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Wise Words with Carol Stueckle

Carol Stueckle, former mayor of Colfax, recently lost her job with a hospital foundation.

She cried for several days, then she got busy creating an event-planning/fundraising/motivational speaking business she named “A New View at 72.”

The business name reflects her age. And her unique view on survival in tough times.

She shared that view in a recent Wise Words interview at the Spangle Saloon and Grill. She chose the location because she doesn’t like driving in Spokane’s traffic, and Spangle is halfway between Colfax and Spokane. This is the complete transcript of the Wise Words interview with Rebecca Nappi. An excerpt was published in The Spokesman-Review Sept. 4, 2010.

  • We have the resources, within, to get through the hard times. I lost my “fear of flying” in 1985 when my mother and husband both passed away within five months of each other. That event changed my life. I was managing a farm, this is what I had to do for a number of years to keep my leases. It was a struggle but I had so many wonderful people who helped. And were so kind and so great so I thought I’ll get through this and then I’ll get some kind of a job and the rest will be fine. Well, I was about $350,000 in debt. I sold the houses we owned. And then I just did what I could do. And that was eventually have some auction sales and get rid of the farm. It wasn’t just in the cards. I thought I’ll run for mayor. That ought to be fun. My daughters were enthusiastic. It was an experience, and it was an adventure. So I did that for four years. I definitely wasn’t going to run for another term. But I needed a job. Not only because I liked to be busy, but for the money, too. I went to the hospital administrator, and I said what I’d really like is to be the activity director for our nursing home, for the hospital and the retirement home. He said, “We don’t need that, but we do need a director for the foundation of our hospital.” Within five minutes I was hired. Then they made an assisted living in the center of Colfax and the doctor in charge said do you want to be marketing director? Well I had this other job but I thought, sure I can do both of them. So I was holding two jobs at once. I’ve had a tremendous advantage and had wonderful health. I’m going to knock on wood. That has been my saving grace.
  • I thought of a “New View at 72” when a vice president of the foundation came to my home and said, “We’re going to have to do something different. We need a computer person. We need a business manager.” He laid out the job description. He said, “We want you to apply if you can.” After a few days it sunk in, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been fired.” They tried to be real nice about it. What I did for the first two weeks is cry. Really cry. Then I’d go home and do my thing, shopping and other things. Then come home and cry again. I finally figured out that wasn’t doing one darn bit of good. I knew I had to do something, and there wasn’t a soul who was going to do anything for me if I kept crying. I don’t run a computer and I’m not going to learn. Any first-grader can do it better. So I decided to go on my own. So I’ll do event planning and fund-raising. I’m kind of a jack of all trades. And then the motivational speaking. I’ve done that. So I took all the things I learned in my last job and all my life. A “New View at 72” is my view of life.
  • We all have within us to figure this out. I just do not believe in the naysayers. Turn on the TV. Read some of the things in the newspaper, scares us to death. We are horrible, ghastly people? No we are not. For what we go through, we are pretty darn good. We have the ability within us to take this and figure out something. No one is going to do it for us. We have to go through tragedy. Mine is not the worst at all.
  • I grew up without water, on a farm, near Endicott, Washington, without indoor plumbing and no electricity. We had nothing. I didn’t know we were poor, but we were. There were two children. I had one sister six years older. And my parents. They knew they weren’t going to make it on that little farm. So they devised something new. They became insurance agents in the 1940s, because there weren’t any in Endicott. So for years, they ran the only insurance agency in Endicott. I think I learned entrepreneurship from them. I don’t think I knew it at the time. But I knew you have to figure yourself out. You can do it within you, if you have a little bit of confidence in yourself. And they didn’t have a lot of resources in those days. My gosh, we’ve got all the resources. We’ve got small business people. Things are so much better now. They kept the farm. They rented it out, but they became insurance agents, they sold every kind, and that lasted for many years. The message I got was if one thing doesn’t work, you better figure it out, if you want