The Cape Gazette Featured Associate Broker Kathy Sperl-Bell in the 55+ Special Edition
The following is an article from the Cape Gazette’s 55+ Special Edition including our very own Kathy Sperl-Bell talking about how she came to start Active Adults Realty and other local Delaware entrepreneurs & volunteers.
The Next Chapter
Local entrepreneurs and volunteers enjoy new ventures at the beach
By Chris Beakey
Special to the Cape Gazette
Kathy Sperl-Bell’s journey to founding a company that guides local retirees toward their forever homes was seeded in the 1960s when she was only 17. That’s when the New Jersey native turned her back on the limited educational and career options typically available to young women at the time and forged her own path to New York City, where she rented a room at the YWCA and enrolled in a two-year program that taught French around a unique business school format.
“Young women like me were used to hearing ‘oh sweetie, you’re gonna meet a man and raise a great family’ but I knew I wanted something different,” she says. “I was recently reminded of how I felt during the speech that Alex Borstein [who stars as Susie Myerson in the hit comedy series Mrs. Maisel] gave at the Emmys. She described how her grandmother survived the Holocaust – summing it up by urging women to ‘step out of line.’ She was speaking of how the woman escaped from a horrible tragedy but the sentiment is for women who defy expectations and forge their own path.”
Fortunately, Sperl-Bell’s unconventional route paved the way to a very successful career in the travel industry as a bi-lingual secretary, an international flight attendant, and Hotel Sales Director prior to several years in sales with Compaq Computers. Still, she yearned for something to fulfill the entrepreneurial spirit that sparked her unique journey years before.
In 2006, it began to happen. As newcomers to Lewes, Kathy and her husband Bill had a first-hand understanding of the factors that drive the 50-plus demographic’s home-buying decisions. As experienced business people, they understood the value of responding to unmet consumer needs. And as two healthy, fit individuals who remained intellectually curious, they recognized that a touch of gray at the temples could herald an intense desire to make the golden years an especially vibrant time of life.
Active Adults Realty is the brainchild that emerged. Founded officially in 2011, it’s the only real estate brokerage that focuses exclusively on finding homes for older adults with varying needs. That includes folks specifically searching for 55-plus communities where yard work might be minimized in favor of time at the pool, golf course or tennis courts. Or those who want just the right amount of space for grandkids. Or second-home buyers who are planning ahead for retirement. Or virtually anyone with special interests or needs that arise past the age of 50.
“The whole concept started with a website – www.activeadultsdelaware.com – that I started while I was an agent working for another brokerage,” Sperl-Bell recalls. “Other agents thought I was foolish for ‘limiting my market’ but I felt it was the best way to create a niche and carve out a business.”
Most of the agency’s agents are 55 or older, and many joined the team after finding their own homes through the agency.
Sperl-Bell also offers extensive advice and insights about home buying, finances, “boomer” lifestyle choices and other topics on her blog.
While encouraging people to learn everything they can about Delaware at her website and blog, Sperl-Bell emphasizes “it’s not the community that makes you active – it’s the people who make the community active. This is a great time in your life, and we want to help you make the most of it.”
Retirement U-Turn Turns a Hobby into a Fresh Career
Three miles south of Active Adults’ Lewes office, Warren Rosenfeld shares similar sentiments about the possibilities that can emerge from new ventures beyond the traditional retirement years.
“I retired from my corporate life before we moved here,” he recalls while arranging sandwiches piled high with corned beef and coleslaw in the immaculate kitchen of Rosenfeld’s Jewish Delicatessen. “The first month was great – I rode my bike every day and walked in the evenings but then I got bored. I told my wife if I kept this up for 20 years I’d be the most fit corpse in the morgue. I don’t know if you’d call it depression but something definitely set in before my wife sat me down and said ‘let’s talk about this – what’s the one thing you fantasize about doing the most?’”
“I’d worked in my parents’ restaurant in Washington while I was finishing high school and in college and never got it out of my blood,” he says. “Every time I had the opportunity to do a dinner party or be part of the kitchen committee at the synagogue I jumped at the chance to work around food.”
Realizing that culinary school wasn’t an option, he explored the idea of opening a restaurant that served authentic Jewish cuisine. Business-wise, his strategy focused on “putting Jewish delis in places where there weren’t any for miles and miles so that tourists and residents who come from areas where there used to be Jewish delis will jump at the opportunity.”
