Ten years ago, when Jay and Sandy Niederhauser were closing in on traditional retirement age, they made a command decision.
They decided not to.
Retire, that is. Instead, they sold their home in Salt Lake City, said goodbye to their longtime friends and neighbors, and moved to the mountains to run an inn.
In terms of career and lifestyle change, for the Niederhausers this was going from the ice age to the Al Gore age. During the first 40 years of their marriage, he had been a traveling salesman and she had worked in the clerical department for the railroad. They were used to being apart as much as they were used to being together.
"He'd be gone three months, and I'd be so glad to see him come home," remembers Sandy. "Then I'd help him pack."
They raised two kids, made a home, created great memories, built a life …
But by 1999, the kids were gone, as were their busy careers, which is when they decided to retire to the mountains to work seven days a week, 24 hours a day — together.
When I met the Niederhausers at the Blue Boar Inn, the 12-room lodge they run next to the entrance to Wasatch Mountain State Park, I asked them the same question I'll bet you'd have asked them: "So, how's that all worked out?"
They waited until they'd finished a bite of the grilled salmon the Blue Boar's award-winning chef, Eric May, had just served them for lunch.
"Oh, wonderful," said Jay.
"I'm glad we did it," said Sandy.
Retirement, agreed the two healthy, energetic people you'd never guess are approaching their mid-70s, would have been so boring.
It isn't that it's all been easy, they were quick to add, but it has never been dull.
Time has flown. One day they were just learning the ropes, the next they were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
They just might be the longest married pair of innkeepers in the business.
I asked them for tips to being successful innkeepers (at any age).
"Go skeet shooting every Saturday morning," answered Jay.
"And don't ask your wife to go," added Sandy.
They described a decidedly divide-and-conquer approach to running the inn.
Sandy is in charge of managing the staff and dealing with hiring and firing. Jay is in charge of marketing, procurement and capital improvements.
The high rate of employee turnover (she oversees a staff of 30) is Sandy's biggest challenge.
"If it's going to break, it's going to break on Friday or Saturday night," he said, citing an innkeeper's corollary of Murphy's Law.
"But with one exception," he added, "The fan will break on the Fourth of July no matter what day it falls on."
Their most pleasant, and unexpected, surprise has been their customers, who are by and large extraordinarily encouraging.
"We get the most wonderful letters," said Sandy. "It wasn't something we expected. I mean, how many times have you stayed somewhere and then gone home and written a letter telling them how much you enjoyed your stay? I know I haven't done that. But here it happens all the time. Of course we get complaints too, but the compliments far outweigh the complaints."
They said the biggest occupational hazard of being an innkeeper was also unexpected.
"Run an inn and you'll gain weight," said Sandy as Jay nodded his head in agreement. "You really have to be disciplined. There's just so much good food."
So they pushed the dessert menu away after lunch, ready to return to their respective posts.
"We're just two people who have been married for 50 years and get along," said Jay as they turned to leave.
As if that's the most normal thing in the world.
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to [email protected]