Standing near the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemeter, the Netherlands Carillon has one of the best views in the area, overlooking the Potomac River towards Washington, D.C..

Beth Kraemer

Meet Beth

The Journey to Retirement Begins With a Single Step

With a flourish of his pen, her financial advisor circled “ERFC” and declared, “That is going to make the difference for you! You’re in good shape.”

While the decision to retire can cause anxiety for some, Beth Kraemer—a former special education teacher with FCPS—had peace of mind thanks to the financial security provided by her VRS and ERFC pensions. So in 2016, with confirmation that her finances were in order, she took the first steps of her retirement journey.

Knowing retirement would be a huge life change, Beth made a plan to ease into it. The last year of her career, she transitioned to a job-sharing role at Kings Park Elementary School. This enabled her to get used to having some extra free time during the week—something her decades of teaching a wide range of students at Robinson Secondary School and Wolf Trap, Crossfield, and Dogwood elementary schools hadn’t always allowed for.

Her next step was deciding she needed a goal to work toward. So she determined to hike the Camino de Santiago (the way of St. James), a 500-mile trek from the French Alps in the town of St. Jean Pied-du-Port to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. She scheduled the trip for the September after she retired—when she’d normally be prepping for a new school year. The anticipation of this momentous trek gave her something to look forward to. And the planning and training kept her both busy and in shape!

Beth hiking

“A journey of a thousand [or 500] miles begins with a single step.”

Beth Hiking
Beth Hiking
Arrival at the Cathedral de Compostela
Arrival at the Cathedral de Compostela

Two days after Labor Day, she set off for Europe with her sister, brother-in-law, and a good friend. Each day, they walked the time-honored path through France and Spain, relishing the same glorious vistas countless pilgrims before them have enjoyed for centuries.

After six weeks of lugging a full backpack, engaging with fellow travelers from over 22 countries, and lodging in quaint villages along the way, they reached their long-awaited destination. Beth describes her arrival at the cathedral this way: “Tears filled my eyes when I finally sat down, as powerful organ music and angelic singing filled the cathedral and I witnessed the famous botafumeiro [one of the largest censers in the world] swinging to and fro.”

The pilgrimage had accomplished its purpose. And the journey provided a distinct departure from her teaching career, leading the way to a fulfilling retirement. Beth felt refreshed and ready to take on whatever came next.

Along the Portuguese Way

The years since then have been full. In 2017, she once again trekked to Santiago, this time taking the Portuguese Way. In 2021, she hiked 200 miles of the Via Francigena from Lucca to Rome, Italy. But retirement hasn’t been all hiking. Beth has kept busy with travels to Scotland, Israel, Palestine, the Dominican Republic, and Hilton Head, SC, as well as visits to her two daughters and four young grandchildren. In fact, she recently returned to Northern Virginia after having spent two years in Boston where she rented a studio apartment and helped her daughter with childcare.

She’s also involved with several of her church’s ministries including teaching ESOL, collecting food to distribute to those with food insecurities, sponsoring an Afghan refugee family, and volunteering with the hypothermia program for those experiencing homelessness.

What’s next for Beth? She may not know for sure. But whatever the future holds, she’ll take things one step at a time.