to have any kind of a lifestyle at all. Maybe that’s why I held so many jobs and done so many things. I kind of kept afloat for the last 25 years. As I said, we never had running water on the farm. We had the pump outside. We had an outhouse. We didn’t know any different. It seems like on that farm, we always had the preacher over for special occasions. So he would shave outside. I can still see him outside with a mirror, trying to save. When we moved into Endicott, I thought we were in the Ritz. I was thrilled. But I don’t think my dad trusted the niceties in town. He was German. My maiden name was Weitz. The first thing he built was a smokehouse so he could smoke the sausage. And an outhouse. I don’t think they trusted the sewer system. I loved the indoor plumping. I always feel better if there are lots of luxuries. We got to have friends over.
  • What did I learn from the years on the farm? No matter what your circumstances are, it doesn’t matter. You can be happy. You can have fun. You do have to create it. No one will knock at your door. That’s why I can say things are so much better now. Every 10 years, it just got better and better and better. Look at our medical system. We used to have to call on a ringer phone and get people to haul us to the doctor, and the doctor maybe wasn’t there. Now we have wonderful medical service. If you choose to go the other direction, pinpoint the flaws, you are always going to find them. I choose not to do that.
  • Everything is temporary. There isn’t a thing that happens in life that isn’t temporary. And most things have solutions. When I had the shocks, I could barely walk. I made some bonehead decisions. It will pass. I’ve seen it through history. This was bad. That was bad. All of a sudden things got better. There was a Depression. There was the Gulf stuff. It’s bad for awhile and then it runs its course. Don’t ever give up.
  • In 1985, I was 47. We had a wheat, peas and lentil farm between Colfax and Palouse. It was a big, complicated farm. We owned some acreage, but most of it was leases. We had just gotten into a very large lease with expensive machinery. Benny died the day after my birthday. He was 52. He had a massive heart attack on the farm, getting ready for harvest, in the shop. My daughter and I had taken a walk in the morning. We were in the coffee shop having a doughnut when one of our friends from the church said “It’s about Ben. He went to the hospital.” That’s how I learned it. He had life insurance. We had insurance. We had our plans made, but we were just enlarging our business. My mother had died in March. Benny died in August. My mom was 78. I was a pampered child. My mom was my help. I moved her up from Endicott. She moved to an apartment. I lived five miles from her. She opened up her apartment 7 in the morning and closed it at dusk. She said, “Whatever you need, whatever your girls need, the apartment is open. Take food.” She went pretty instantly, she was just sick a few weeks. She died of an embolism in her lung.
  • So what I learned is I never judge on soul for what they do. I have forgiven myself and everyone else. I could sit down and have dinner with anyone I’ve ever known in my life and have fun and be there. I found out I was the last from perfect. I was the pampered girl who had everything she wanted and a wonderful marriage. We shouldn’t judge because we have no idea what other people go through. I’m not a grudge holder, because I might be grudge-holding the wrong person. I don’t want to waste that time and energy. I also learned I had wonderful friends. They all stuck by me. I had a doctor friend and I was so mad at him, I could have killed him. I had to have surgery that year, too. I was just a pill. I was just awful. I called him in the middle of the night and said, “I cannot do this anymore. I cannot live.” You know what he did? Cussed at me. He said “You are going to do it.” I said, “Why do you think I’ll be OK?” He said, “Logic.” And he was so darn mean and I thought, “Fine, I’ll live to spite you.” I had to have a fix-up surgery. I went to the surgeon and he said, “How do you feel about having surgery with what you’ve been through?” I said, “I feel horrible. I’m annoyed. I cry all the time. I think it’s unfair.” He said, “Perfect. Those kind get better faster.” They were all in cahoots, I think. These people have remained wonderful friends, along with women friends of mine.
  • What can people do for friends going through a tough time? Listen. Send a card. One of my dear friends called me one night, and I said, “I’m going to die. I feel so badly. I’ve done so many stupid things.” She said, “No, you’re not.” Not that I ever contemplated anything, but you feel that despair. It’s important to listen, because most people don’t want to hear your troubles. But it’s important because it’s cathartic to be able to talk. It’s important to get out or you can really get into yourself. So if you know someone unemployed, take them out to lunch and laugh. Anything helps. Do something. The only thing that doesn’t help is do nothing. Listening is the most important.
