Innovative Men’s Sheds Concept Gains Foothold in U.S.

“Men’s Sheds,” a movement founded in Australia to promote social interaction and community service among retired men, is coming to the United States.  Eleven Men’s Sheds have been established so far, several others are in the planning stage, and an organization—the US Men’s Sheds Association—has been formed to promote the movement and help new Men’s Sheds get started.

“Shoulder to Shoulder”

Helping a Cub Scout with his Pinewood derby racer

A Men’s Shed is a gathering place for older men typically organized around a theme and a purpose.  A Men’s Shed might feature a woodshop where men work together on community service projects like building handicap-access ramps for people who otherwise couldn’t afford one, or a kitchen where men learn cooking skills and share the food they’ve prepared.  There are nearly 1,000 Men’s Sheds in Australia, several hundred in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, and 25 or more in Canada. The motto of the Men’s Shed movement is “Shoulder to Shoulder,” shortened from a longer phrase explaining how men prefer to communicate:  “Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder.” Some sheds have opened membership to both men and women and to people of all ages.

Mark Winston, a 60-year-old businessman and a founding board member of the US Men’s Sheds Association, first became aware of the Men’s Shed movement seven years ago, and four years ago helped start Canada’s second Men’s Shed in Vanderhoof, British Columbia.  When he learned that a Men’s Shed had been founded in Hawaii and another in Minnesota, he began networking with the founders of those sheds and with leadership from the International Men’s Sheds Organisation, and founded the US Men’s Sheds Association as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization early in 2017.

Giving Purpose and Combating Depression

Winston has seen firsthand how Men’s Shed participation improves the lives of men in retirement.  “At the Vanderhoof shed we were able to persuade a couple of guys to participate who were so depressed they didn’t want to leave their apartments,” says Winston.  “One day I was at the shed and one of them took me by surprise by walking up and giving me a hug. He told me: ‘Thanks for giving me my life back.’ Now these two guys have keys to the shed and are opening and closing it five days a week.”  Winston says that Glenn Sears, the founder of the first US Men’s Shed in Hawaii, had moved there from Colorado with no friends and now has 50.

Sears and Phil Johnson, the founder of Minnesota’s first Men’s Shed, joined Winston on the association’s board of directors.  Johnson, 68, a retired software engineer who had earlier played a pivotal role in establishing women’s pole vaulting as an NCAA-sanctioned event, saw the Men’s Sheds movement as another opportunity to do “exactly what I like to do”—lead a national movement.  He has also seen how participation has made a difference in his own life. A friend of his, Johnson said, recently told him that he seemed much happier since becoming involved in the movement.

Spreading the Movement With a Top-Down Approach   

By permission Hawaii Men’s Shed Association

In other countries where the movement has taken root, individual Men’s Sheds typically grow when a small group of men in a locality hear about the movement, meet to express mutual interest and willingness to get involved, and only then seek advice on how to proceed from the national association.  In a larger and less homogeneous society like the United States, Winston and Johnson are taking a different approach, proactively reaching out to civic, community, and senior centers to generate interest in starting Men’s Sheds under the wing of existing organizations. Johnson describes this approach as akin to a “franchise” model.  They’re approaching national organizations like the Educational Development Center, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and veterans organizations to build a coalition and spread the word.  The association has also applied for foundation grants to fund growth of the movement.

Winston says complaints about gender bias have been few.  In fact, wives have been supportive because Men’s Sheds “give them a break and their husbands something to do.”  And the movement isn’t entirely man-focused. Internationally, Winston says, one in five Men’s Sheds includes women members and, in the United States, a new Men’s Shed in Florida is forming under the leadership of a female airman who sees the movement as an important resource for veterans who might be facing mental health challenges.

Into the Future

While still in its infancy, the US Men’s Sheds Association is laying a strong foundation for future growth of the movement in the United States.  They’ve drafted statements articulating the organization’s mission, purpose, and values, and have written a 2018 strategic plan detailing annual objectives in areas including marketing and communications, partnerships, funding, and organizational development.  Most importantly, they’ve established growth goals, hoping to expand to 50 sheds by the end of 2018 and to 200 sheds by the end of 2019.

To learn more about Men’s Sheds in the United States, find out if there is a shed near you, or learn how you can get involved in the movement, visit the US Men’s Sheds Association website.

5 Presidents Who Did Retirement Right

When you’ve been President of the United States, what do you do for an encore?

Excluding the incumbent, forty-three men have served as U.S. President and, of those, eight died in office.  That leaves thirty-five who experienced retirement.  Most sought retirement lives of peace and quiet, but several went on to new achievements, and one stands out for defining his life by his retirement accomplishments and giving us all a yardstick with which to measure our own.  In honor of Presidents Day, The Retirement Whisperer offers its own highly subjective countdown of five U.S. Presidents who did retirement right.

#5 – Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover is remembered somewhat unjustly as the President who brought us The Great Depression.  By training a mining engineer, Hoover first gained prominence leading U.S. relief efforts in Europe after World War I, serving also as Secretary of Commerce before becoming President just months before the Wall Street crash in 1929.  When he left the presidency after one term he was only 58 years old, and he spent much of the next 12 years as a vocal critic of the policies of his successor, Franklin Roosevelt.  After World War II President Harry Truman asked him to return to Europe to assess relief needs, and his efforts led to a program that provided meals for three-and-a-half million German youth in the British and American occupation zones.  Later Hoover wrote a biography of President Woodrow Wilson, oversaw the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and raised money for Boys Clubs.  Hoover also loved to get away and enjoy the solitude of fishing in the wilderness and wrote a book called Fishing for Fun–And to Wash Your Soul.   Hoover lived to be 90 years old, dying in 1964.

