and know of, or have had occupations that need publication, we’ll do a supplement with all the details. So read on with wonder and admiration.

Working one’s way toward an ultimate profession may have twists and turns, some of which happens along the way with no obvious relationship to the ultimate. Such was the case with Orrin Pilkey, whose work with nature began as a 17 year old smoke jumper in his home state of Washington. So, I guess we could say that putting out forest fires ultimately led to his PhD in geochemistry.

This took him to the Atlantic coast where he surveyed the shore line and the continental shelf off the coast. Most shore lines have some relation to the shelf and the slope into the depth of the ocean. Also, most shore lines have a shelf and scientists can relate the change in shoreline to the movement of the shelf. This underwater study led Dr. Pilkey to Duke as he focused his oceanographic studies away from the deepest oceans to the very movable lives and possible deaths of barrier islands.

Barrier islands move in and out, to and from the shorelines over millions of years. The barrier islands off the North Carolina coast were many feet out toward the continental shelf over the years. But as the big inland rivers brought more sand toward the coast, the islands eventually moved toward the mainland.

Pilkey has studied barrier islands off the coastlines of many countries.   In all cases, there are disagreements between the scientists who study the coasts and many oceanographic interests. As one example, he was working on islands off the coast of Portugal and the local navy wanted the water between the islands and the mainland to remain navigable for their ships, but the scientists warned the navy that the islands were moving and they eventually would lose those essential waters. The movement of the islands cannot be stopped and their movement toward the mainland will be enhanced as warmer waters from climate change shrinks available sea areas for the navy ships. He also worked off the shore of Columbia, South America where the islands had not even been mapped. In Columbia, the scientists were not only competing with the local navy, but with native gangs who used the islands for some of their illegal drug work. This was high risk study in the community of gang warfare, but Pilkey and his fellow researchers survived throughout their years of study.

The study of barrier islands offers a definite indication of how climate change is affecting islands and shorelines. This is a worldwide study that continues to this day. Pilkey has studied islands off Mozambique as well in the Mediterranean off the coast of Tunisia. The depth of the land of an island can determine its assumed duration. In North Carolina, Shackelford and Bogue Banks have thicker land and will be able to withstand storms better than the Outer Banks along Nags Head and Kitty Hawk. At any rate, as the ocean waters increase in temperature, more water evaporates from the oceans which ultimately leads to increased rain. This is a major reason why recent hurricanes have produced excess rain which has led, and will continue lead to additional coastal flooding.

There is continuing conflict between Pilkey and other coastline scientists versus the Army Corps of Engineers as well as coastal builders and real estate specialists. Pilkey is known, and was recently quoted, definitely telling people not to build or re-build near the coastlines of barrier islands. Recent tropical hurricanes have damaged or destroyed millions of high priced shoreline property, and people continue to re-build. As sandy beaches are washed into the sea, they are replenished with off-shore sand, which only washes back into the sea with future storms. Pilkey’s profession is very unpopular along the sea coast, but “time and tide” no doubt will have proven his science, sadly, but right on the money. He has written many books and articles which clearly prove his studies of barrier islands. His proven wisdom of these studies must be honored by all seacoast residents, builders, businesses, and those who value the beauty and pleasure of the coast and the barrier islands.


         Throughout most of these histories and descriptions of endeavors, many of these geezers settled on one profession or occupation through which they put maximum effort. With this next geezer, Kenneth Turner, I was more or less dizzy as he raced me through sixty some years of school, multiple variations of specialties, re-locating outside the US mainland, and finally putting science on the shelf in favor of some academic studies separate from his physical science history.

From the second grade on he was headed for science—first toward astronomy, then settled on becoming a physicist. This took him to Reed College in WA from which he was tossed for missing most of his classes; then to Portland State in OR which got him motivated enough to earn A’s; then on to Princeton grad school to study physics, which led him to specialize in the study of gravity. Heading toward a PhD under faculty guide Robert Dickey, his academic work requirement was for seven days each week, with no breaks.

A post-doc at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, DC allowed him to practice some of his academic studies and this took him to Argentina to study terrestrial magnetism. He and his team built a 100 foot telescope to study the heavens, which was a research project supported financially by the Argentine government. But with a very unstable government, Turner feared for his life, was seized by the Peronista government, was exiled from Argentina and the work stopped. This element of his career in science ended.

Back stateside he came and settled in Charlottesville, VA and used his scientific talent to design software and hardware for the study of interferometry(the study of waves of light, etc) This was a ten year stint until he moved on to become a faculty member of a local college. But his academic and research skill preceded him and he was invited by the University of Mayaguez in Puerto Rico to administer scientific research. This was a two year assignment, but he stayed on in Puerto Rice as vice-president of a company making small submarines. His assignment was to design radio telescopes for these small vessels. This was a challenging assignment which created disagreements with the business owner and he left just before the business itself went under.

