Bill Vancos talks about ramping up in retirement
On the way to an 8 a.m. job interview in Madison, one of his first interviews after graduating from college, Bill Vancos realized he couldn’t take the job. “I knew driving through that traffic every morning would make me crabby,” he says.
When he was offered the state job, he turned it down. Not that he has anything against cities; he’s grateful for them.
“Without them, everyone would be here,” Bill says. He moved back to Rhinelander, where he was born and raised, where his family on both sides has lived for 100 years or more.
“I thought I would have to pay my dues and work somewhere else for a while,” he says. Now, after 20 years as the human resources manager at the paper mill in Rhinelander, and 17 years before that at Marplex, a saw mill and wood pallet manufacturer once on the site now occupied by Menards, it appears that was one due that didn’t need paying. He has earned his retirement locally.
Bill’s sense of paying dues, or giving back, came on full force with retirement, where his list of worthy causes is not defined by one interest or passion. He is involved with the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry, Relay For Life, the Northwoods Tobacco-Free Coalition (chairman), Kiwanis Club (past president and board member), committees for reunions, car shows, Job Service, church, youth clubs and mentorship programs and more. He started Tuna Two ‘fer in 2013, which benefits Relay For Life, an organization that honors those who have gone through cancer, and raises awareness and research funds.
Most of his volunteer work is seasonal, once a year, Bill says. There have been times when those seasons overlap and he realizes that he overshot. But the benefits of volunteering – including a productive feeling and the chance to meet a lot of great people – override any inclination to slow down and redefine retirement as an Adirondack chair and the sound of loons.
Part of his volunteer work stems from a desire to preserve local history, which he shares with his wife, Joy, who has been on the board of the Rhinelander Historical Museum since it started. Two of her passions are genealogy and local history, Bill says. “She is an import – originally from Ripon – who has come to love the area.” Real estate agents, he adds, will call her up if they are selling an old house to get the history.
Bill serves as a docent at the museum and helps with promotion, giving legs to two traveling sandwich signs.
“When something stays in one place for a while, you don’t see it,” he says. On Sunday or Monday, he takes the two museum sandwich board signs for a walk. He asks private residents or businesses to host the sign for a week, and has never been turned down. This little generosity on their part reflects a bigger generosity that Bill has experienced when doing fund-raising for his various causes. “Business owners are getting hit up a lot. There are businesses that will donate then ask not to be mentioned. The small businesses don’t have a lot, but they continue to be generous. That’s another good reason for shopping locally. We all need to work together.”
His volunteer work is as varied as his interests, from five years as a soccer coach when his son was little – it was time consuming but he “enjoyed the heck out of it” – to helping out with the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk. Varied, but all valuable. “If I didn’t think it was important, I wouldn’t do it.”
Finding people to help with an organization isn’t as hard as finding the person to keep it up and running. “It’s the kingpins that keep it going,” he says. “Even retired, there aren’t enough hours in the day to be involved in all the worthwhile things.”
Bill says that there is no downside to volunteering, except maybe the lack of space in his dresser from all the T-shirts. Easily solved by a donation to local thrift shops, he says.
“My goal for retirement was to be involved…I always believed in paying back, I just ramped it up after retirement.”
Jill Olson is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander. Her articles have also appeared in Northwoods Commerce and Living on the Lake magazines.