Wilmot Irvin woke up one day at age 46 with the idea to write a book. Ann Lonon stared her 40th birthday in the face and decided she wanted to run a marathon. Richard and Lynne Schmidt came to Columbia in 1976 with the calling to go into the mission field. And Jim Manning, for as long as he can remember, has wanted to parachute out of an airplane.
All five of these Columbians are unofficial members of the Over 40 Dreamers Club. Although the club is fictitious, membership requirements are not. Each member shares the distinction of having reached a significant life goal or dream after the age of 40.
After a successful 20-year career as a litigator, Wilmot Irvin woke up one morning and resolved to write a novel, the first of seven. Photography by Hey Baby Smile/Courtesy of Wilmot Irvin.
Wilmot Irvin, Columbia attorney and author of six books, describes himself as “a lawyer by day and an author by night.” After a successful 20-year career as a civil litigator, Wilmot’s dream of writing a book came upon him rather suddenly. “I literally woke up one Saturday morning and resolved to write a novel.”
Wilmot describes what happened next: “Over the course of the next nine months, I found myself in front of my old Macintosh computer at the oddest times – late at night, early in the morning, lots of Saturdays – toiling away at my first novel, a coming-of-age story I entitled Jack’s Passage.”
Once that novel was completed, Wilmot tucked it away in a desk drawer and began a second novel, then a third. “I had no earthly idea what to do with those new creations of my imagination, which no one but my wife and children had read,” Wilmot admits. After some encouragement from Columbia bookseller Rhett Jackson, then-owner of the Happy Bookseller, Wilmot sent out dozens of query letters to publishers and agents, but no one responded with even a desire to read the manuscripts, let alone publish them.
The turning point for Wilmot came early one morning in 2001. Listening to the radio while getting ready for work, he heard an interview with a man named Jeff Schwaner, who had just opened a print-on-demand company. “He was looking for unpublished authors,” recounts Wilmot, “and his new company was located in Charleston. Jeannie, my wife, and I jumped in the car and drove to his storefront office on King Street, where we spent a half day with Jeff and his staff, learning about this new concept of publishing.”
“Before long,” Wilmot remembers, “I had three books in print, published in soft cover, and off I went.” The cost of the venture? “For $99, Jeff published Jack’s Passage, promoted it on his website and around town a little bit, got me a few interviews and book signings, and voila! I was a published author.”
“He even threw in one free copy of the book,” chuckles Wilmot. “The rest I purchased at the deep author’s discount, and I always kept a box full of books in the back of my car.” After a front-page article in a Columbia newspaper and his first book signing at the Happy Bookseller, Wilmot says, “We were off and running.”
“I established footholds in independent bookstores in North and South Carolina and spent lots of weekends on the road selling books, doing book signings and having the time of my life,” reminisces Wilmot. He credits Jeannie with his success, saying that she is a natural-born promoter and encourager.
Since then Wilmot has written three more books. His most recent novel, published by Red Letter Press, is entitled Chronicle of the Life and Times of Fletcher Lowe. It is available locally at the Happy Café, which occupies the former location of the Happy Bookseller on Forest Drive where Wilmot’s debut as an author took place.
Now 75 pages into his seventh novel, Wilmot admits that writing is “as much fun as it was in the old days.” Occasionally he will hear from a reader who has enjoyed one of his books. “That keeps my dream alive,” he says. “I am very grateful for the courage and grace God gave me to fulfill – in some small way – that mid-life dream.”
Ann Lonon had two goals she wanted to complete before she turned 50; one of those was to run a marathon. Photography courtesy of Ann Lonon.
Ann Lonon had two goals she wanted to accomplish before she turned 50. “One was to run a marathon,” she says, “and the other was to do a triathlon.” Athletic all her life, Ann played several sports in high school and later coached at her alma mater, Hammond School.
Though still reasonably fit, Ann admits that the process of training for a marathon was “a much bigger deal.” A mother of four, she had the additional challenge of finding time to train in the midst of homeschooling her children.
“The training for my marathon,” she explains, “was much more than getting out there and running every day.” Since the marathon was in February in Myrtle Beach, much of her training was done in the winter. “My running partner was another homeschooling mom, and we would meet at 5:30 many mornings because we had to get the run in before our kids got up and our husbands left for work.” Living in Eastover at the time, the two often ran in the dark on long stretches of lonely roads.
Two-thirds of the way through her training, Ann’s running partner was injured and unable to continue. With the race only two months away, Ann says she never considered quitting. “I was too close to give it up,” she says. Training without a partner became much more difficult, partially because of the rural area in which she ran. “Some places just weren’t safe.” Many times Gerald, her husband, would ride along with her on his bicycle, especially as her training runs increased to 12, 18 and 20 miles in length.
On the day of the race, Ann met her personal goals of not only completing her marathon but also of finishing the 26.2-mile course in just under five hours. While the feeling of crossing the finish line was rewarding, the lessons she learned during her year of training have stayed with Ann for much longer. “Training for the marathon was such a lesson in perseverance. People say that life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and it’s true. You just have to get out there and run. You run when there’s no one else to run with or when you don’t feel like it – that’s life.”
