#4. Traversing the 50s: Friendship & Fortitude
Some say that friendship is the most precious gift in life – for Christine Trapaga and Regina Jakacki, that precious gift was all they needed when embarking on a new journey to becoming small business owners.
Christine obtained a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology and Regina majored in Economics at Rutgers University. Somehow, they both ended up on the same path. Right out of college, they began waitressing and bartending where they quickly moved to higher management positions at separate companies.
The pair first met at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 1996, where Christine was working as the director of catering and Regina was the restaurant general manager. Even though they had run into each other briefly when they lived in New York City about eight years earlier, working at the Art Museum brought them together. Even when they transitioned to different food service management jobs after working at the Art Museum, they remained good friends.
Coming from a world of restaurants, catering and corporate rules – Christine and Regina were ready for a monumental change.
“We were both feeling like this corporate world didn’t value women in management positions,” Christine expressed.
While in North Carolina, Christine went to a paint and sip studio for her step-daughter Courteney’s birthday and fell in love. She had a wonderful time, as did everyone in the painting class. She came to Regina with the idea that would get them out of the food management business – opening their own studio.
“It’s funny because I would tell myself that when I got older I would retire and paint. I was done with my food management job and I was ready to be inspired,” she said.
Now, fast forward a few months, Christine invited a group of her friends to a Painting with A Twist to celebrate her birthday. She planned on having fun but also went to get a feel for the business. Regina had just been downsized at work so she was not feeling like her typical joyous self.
“I only went because it was her birthday but something happened while I was there – all of my stress left me. In the parking lot after the class, I turned to Christine and told her we were doing this,” said Regina.
There are several reasons the new business partners decided on Painting with A Twist as their new endeavor. The franchise offers beautiful artwork and the concept brings joy to everyone who comes to a studio. But, Christine accredits the company owners for truly sealing the deal. After meeting with them, she knew it was the perfect next step.
It was also attractive to them both as they felt it was a big female business – something neither of them had with their previous jobs.
In 2013, only three months after receiving the key to the property that would complete their dream, the pair opened their first location in Jenkintown, P.A. A 58 and a 54-year-old had now found themselves as small business owners, and they were excited.
Opening the studio was a vast change for both women. They had worked their way to management positions and gave that up to work nights and weekends once again. Sounds crazy, right? – not for Christine and Regina.
“My favorite part of this is being in the studio and watching how happy people become through finding their artistic side,” said Regina.
While Regina had just been downsized and going through a family crisis, she found herself coming to the studio to escape everything. She jokingly refers to it as her happy place – but it truly is.
Becoming small business owners has been so fulfilling that they recently opened another studio in Northeast Philadelphia, P.A. this past April. A key to their success is their partnership. They provide stability, encouragement and inspiration for one another. They both agree that this journey would not be nearly as fun if they were doing it alone.
“With Regina, there’s no one I rather do it with. Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other,” said Christine.
Christine and Regina have also inspired several other people to become part of the Painting with A Twist family – something of which they are both extremely proud of.
With their changing careers, Christine and Regina certainly had to adjust. They now stopped worrying about food costs and began to focus on bringing in the best artists for their studios. The networking and camaraderie that comes from this business, along with being their own bosses, has made this journey worth it for the both of them.
“The most rewarding part is being able to control your destiny,” explained Regina.
Even though their past experiences with hospitality and management have certainly helped them with this life change, Christine and Regina took a huge risk that ultimately led to a happier life for both of them. They were in their 50s with established careers in the food business, but that didn’t matter when it came to rewriting their story. They had a new dream, and each other, and that was enough.
#3. 57 and A Trombonist
Some of the deepest passions emerge at a young age. For Yvonne Wieting, that magical age was five – when she received her first record player. This quickly sparked her love for music, a passion she also shares with her father. This led her onto a musical path that ultimately transformed her life.
Yvonne then took up the clarinet for a short time, until she transitioned to the trombone in middle school. This is where she joined the school’s band – and everything else is history.
The Waldwick High School’s marching band, her alma mater, became competitive in the mid 70s and was awarded best band in New Jersey in their class. Because of this achievement, they were then invited to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“I’ve always loved this parade and my father took me several times when I was a young girl – so I was excited,” she said.
