…by Prill Boyle

What\’s next?

If you haven\’t already asked yourself that question, at some point you
probably will. Average life expectancy for women is now approaching 80
years, and with our greater longevity comes more beginnings and
endings. Children leave home. Jobs change. Loved ones die. Retirement
approaches. Then new jobs beckon when savings run out. Life, in other
words, is not so much a box of chocolates as a series of chapters. And
when one chapter is over, we\’re often uneasy until we know how the next
one begins.

The problem is, sometimes there\’s no tidy answer to the “What\’s next?”
question. No new situation, individual, or passion materializes to
propel our story forward. That\’s what happened to Wini Yunker, and how
she dealt with it provides an object lesson for us all.

Four years have passed since I first traveled to Nicholasville,
Kentucky to interview this remarkable woman, a Peace Corps volunteer
who was the inspiration for my book Defying Gravity. She had just
returned to the States after spending two years in Ukraine teaching
Economics to tenth and eleventh graders, and I was eager to hear her

During the course of our conversation, we talked not only about her
past—where her decades-long dream came from and how she achieved it—but
also her future. She said she\’d had the time of her life in her adopted
city of Kirovograd and was already missing the many friends she\’d made,
the orphanage where she\’d volunteered, and most of all, the sense of
purpose the Peace Corps had given her.

Although she\’d considered signing on for another two-years, she needed
to return home to her family. But now that she was back in
Nicholasville, she found herself at loose ends. I sensed that she
thought the Peace Corps might be a hard act to follow.

And it has been. That\’s not to imply that Wini hasn\’t enjoyed herself.
Or that she hasn\’t kept growing. Far from it. She\’s gone on several
trips, volunteered for numerous organizations, and received a
three-year appointment from the State of Kentucky as a Democratic
election commissioner for Jessamine County. She even took up the piano,
something she\’d wanted to do for years. (The fact that she doesn\’t own
a piano didn\’t stop her; she arranged to have her lessons and do her
practicing at the church she attends.)

Last summer I saw Wini again, this time in Minneapolis. She was
traveling with Zoya Rodionova, the teacher who was her mentor in
Kirovograd, and they were staying with Beth Christensen, the benefactor
of the orphanage. The four of us did two book events together, and Wini
was her same old, wonderful self. Full of zest. But she still hadn\’t
found another consuming passion through which to channel her many gifts.

Yesterday I called to catch up. She\’s 71 now and head over heels in
love. The object of her affection is a young fellow—her 17-month old
grandson Jay. Every weekend she watches him. “Being a grandma is just
wonderful,” she gushed. “When I take Jay back to his own house on
Monday morning, I sneak out the door and cry.”

Wini\’s life in Nicholasville might not be as exotic as her life in
Ukraine, but what she\’s doing today is no less important, no less
rewarding. In July, she\’s off to Chicago for a Peace Corps reunion. At
some point, she may do another tour. But for now, she\’s finding purpose
being with Jay. Once again, Wini Yunker is having the time of her life.