  • I’ve got to talk about my girls, because they’ve gone through a lot because of the death. Things started going wrong. Those girls have been wonderful. They aren’t always terribly nice to me. They’ll say: “Mother, stop whining around.” Or “Shut up, you’re fine.” I’ve got this daughter who is a nurse and I can call her whining about a back ache and she’ll say, “Shut up, mother you’re fine.” That’s what I need. The girls didn’t do one thing I told them to do. I had hoped they’d become like manager of the opera house. Well, one became a teacher and works for juvenile services. The other is a pediatrics manager at Sacred Heart. They get down and dirty with the real. I never liked that kind of stuff. It’s all been worth it, when I hear those wonderful voices every day on the phone, from both of my daughters, saying, “Hi, Mom, what’s going on?” And sometimes I tell them. It’s all been worth it because of that.
  • What did I learn from being mayor? I learned we all have different viewpoints and perspectives. Looking back on it, it was a wonderful experience. If we don’t have conflict, we have a dictatorship. They tried to recall me. It was thrown out, but that bothered me. As I sat in that trial, I thought what am I doing here? I had a wonderful attorney from Spokane. He kept telling me: “Always take the high road.” I tried to do that. I finished out my term. But I didn’t run again. Did it make me tougher? No. I’m really kind of a whiner and a crier.
  • How did my public speaking career get going in the 1980s? I wrote a story: “Love, honor and check your assets.” It had some humor in it, but it was basically a story to help people get their things in order before it was too late. I had an agent. I spoke for insurance companies all over the country. I read the article. I never could have spoken the article. I would have sobbed. I got to travel, not that I like to travel. It’s a necessary inconvenience. I went to the South, Sun Valley, Portland. It was fun. And I went by myself. I had never spent a night alone, until Benny died. I went from living with my parents to college, where I had a roommate, and then to marriage at 20. When he’d be gone for a meeting or something overnight, mother would stay with me. That first night I thought “Oh my heaven. I am 47 years old. I’ve never spent one night alone.”
  • I made it, but what is the alternative? The alternative is to be mean and grouchy and sad. And I like to have fun. What am I looking forward to in my 70s? If my health holds, I’m looking forward to a new career. To event planning, fund-raising and motivational speaking. I like the speaking the best. I will express how really stupid I’ve been and how funny we all are. The humor comes in making fun of ourselves and not other people. I didn’t necessarily want to work. I love the luxuries. I would rather be cruising on the Caribbean. But given the choice, I think it’s fun to be working and get paid for it. I know the difference between volunteer and getting paid. I don’t think it’s a good thing to sit around and talk about people. I’d rather get paid for it. I can’t even breathe without getting paid for it.
  • How can people be more resourceful to make some money? Whatever you can do that you see is needed. Sewing. How many people can repair or put in a hem? If you can sew, that’s a good cottage industry. Baking. I never could bake bread. Someone who could make wonderful rolls, there is a market for that. We need repairmen. They’ve fixed things around the house now that’s something they can do. What will be the best thing to come of this recession? Thankfulness for what you have left. We need money to survive, and we feel badly when we don’t have it. But I think we really learn what’s important. I pray a lot, thanking God. I try to help people. When I see a need that day, I try to do what I can, that day. If I can ease someone’s pain, just for a little while, I feel that I have done something. I used to just write a card, sorry your so-and-so died. Never contact them again. I don’t want anyone to feel as horrible as I have felt. How can we ease another’s pain? Listen. Call them up and say, “I think this is really awful. What can I do? I’m here. You don’t have to call me back.” Don’t give advice.
  • I have no resentment. I can walk up to anyone and say hello. I don’t hold grudges. It’s a waste of time. I don’t judge one soul. Maybe they are doing the best they can. I developed that through the terrible heartbreak. I used to be terribly judgmental. I’m not proud of that. I knew pretty much what everyone should be doing. But that was when things were going well. I didn’t know anything. I still don’t know very much. We’ve all done stupid things. We all will continue to do stupid things. Forget it.