The real magic, however, comes from the food itself. There are six varieties of Reuben sandwiches with combinations of corned beef, pastrami, turkey pastrami, and beef brisket along with options for cole slaw, sauerkraut, Swiss and muenster cheeses on different kinds of bread. There’s even a vegetarian option featuring cheeses, slaw, Russian dressing and a grilled challah. Dinner time options include stuffed cabbage, grilled knockwurst over sauerkraut, and chicken and brisket “in-the-pot.”
All day the restaurant offers Jewish Apple Cake, Skyscraper Cake and other sweets prepared on-site or delivered from a gourmet bakery that Rosenfeld discovered after extensive searching.
As Rosenfeld puts it: “My best days are when we bring people to tears because they’re reliving their best moment with food – their mom’s chicken soup, or kishka they had at their bar mitzvah 60 or 70 years ago. The cooks here have an instruction – give these people what they expected to get at their grandmother’s house or their Aunt Sadie’s house, and not your version of that. We’re selling memories. It’s all about big foods, and big desserts and giving people what they want.”
Doing so has certainly become a recipe for business success, leading to restaurants in Rehoboth, Ocean City and at the Salisbury Airport. In the meantime, Rosenfeld is enjoying his 55-plus years and the strong possibility of expanding his offerings.
“I hate doing nothing,” he says. “One thing I’ll never do again is retire.”
Making Friends and Memories as a Nonprofit Volunteer
Back in Lewes’ historic core, Helaine Harris speaks admirably of the successful career transitions that Sperl-Bell and Rosenfeld have experienced, but notes that new adventures in the later years can go far beyond starting a new job or company.
“Back around 2005 I’d gone to the garden show and met Hattie Allen, who was selling wonderful flowers and arugula,” she recalls. “I went out to her farm a week later to pick up flowers for a dinner party and was so amazed to see everything she had growing on half an acre. There weren’t enough venues for selling it. I blurted out at the party that ‘we need a good farmer’s market here.’ Someone came to me a week later and said it was a good idea.”
To make that happen, Harris tapped skills that had driven her success in founding and running two businesses and a bookstore prior to moving to Lewes.
“I visited other markets and looked at what made them successful, then reviewed census data and did projections on what revenues and costs might be, and realized it had to be a nonprofit. We started with a great Board of Directors and knew that location was going to be everything. We ended up first at the Lewes Historical Society, which was good for us and for the society.”
The Board and early volunteers gained tremendous insight from then-Delaware Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee, and from area farmers including Tommy Eliason, proprietor of Kalmar Farm and one of the market’s first farmers. The market ended up being successful from its early days and today operates in two Lewes locations – including its permanent home at George H.P. Smith Park. It features an average of 38 farmers on a typical Saturday, and hosts about 45,000 visitors every season.
Looking back, Harris offers thoughts that could be helpful to other new arrivals looking for meaningful experiences in the beach communities.
“Someone told me once that after the age of 50 we should be sharing our experiences and energy from our earlier careers in ways that are meaningful to others. There are so many ways to do that here – so many nonprofits that need help from smart people. Lewes in Bloom and the Lewes Community Village were started with just a few people. Most are looking for particular skill sets – operation managers or accountants – and everyday people who just want to volunteer.”
“My best advice is to think about what your passion is, and what your skills are, and apply them to something you really love. And don’t be surprised when you start making some really good friends along the way. So many of the great relationships I have today have happened because I got involved in our community and worked alongside so many great people to make it better.”
Volunteers: Cape organizations need you!
Dozens of area organizations benefit significantly from volunteers making the most of their retirement years. Here are a few:
Greater Lewes Community Village
You can help older adults live independently.
Lewes in Bloom
Volunteers promote beautification and maintenance of Lewes’ historic downtown. www.lewesinbloom.org.
Meals on Wheels
In Lewes and Rehoboth, where you can ensure local homebound seniors enjoy healthy meals.
Casa San Francisco
Located in Milton, volunteers support several programs to help low-income Sussex County residents. www.ccwilm.org/casa-san-francisco.
The International Student Outreach Program
You can spend time with young adults from all over the world who come to work at the beach. Email email@example.com
Lewes Farmer’s Market
Volunteer at the market and participate in fundraising events all year long.
or call (302) 644-1436.
Get direction from the AARP about other opportunities.
Check out the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, an academic cooperative where adults 50 and over enjoy classes, teach, exchange ideas and travel together for the love of learning.