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Act Two: Tooling around

By Linda Arnold

Act Two is an occasional series highlighting life changes by area residents. These life shifts could be due to choices made in retirement -- the "re-engagement" phase -- or as a result of discovering new arenas or taking action on a lifelong passion that had lain submerged. In any event, these change offer an opportunity to rewrite the script of one's life. If you know of an interesting Act Two story, feel free to email your suggestion to larnold@arnoldagency.com.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After 29 years at the West Virginia Public Service Commission, Dannie Walker wasn't looking for a new career. He had no idea he would wind up doing what he's doing now -- and loving it.

A transplant to West Virginia, the proud Nebraska Cornhusker made his move to the Mountain State after college and service in the Army. As an electrical engineer, he found a home at the telecommunications section of the PSC after serving in a similar role in his native state. He eventually became the manager of that group.

Life was good for Walker and his wife, Barbie Dallmann. They raised a son, Britain, and both enjoyed building their careers. So, when retirement came along, he just chalked up "gainful unemployment" as the next phase in his life.

Until that tug came along.

Call it a classic midlife crisis if you want, although it was a passion that had possessed Walker for a long time. He didn't think it was going to happen. And then, on July 1, 2012, his dream came true.

"I had pretty much given up on that dream," he said. And then the vision appeared -- a 1986 "Husker Red" Corvette with a white convertible top. "It's the first year they went back to the ragtops," Walker explained. "A local guy was selling it."

Much to his wife's chagrin at first, the rest is history. "There are two groups of Corvette enthusiasts," he says. "One group likes to restore and show them, and the other group likes to restore and drive them. Count me in the group that likes to cruise."

It didn't take long, though, for Walker to learn how expensive his new hobby was going to be. "I decided to find some part-time work to support my passion," he said.

Fast-forward to Aug. 22. He applied for a part-time job at Home Depot and was hired. "I didn't know that much about Home Depot," Walker said. "I was just looking for some involvement and a little extra money."

What happened next was totally unpredictable.

Hands-on results

"The immediate satisfaction I get from helping someone solve a problem is so gratifying," he reports. "At the PSC, I would conduct inspections and tests, analyze data, write reports and participate in hearings. I worked a lot with accountants and attorneys. While that's all very important work, there were lots of times I never really learned the outcome of my involvement. And, now, I get hands-on results -- right away!"

Walker finds the camaraderie, team spirit and corporate culture at Home Depot extremely fulfilling.

"I love being 'Dan the Tool Man,'" he says. "I even go home after work and research do-it-yourself projects and various tools so I can give better advice to our customers. It also keeps me on my toes learning about all kinds of different ways to provide solutions."

He was retired for several years before getting involved in this new direction. At one point, his wife, Barbie, asked if he was bored. "I answered no," he says, "because I thought being bored meant not having enough to do. That was never a problem. But maybe I wasn't excited about what I was doing.

"Now I get a real sense of accomplishment every day. If I sold the Corvette tomorrow, I'd still want to work there. Home Depot's philosophy is that the customer comes first. And they mean it.

"The store manager, Steve, is an amazing guy who makes working there a very pleasant experience. He started working for Home Depot in his late 20s or early 30s as a lot attendant -- pulling carts in from the parking area. Now he's a store manager. And, since it's a national franchise, there are opportunities to transfer almost anywhere in the country.

"In fact, I even chipped in to help out on my most recent vacation. We were in Vancouver on a Friendship Force Exchange, and I wanted to visit a Home Depot there. I happened to be wearing an orange Home Depot T-shirt and was approached by three customers. Instead of saying, 'I don't work here,' I was able to help the customers since the store layouts are all the same.

"I admit I had a few doubts about jumping into the Home Depot job at first. I was wondering what I'd gotten myself into -- and if I was up to the task. Things were so different from how they had been in my career. We all help each other, though, and that made the learning curve much more manageable. There's such a sense of community at our store."

No wonder his new corporate culture has made such a positive impression. "Built From Scratch: How a Couple of Regular Guys Grew The Home Depot From Nothing to $30 Billion," a book authored by store founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, recounts entrepreneurial successes over the past 20 years. Dan the Tool Man, enthusiastically supports the founders' vision and toils mightily to do right by it.

Working it out

When he first got to Home Depot, Walker thought he knew a lot about hardware and tools. He considers himself a "do-it-yourself" kind of guy. Then he realized he had a lot to learn -- and that he wanted to learn it. "There are different P.K. levels and certifications we can earn -- that stands for Product Knowledge. And I get so interested I'll make notes to myself to research something on my time off."

Solving a customer's problems has definitely given him a sense of accomplishment. "I see results immediately," he says. "It's such a different culture than I was used to in government service. I felt like I was making an important contribution there, but too often I never knew if I was making that big a difference or not."

His part-time hardware gig eventually expanded from a 20-hour week to a 40-hour week. And, while he likes the work, he decided to back it down to the original time frame in order to better enjoy this re-engagement phase of his life.

With regard to family activities, sometimes it's a challenge working nights and weekends. That too is a big change from his former profession. His wife has been very supportive, though, and they've been able to work out the problems with their differing schedules.

Walker's overall experience with retirement parallels that of others who say they don't have enough time to do the things they need to do.

"I've often pondered the mystery of how I ever got anything done back when I had a full-time job," he explains. "One of the best things about retirement is the very large reduction in deadlines. I've hated deadlines all my life, even though without them I am fairly nonproductive."

In the early days of his retirement, Walker and his wife had to make a lot of adjustments with both of them being at home most of the time. She has two home-based businesses -- Barefoot Coaching and Happy Fingers Typing Service.

"Prior to my retirement, I was home mainly during times when her home-based businesses were closed. I had to learn -- even though I was at my domicile -- to dress and act as if I was in an office environment (no mean feat for this old cowboy!). And I had to learn to respect the space Barbie needs to deal with her customers and get her work done.

"This second act of my life is definitely different from the first act," he explains. "I run into guys all the time, though, that say they'd like to do something like this when they retire. One of them is a doctor who thinks it would be really cool to work in a hardware store."

An ironic thing happened recently when the local Corvette club emailed him about going on an impromptu Sunday Corvette cruise. He had to decline because he had to work that afternoon -- doing what he started doing to support his Corvette habit in the first place!

Across the country, retirees like Dannie are desiring more out of the second half of their lives, so they're investing their energies around those goals. "People want to be engaged," says Richard Leider, co-author of "Something to Live For: Finding Your Way in the Second Half of Life."

Feeling energized about this phase of his life, Walker says he looks forward to going to work. "I really like the work ethic at our store. I love my co-workers and the customers."

Linda Arnold is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and newspaper columnist. Reader comments may be directed to larnold@arnoldagency.com.


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