Residents ‘reinvent’ their lives by choice or chance

Pam King
Special to The Black Mountain News

In 2011, Pat Bastian was working as a database and customer service manager for a large corporation in Tampa, Fla. One day, her supervisor called her into his office.

The company, her place of employment for 12 years, was expecting layoffs, the manager said. He asked her to commit to working another five years.

Bastian couldn’t. She and her husband Bill, already retired, planned to be living in Black Mountain in five years. Her boss fired her, on the spot. Suddenly the five-year plan became an immediate reality.

Sometimes people chose to reinvent themselves, sometimes they don’t. Starting a new life, especially in middle age, is daunting. But people who do, whether by choice or circumstances, generally share the same feelings - feelings they describe as simultaneously frightening and liberating.

“It was devastating,” Bastian said of the shock of having her life changed. “I went home reeling. Many tears were shed.” She remembers thinking, “Now what?”

She and her husband decided to sell their home and move. She took the fact that it sold quickly, at a good price in a soft market, as a good sign.

“We have doors open to us all the time. We just have to walk through them,” Bastian said.

Dean Yobbi’s new path also brought him to Black Mountain. Yobbi, a lifelong Floridian, spent 30 years as a journalist. His career included The Tampa Tribune, The Palm Beach Post and The Miami Herald.

“The newspaper business began changing, including downsizing and furloughs, and the work atmosphere changed too,” he said. “I saw so many good people get laid off. I felt my passion stripped away.”

Yobbi and his wife, Charmain, had already been thinking of moving to Black Mountain, where they had spent numerous mountain biking vacations. When more layoffs were imminent, Yobbi decided to “jump out of the airplane rather than waiting for the Herald to push me out of the airplane.”

“When you’re 52, time becomes precious,” he said. “Better start spending it in an area you love, doing something inspiring - or prepare to die with regret.”

Yobbi’s wife made the move first in January 2015, becoming a Realtor here while he sold their house in Florida. For Yobbi, finding employment in the Black Mountain area has been a challenge. “It hasn’t worked out as well as I would have liked, but,” he said, “I’m still not convinced we made the wrong decision.”

Yobbi, who described his life move as “an odd blend of excitement and danger,” works part-time at REI Outfitters in Biltmore Park, utilizing his mountain biking knowledge to educate customers. While he describes that as a good experience because he is doing something totally different, he also looks forward to finding a job that inspires his passion.

“Writing has always come naturally to me,” he said. “I’d like to put those skills to use, perhaps in editing or social media.”

When she arrived in Black Mountain, Bastian began integrating into the community. She joined the fitness club and took classes at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts. Then she saw an article in The Asheville Citizen-Times about a nonprofit organization called Read to Succeed and its efforts to address the “achievement gap” in Asheville City Schools.

The mission spoke to her, and she sensed the program would become the new purpose in her life. She became a reading coach and began taking on more responsibilities with the fledgling organization.

“I built their first website, handled all their marketing, and now I’m the volunteer executive director,” she said. “After five years, I still have a relationship with the first student I coached. We really enjoy each other. This is what I’m meant to be doing.

“I’ve gotten back so much more than I’ve given. I’ve been rewarded by every child in the program, every volunteer who feels fulfilled, by every grateful parent, and by every new skill I’ve learned.”

Life has been a series of reinventions for Scott Counce of the Merry Wine Market in Black Mountain. He explored a variety of majors in college including accounting, business, marketing, and public relations before deciding on journalism with a focus on television broadcasting.

“All those fields have proven helpful in managing the wine store,” Counce said. “There are no mistakes.”

He was working at an advertising agency in his hometown of Corinth, Mississippi when he came to Ridgecrest for a summer. “I knew then that I would live here,” he said. “I went home, quit my job and made the move. Sometimes you have to get out of the way and let God talk to you.”

Counce worked various jobs in the area before going back to school to get a teaching degree. He was teaching at Black Mountain Primary School when he ran into Katherine, whom he had met eight years earlier at Ridgecrest. “I didn’t think I would ever get married,” he said, “but when I met her again, I knew I couldn’t take another step in life without her.”

As they explored the future together, Katherine asked Scott what his dream job would be. Scott said it would be a “mom and pop” store in Black Mountain. He loves meeting people. Katherine had a degree from the Culinary Institute in New York. They decided to open a wine shop - a big financial risk.

“That first morning when I went to unlock the front door, I thought I was going to have a panic attack,” Counce said. “Little did I know that a group of friends from church were hiding around the corner. They were my first customers, and they even refused to accept the available discount.”

Thirteen years after their downtown store opened, Counce now only occasionally asks Katherine for advice. He enjoys his job. He likes being able to be with his children before they go to school. He likes having the time to spend with his wife before the store opens.

“This couldn’t have happened if I’d stayed in Corinth,” Counce said. “People had expectations of me. This has been very liberating. Every day is different.”

Regrets? Yobbi has only one.

“I should have done this sooner,” he said. “So many times in my life I took the safe path. I’m giving this my best shot.”

Stuck? Consider these books

“Steering by Starlight, Finding Your Right Life, No Matter What” by Martha Beck

“The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who Have Lived the Longest” by Dan Buettner