Thirty-five years after Richard and Lynne Schmidt arrived in Columbia with the dream of serving on the foreign mission field, they arrived in India. photography courtesy of Richard and Lynne Schmidt.
Richard and Lynne Schmidt moved to Columbia in 1976 so Richard could attend Columbia Bible College. Natives of Illinois, they felt the call of God to be missionaries in a foreign country and knew a Bible college education would help them prepare for their future ministry.
“The plan was for Richard to take classes and for me to work,” remembers Lynne. “Richard’s only sister, Joanne, was already serving in the mission field in Sweden, and we felt our paths being directed to serve overseas as well.”
Shortly after Richard and Lynne sold their home and moved to Columbia with their one-year old son, Ricky, Richard’s parents decided to move south as well. “We had the only grandchild,” Richard explains, “My parents were aging, and they saw no reason to stay in Illinois.” Over time, Richard’s mother’s health began to decline, and their family faced a choice.
“Typically with an elderly parent, it is the daughter who takes care of them,” Lynne says, “but Richard has only one sister, and she was in Sweden. If we had not stayed in Columbia, she could not have stayed in Sweden. We knew we would have to be here for them.”
Over a period of years, the Schmidts cared first for Richard’s mother until her death and then for his father. As Lynne’s parents aged, they required care as well. So Richard went to work for the South Carolina Commission on Aging, and Lynne continued to work with the University of South Carolina’s Bursar’s office.
Although their dream of going overseas into the mission field was deferred, the Schmidts didn’t feel that their hope of being missionaries was lost. “Even though we were here and not across the water, we always felt that Columbia was our mission field,” she says. They served as faithful members in several churches in the Midlands, often choosing a church “because they needed us,” admits Lynne. “We’ve always felt that the church was the mission field God gave us. As long as we had a place to work, we were happy. We didn’t want to just come on Sunday and sit.”
It wasn’t until after Richard retired that the door to the foreign mission field seemed to be swinging open. Their church, Kilbourne Park Baptist, had been praying for several years for an unreached group in India. The International Mission Board asked the church to consider sending a team of four on a “vision” trip to try to locate the group and develop a plan for ministering them.
Richard’s decision to join the team was easy, but Lynne was still working full time. “When they announced the opportunity and asked for volunteers,” Lynne remembers, “I couldn’t sit still. ‘I’m going to India,’ I said, ‘and I’m probably going to lose my job.’” She knew that it would be very diffucult to take more than five vacation days at a time, but after asking several of her closest friends to pray, Lynne approached her boss. “I’m going to India,” she said, “and I need two weeks.” Lynne’s boss agreed.
Thirty-five years after Richard and Lynne Schmidt arrived in Columbia with the dream of serving on the foreign mission field, they arrived in India. “While other team members attracted children and adults as they walked through the impoverished villages, we attracted the elderly and the sick,” Lynne says. They had a particularly poignant experience when they were approached by a woman who told them her mother was dying, and she had heard that there were white people in the village. “She had never seen a white person and asked if we would come.”
“I knew how hard it had been to care for an elderly person in our home with all the modern conveniences, and here was this woman caring for her mother in a dung hut with a mud floor with absolutely nothing but a sheet under her. I can’t get that picture out of my mind,” Lynne remembers with emotion.
“Looking back, it was because of what we’ve lived through that we were able to touch people’s lives there,” she says. “God took His sweet time getting us prepared for the mission field, but we know that He has His plans for everything … I wish we could have stayed longer.”
Jim Manning had dreamed of jumping out of an airplane for as long as he can remember, but it always stayed on the back burner. Though his dream was deferred, he never gave up on it and in 2007, he finally took the plunge. Photography courtesy of Jim Manning.
Jim Manning, Richland County Council member and social worker for Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services, had dreamed about jumping out of an airplane for as long as he can remember. The white-haired 55-year-old describes his dream as always staying on the back burner due to life stages and money. Though his dream was deferred, Jim never gave up on it.
In the year 2000, after reading the book Winning Every Day – The Game Plan for Success by Lou Holtz, USC’s head football coach, Jim made a list of his goals. Parachuting from a plane was still on his list, but it wasn’t until his mother died in 2003 when he was 47, and his father died two years later that he began to “seriously think about those things that I had written down in the year 2000,” Jim remembers. “It wasn’t a mid-life crisis, but it did give me reason to pause.”
Jim realized that the financial barrier to such a “frivolous thing” had been removed when his wife, Dr. Sandra Manning, returned to work as a school psychologist after their youngest son entered middle school. The only obstacle standing in his way, Jim concluded, was the matter of scheduling the jump.
On March 24, 2007, at the age of 51, Jim parachuted out of an airplane over the Chester, S.C. airport. “It was all I thought it would be,” he remembers with a smile. “It was an esteem building accomplishment, and I proved to some people that I would not die if I did it!”
Jim’s advice to other dreamers is affirmed in the stories of the members of the Over 40 Dreamers Club. “Have a written bucket list,” he says. “Take the time to list those things you want to do before you leave your earthly journey.” Then, just do it.
Photo courtesy of Jim Manning