Ken Fellman always knew he wanted to retire early. Watching his father pass away at 62 from cancer deeply affected him. “I don’t know how many years God has for me here,” Ken said.
So, after nearly 40 years in banking, he left his position as Senior Vice President of Consumer Banking, turned in his retirement papers and began “The Summer of Ken,” he said with a broad smile.
He considers it a “redeployment rather than a retirement” because he knows there is more for him to do. But for now, he’s spending time with his family, pursuing his hobbies (hiking, biking, and camping) and learning Spanish.
Ken has a deep commitment to learning Spanish and spends 2-3 hours a day practicing. He even has a tutor 3 times a week. He isn’t sure what is driving his passion to learn Spanish, but it began when he was traveling. “My whole family speaks Spanish and I got tried of being the one saying ‘ask them this’ when traveling,” Ken said. “I didn’t want to be that guy any more.” So he began lessons.
His sons learned it in middle school and his wife Kathy began learning at that time to both help the boys, but also to cross it off her Bucket List. She enjoyed it so much that she earned a Bachelors Degree in Spanish. Ken and Kathy even did a trip to Guatemala for a 5 day immersion program a few years ago. After he retired, they returned for a three- week immersion program
“Guatemala is a great place to learn Spanish,” Ken said. “They speak more slowly down there and the people are phenomenal.” Their program was in Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in Guatemala located nearly 5 hour bus ride from Guatemalea City. where there are very few Gringos (English-speaking Anglo-American). “You’re forced to speak Spanish all the time,” Ken said.
He and Kathy were drawn to Guatemala and its people ever since their first visit there. Ken knows that his future involves a life of service, maybe in Guatemala. “I felt as though I served people in my role at the bank, but now it will be something different.” Ken said. “Something about mission service.”
For now, Ken is enjoying every day. As an avid outdoorsmen he is cycling on his retirement present. Ken, not one to spend money on himself, he made an exception and splurged on a new road bike — a custom-built Salsa Warroad, complete with a Shimano D12 groupset and carbon wheels (Whiskey No. 9 30d).
He is also going backpacking both by himself as well as with his sons. He is also putting all his outdoor knowledge to work with others with his blog fourbrothersgear.com. He named this site after his four sons who also share his love of adventure. On his blog, Ken gives detailed descriptions of hikes and camping trips he has taken and gives insider tips for people who may be interested in taking these trips as well.
Ken also does in depth reviews of hiking and camping gear. He creates YouTube videos where he gives descriptions and demonstrations of various types of gear. (Writers note: These are awesome. I don’t even like hiking and camping, but thoroughly enjoyed the videos.)
Next on his list is taking a trip to Spain to walk The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James with Kathy. This is an ancient pilgrimage trail in Europe made up of a vast network of roads and paths, leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
How Did He Get Here?
When Ken announced that he was retiring, many colleagues lamented that they were not in a position to retire before age 65. As a banker, Ken understood the financial constraints many people are under.
However, Ken and his wife Kathy had been preparing for retirement for “many, many, many, many years.” Ken worked in banking while Kathy worked raising their four sons. Ken is careful to say that Kathy didn’t work outside the home because he knew how hard she worked raising their sons.
“The choices we make in life about our finances and spending habits influence the ability to do what I’m doing, retiring at 60,” Ken said.
They worked together putting money into Ken’s 401K and their savings. They also made sure not to live beyond their means. Even though they had four boys with only 3 and a half years separating them, the boys did not have their own car. Part of it was financial, the other part was “car conversations”. Those times when your kids will talk about what’s going on in their lives.
“When you have young men, to have them talk, you have to have food, an activity or have them in the car,” Ken said. Kathy learned a lot about her boys during these times in the car. “It served our family well,” Ken said.
Ken and Kathy also put all four sons through College. They planned early with 529 plans for each of them and a promise to put them through the University of Wisconsin- Madison (their home state).
“You can spend $60,000 at Purdue or $25,000 a year at the University of Wisconsin on an engineering degree. The outcome is the same,” Ken said. If his sons had wanted a different option, they could pay the difference.
“We have been pretty intentional about how we spent our money,” Ken said. They also made sure that before they retired they did not have any debt. No car or house payments.
Health Care Costs
Health care is definitely a concern for Ken and Kathy. They did not have health care benefits through his job and are currently in the insurance open market. He is on COBRA.
The cost of insurance is very expensive, but it was another item that Ken and Kathy made sure to take into account before he left his job.
Three of his sons are on his insurance; however, they are cost sharing. His sons are paying their portion of the insurance and so far the arrangement is working out. Still Ken knows this will be a significant expense until he and Kathy reach 65.
The Future Looks Bright
At this point, Ken is not sure what the future holds. He knows that in some way it will involve service and will leverage his love of Spanish language.
For now he is enjoying his time with family and friends, although he and Kathy are not spending that much more time together. “You know what they say ‘For better or for worse, but not for lunch,” Ken said. His wife is very busy with her life so after they share a coffee in the morning, they often don’t see each other again until dinner time.
And Ken is the one doing the cooking! At least some of the time. “I’m a passionate cook. I love cooking.” Ken said. His specialties include making smoked meat, homemade pizza and sourdough bread.
Ken’s life is also full of kids in transition, “One is moving to Ann Arbor. I’m helping another one buy a car. Another is applying to Med School,” Ken said. He is enjoying having the time to help them.
After the summer, he is also entertaining many ideas. He may apply for a job at REI just for “grins and giggles.” As an avid customer, he knows so much about many of the products at REI. They even have opportunities to guide trips which Ken said he would enjoy doing.
“I’m so excited about my life. I don’t know where it’s going, but I know it’s going to be good,” Ken said. “I feel there is something more in my life that I’m meant to use the skills I’ve been blessed with to serve others.”
His Advice Moving Forward
“I tell my boys, “I retired March 4th and on March 5th I began dispensing advice to solve all the world’s problems,” Ken said with a laugh.
But really, he said he has the same advice he had heard from so many others, “You have to retire to something.”
“You have to understand what motivates you. That will help you determine where and how you want to invest your time,” Ken said.
“Dream big. People can do this, but you have to have some foresight.”
If you want more information about Ken’s travels, go to Fourbrothersgear.com.
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