#4 – John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, son of President John Adams, tasted the international life and learned several languages as he accompanied his father on his diplomatic missions on behalf of the newly independent United States.  After graduating from Harvard he served in numerous diplomatic posts himself before becoming James Monroe’s Secretary of State.  Elected President in 1824, he faced relentless opposition from populists led by Andrew Jackson who accused Adams of favoring manufacturing and elitist interests in the Northeast, and criticized his stance in favor of the the abolition of slavery.  After Jackson swept him from office in 1828 after a single term as President, Adams embarked on a new career as a U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts, becoming the first U.S. President to manage his retirement by… not retiring.  Adams won reelection to Congress eight times and served until his death at age 81.  Adams’s congressional career was perhaps more distinguished than his presidency—he was a determined opponent of slavery and a leading supporter of scientific advancement in America, persuading Congress to earmark a financial donation from James Smithson to fund the institution that eventually became the Smithsonian.

#3 – Howard Taft

Howard Taft

There’s more to Howard Taft than the enormous bathtub he installed in the White House.  Taft, from Cincinnati, was trained as a lawyer and in his twenties was appointed a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, foreshadowing his “retirement” role.  He served as Teddy Roosevelt’s Secretary of War and was elected President in 1908, but his subsequent split with Roosevelt cost him re-election in 1912.  From 1913 until 1921 Taft taught history and law at Yale before being appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Warren Harding.  Later Supreme Court justices describe Taft’s legacy as “conservative” but not reactionary, and his greatest contribution were his successful efforts to modernize Supreme Court facilities and procedures.  Taft died in 1930 at age 72.    

#2 – Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses Grant Editing His Memoirs

Ulysses Grant is the only two-term President on our list.  Born in 1822 and educated at West Point, Grant served in the Mexican-American War and held other minor posts before retiring from the Army in 1854 and embarking on a series of failed business ventures.  He rejoined the Army when the Civil War began, achieved battlefield success after success, and rose to the position of General of the Army of the United States.  After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the end of the war, Grant’s diligent enforcement of Reconstruction in the former Confederate States, and his support for African-American enfranchisement led to conflict with President Andrew Johnson.  Grant became President in 1869 and pursued an vigorous Reconstruction agenda, founding the Department of Justice and aggressively prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan for civil rights violations.  The Panic of 1873 dampened Republican zeal for Reconstruction, and Grant’s second term was marked by several scandals.  In retirement Grant embarked on a world tour and made a attempt to gain the Republican nomination for President in 1880, but his greatest retirement achievement was literary.  Diagnosed with throat cancer and in financial ruin because of bad investments, Grant wrote his memoirs to bolster both his bank account and his reputation, finishing them just days before his death at age 63 in 1885.  The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant achieved both financial and critical success, earning his widow $450,000 in royalties and judged by Mark Twain as a “literary masterpiece.”   

#1 – Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

Before 2012 Herbert Hoover held the record for the longest Presidential retirement, living 31 years after leaving office.  Thirty-seven years after he left office, Jimmy Carter now holds that record, and no other U.S. President’s retirement defines his legacy like Carter’s.  An Annapolis grad, engineer and peanut farmer from Georgia, Carter’s presidency is remembered for high gas prices and cardigan sweaters, stagflation, and the Iran hostage crisis.  In retirement Jimmy Carter has lent his name, his leadership, and even his muscle to humanitarian efforts,  He has lead peacekeeping missions to the Middle East, Cuba, Korea and Darfur, joined with Nelson Mandela and other global leaders in a group dedicated to human rights called The Elders, and built houses with Habitat for Humanity in hurricane-ravaged areas in the United States.  Carter is also an avid woodworker, fly fisherman, and painter.  He has been award the Hoover Medal—recognizing “great, unselfish, non-technical service by engineers to humanity”—, the United National Human Rights Prize, and the Nobel Peace Prize.   For his full, rich, and purposeful life in retirement, Jimmy Carter takes the number one spot on our list and is The Retirement Whisperer’s inaugural nomination to the Retirement Hall of Fame.  

Tuesday Tip – Meet a Friend for Coffee – January 30, 2018

Socializing = Happiness + Brain Health

Regular socializing is one of the keys to healthy aging and retirement—socializing averts loneliness, a killer worse than obesity, and interaction with others stimulates your brain cells, averting cognitive decline.

Pick up your phone and call or text a friend and set a date for coffee!  (Men, this is especially important for you.  For whatever reason, women are better at socializing than us, and I’ve seen married couples in retirement fall into an unhealthy pattern.  Men lose the social network they had at work and become dependent on their wives both for company and to organize their social lives.  The fact is, however much she loves you, your wife didn’t ask for and doesn’t want this job.  It will drive her crazy and it will jeopardize your relationship.)

Act Now

I have a couple of friends I see regularly for coffee.  We debate politics (I believe in ignoring the common advice to avoid controversial topics), talk about movies we’ve seen, catch up on other friends and talk about our kids.  When it’s over I wonder where the time went, and I always leave in a positive frame of mind.  Don’t wait to get started!  As the philosopher and psychologist William James wrote:  “Sow an action, and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny.”

The small step of meeting a friend for coffee can lead to a destiny of happiness and longevity.  

(More Tuesday Tips here.)