Our society uses 65 as the generally accepted age for retirement, an age established long ago that doesn't actually reflect the fact that so many Americans work beyond this point, particularly in today's economic environment. But, what about the people who retire before that age? What would you do with the remainder of your life?
John Venzon, 48, of Davidson who retired at the age of 45, is the product of a plan he put into motion when he was just 26 years old. He and his wife of 25 years, Laurie (now also retired), met in college and established early retirement as a goal that they would devote their careers toward achieving. Having met that goal, Venzon wants to spend his life helping others.
Venzon's road to success began in the kitchen as a teenager who was fascinated with the mechanics of business. His father, a physician, worked with Venzon to teach him how to keep books, incorporate businesses and develop business plans - all which took place at the family's kitchen table while Venzon's 14- and 15-year-old peers engaged in more traditional teenage activities.
"I've been drawn to business since the earliest that I can remember, but it isn't just one part of business - it's all of it," said Venzon.
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A self-described "change agent," Venzon's business career reflects the fascination of business in crisis or growth modes but hardly ever what he refers to as the "steady state." His resume is peppered with business ownership, sales, stints in the executive branches of IBM and Bank of America, and his penchant for all aspects of business is clearly what put him on the fast track in his career.
Still working as a consultant on occasional projects for businesses across the globe, Venzon is a respected and sought after individual for his business savvy and deft decision-making and implementation skills. However, it's his quiet presence as a community supporter that has local residents abuzz.
Venzon was recently asked to lend his business acumen to look at the state of a community-based day care and see what options existed, including the possibility of shutting the doors. The Davidson-Cornelius Day Care got its start in the community about 40 years ago when community leaders and pastors saw the need to provide day care for the minority workers who served such a vital role in many industries in Davidson. Over the next 20 to 30 years, however, the day care took a prominent role in integrating the community as whites and black of varying economic statuses sought to send their children here.
But, with plenty of competition for private-pay dollars from families in the Lake Norman area and still operating on a sliding-scale tuition structure, the business model of the Davidson-Cornelius Day Care was putting its future in jeopardy.
Venzon saw a tough, if not improbable, road ahead for the day care, but after listening to the pleas of passionate supporters, he developed an emergency plan to keep the doors open, at least for a little while.
"The first thing we needed was to find a way to come up with three months of capital to keep the operation running. We put into place an emergency funding plan to raise over $60,000 within about two weeks," said Venzon.
To his amazement, and to that of the people who had fought hard to support the day care, the fund development campaign brought in twice the initial goal, securing over $120,000 for the day care. About 60 percent of the funds came from individual donors in the community, with the remaining being picked up by organizations, particularly churches, who were invited to sponsor all, or a portion of, a teacher's salary for the year.
"We're certainly celebrating the success of the fundraising, but we know we have a lot left to do," said Venzon.
Soon after the campaign, Venzon began working with a task force of volunteers to create a new business model that could be sustained in the long term. Beyond providing the ideas and know-how behind the day care restructuring, he's also been a steady presence for the staff, children and families.
"I think it is important that they see that they have some support and for that reason, my presence there is important," said Venzon.
Venzon certainly didn't expect to find himself spending 60 to 80 hours per week at a day care just a few short years after retirement, but the opportunity to use his skills to make the community better and stronger is exactly what he did envision several decades ago when he charted the course to an early retirement.