Creative Retirement

Summer Sailing with Retired Professor John Stevens

John Stevens working below deck, keeping in touch with colleagues in Asheville and around the world. When John Stevens took a professorship in the Western North Carolina mountains in 1968, it pretty much precluded one of his dreams: to live on a sailboat.

“When I got involved with academia, it was a lifelong commitment,” Stevens says. He’d grown up sailing at his family home in the Jersey shore town of Beach Haven and raced a 28-foot boat during his college years.

But when the mountains were calling, he turned toward other dreams. His tenure includes helping to found the university’s undergraduate research program, the international Mössbauer Effect Data Center, the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC), to name just a few. And despite an official retirement from his position as professor of chemistry in May 2013, Stevens is still active in the scientific community and still works with students on their research.

But that other lifelong dream? He and his wife, Salli Gaddini, are making that come true, each summer in the Netherlands.

They chose what might seem like an unusual destination: an island off the Dutch Coast in the North Sea (Terschelling), accessible only by boat. Stevens knew of the place because he’d spent considerable time in the Netherlands during the late 1970s as research professor at the University of Nijmegen.

It was decided: he and Gaddini would camp on Terschelling. While there, they purchased a sailboat they saw in the harbor, even though Gaddini, an avid swimmer, didn’t then know how to sail. The price was so ridiculously low Stevens figured it must have holes in the sail.

Home on the water, ready to sail!And as for the fulfillment of that original dream: “Sailing, especially for three months, is incredible, being outside all the time, and the Netherlands is one very special place,” Stevens says.

They keep fold-up bicycles on their boat, and when docked, Stevens gets up early to bike around the countryside. “It’s like a step back into time; village life is still preserved,” he says of the area. “Some of the villages have their own sublanguages. They’re very community and family oriented.”

The decision to buy the sailboat happened almost by kismet and required what he calls “nonlinear thinking,” an ability that defined his tenure.

“That’s probably why I enjoy sailing,” he says. “You’re interacting on so many different levels—with the water, the air, the people, the boat, the mechanical stuff ... where will the next wind be coming from, how are you going to respond to it. You’ve got to see the bigger picture.”