We have recited a whirlwind of scientific specialties and occupations that carried Turner from one chorus to another, each offering new avenues of exploration that were stepping stones across a rushing river from one new set of knowledge and on to the next. And so, after making the most recent turbulent river crossing, Turner had enough of scientific research and sought other avenues of challenge. This led him to the University of West Georgia and the study of humanistic and transpersonal psychology. That’s altogether another topic for review not to be included in this post. We have followed Turner through early university student and faculty life, on to a turbulent time in South America, back to the mainland US, then again off shore to Puerto Rico, settling at this stage in Turner’s life with the more recent direction offering satisfaction and fulfillment in a new field of study which has allowed him to re-direct his thoroughly trained and well- practiced research talent.


         Some of us have had careers or professions hammered, or at least pushed aside, by competition or by such attacks on our professional world, that we either were forced to move on, or knew that the new world would not blend well with ours. This new world gave a push to Gene Hackney, a professional pharmacist in the modest community of Lumberton, NC, that also served the surrounding county.   We all know the names of modern drug emporiums perched on strategic street intersections or invading the entry halls of most super markets.

Gene’s world of local pharmacy began during his high school years in Sanford, NC when he began working in a local “drug store” during his high school years. During these youthful years he developed a real interest in pharmacy as a profession in the old railroad town of Sanford. This interest took him to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and then on to the university pharmacy school. College romances often lead to long lives together and that is the story of his life and long marriage. It took a while for their lives to jell together since his wife had a better job at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, NC, while he was getting started as a junior employee in a local pharmacy.

Things then started to develop when his father-in-law, Mr. Jackson, called and told Gene that he had purchased a second pharmacy in Lumberton and wanted Gene to move there and start working. That he did, and learned the life of the local businesses when, on almost his first day a customer rushed in, picked up a bottle of vitamins and rushed out telling Gene to “charge them”. Of course, since Gene had never seen this customer, he had no idea to whom they should be charged. Gene learned quickly that it was a usual procedure, however, for farmers to pop into the pharmacy, buy merchandise, and promise to pay “after our tobacco has been sold”.

Gene was able to learn the pharmacy world in Lumberton and when Mr. Jackson retired, Gene was able to take over both locations and run the business. The larger of the two was Hedgepeth Pharmacy, and both stores had delivery service throughout the area. Gene hired two firemen as delivery persons since they knew all the streets and all the addresses very well. Similar to most southern cities, Lumberton had an area inhabited mostly by black citizens and the pharmacies did heavy business in those areas. If you remember those early local drug stores, they added fresh ice cream, then sold medical supplies, and added cosmetics, greeting cards, and a small assortment of merchandise to supplement their major service-pharmaceutical products. This continued to be a personal, small community business as his stores would cash social security checks and had arrangements with local banks to help support the customers.

All of us who grew up in small or medium sized towns and cities, remember well the local drug stores. They seemed to be town centers, since everyone in town used them and the store owners knew most of the residents by their first and last names. Examining the names of Robeson County pharmacies now– names such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart— as well as all the local supermarkets…all are in competition, and without personal relationships with local citizens where first names are known and where checks may be cashed. Even today, after having sold the stores in the years past, Gene is able to walk the sidewalks of Lumberton and recognize any of the older citizens he might run into. That’s a great way to grow older: manage an essential business, eventually sell it, and leave behind a strong legacy of civic improvement. Even while living in Lumberton, Gene was also an active community leader in local service clubs, being president of the local chamber of commerce, president of the library board, and president of “Historic Robeson”—the county where all this took place. And now Gene has many pleasant memories of this long past and tells about most events with warm smiles.


         Some men as they age, seek unusual or surprising directions to add a stimulant to their aging personalities. Such it was with Jim Fisher, who for many decades was a financial executive with several companies specializing in anesthesia management. Jim is a man of strong personal integrity and eventually struck out on his own when an employer demanded that he function beyond the limits of his integrity.

Among other issues in his life, Jim is working with some men and women seeking answers toward becoming more of a spiritual being. He has done some reading which has directed him toward accomplishing something which can have meaning for himself and of value to others. This has led him to the African country of Togo. Togo, you ask? Where can you find new meaning within this tiny West African country? Togo itself is now an independent country, formerly a French protectorate, also with German influence before World War 1. And the challenge here for Jim is to develop an egg farm for the health and welfare of the local citizens.

