These women fulfill their dreams while making the world a better place

By Chris Garsson and Jenny Hottle
USA TODAY Best Years magazine
Oct. 12, 2013

I wrote three of four briefs about women who succeeded later in life. Read the three stories below, or check out usatoday.com for the full article with all of Chris and my briefs.

Judi Henderson-Townsend
California
Founded a mannequin recycling business at age 45

Judi Henderson-Townsend breathes new life into old mannequins and, in the process, has launched a new career for herself.

A part of the corporate world for most of her adult life, Henderson-Townsend had often contemplated starting her own business. She was 45 when inspiration struck: After coming in contact with a mannequin dealer who was moving, she developed a plan to launch a mannequin rental business.

“It was a gut reaction,” she says about deciding to buy out the seller’s inventory. “I thought it was just going to be a hobby, a way to dip my toe into the entrepreneurial field.” She attended an entrepreneurial workshop, took online courses and worked part-time at an Internet startup while she got the business off the ground in Oakland, Calif.BestYears

“Nothing in my background said I would have been successful at this,” Henderson-Townsend says. “I never thought I had a life calling to save the mannequins of the world. But I had this crazy hunch, and I followed it.” In fact, she says, half her family thought the idea was far-fetched, and that’s why the business is named Mannequin Madness.

Since launching the company in 2001, Henderson-Townsend has received recognition and awards, including one from the Environmental Protection Agency for her work to keep mannequins out of landfills. Mannequins are made of fiberglass and metal, which are non-biodegradable. The company averages 300,000 pounds of recycling annually, she says.

Her customers range from large and small retail store owners to crafters, event planners, trade-show vendors and even individuals who want mannequins for Halloween or art projects. When the recession hit, Henderson-Townsend got creative again and began renting out her warehouse for photo shoots.

She hopes to expand the business by adding window displays to her product offerings. She also writes a blog at mannequinmadness.com and discusses creative ideas for using mannequins in art projects.

For women looking to test the waters of entrepreneurship, Henderson-Townsend recommends taking an online class or attending a workshop.

And “sometimes,” she says, “you just have to take a chance.”

Stephanie King
California
Founded a fair-trade retail website at age 62

Until she took a course in social justice issues, Stephanie King thought fair trade was all about chocolate and coffee. The class opened her eyes and inspired her to use her business acumen to help impoverished women from around the world.

“Everywhere you turn, you read about women being trafficked, girls being sold into marriages, mothers digging through city dumps in South America to find clothes for their children,” she says. “To get out of these really subhuman conditions, these women need some form of financial independence, and this is where fair trade comes in.”

King, of Livermore, Calif., had worked in business for years, both in the corporate world and for her own management company, in between doing volunteer work. “I started realizing as I got older that I wanted to do something that involved helping people who really needed help, instead of enriching corporate interest,” she says.

King officially launched Fair Trade Designs (fairtradedesigns.com) in March 2012. Through the site, she sells chic, fashion-forward apparel, jewelry, purses and home goods that she obtains through suppliers who work directly with the artisans. (Fair trade allows for a fair and equitable exchange of goods based on principles of economic and social justice.)

King’s site features products from countries around the world, including jewelry made in Afghanistan, Guatemala and Nepal, scarves from Ethiopia and candles from South Africa. The key to getting her business off the ground was doing extensive research into fair-trade businesses, website design and digital marketing, she says. “You want to be an expert in your niche.”

In October, King plans to make the first of what she hopes to be many trips to visit the artists who make the products she sells online.

To women interested in pursuing a passion—whether it’s starting a business, switching careers or just trying out a new hobby—King says, run with it. “Remember that passion when you’re faced with too much advice, skepticism, doubt,” King says. “The satisfaction you’ll get from something you’re passionate about will far outweigh the challenges.”

Genevie Kocourek
Wisconsin
Became a doctor at age 53

The field of medicine intrigued Genevie Kocourek from an early age, but financial reasons prevented her from pursuing her dream. Years later, when she began thinking about changing careers—from information management to nursing—her husband suggested she apply to medical school instead.

In 2008, four years after enrolling in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, Kocourek graduated. She was 53, almost twice the age of her fellow students.

“It was pretty weird most of the time because I was old enough to be the mother of most of them,” says Kocourek. But she embraced that role and often found herself giving students advice on topics such as how to keep a marriage together.

The long nights of studying and heavy workload sometimes made Kocourek, who stayed in Madison during the week, question her goal. Kocourek, from the Milwaukee area, would call up her husband or her “hard-love” friends for support.

“I’d be exhausted and say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ ” she says. “They’d say, ‘All right, but you’ve never quit anything before, so why quit this?’ And sometimes they’d just listen.” Singing in the medical school’s rock band also provided an outlet, she says. “Those guys were great. They were super, super nice and kept things kinda light.”

Kocourek has since established Trinity Integrative Family Medicine, with offices in the greater Milwaukee area.

As for tackling a new career, she admits: It’s tough. You have to know that you really want it, she says, and have at least 10 reasons why you should follow through with a particular goal.

And don’t try to do it alone. “Don’t isolate yourself,” she says.

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