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Retiree's life fulfilling because of rewarding career and active retirement

Beth Cunningham is a woman ahead of her time – and she always has been.

Even as a young woman, growing up on a farm in eastern Alberta, Beth aspired to a career few women even dared dream of. But the times weren’t ready for a female field geologist and she was rejected by the University of Alberta. So Beth, prodded by her progressive parents, entered the teaching profession.

Now, more than a half a century later and retired for almost 25 years, Beth looks back at a career in education, one that was not always in front of the classroom. She decided early on that the role of public school teacher did not suit her. So she earned a diploma in Business Administration to see what sort of a career she could follow.

Armed with her diploma, she found Alberta Vocational Centre (AVC; now Bow Valley College).

“Working at AVC was the best job in the world,” Beth says. “You never knew what you’d be doing from day to day. It was always interesting and challenging.”

Beth joined AVC as an instructor in 1966. It was a time of tremendous change at the institution, which grew from a few hundred students to more than 3,000 and moved from cramped classrooms into a new, spacious campus at Bow Valley College’s current location.

Career dedicated to helping students

“So many great people worked there that going to work was always a lot of fun,” Beth says. “We all had intent and were eager, with lots of ideas. And we cared about the students, always trying to help them to find different ways to learn.”

Beth continues to show her love for students with her annual donation to CHOICES. She is the longest-running donor at Bow Valley College.

“I want to help ensure that students don’t get so discouraged that they leave the system,” Beth says. “I know that a little bit at the right time can really help them stay in school.”

As an instructor Beth taught courses ranging from English and upgrading to business. Her talents as a leader were soon recognized and took her to various supervisory roles; ultimately she took a role that was parallel to Bow Valley College’s current Vice-President, Academic position.

“I always visited the classroom whenever I could to stay connected to the students,” Beth says.

Beth’s compassion for the college’s students and her professionalism in whatever role she was in, helped shape the future of community colleges in Alberta. In addition to her various roles with AVC she spent time with the Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education, to which she was seconded to coordinate the half a dozen Alberta community colleges within government jurisdiction at that time.

“I spent so many years throwing rocks at Edmonton that I figured it was time for me to find out what it was about and see what I could do to make things better for community colleges from that side,” Beth says.

Her one-year secondment ended, but Beth stayed working for government until her retirement 10 years later in 1994.

Retirement offers time to pursue interests

Beth was always satisfied in her career. However, she was eager to take on a new project – retirement – so she could pursue her many interests. She continues to attend the Calgary Stampede, as she has done almost every year in her life. She’d always travelled and now has more time to travel to the places she hasn’t visited. She increased her volunteer activities and is active with the Food Bank and the New Grads Club. She and her friends walk regularly. She’s upped her golf game.

“Most of all, I appreciate not having to get out of bed before I feel like it.” Beth remembers clinging to the side of her bed at the sound of her alarm clock, only reluctantly leaving it. She also enjoys a loose structure to her days that is easily changeable.

Her secret to a fulfilling retirement is surprisingly simple.

“Start developing interests beyond work while you are still working,” she advises Bow Valley College employees who may be considering retirement. “Find opportunities, perhaps through volunteering, where you can build relationships with interesting people.”

For Beth, the opportunities to grow and contribute continue to drive her days. The self-confessed, two left-footed woman has enrolled in a line dancing class this fall.

She says “You always have to try something out of your comfort zone.”


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