Jim is acquainted with a person who has developed an egg farm in the Congo, so this will be his model from which to work . The eggs will be sold on the open market for the nourishment of the citizenry and can be exported, since Togo has an active trading culture. Eggs, once the chickens have delivered them, can be safely stored raw for some time—assuming they have not been pasteurized and/or chilled.

Within Togo, many of the forest acres are being removed as civilization expands. Lions, giraffes, hyenas and cape buffalo still roam the country, but open territory is shrinking. Also, an egg farm will require many capable hands to manage all elements needed to make this a success. One can imagine the many pairs of hands essential to managing all the details associated with hundreds of squaking chickens. Jim will be depending on the advice of his friend who has built a successful egg farm business in the Congo to help him find and train capable personnel.

Of all the geezers with whom I have spoken or sought to speak with, this adventure of Jim Fisher’s is the most unique and challenging. Wouldn’t it be something to see your next carton of eggs at Whole Foods advertised as “Large Brown Eggs from Cage Free Togo Chickens”? I can hardly wait!                                                                                                                                                                         ******************************

Here’s a strange one and I dare anyone to offer an occupation or profession equally unique.

Paul Messinger, as a young man leading toward middle age, had a wide variety of jobs, only one of which led him toward his ultimate occupation. For many years he “hung around” Key West, FL taking whatever jobs were offered, but enjoying his world of creating and performing music. He composed many tunes, and even today as he approaches geezerhood, he can be heard performing his own songs. He defines himself as a “spiritual hippy” and composes and performs music with his harmonica and guitar that would support that definition.

After leaving Key West, he moved north and became involved with “Green Leaf Harvesters”, a non-profit organization specializing in farm and orchard work. He picked apples and blueberries with them for eight years. He then married a woman who now is chief operating officer of his business– which we will tell you about soon. His “hippy” and spiritual persona settled down as he was introduced to and became fully aware of the craft work of the Amish community in Pennsylvania.   The Amish are a committed religious sect and they are dedicated craftsmen who work with their hands and build with natural wood. Watching and learning from their craft dedication, Paul quickly discovered a business angle that could offer solid rewards. This new business venture became his new life’s profession –—selling pallets!

According to an official dictionary, “a pallet is a portable platform for handling, storing, or moving materials or packages (as in warehouses, factories, or vehicles)”. We have all seen pallets in their accustomed use many times and in many places, so it’s obvious that someone or some company must build them and make them available for everyday use. And that is where Paul awoke to this opportunity and learned how to find the proper wood for assembling them (he mostly uses oak) and then marketing them worldwide.

This international pallet business is not just finding formed boards, nailing them together, and offering them for sale. There are “Euro pallets”, “tp” pallets created especially made to carry heavy liquid chemicals, and many other variations. Paul took me from the starting point-harvesting trees, through the saw mills and then to the construction of the pallets. After he learned all about the product, he then started calling on individual plants that had national businesses as his early customers. As an entrepreneur, he felt he was falling off a cliff and hoping for a soft landing. That is exactly what happened with him. He now has an international business with 15 or so employees and has built this to become a $50M to $100M business with a worldwide reach. He has learned to build his business through good or bad business times and claims that recessions are opportunities. As one spends time with him learning of his product and his business sense, one becomes aware that he intends to bring value to his customers and offer a product that will guarantee the service required. That obviously is an excellent policy that has guaranteed success and provided long time customers. Paul Messenger has created a solid business with an admirable sense of values, which I firmly believe should be written and published in textbook form for future entrepreneurs!!


         This is a tough one, for Rob Westerman has had several interesting and creative careers in one geezer life. We’ll start with his graduation from the US Naval Academy, then into the US Air Force from which he departed as a “Captain Select”—almost a full captain. Sometime during his military career he sought additional excitement and did an “escape and evasion” exercise during which he was dropped off from a helicopter in the back woods of Greece and with some guides worked his way to planned safety for nine long days. That was a successful exercise in evading an enemy, but that was enough practice evasion for Rob.

He spent many years on the faculty of Cal Tech and then serving as a civilian government employee (GS 13 level), created his most memorable service for the military WHICH STILL IS IN USE TODAY! He has defined his creation as Theatre Security Cooperation Management Information System—(TSCMIS). We’ll try to explain the value and use of the system even twenty years after he created it, but unless you have been assigned to the Pentagon, you’ll have trouble understanding this complex system.

The primary mission of TSCMIS is to learn about ship and military movements among all American units anywhere in the world. This information applies to military movements, not civilian or commercial units. As an example, what were the port visits of our ships to Australian seaports and what would have been their mission? What ships were entering ports in Baltic countries? What were the various US troop units doing in Poland, or Kosovo, or in Latin America? This information covers more than two hundred (200) countries—most every movement within both the free and otherwise world. Prior to Rob’s developing TSCMIS, military leaders were forced to check the daily news listings, check with individual leaders of each military service and hundreds of separate sources to learn of all these movements, but now, with this 24 hour electronic system the military leaders of every service (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard) in the Pentagon have immediate information needed to support the US military and political obligations.