However, due to a rival football game that was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, the district’s Superintendent didn’t allow the marching band to go to the Big Apple that year; disappointing almost everyone.
Many years later – after moving to Florida– one of Yvonne’s coworkers brought to her attention a newspaper ad for a marching band called the Second Time Arounders. They were looking for new members to join them on their journey to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“I turned to my coworker and said ‘what are you crazy?’… I hadn’t picked up an instrument in 30 years,” said Yvonne. But she could not miss out on the chance to march in the parade – especially after she came so close in high school. Her passion for music never diminished, even after all those years.
The Second Time Arounders, the largest permanent adult marching band in the world, is located in St. Petersburg, Florida and only have two conditions to become a member (besides being a good player): that you are at least the age of 18 and that you have participated in a marching band at one time in your life.
Their mantra reads – “Dedicated to those who have marched in a high school, college or military band… and dreamed of doing it one more time.”
When Yvonne went to the first practice that fall, she was in a huge room full of over 300 talented musicians, and she was intimidated.
“I decided I wouldn’t be the low-hanging fruit in this band,” Yvonne explained. So, she took private lessons and began practicing every night – through hard work and an undying passion she became a trombone player once again.
That coming year, 510 band members marched down Broadway during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Yvonne quoted it as being “the best day” of her life.
“Joining has changed my entire life,” said Yvonne, “the camaraderie is absolutely amazing and I strongly believe that who you’re with has a lot to do with how happy you are.”
The trombone player’s life has since been engulfed in music once again – as she has joined a local community band and taken up the ukulele. Yvonne, along with the Second Time Arounders, have marched in several big events such as the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., the Conch Republic Parade in Key West, Florida and the Torch Light Parade in Seattle, Washington.
Marching along a parade route can be tolling, but she has always been very active with riding her bike or rollerblading – so she hasn’t done much conditioning.
“Always do something you love and have a passion for, no matter what age, and everything will fall into place,” she said while reminiscing about her musical past.
Now Yvonne has found herself as 57 and a trombone player. It has brought her much happiness for the past nine years – along with her full-time CFO job. And the most exciting part of her story? The Second Time Arounders have applied to march again in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the year 2019, when Yvonne will be 59.
#2. 59 and a Lifeguard
In the Grimm’s fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel’s trail of breadcrumbs almost leads to their demise. For Rosa Bullis, following a trail of breadcrumbs has been full of emotional and physical obstacles, but ultimately led her on a path to salvation and true happiness.
When she was 52, Rosa was diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN), often referred to as the “suicide disease.” It affects the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensation from the face to the brain, and is considered to be the worst pain known to man. Rosa associated the feeling with “lightning bolts” in her face. After attempts with medication, she went on to have three surgeries – all provided temporary relief. It is sometimes through our most painful circumstances that we learn the most. It was during her last and most extreme episode that taught her how loved she is by so many.
At the age of 56, after her youngest went off to college, Rosa found the courage to leave her unhealthy marriage of 22 years. She felt empty, unloved and lost. She spent most of her life making others happy – now it was time for her to be happy. With the love and support of her children, her journey began. Rosa shares, “This was not an easy journey. There were very dark times and some days and nights of crying especially in the beginning. It has been my children’s love and support that helped me through the toughest times.”
Rosa acclaims that after leaving her husband, everything she needed fell right into her path. “I believe the universe was guiding me with breadcrumbs knowing that it would be impossible for me to comprehend or manage the whole loaf of bread,” Rosa explained.
Even though Rosa had been interested in yoga for years, her journey to becoming a teacher was not an easy one. With her struggles with TN, she had to delay her training. It became a challenging and extended process – as she battled with the symptoms and figuring out the best treatment methods. But it was worth it. Going through this training opened up something inside of Rosa and gave her the inspiration to explore more healing practices.
Soon after her yoga teacher training, she was lead to another “breadcrumb” and then another and then another. Some of those “breadcrumbs” include becoming a Journey Dance™ Guide, Reiki Practitioner, Sacred Sound Practitioner, and an Energy Medicine Practitioner. She traveled to Mexico with her two dogs to teach yoga and practice Sound Healing for six months. Through all of these practices, Rosa helps others deal with difficult times and memories, especially through sound and energy healing. A major part of Journey Dancing™, a transformational movement based class, includes ritualistic dancing which helps release the trapped negative energy in the body as well as express and honor the love for one’s body and self. With helping others, she has helped herself become who she’s meant to be.
