Using the Golden Age to Pursue Life Long Dreams

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Baby boomers are living longer, healthier, and more active lives than any demographic ever. At communities like Mountain Air, a private aerie perched a mile above sea level in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, many residents are using this Golden Age to pursue long-held dreams.

When Lowell Eckert sold his business in 1994 and retired at the age of 50, he was well aware of the need to pursue new interests. “You can’t just sit around the house and you can only play so much golf,” Eckert said. “I knew I would have to find another hobby of some type.”

Eckert was not alone: According to the Census Bureau, the number of people ages 65 and older in the United States will more than double by 2050, rising from 39 million today to 89 million. Eckert simply stood at the forefront of an unprecedented social and cultural movement among his generation’s demographic. In the years since, Baby Boomers have retired en masse and in an entirely different way from previous generations, uncovering a mid-life need to reinvent themselves while setting the standard for generations to come.

“Our moms and dads were quite delighted to find themselves reaching their 65th birthday, but now we look around and see 80-year-old athletes and 70-year-old college students,” says Ken Dychtwald, president of the consulting firm Age Wave and author of With Purpose: Going From Success to Significance in Work and Life. “People are waking up to the idea that living a long life has become commonplace.”

After Eckert and his wife, Celia, purchased a second home in the North Carolina community Mountain Air in 2000, he began developing new interests, first in making furniture and later simply “turning wood” on a lathe into popular, artsy household items such as bowls, scoops, and ornaments. “All women want those things,” Eckert said.

He and a few of his Mountain Air friends have attended a school called Arrowmont in nearby Gatlinburg, Tenn., “one of the best in the country” said Eckert, who recently won a crafts show in Florida. Eckert uses only local wood and does not sell any of his products, instead donating them to worthy charities.

Louis Armstrong once said: “Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.” Similarly another Mountain Air member, Bob Peterson, a former gynecologist from nearby Hickory, N.C. jumped feet first into a longtime passion — photography — after back problems limited his medical practice and caused him to stop playing competitive golf.

Like Eckert, Peterson has attended local photographic tours and talks — as well as Asheville Camera Club, which is affiliated with Carolina Nature Photography Association and offers regular meetings with education and instruction available — and Peterson speaks of his craft with educated expertise.

In addition, Peterson has turned his hobby into a steady business. Although he says, “Thankfully, I don’t have to make a living at it,” he has sold hundreds of photographs across the country and his work has appeared in magazines and calendars, as well as public places. His new “hobby” has taken Peterson and his wife, Kandi, on lengthy expeditions to places like Africa and Alaska’s Denali National Park.

Nevertheless, Peterson’s favorite “subject” has always been his home away from home at Mountain Air — developed two decades ago nearly a mile high atop Slickrock Mountain at some of the highest elevations in the Tar Heel State’s picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains just 30 minutes northeast of Asheville, NC. Peterson joined Mountain Air in 1993 and estimates half of the community’s residents have his photo of a local bear framed on a wall in their homes.

“Mountain Air is surrounded by such incredible topography. Being on top of a mountain — with the foliage, and sunrises and sunsets — I simply can not get enough of the beauty of this place and the people,” said Peterson “Things like church and exercise are important, of course, but photography and gardening are my two biggest hobbies. It has been very rewarding.”

Peterson’s Mountain Air neighbor, Ray Caron, also enjoys photographing the beauty of the area, but he then takes his images and turns them into pen-and-ink drawings using a dotting, pointilism technique known as “stippling” — a craft Caron began pursuing following his 2000 retirement after 30 years with health insurance giant CIGNA. He turns his drawings into things such as note cards and Caron enjoys drawing his friend’s children and grandchildren as gifts to his friends.

Unlike some retirees, though, Caron said he still manages plenty of time to play golf, enjoying regular rounds on Mountain Air’s dynamic layout that plunges an astounding 900 feet in just 11 holes — the highest golf course east of the Mississippi River. (Learn more at

“My drawings come and go and I sometimes need inspiration,” said Caron, who has attended several watercolor classes at “Cheap Joe’s,” a famous artist and art supply house in Boone, NC. “I am retired and I am definitely not on the clock. But I still enjoy spending as much time as possible trying to get my golf game in order!”

About Mountain Air
Mountain Air is a mountaintop community and country club located a half-hour northeast of Asheville, NC. Winner of numerous national and international awards including the prestigious “Gold Award for Best Community in America,” this multi-generational community boasts one of the nation’s most dramatic golf courses overlooking spectacular scenery in every direction. Members also enjoy a mountaintop airstrip runway, full-service amenities, a family friendly atmosphere and miles of nature trails through its own Old Growth Forest Preserve.

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Vanessa Wilson
Mountain Air Country Club
+1 (828) 682-5600 Ext: 64
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Friends of Mountain Air, NC, Community
since: 09/2013
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