Cover Story: When I Grow Up

How two roads changed at mid-life

May 10, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Dayle Deardurff says if she has to spend her entire adult life working, "I might as well do it for the community."

We are born with possibilities. Our parents envision us as presidents, doctors, astronauts and actresses even before we can walk or form sentences. But as we age, it seems, so do our possibilities.

Life happens, and we steadily lose the potential to be everything.

Dayle Deardurff and Chris White each held disparate ideals of what they wanted to be when they grew up. The women have never met, but they share a similarity: They found their potential as grown-ups, both during mid-life.

Deardurff's original plan as an undergraduate at Bowling Green State University was to pursue fashion design. Oh, but there was one thing.

"I didn't have any art talent," Deardurff admits.

She instead graduated with a degree in American studies, then attended law school at Creighton University in Omaha.

She's worked since she was 15 years old, working as everything, from a hotel maid to distributing phone books to visiting the elderly.

The only time she took off was during her first year of law school to concentrate on her studies.

Conversely, White grew up in a family that could afford to send only one child to a two-year college. She looked up to her sister, who worked downtown at the Western-Southern Life Insurance Company.

"I thought that was the neatest thing," White says. "She got all dressed up, took the bus and stayed down there all day. I wanted to be just like her."

White's other dream was to be the mother of 10 adopted children. In high school, she took secretarial jobs and enjoyed working with numbers. After graduation, she joined Procter & Gamble and took in an entry-level position in finance and accounting. It was a new path to the waterfall.

After Deardurff graduated from law school, she worked at the Ohio Association for the Mentally Retarded for six months, then opened a private law practice serving families, children and factory workers. Her husband, also an attorney in private practice, came to her with a proposal for ProKids, a non-profit child abuse advocacy program that would utilize her trial skills and where she could learn to write grants, oversee a budget and develop non-profit administrative skills.

"I'm someone who always wants to be intellectually challenged," says Deardurff, who became executive director of ProKids for 15 years.

White, on the other hand, worked at P&G for 10 years before being promoted to manager.

"I would tell people that my job was enough accounting work to make it legitimate within the finance and accounting discipline, but it was mostly people work and (the people work) kept me sane," she says.

White enrolled in night courses at the University of Cincinnati. In 1999, she completed the program in the Center for Adults and Part-Time Students at Xavier University and graduated with a degree in liberal arts, with a minor in women and minorities studies.

After her tenure at ProKids, Deardurff took a break from the courtroom. She worked on a government research study, then for several years helped non-profits tackle strategic planning. She also had two daughters and dealt with the struggle of being a working mom.

"If you don't have a supportive (work) environment and you have a family, it's time for a change," she says. "If all you're doing is paying the bills, it's a disaster, because (your children) only have only one childhood."

Through her years reviewing grants, Deardurff learned about Public Allies, a non-profit agency that encourages, supports and trains young volunteers.

"When you choose job opportunities, it is part talent, part interest and part where your heart takes you," she says.

Likewise, White's heart was calling her somewhere far afield — to the Presbyterian ministry.

"Presbyterians believe in a connectional system," she says. "So I couldn't just say, 'I want to be a minister.' "

White attended support group meetings and solicited prayer without revealing the specifics of her decision process. Even though shrouded in secrecy, White says several friends asked, "You are thinking about going into the ministry, aren't you?"

"It's like everyone knew except for me," she says. "Friends would say they were surprised because I loved P&G, but they weren't that surprised."

Deardurff has been executive director at Public Allies since October. Her career is a circular path united by her drive to help children and the community.

"At Public Allies, I'm in a position to encourage people to take the path that I took," she says, adding that her greatest challenge with this new non-profit is finding patrons who see the value in helping young adults make a difference in the community.

White faced similar challenges when she left the ivory towers of P&G to join the seminary. She had to move away from Cincinnati, where she'd lived her entire life, leaving her friends and family. She has now completed nearly two years of seminary work.

"It has been helpful coming down here and doing OK with grades and doing OK in the field work," White says.

As for Deardurff, she sums up what is ahead in two words: "Total unknown." And though she hasn't practiced law in months, she's maintained her license.

Public Allies is a new agency with new concepts for non-profits. There are no guarantees. Deardurff made a seemingly obvious yet life-altering decision after she graduated from law school.

"If I have to spend my entire adult life working, I might as well be doing it for the community," she says.

White will finish seminary next summer, but she won't be automatically ordained as a minister. She must interview to become a pastor and aspires to pastor a small church. Once during a church meeting, the speaker addressed ministers turning 50 who were considering retirement.

"I'm going to be 49 when I graduate," White says. "Five years from now, I think I'll still be going strong, working in a church."

Quite simply, White has faith in a higher power.

"God's timing is right and God does have a plan for us," White says. "It just takes a while. Sometimes God has surprises, and you have to be ready for them." ©