From hiking trips to caring for elderly parents, Topeka couple celebrates 35 years together

Pat Pierce retired in 2016 after 40 years at the U.S. Postal Service

Waves of humid June heat can be seen rolling over the blacktop parking lot out the window as Pat and Tammi Pierce sit side-by-side in a cool booth at Panera Bread.


A shared drink perspires between the two of them, a beet-red shade of lipstick around the rim of the straw, as they discuss the past, and look forward to the future.

They’ve reached an interesting point of transition in their lives — one many can relate to — when familial roles change and new challenges arise. Careers comes to an end, free time becomes abundant and once full houses now sit empty and quiet. It’s a time of discovery, both for new hobbies and for learning about one’s self.

But through the ups and downs, the Pierces have been there for each other for nearly 35 years now — their anniversary is Monday. They’ve seen it all, from the birth of their daughter to Tammi’s parents coming down with dementia to Pat’s retirement last year at the age of 60. They aren’t necessarily the movers and shakers of the world that readers are accustomed to reading about in big headlines on newsprint. In reality, they’re just ordinary people trying to get by.

It hasn’t always been easy, but one thing that hasn’t changed throughout the years is their extraordinary positivity and belief that things will work out for the best.

Retired life

Pat retired on Oct. 3, 2016, from his position as a retail planner team lead after 40 years of working for the U.S. Postal Service. He had spent the first 20 years of his career as a mail carrier before moving into the administrative side of the job for the next 20 years.

Travel has always been a big part of their lives, so the family ventured to Playa del Carmen soon after his retirement. As a retirement gift, Tammi also bought Pat a new four-wheeler, which has helped him rediscover a passion for the outdoors that he didn’t get to enjoy as much during his working years. During the crappie spawn, he would get out and go fishing just about every weekday, usually starting about 5:15 in the morning.

“He’s been fishing more in the past month than he has in his whole life,” Tammi said, laughing.

“I don’t know about my whole life, but certainly the last 10 years,” Pat replied.

Pat would also take to the woods in search of morel mushrooms during the damp spring season in which the tasty morsel thrives. Tammi said she loved to cook them with steak and eggs for breakfast, and that they go great with crappie, too.

Family tradition

As Pat tells more stories of fishing with his brother, Larry, on Clinton Reservoir, Tammi sees a familiar face walk past their booth. She leans over and whispers to Pat, who glances back at the man and says “Go ask.” She walks up to the patron and asks his name, and soon the two engage in conversation. The man was Tammi’s high school track coach, and though it had been years since they’d seen each other, she said he hadn’t changed at all.

Tammi still loves to go for walks and runs — she even took first in her age group several years in a row at the Sunflower State Games — and she passed that love for the sport along to her daughter, Katie. Now a registered nurse at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., Katie was a member of a state championship-winning cross country team at Seaman High School in 2005 under coaching great Rick Brading. She also competed in track as a long-distance runner.

Katie — who is newly engaged after her boyfriend, Eric, proposed at the end of June under a waterfall in Conway, Ark. — developed her father’s love for the outdoors, as well, especially for hiking.

“It’s funny, because when I was little I didn’t like hiking, and obviously that turned around and we love doing it together now,” Katie said.

Though she hadn’t been fishing with Pat in a while, Katie said she had fond memories of going fishing together at the Cedar Crest ponds when she was little. She said she’s glad he has rekindled his outdoors pursuits again now that he has more free time.

“He has always been an early-morning person,” she said. “I was worried when he retired we wouldn’t have our morning phone call on my way to work, but fishing and getting together with his friends at the Y or Friday morning breakfasts at Brad’s Corner Cafe keeps him sticking with that morning routine.”

Though they don’t get to see each other as often as they’d like anymore, the family plans to take a trip soon to Glacier National Park in Montana, where they’ll rent a hotel but likely will have to camp a few days and do some hiking to see all the sights.

Being a caregiver

When Katie was born, Tammi left the workforce to stay home and be a full-time mother. After her daughter left the nest to pursue her own dreams of caring for others as a nurse, Tammi’s role as a caregiver shifted from her child to her parents, who are now in their 80s. With that transition came a lot of added responsibilities, including selling off their property and managing their finances. As they got older, Alzheimer’s began to set in, and Tammi’s role as a caregiver grew ever larger.

When discussion turned to their upcoming trip to Glacier Park, her trademark smile momentarily vanished from her lips as she realized she hadn’t been away from her parents that long since they were moved into their elderly care facility. She wondered if they’d be OK without her, as both parents recently had experienced health complications.

“We’ll still be able to call them,” Pat said.

“That’s true, we talk on the phone all the time,” Tammi replied, once again smiling.

The burden of stress that comes from managing her parents’ affairs has clearly left an imprint on both her and Pat.

“We’ve talked about this several times, if we would’ve said five years ago what we’d go through what we’ve gone through...” Tammi said, pausing. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, because that disease is dreadful.”

Yet through it all, they’ve come out stronger than ever.

“One of the guys at the Y asked me if she was retired and I said, ‘No, she’s gotta keep track of me,’ ” Pat laughed. “That’s like a full-time job.”