DOVER — Hart and Char Hogan, temporarily retired — not necessarily by choice — have taken his father's mantra to heart: Hard work is the road to fulfilling your dreams, Fred Hogan always said.
And that road has the Hogans traveling, including a recent cruise that took them to Finland, Sweden, Russia and Germany.
Hart and Char, both 59, met when he was working at the Publix in Plant City. His father also worked at Publix, but always found the funds for family vacations.
Hart adopted that philosophy. He would go on to build a successful medical sales company after graduating from Florida Bible College and Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia.
He learned Hebrew at Princeton University, and served as a youth minister at churches in Fort Lauderdale and Lakeland.
Fortune smiled on him when a national firm bought his medical sales company.
Not one to sit around, Hart worked for them as a long-term care sales consultant, but cutbacks this year have brought early retirement.
Char suffered a similar fate. She walked into work one day as an office manager for a Tampa software company, and was told to turn around and go home.
The retirement, no matter how brief it might be, gave them the opportunity to take the cruise. Russia was especially intriguing because of Hart's interest in the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
What the couple saw there was both beautiful and disturbing, a mixture of the opulent and the grim, historic churches and distressed high rises.
"Granted we weren't there long, but the Russia we saw was such a very strange mixture — there's nothing in America, for instance, like the gilded palace of Catherine the Great," he says. "It is opulence on a grand scale. On the way to the palace, we passed miles and miles of abandoned military installations and depressed housing; yet every five years the government regilds the gold throughout the city.
"And then there is the KFC where we ate the Russian version — fried chicken in some strange-tasting sauce."
Although Russian and international tourists flock to the palaces, museums, churches and gardens, Char says climate control is almost nonexistent, even in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, one of the oldest and largest museums in the world.
"The windows are open and all the bodies inside raise the temperature to an astonishing 90 degrees," Char says. "They said if you spent 30 seconds in front of every painting in the museum, it would take you six years to see them all."
Two things stood out to Char, mother of a son working in law enforcement in Tennessee, and a grandmother of three: Russian mothers and their views on children and marriage.
"Mothers everywhere worry about the same thing, keeping their children safe, away from drugs and crime."
Before flying home to Dover from their 10-day trip, the couple took a quick tour of Berlin, where they visited Sachsenhausen, where a gate inscribed "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work sets you free) welcomes visitors. It was one of the notorious World War II Nazi concentration camps.
Back in the United States, retirement, even of a temporary nature, isn't a word that easily rolls off Hart's tongue, and Char has hoped he wouldn't go back to work until after the birth of the new grandbaby. Aiden Hogan was born earlier this month.
In the interim, he can continue to dabble with music. Hart has played in bands since the seventh grade. He helped start the "Rogues" about 10 years ago.
The couple is trying to decide where they want to go next, in about two years. "Perhaps South America," Char says. Hart says he does not object to going back to places they've been.
Betty Briggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.