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..

Elise Passentino

Meet Elsie

Retiring to a New Art Form

Say, “Yes, I’ll try it.” Join everything. That sums up Elise Passentino’s retirement philosophy.

When she left Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in 2012 and moved to Florida with her husband, she didn’t know what retirement had in store, but she knew she’d meet it with an open mind and willing heart. If she hasn’t done it yet, she probably will: clubs, volunteering, tutoring, and more. When she signed up for a beginner's class in mosaic art, she had no idea she'd discover a hidden talent.

Her newfound aptitude for art was a game changer. She’s since spent countless hours creating stunning pieces from broken glass. In fact, she became so adept, she began teaching mosaic art twice a week to adults and has done so for the past nine years.

Her artistic side was not something she’d had a chance to explore during her career. Elise started working for FCPS in 1984 as a special education teacher at the Key and Fair Hill Centers and then became a reading specialist/reading recovery teacher at Poplar Tree Elementary School (ES). She later transitioned to an administrative position, finishing out her career as the vice principal of Kings Park ES.

One of the highlights of her time with FCPS was meeting some of the “smartest, most hard working, and dedicated” coworkers who became friends. The one drawback was that she depended on work for her social circle.

As a retiree in Florida, Elise had to start all over. She and her husband began by doing things they loved. For him, that meant volunteering to help new entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Elise joined a group that cleans the beach each day, helps out at the area food pantry, and tutors students at an at-risk facility every Thursday. Together, they became members of a local Fairfax Alumni group. Slowly, they met new friends with common interests. In short, she advises, “Hang out with people who bring you up and try to be that person, too.”

Elsie teaching mosaic art
Elise's Mosaic Art
Foot wash station made from 
a skim board she bought from a kid at the beach for $2
Outdoor surfboard shower created with $400 worth of glass and a $20 surfboard

Say, “Yes, I’ll try it.” Join everything.

Elise Passentino

Elise also recommends planning ahead for retirement. About five years out, she and her husband started spending every spring break at a new beach destination in the search for their dream retirement location. She also kept a folder of all the things she wanted to see and do once she was no longer tied down to her job.

Financial preparation is important, too. Run your retirement estimates and stay on top of things. Elise credits her ERFC pension with supporting her “art habit” and helping with medical expenses. True to her mantra "Yes, I'll try it," she’s currently taking Spanish, learning to play the ukulele (through $5 lessons on YouTube), and has taken up pickleball.

If retirement is an art form, Elise could give a master class!