In addition to her spiritual journey, Rosa found herself at a nine to five job for the first time in a while, due to a “breadcrumb” dropped by her son. He came to her and explained that they were looking for more lifeguards at the beach where he worked, and since she had done it in college he thought she was the perfect fit. “I was thrilled that my 21-year-old wanted me to work with him.” she commented.
So, with her son in mind, she gave it a shot. It was a vigorous and difficult training, especially since it had been over 40 years since Rosa swam regularly and that was in pools not the ocean. Rosa was recovering from pneumonia that spring and was uncertain that she could be ready in time for the test. She began training with distance swims in the ocean and doing morning drills with the guards every day to build up her speed and stamina. With earnest studying, she passed the written test. However, the physical surf exam was much more challenging, as she failed it twice. As the current dragged her back, she pushed forward with the support of the other much younger lifeguards who amusingly refer to her as “Mama Rosa,” and passed on her third try. Training in the ocean taught Rosa a lot… every day the ocean is different. Some days the current carries you with ease while other days one must battle the current and rough waves to get to the destination.
She was now 59 and a lifeguard – on a beach where the next youngest staff member was 30-years-old. It was the toughest and lowest paying job Rosa ever had but for her it wasn’t about the money, it was about the experience. She says that her son’s confidence in her gave her the best gift ever. “When I passed the test, I felt like I could do anything,” she said.
Rosa reflects that the path to true happiness is never as clear as it seems and is full of bumps, wrong turns and may be longer than expected. “By choosing to pick up each ‘breadcrumb’ rather than walk over or around, I have learned and experienced a life that I would never have dreamed possible,” she said.
#1. 59 and a freshman
At the age of 58, it appeared that Nancy Volpe Beringer was living a dream life. She had recently married, received a much sought-after promotion, and enjoyed a healthy and financially secure life. She had reached the pinnacle of her accomplishments - and it became quite the success story on the surface, especially for someone who once worked four to five jobs as a single parent. Below the surface, however, Nancy was afraid to dream. The hidden side of her story included too many unhealthy and failed relationships, both personal and business related, which lead to being a victim of bullying on multiple occasions throughout her adulthood. She would put on a happy face, but suffered in silence and embarrassment.
One frightening and courageous decision changed Nancy’s life for the better. “I felt like my oxygen was being siphoned off at my new job, and I was once again allowing myself to be bullied. That is when I knew I had to change my unhealthy cycle,” she said. Walking away from her hard-fought job security was certainly not an easy one, but it was a necessary one.
One sleepless night at three in the morning, after being inspired by her sons’ successes, Nancy asked herself a tough question: “What would I want to learn if I were young again?” Her answer came almost immediately - fashion design. It was one thing to fantasize about it, but did she dare to dream it? Did she dare to try and make this dream a reality? “My sons' and husband’s encouragement gave me the strength to do just that,” Nancy acknowledged. They were her biggest supporters throughout this journey.
It was undoubtedly her trips to Florida with her husband and meeting her friend and consignment shop owner, Elizabeth, who mentored and encouraged her that sealed the deal. “I always liked to look and fantasize about high fashion in magazines, but could never afford it until I started thrift shopping in Florida and got to see first-hand the intricacies of well-made garments. That was where I really learned to appreciate the construction and fabrication of garments. This was vital in wanting to study it.” When considering the program, it also didn’t hurt that she had learned to sew at 12 while at summer camp. “I sewed through patterns and sometimes deviated from them but that was the extent of my design experience."
When the ambitious 58-year-old first started researching fashion design programs, she immediately looked to New York. She was thrilled when she stumbled upon a one-year program at one of New York’s top fashion schools. When she brought this news to her husband, his response was, “I thought you were doing this for the love of learning; so why would you want to rush that learning?” And he was right, so Nancy expanded her research and discovered that one of the country’s top fashion design schools was right in her own backyard. Not only was Philadelphia’s Drexel University’s Fashion Design Program internationally acclaimed, it was the only program that offered Nancy a chance to pursue her dream of studying fashion design while also earning a Master’s of Science with its three-year program.