Rob personally developed TSCMIS in the 1999-2000 period of time and it has become so essential to the Pentagon staff that a special logo with the words “G-TSCMIS” has been designed. Rob was decorated with military medals and citations but the work has been taken over by active duty personnel and he is long forgotten as the creator of the system. Interested persons can find several long paragraphs on the internet discussing TSCMIS, including a picture of the logo, and the usage and symbolism of this service. It is just as strong and significant today as it was when Rob put all the pieces together. This is the type of work that can be done by creative, intelligent, and forward thinking geezers that will assure us of a strong and competitive position among the global powers.


                 With this post, we’ll start closer to the present day and then reverse gears for an earlier time in the life of Roy Schmidt who now lives with his wife, Diane, in Twin Lakes, a continuing care community in North Carolina. The landscape of Twin Lakes boasts of a lovely small lake, which unfortunately, has regularly attracted a host of Canada geese whose noise and remains were regularly unpleasant. The disturbed residents employed a company named “Goose Busters” who used dogs to force the geese elsewhere. That elsewhere happened to be Elon University, only several miles to the west. Elon had no more use for the geese, so they flushed them out, only to return to Twin Lakes.

All this nonsense forced the residents to organize the “Goose Geezers” which is where Mr. Schmidt offered his leadership. The first effort was to employ a drone which Schmidt did. The drone flew over the lake, was caught in an unexpected breeze, and plunged into the waters below. The goose chasing eventually settled on radio controlled speed boats and the geese have settled elsewhere—at least during the most recent two years.

Going back to the beginning, Schmidt got his start as a young man working in his father’s plumbing and heating business on Long Island, NY. This lasted for fourteen long years and as these years moved along, he became more restless in what he still considered his late father’s business. His brother-in-law partner noted his restlessness and invited him to accompany him and spouse for a trip to the Bahamas. This opened up the first real adventure for Schmidt who immediately decided this was the place for him, and after three days on this lovely island paradise, had purchased a three bedroom house on ten acres on the waterfront. His life there lasted for eighteen years, during which he had expanded the three rooms to thirty-three and made a lovely resort. Also, just after he had purchased the three bedroom property, he had met a lovely English maiden, Moyra, and after seven days had proposed marriage–which she accepted.

This life on Harbour Island has been replayed in a well-crafted book which took the reader through all the years, then until a sad ending whence many financial misfortunes forced the sale of Romora Bay Club and his departure back to the US. Roy Schmidt seems to be extremely venturous and other opportunities came along, including the possibility of owning a restaurant in Switzerland. But that possibility died in the aborning and after some ventures in Florida flying both airplanes and gliders, his marriage ended he landed in Greensboro, NC where his next adventure was to buy a restaurant. This was doing quite well until the local health department appeared one day and forced him to close due to an epidemic of hepatitis which was tracked to his restaurant and had landed many of his customers in the local hospital. However, after this sad event, he re-opened the restaurant, eventually to sell it and retire from the resort and restaurant business.

Schmidt’s many moves had fully disrupted his Bahamian marriage and as the future approached, his emotions brought enough suffering which encouraged him to reluctantly attend a mid-life crisis seminar held at a Greensboro church. Joining him at a seminar table was a pleasant woman, Diane. Her previous marriage had also ended and over many months of friendship, he and Diane became closer until a marriage bloomed for them. There were grown children between them and a daughter of his chose to be married on Harbour Island. Schmidt was nervous, facing a return to the island he where he had a rough departure years before, but it was a memory trip for him and many of the locals welcomed him from the better part of history and greeted him with joyous warmth.

So as age makes its mark on a later life with the many memories of past struggles, Roy Schmidt can enter old age smiling with thoughts of good people, tough times, and now a settled life knowing how to rid a neighboring lake of pesky geese for the pleasure of his neighbors.   And with the geese gone, he now offers his professional talent with the playing of the harmonica to young patients at the University of North Carolina Hospital. He performs with the children, then offers each a small instrument as a remembrance. This older age talent brings a warm smile as he talks of those early impulses and adventures of a well-remembered life.

Born in small town in Ohio, high school in Lorain, Ohio, then College of Wooster, then US Army Counter Intelligence Corp. where I learned most about human relations among the friendly and otherwise. Followed by a career advising businesses and individuals as the types and costs of employee benefits and personal insurance. Now a radio interviewing host

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