Prime Time: Meet the Vorthmanns

Lois and Ken Vorthman reside in Hope, and enjoy and active retirement together by walking, kayaking and cycling. Ali Kiel | For The Republic

Retirement may bring a temptation to slow down. But for Ken and Lois Vorthmann, it was an opportunity to pick up the pace.

Following Ken’s 2011 retirement from Boeing Co., the couple were up for a change. They decided to leave suburban St. Louis, their home for nearly 40 years, for a chance to be closer to family — close, but not too close.

The Vorthmanns drew a circle with a 30-mile radius around Seymour, where their only child teaches school, and added in a desire to live on the water. That led them to Hope and a home on Schaefer Lake in July 2012.

Lake Shore Drive, which circles the 100-acre private lake, offers a scenic pathway to walk or bicycle, which aligns with the Vorthmanns’ interests.

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Lois began walking for exercise 20 years ago in their small subdivision. She was taking 10,000 steps a day, but half of it was coming from activity in and around the house. So four years ago, when she turned 65, she upped her daily goal to 10,000 active steps — mostly around Schaefer Lake, a 2.75-mile trip.

But she needed to walk about 4.5 miles to reach 10,000 steps, so she backtracks several times on daily walks around the lake. Including time spent talking to other walkers she encounters along the way Monday through Saturday and an occasional Sunday, her daily exercise regimen lasts about an hour and 45 minutes.

Using a Fitbit to track her steps, Lois walks 1,500 to 1,600 miles each year — 7,000 miles over the past five years. “It adds up,” she said.

Although some lake neighbors use headphones during their morning exercise, Lois doesn’t. “I consider it my time of prayer and planning, thinking about life,” she said. That includes the environment — the lake, the trees that line it and the amount of litter she encounters on her walks.

Initially, Lois brought along a plastic bag a few times a week, but now carries one every day. When she gets home, she empties out beer cans, cigarette wrappers and candy wrappers. “This is my home. I don’t understand why people trash it, so I pick up what I see,” she said.

Ken’s daily workout comes primarily from riding his bicycle, around the lake and into the countryside. He started bicycling in college, riding to and from classes. But once he graduated and began working in the aerospace industry, bicycling took a back seat to career.

As chief engineer for cruise missile guidance systems with naval contractor McDonnell Douglas Corp. and Boeing Co., which acquired the firm, he was more apt to get around on an airplane. He traveled to 40 countries, conducting technical briefings for generals and admirals from U.S.-ally countries.

But retirement offered a change in lifestyle. In their move to Schaefer Lake, they chose a home across the street from Paul Ashbrook, who founded the Hope Ride 33 years ago. Ken completed a 100-mile bicycle tour during last year’s Hope Ride, crossing that off his bucket list. This September, he dialed back to a more reasonable 50 miles.

Ken bicycles about 15 miles each Monday through Friday. On Saturdays, he’ll ride 40 to 45 miles, toward Columbus, Shelbyville or Greensburg. He puts in about 2,000 miles a year. He rides a 20-speed Trek bicycle, light enough that he can easily lift it with one hand. His bike has thin tires, which are nice until he hits a sharp pebble.

“Then I’ll call my wife,” he said.

A bicycle computer measures his distance, speed and heart rate, stats he enters into a spread sheet. Practicing an active lifestyle connects three important pillars — physical, mental and spiritual health.

While Lois and Ken have been fortunate to enjoy good health most of their lives, he experienced a setback with the discovery of liver cancer in 2017, which required the removal of half his liver and going through chemotherapy.

“Walking and biking was a significant part of rehabilitation,” he said.

While exercise regimens send them in different directions, the Vorthmanns cherish time they spend together traveling — in-state day trips to long-distance vacations, which often include hiking or biking. Favorite one- or two-day trips include Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Brown County State Park in Nashville, and Parke County’s covered bridges and Turkey Run State Park.

By car, their most memorable trip — taken in their 2007 Chrysler Crossfire convertible — covered the entire length of U.S. 66 in two stretches: Chicago to St. Louis, which takes about a week with side trips; and St. Louis to Santa Monica, California, which takes two and a half weeks, also stopping at notable sites along the way.

One of those visits found them photographed next to a statue of a musician “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” lyrics from the Eagles song “Take It Easy.” “There isn’t a better way to see what Americana is about than taking a trip like that,” Ken said.

By air, they have made four trips to Hawaii during their 47 years of married life, each time staying on a different island — Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii.

Although both grew up in Sumner, Iowa, similar in size to Hope, and were in the same graduating class, they had different sets of friends and didn’t date during high school. Back home for summer after their sophomore years in college, Lois was with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s boyfriend, and they were looking for a fourth to play “500,” a card game played with partners. They ran into Ken, and he agreed to play.

Although they had different personalities, the Vorthmanns discovered that they shared the same Midwestern values, a bond that has lasted nearly a half century.

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Ken and Lois Vorthmann

Ages: Both 69

Years married: 47

Immediate family: Son, Justin Vorthmann, a teacher at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour.

Hometown: Both are from Sumner, Iowa.

Education: Lois received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Northern Iowa University, 1973; Ken received a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University, 1973, and a Master of Science degree in systems science and mathematics from Washington University, 1980.

Work history: Lois did substitute teaching and worked as a church choir director and organist in the St. Louis area. Ken was chief engineer for cruise missile guidance systems with McDonnell Douglas Corp., based in a St. Louis suburb, and Boeing Co., which bought McDonnell Douglas.