From outdoors and sports to writing and music, retired teacher finds fulfillment

Tom "T.R." Kerth is a nature lover.

From fishing and hiking to kayaking and hunting he continues the enjoyment passed down from his father.

So it is no surprise that Kerth, and his wife Gail, find themselves surrounded by the glories of the outdoors in their retirement years.

Several years ago the couple found they were only living in one third of their Schaumburg home once their son and daughter moved out and when they visited a friend's home at Sun City Huntley, a Del Webb community for active older adults, they found the perfect lot with a ranch home that backs up to a several hundred acre wetland preserve complete with a lake and creek. The couple signed the papers for the home that day.

"One of my passions is being in the outdoors," says Kerth, 62. "I like to walk by myself. Communing with nature gets me grounded and centered again."Whether walking or kayaking, Kerth says he always tries to clear his head, which is when he does his best thinking and comes up with the ideas for his newspaper columns.

Kerth taught journalism as well as other courses such as speech and creative writing at Maine South High School in Park Ridge for 33 years. He keeps his writing sharp with a column "The Whole Nine Yards" in the Northwest Herald as well as "A View From Planet Kerth" in the Naples Daily News in Florida, where the Kerths bought a home last year and hope to spend several months this winter. His columns run the gamut from humorous stories to childhood reminiscence and everything in between. Kerth recounts a column where he tells of discovering a can of corned beef hash in the pantry and tried it only to find he doesn't like corned beef hash (and still doesn't know why it was in the pantry).

Kerth and his wife, both former youth coaches, share a love of sports, but in retirement find the field has changed slightly and they enjoy watching on TV or going to games together.

If not out walking, writing or keeping up on sports, Kerth likely can be found onstage. Taking advantage of his retirement years, Kerth expanded on his love for singing. It used to be his singing was relegated to folk songs around the campfire or for his grandkids, but for the past 15 years he has been "in and out of bands." For the past three years Kerth has paired his talents with two other Sun City Huntley residents and two other friends to form Old's Cool. He plays guitar, harmonica and is the lead singer for the band that covers rock from the '50s through the '70s. The band is often featured in Sun City Huntley's Drendel Hall or in local venues. In addition to music, Kerth says he includes anecdotes and sometimes special guests into his shows.

Kerth says while they chose their home in Sun City Huntley because "we knew we weren't getting any younger," their retirement plans have not always gone the way they imagined. The couples' lives have been upended as Gail suffered two strokes this year and is in a wheelchair and unable to speak, Kerth says.

He reminisces about the long ago chance meeting in his college dorm at Western Illinois University followed by three rejections before his now wife would agree to a date. It is clear it is a story he enjoys retelling.

"I knew any woman who had the good sense to reject me would make a great wife," he says adding they were married when she was 19 and he was 20. He says it was in the Vietnam era and there seemed no point in waiting -- everyone was living their lives quickly in those days.

"Some might think it was kind of foolish to be married so young," Kerth says. "But 41 years later we are still married and still in love."

Kerth says Gail is an avid gardener and "has the most beautiful garden in Del Webb," which is often featured in garden walks, newspapers and magazines.

While life's curve ball has not allowed Gail to dig in as she used to, Kerth says they go out in the garden together and she will point at something and he will ask if it is a weed and if she nods he will pull it out. One of the beautiful things that has grown out of change is when their Sun City neighbors jumped in to help maintain the garden when Gail was in the hospital.

Kerth says they enjoy their surrounding community such as the downtown square in Huntley but the couple is more likely to have family over for barbecues and enjoy spending time right in their own scenic backyard.

Their community, he explains, is filled with friends.

"On our block it's a cul-de-sac with 17 houses," he says. "We're always getting together and doing something."

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