Bonds photo
December 15, 2021

Bonds to Last Beyond Retirement

When you finally decide it’s your time to retire, it’s usually an independent departure. You make your announcement and prepare to leave. You say goodbye to your coworkers, and they say goodbye to you. Sometimes people manage to keep in touch, while others find their working relationships fade. But for six women at Michael A. Kostek School in west Edmonton, retirement was not just a group event, it was the start of a new stage in their friendship.

Carol Anne Konkin, one of the teachers at the school, decided to retire in 2011, and the next year, co-worker Susan Blanchard followed suit. “I decided I was ready to retire, and I made my announcement,” Susan says. “And another teacher, Joane Sather, said, ‘If you’re going, I’m going too!’ It snowballed from there, as Nancy Allen, Penny Macinnis, and even our principal Nancy Iriye decided they were ready to retire too!”

These six women had been working together since 1994, when they transferred to the newly opened Michael A. Kostek School. They quickly became a tight-knit staff and formed friendships that went beyond that of typical coworkers. So, when they all said goodbye to teaching, they knew they didn’t want to lose touch.

“We wanted to stay connected,” says Susan. “When you separate yourself from a place where you are used to meeting every day, it can be hard to find time and reasons to get together. We decided that the very least we could do would be to get together once a year.”

And so that’s what they did. That year, on the first day of school, the women met for brunch at Susan’s house. “When we retired, we each got an old-fashioned school bell as a gift. Right when the bell was ringing at Kostek, we rang our bells too, and toasted all our old colleagues, the students, and the parents and wished them a good year.”

Nine years later, the tradition they call “To Hell with the Bell” is still going strong. Even in 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown, they met in the park for a socially distanced brunch of muffins and coffee to celebrate the day. “When you first retire, it’s quite a different feeling,” says Susan. “One moment you’re at the top of your game, and then suddenly, you’re wondering what you’re going to do that will make you feel like you’re a part of something.”

The women meet throughout the year too, in smaller groups, for barbecues, game nights, camping trips, and more. Anyone who is interested is always invited, but it’s always anticipated as an opportunity to catch up and reminisce.

“Our retirements took each of us down a different path,” says Susan. “Some of us became grandmothers, some of us started travelling, Penny even opened her own businesses. As we were getting used to this new part of our lives, it was nice to be able to lean on each other for support. Retirement can be a tough adjustment for some people, but because we had each other, we faced it with smiles on our faces.”