Cambrian: Opinion

Cambria couple steps into new world: Retirement

Kathy Unger and her husband, Bob, have closed their Moonstones Gallery in Cambria and are enjoying retirement.
Kathy Unger and her husband, Bob, have closed their Moonstones Gallery in Cambria and are enjoying retirement.

Husband Richard is only partly joking when he advises friends not to retire. He should know.

“I’ve retired three times,” he says. Each time, “I wound up working even harder.”

He was a Harrah’s Club pit boss for nearly two decades, retired to be a Cambria bakery owner/head baker for 11 years, then a caterer. Even now, he’s a professional lapidary.

Just call it x-treme retirement.

No matter when and how you retire and from what, it’s a drastic life change. Doing something really well for a long time, and then not doing it anymore, can be a shock to the psyche and the physique.

So when Kathy and Bob Unger closed their Moonstones Gallery in Cambria after more than 35 years of selling high-quality American artworks and crafts, I fretted about the adjustments they’d be facing.

They’d been 19-year-old, next-door-neighbor college students in Tarzana when they became a couple working together in Bob’s leathercraft business. Then they moved to Cambria and began selling their own creations and other works that spoke to them.

After buying the Moonstones Gallery in 1981 from a group of stained-glass artists, the Ungers’ path for the next 35 years was set in stone — and wood and glass and yarn.

For Bob, the lure “was the thrill of finding beautiful, well-made, creative craft,” he said, and having “a great respect for artists that could make some thing out of no thing … something lasting and beautiful.”

Kathy, reveled in her ability to problem solve, keep the gallery organized, and bonded with customers and employees.

They loved it.

“What a great team we made!” Kathy said. “My greatest joy was to be at work all day with my best friend. There was never a dull moment.”

After three decades, though, the temptation to retire became irresistible.

“The physical demands of running a retail enterprise began to take its toll,” Bob said.

“It started to feel more like work than fun,” Kathy recalled.

Their lease was up for renewal, so the couple tried to sell the shop. But the ties between the Ungers and their finest creation — their business — were so symbiotic that new ownership probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.

At the end of 2016, after 35 1/2 years, they closed Moonstones.

And retired.

Sure, retirement has been an adjustment.

“It is never easy to make big changes in your life,” Bob said, “so I think it will take time.” He said he misses “the inspiration that our artists gave to me … being in the position of bringing pleasure” to their customers. “I miss being a contributor to our town … creating a fun and inspiring place to go.”

However, he’s glad to be rid of “the record keeping, banking, taxes, regulations, overhead … and I do not miss going up and down the stairs 20 times a day!”

Kathy said she misses daily interaction with the people, but is relieved to be free of “the unrelenting responsibility … and the computer crashes on a busy weekend.

“I feel like a great weight has been lifted,” she said. “This is the longest period of time I have had off from work in over 45 years, and I feel as though I am experiencing an endless summer. We can just pick up and go somewhere with no elaborate preparations and no returning to a huge mound of work.”

They can cook, spend time with friends, hike, swim, garden and read, and she sings with Cambria Community Chorale, a great joy.

She added, “We can go back to being creative ourselves, instead of selling someone else’s creativity.”

For others considering retirement, Kathy advises, “Don’t listen to all the naysayers. If it won’t create a financial burden, don’t wait until you are too old to enjoy the new things you want to explore.”

Bob said that, in retirement, “I’m free to do anything I want to do, or to choose to do nothing at all. … The hidden treasure for me has been the ability to reconnect with Kathy. When you are working, you enjoy each other, but you don’t seem to have the time to appreciate each other, to deeply learn about each other. Retirement has given us that precious time.”

For Kathy, “our future is upon us, and we still love each other as much as we did 47 years ago in a garage in Tarzana. That is the treasure. We actually made it.”

Retirement stress

In her 2015 article at, Katherine Lee described “eight ways to ease into retirement.”

She wrote that, “Retirement is, in fact, a complex experience for almost everyone, characterized by gains and losses and tremendous shifts in identity and routines.”

Psychologist Irene Dietch said in Lee’s article, “Unless those challenges are addressed and dealt with, the so-called ‘golden years’ can be tarnished. Even those who may have thought they were prepared can find that the transition is tougher once they’re actually in the throes of it.”