In 2019, after almost 19 years working for the Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) System, Janice Seville-Schwartz was ready to retire from her job as Paraeducator working with autistic students. She knew the time was right.
Her husband. Don, had previously retired from BCPS as an elementary school teacher and was working as a school crossing guard while Janice finished out her career.
They had planned retire in 2020, but an inheritance allowed them to retire a year early.
They actually started talking about retirement in 2014. Although they considered many options, North Carolina seemed like a good fit because Don’s brother and several of their friends lived there.
A friend recommended that they look at Asheville, North Carolina. So, Janice and Don planned a trip down south to look around. Halfway through the trip Janice’s step-son called to ask how things were going. “It’s a nice place to visit, but it was too busy, I was looking for a small town,” Janice said.
He suggested they go 20 miles down the road to Hendersonville, North Carolina. Janice said, “We got to main street and I thought ‘this is where I want to be.'”
It was a smaller town, but still close to Asheville. “It was Ellicott City and Catonsville rolled into one,” Janice said. (Janice and Don had been living in Catonsville, MD which is just up the road from Ellicott City.)
I wanted shops, restaurants, things to do but in a small town atmosphere. “It was as though some course was guiding us here,” Janice said.
Of course, that was only one day, but they knew they wanted to return. A year later they returned and spent a week there participating in town activities and attending a local festival. Then they started driving around and looking at different neighborhoods.
As part of their adventures, they followed a sign that read, “Bat Cave” and decided to explore. There actually was a bat cave that was closed. Instead, they discovered a development being built in the middle of farm lands and apple orchards. It was an idyllic spot.
They weren’t quite ready to purchase, but a year later in 2016, they bought a lot and began dreaming about their new life in Hendersonville.
Each year, they kept visiting and every time they returned home Janice thought. “I wish we didn’t have to leave.”
Preparing for Retirement
In 2018, they spoke to their financial advisors. Don was ready to leave the school system. But when Janice and Don first spoke to their financial advisors. they recommended that they not retire. “They didn’t think we had enough to live off in retirement,” Janice said. “But we just didn’t listen to them. Life is too short.” Janice had learned that lesson when her sister passed away at 58.
So, Don retired in 2018 and Janice had planned to continue working for two more years. However, in 2019, Janice inherited money from relatives. That’s when she knew it was time to leave. She finished out the school year, they sold their home and the day after school let out, they moved down to North Carolina to oversee the building of their new home.
Building Their New Home
Once they were in North Carolina, work started on the house in October 2019. They lived in a 700-foot apartment during construction. They knew they could handle that small space for a short period of time, but then COVID hit.
They got an email from the builder who wasn’t sure they were going to be able to continue work on the house. It was a question of getting workers and supplies.
“That was an interesting time,” Janice said. “We were just starting to meet people and then suddenly it was just Don and myself in a 700 square foot apartment. On the good side, we started exploring the area. We had to get out of the apartment every day, it was like an adventure.”
Luckily, the work was able to continue. The workers wanted to work so building began, but there were restrictions. One restriction was that Janice and Don couldn’t be at the house while the workers were there.
So, they would go over after the workers were gone. Because this was a total build, they wanted to closely monitor the progress. “We picked out everything,” Janice said. She even found the floor plan for the house online.
Because this was their forever home, the builder made sure it ADA (American Disabilities Act) complaint. The whole house is accessible. The hallways are wide enough for a wheelchair, its all one level and the shower has no doors and is curb-less.
Life In Hendersonville
“Our kids say to us ‘Why do you do so much,” Janice said. “‘What do you want us to do, sit around doing nothing,'” she responds.
“There’s so much to do here.” Janice said they go hiking, frequent the local breweries and wineries, and take our visitors to visit places like the Biltmore and she is even working at the visitors center.
In addition, they have joined a local church down in Hendersonville and have found it was a great way to meet people and make friends. One day, Janice and Don showed up for an open meeting and everyone was wondering who they were. “They smelled young blood,” Janice chuckled.
Don is now very involved volunteering with the church. He also volunteers with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, which does a wide variety of agricultural projects including growing experimental apples. Henderson County is the Apple Capital of North Carolina. Don goes there once a week to volunteer and has even learned how to drive a tractor. Don also volunteers at a local historic site helping with school field trips. He helps the Henderson theater by building sets and running lights. “He’s gone every day,” Janice said.
Starting a New Job
Janice started volunteering at the local visitors center in 2020. The Center closed down from March to August due to COVID, but then she returned to work under strict COVID protocols.
Janice said working there has been a real learning experience. “There were a lot of things I didn’t know,” said Janice, “like how to give directions.” But slowly she began to learn and started working more hours. In October 2021, the director asked her if she would be willing to work part-time. Janice agreed, but only if she could continue attending her monthly Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) meetings and have flexibility to take off to travel. They agreed.
Now, Janice and Don use the extra money to go out to dinner and it even helped pay for a Girls Trip to Puerto Rico.
The hardest part is being away from family and friends. Ironically, many people from their home town of Catonsville are moving to Hendersonville. A total of seven so far.
The best part of retirement according to Janice is the freedom. “I feel relaxed and I feel empowered. I don’t care what people think of me,” Janice said. She finds herself being more assertive in her new life. “I do things for myself.”
Another benefit is Janice said she and Don have never been closer. Although, there is someone else who is competing for her attention these days.
They have adopted Toby, a mini Bernedoodle puppy. Janice said they bought their dog from an ethical breeder who requires documentation that they will have him neutered and that they will never put him in a shelter. She felt good about adopting him because the money the breeder makes goes to a charity for enslaved children.
Finances and Health Care
One of the reasons they have had such a good retirement was planning. Both Janice and Don receive a pension through Baltimore County. In addition, now that Don is 65, he is taking is social security and is covered by Medicare.
She used the money she inherited from her mother to pay down debt and the money she inherited from her uncle helped pay for the house. “I really think you need to be debt free to retire,” Janice said.
Janice is still covered through Don’s Baltimore County health insurance. Good health insurance was particularly important to Janice because in 2015 she was diagnosed with MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance), a non-cancerous condition where the body makes an abnormal protein, called a paraprotein. It can be a pre-cursor to blood cancer and Janice is being monitored by a hematologist. The healthcare here is really wonderful here,” Janice said. There are two hospitals right near by.
Janice and Don had been planning for their retirement since 2014. “Make a plan, but be flexible. Things can change.”
She also recommends getting a clear idea of where you want to live. Janice knew exactly what she wanted in the place they were going to retire to, even if at first she didn’t know exactly where that place was. “Decide what environment you want to live in,” Janice said. “Some people I have spoken to who have retired to the beach are now ready to leave,”
“Life is an adventure. Keep busy,” Janice said. Words Janice and Don seem to live by.
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