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A Conversation with Weeping Water’s Ken Heinz About Keeping Healthy During Retirement

Ken Heinz spent a total of 35 years working in education. He taught for seven years, was a principal for five years, and then was superintendent for 23 years. For his undergraduate degree he majored in Music Education and Vocal Music Performance at Nebraska Wesleyan. He got his Master’s degree in Educational Administration at Kansas […]

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Ken Heinz spent a total of 35 years working in education. He taught for seven years, was a principal for five years, and then was superintendent for 23 years. For his undergraduate degree he majored in Music Education and Vocal Music Performance at Nebraska Wesleyan. He got his Master’s degree in Educational Administration at Kansas State University and his doctorate from University of Nebraska at Omaha and Lincoln both through a joint program.

Now that Ken has retired, he continues to direct a men’s choir and has become involved in more activities with his church.

In the last few years, what lifestyle, habit, or behavior change has had the biggest positive impact on your life?

Getting back into a routine of setting time aside to exercise and stay active. I used to be very good at exercising, and the last few years, before I took early retirement, it was pretty time consuming. Once I retired I fell out of that routine, unfortunately. When you don’t have much time, exercise often is one of the easiest things to push to the side and I did that for the last couple of years. 

So, for the last year-and-a-half, I’d say I managed to establish a new exercise routine.  I forgot how good a person can feel when you are on a consistent schedule and when you feel like you’re in good shape.  Even your sleeping and thinking and blood pressure are improved.  I do a combination of cardio and weightlifting.  We have a nice little setup in my basement in terms of equipment.  We have a suspension trainer which is kind of like an elliptical, but it’s not as hard on the hips.  We have a treadmill and a free weight setup down there.  Also, we have six acres out in the country so when it’s nice out, my wife and I walk a lot of the roads.

When you feel unfocused, what do you do?

A lot of times I’ll make a list and prioritize for that day and into the next day.  I won’t go much further than that because sometimes when a person feels unfocused, they have too many things going through their head anyhow.  I’ll talk to family or friends.  I’ll go back and dig up old pictures of my kids from when they were little, from Christmases or birthdays or when they were out swimming or playing in the snow.  Reminiscing helps me refocus.  And exercise helps me focus, too.  And a lot of times I’ll just completely get away from things with my rosary.  Those little things can make a difference and help me step back and take a big breath and say, “Okay, here we go.”

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

I’d tell them many things.  The first thing I’d say is to work hard, be patient, and listen to others. So many times, younger people today just don’t listen to others.

Be prepared to work your way up.  Younger people may want things right now, but they have to be prepared to put the time in and work their way up.

Not everything that you want is always going to happen.  It just isn’t.  And sometimes that’s meant to be.

Don’t let others control you.  Sometimes if we get upset at things, or we get angry at things, or we don’t like what the boss says or what have you, we let that control our emotions.  But don’t let that happen.

Pay it forward and find the good in people.  Negativity begets negativity.  Get away from it and be positive.

Never give up.  Seldom does anything work the first time.  You have to work at things and refine them and you can usually get there.

The last thing is to stay focused.  It’s so easy today to get distracted.  Stay focused on what your mission is.  That’s the only way you can accomplish your goals. 

What is one lifestyle trend that excites you?

I definitely like the trend to healthy eating.  One of the things that scares me to death is when I see some folks, particularly some younger adults who are obviously not in very good shape, just living lifestyles built around busy schedules where their health goes by the wayside.

My wife teases me and says there’s something wrong with me since I’m 59 and reading obituaries all the time.  I started doing that a couple years ago.  I had some friends die and that got me looking at obituaries and now I am seeing all these relatively young people who are their passing away.  I’m thinking what in the world is going on, and then I see some of these unhealthy eating patterns.  It scares me for them.  But I do feel good that there is an emphasis on healthy eating.  It needs to happen.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why?

My father.  My wife and I were high school sweethearts and have been together for forty years.  She reminds me that I make so many decisions just like my dad did.  I say, well, that’s because he’s a great role model!  He put his family first and taught me all the life lessons that I live by today.  He used to preach about working hard but also said to never forget my priorities:  God, family, and work.  He was such a selfless and giving person.  He would literally give you the shirt off his back if he thought that would help.  He was not a negative person.  He reminded me that I was going to get burnt every now and then throughout life, but to realize that’s just a part of life.  But you can’t let it control you.  Stay positive with it.  Sit back, look at it from an outside lens, and figure out what needs to be done to move forward and make things better.

What’s one of the biggest life lessons you’ve learned?

Be kind, be giving and pay things forward.  I honest to goodness believe in my heart that goodness begets goodness.  It will give you the chance to really enjoy the things that you have, which are the blessings in life that come your way from giving to others.

What do you think it is that makes you/someone successful?

I guess this depends on how people define success.  In my mind, success is living a God-fearing life.  I think that makes sense to most people.  Success isn’t always having material things. It’s what happens inside and what you feel you can do for others that makes the difference.  I’m a pretty good Catholic guy, and the Pope made a statement recently when he was reflecting on sin.  He said you do have to be careful about sin, but one of the things that is most important to God is what you do for others and that is what He is really going to look at.  In my mind, that’s really the definition of success.  We can have all the money and fame and things of the world, but if we aren’t helping others with it, it’s hard for me to say you’re successful.

My dad used to say, I don’t care who it is, but everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time. Doesn’t matter if it’s the president or the pope or the guy down the street.  We’re all made equal.  Success is what we can and do for others.

How do you stay motivated?

My family.  My kids.  My wife.  Thinking about them and the gifts I have.  God blessed me enough in giving them to me.  What else do I need for motivation?

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

I’d like people to think that I cared about others and put others first, was a giving person, and that I lived my faith.  The fact that I have degrees and have been reasonably successful in the professional world, that really doesn’t mean that much to me.  I have had many former students of mine contact me and tell me what a great influence I was on them and how much I have impacted their lives.  As with most educators, with most of these students I had no idea that I had made even a little difference in their lives, let alone a large one.  I had one student dedicate his first CD to me and just very recently had another contact me to tell me how much I had done for her to get her through some very difficult times in high school.  Likewise, I have had many staff share the same types of stories with me.  These are the types of things that I greatly admire in others and hope, in at least some small degree, that others will see in me and remember me for.

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