Before she knew it, she was 59 and a freshman. “I loved it. I felt like I found my home, and most times forgot that I might look a bit different than my much younger classmates,” Nancy stated. She even came to see the humor in frequently being mistaken for the teacher.
Even though she was having the time of her life, it was difficult on many levels. An 80-hour school week was typical; many times it surpassed 100 hours a week. She admits her age did play a factor and it took a physical and mental toll on her. Midway through her program, she had to deal with the onset of painful arthritis, but did not let that stop her. She looked at it as just another obstacle to overcome.
One of Nancy’s proudest accomplishments were when, for the first time, she had the courage to stand up to one of her fellow classmates that was being a bully. It seemed her unhealthy cycle was finally changing. Since that moment, she has steadfastly worn a “no hate” bracelet as a daily reminder to live her life with passion but more importantly, with kindness and compassion.
Through standing up for herself, Nancy was able to overcome the embarrassment and self doubt inflicted when bullied. Fortunately, she found camaraderie with many of her classmates who not only became her creative collaborators, but also her lifeline for staying strong and positive. It was during this time that Nancy realized she had an opportunity to be a positive role model for how people, especially women, could support each other in the workplace. She also quickly learned that she had a great opportunity to learn from her younger classmates.
“I attended more twenty-first birthday party celebrations in those three years than at any point in my life. I found myself turning 60 alongside the people turning 21, and I realized that my age was my strength.”
She recognized that she had a secret weapon: experience. “I was able to appreciate the process of getting to the runway senior year and, more importantly, enjoying it.” She went on, “In today’s world, we are being accustomed to instant gratification, information and results. Everything is so immediate, like it is right there. My professional background easily translated into an understanding that design is a process; it doesn’t happen the first time or the second. “
Nancy is the first to admit that she did not conquer all. She humorously explains that she will never master the art of illustrating. But she did discover other strengths– her love of exploring and manipulating fabric to create new textiles. “I loved my Materials Exploration class. We always had to explore different and new materials to create unique textiles, and I would just let my mind go wild. I would take stuff; I would burn it; I would microwave it; I would put it on a grill and even set matches to it. I loved seeing what would happen and where it went. It was pure oxygen for me.”
She has enhanced her fabric manipulation skills through independent study and master classes, which paid off during her senior year. She created revolutionary new textiles and in many ways reflected her journey. She named her senior collection “The Titanium Collection” after the song “Titanium” by David Guetta. “It just resonated with me. Every time I got knocked down, I got back up and moved forward. I felt bulletproof.” Nancy’s hard work paid off. She won a record setting seven awards at the Drexel Fashion Show including five awards for her Titanium eveningwear collection. But best of all, she won the respect of her peers, teachers, and industry professionals.
The newly graduated designer’s success continued past graduation when Philadelphia’s premier fashion store, Joan Shepp, featured her eveningwear collection in its iconic holiday window. In addition to her custom design work, she is Joan Shepp’s freelance in-house designer, who also carries her one-of-a-kind designs. Her passion for collaboration includes artistic partnerships with former professors, workshop presentations, and inspiring others as a keynote speaker.
Her goal to do something relevant in fashion has never been overlooked, and has led to some of her most rewarding work in teaching refugee women sewing, textile and business skills for the Philadelphia’s Refugee Women’s Textile Cooperative.
There appears to be no stopping Nancy from making more of her dreams come true. She continues to battle her painful arthritis and restricted mobility. Instead of looking at it negatively, she readily admits how lucky she is to have health insurance to cover her twice-weekly physical therapy. She also credits the support and encouragement of her family and friends.
Nancy’s thirst for learning continues as she is currently taking an on-line draping class out of Paris; has signed up for two innovative pattern making summer classes in London; and will be taking two couture sewing classes in Baltimore in the fall.
And so, the dreams continue. As the Founder-in-Chief of “Age Fifty Nine,” Nancy Volpe Beringer hopes to share stories to inspire others to never give up hope; to encourage the perseverance through all obstacles; and above all, to remind everyone to never hesitate to dare to dream.