Premier’s own Jean Cherni was featured on the cover of the March 2017 issue of The Breeze. A regional magazine from her adopted hometown in Connecticut. We invite you to learn more about her varied career and experiences, and how she came to join the senior services industry.
Jean Cherni: Proving Age is Just a Number
Credits: The Breeze Magazine. Article by Jessica Spinelli. Photography by: William Canosa
Throughout Jean Cherni’s 88 years of life, one constant has re-occurred throughout her many travels and opportunities; other women have often been responsible for helping her to realize many of her goals.
Jean grew up in New York and Long Island in an era when most women were focused on becoming wives and mothers; she attended the University of Iowa, receiving a B.A. in political science. After graduation, she moved back to New York City, only to find that the glass ceiling was very real. Every interview would end with, “That’s nice, honey, but can you type?” It was during this time that a woman helped her get her first break.
The summer after graduation, Jean read an article about Barbizon lingerie, a fashion manufacturer with an elegant showroom located on 5th Avenue. Jean’s mother was a talented dressmaker, so she loved fashion, and decided to see if she could get a position as a receptionist at the showroom. Without an appointment, she walked in off the street and asked to see someone about employment.
Jean was sent to see Erleen Griffith. Midway through her interview, her answers so impressed Erleen that Jean was asked which agency had sent her. It turned out that they were looking for a fashion stylist to do department store promotions in New England and had placed a request with an employment agency. Even though she had to tell Erleen she had not come through an agency, Erleen felt she was ideal for the position and offered it to her on the spot. However, she had to convince two male vice presidents to give Jean a try despite their
objections that she was too young and inexperienced.
For several years, Jean worked as a fashion stylist, doing department store promotions throughout New England. Eventually, she tired of living out of a suitcase. Looking for work in New York, she met two women who had a small public relations agency and she was hired to work as a fashion copywriter. She wrote P.R. releases, captions on fashion photographs and accessorized outfits for fashion shoots. During this time she met Val, the man who would become her husband.
After they were married, Val was given an offer at an engineering firm in Chicago. Jean wasn’t happy to leave her job, especially since the work she’d been doing simply didn’t exist in the Windy City. “I went to an agency there and was told, “We don’t have anything in fashion. Could you write about farm equipment?” Jean declined, but had made friends with the head of the agency (a woman) who offered her a position as an employment counselor.
During this time, her first son, Michael, was born, and less than two years later, pregnant with their second child, Val received an offer from a New York engineering company to work on the design and construction of Japan’s first nuclear power plant. Although she was eight months pregnant and in a new home they’d recently purchased, much to her husband’s surprise, Jean didn’t hesitate but encouraged Val to accept the offer. Once again, with two small children in tow, the family moved; only this time it was to a small, rural village across the world.
The four years she spent in Japan were an intense learning experience. It wasn’t long after World War II had ended and she found herself, understandably, not particularly welcome. She taught Michael through a correspondence course while Steve would often come home crying because the local children had been teasing him and pulling his hair; not believing that his blonde hair was real. There was an entirely new culture to learn and Jean found herself quite lost until she learned how to speak Japanese.
Eventually, she began doing some articles for a new, small magazine, created for the just-beginning tourist industry. Accompanied by a Japanese photographer, it offered a chance to visit many interesting areas.
After another move in Japan, the family moved back to New York City. Jean soon learned that the local schools had changed, so the family bought a home in Port Washington, Long Island. Never one to stay home, Jean decided to go into local real estate and again, it was a woman who was the head of the agency who hired and mentored her. During this time, she had an unexpected late-life child: a longed for daughter,
Tired of selling houses after 20 years and having trained many other agents, Jean took a position as a regional trainer for Century 21. Hired, once again, by a woman, she was told that the position required a move to Connecticut. Jean discussed it with Val, who at 65 had just retired
(a requirement at his company). He agreed it was a good idea.
After renting a room to try out the job for six months, Jean commuted back and forth to Long Island every weekend when her husband unexpectedly balked at selling the house and moving to Connecticut. He was not adjusting well to the inactivity that retirement brought. Jean was understandably upset. She wasn’tgoing to quit her job, so she commuted every weekend for almost two years, until Val finally sought therapy and was then able to make the move. It was the most difficult period of their marriage but ended well when Val, realizing he still wanted to work, moved and then found employment with a small, New Haven engineering company.
After buying a home in Branford, Jean then took a position asa head trainer at Coldwell Banker; a position that ended when the company went from being a corporate entity to a franchise and discontinued the training center.
Jean then entered the retirement industry and became a marketing director for a local retirement community in Guilford. It was important to Jean that she always worked; always kept active and had new goals and ambitions. She had experience with the retirement industry, as it is uniquely tied to the real estate market. She worked at the community for four years until the company was sold to new management.
When she had been fresh from college, her gender had stood in the way of her ambitions. Men were not interested in hiring a woman, degree or not, for anything other than as a secretary. Now, in her mid-seventies, she found herself facing a new type of discrimination.
Jean had sent out numerous resumes, looking for work in the marketing field, but there were no responses despite her many years of experience. “It didn’t take me long to figure out that it was my age.” Jean wasn’t going to take this ageism lying down, and if no one was going to hire her, she would start her own business, and so Senior Living Solutions was born. Armed with the idea of referring her clients who were selling their homes to a reliable real estate company,
Armed with the idea of referring her clients who were selling their homes to a reliable real estate company, Jean contacted the Pearce Company where she met Maureen Campbell, an executive and head of their relocationdepartment. Maureen saw the possibilities for a senior division and asked Jean if she would start a special program for seniors planning a move. That work lasted for 13 years, until last year when Maureen was offered the vice-presidency of Premier Transitions, a nation-wide relocation company that wanted to start a senior division. Maureen hired Jean as their Senior Consultant. Jean now helps individuals who are considering a move to a retirement community. In addition to helping families research communities, the Premier Transitions program callsin several outstanding local realtors, oversees the pricing and condition of the home to be sold and serves as a helpful resource for any other needed services such as antique dealers, estate sales professionals and downsizers. Best of all, in most instances, where a home sale is involved, there is no cost to the homeowner for this valuable advice and oversight.
Four years ago, Jean began to write a column for the New Haven Register. After she noticed that their previous columnist had moved to Arizona, Jean called their senior editor and convinced him that since seniors are the ones that still read newspapers, there should be someone who can be their voice and advocate.
In addition to her professional work, Jean volunteers for several organizations that are devoted to helping the growing senior population. She’s on the advisory board of the Agency on Aging, is an active member in the Shoreline Eldercare Alliance, the New Haven Area Senior Network and the Shoreline Senior Network. She hasserved on committees studying problems that affect the senior population and given classes on preparing for retirement for The Institute for Learning in Retirement. She has been recognized for her work with two awards; in 2014 with a “Woman of Fire Award” and this past October with the Shoreline Chambers of Commerce, “Women of Excellence” award.
Following the loss of her husband two years ago, she moved near the Branford Green. “I love it here. We have an awful lot on the Shoreline area. Museums in Hartford and New Haven, so much theater, Yale University; a variety of shops and restaurants along the water.
People talk about moving and retiring to places where taxes are less, but many places offer a lot less. If you haven’t lived elsewhere, you don’t realize what we have here”.
Looking back, Jean says she wouldn’t do anything differently. She’s always taken the chance whenever it was offered; realizing that windows of opportunity don’t last forever. “Whether it was making a cold call to the Register or walking into somebody’s office to present
an idea I believed in, I was never afraid to just take a chance on something”.
Throughout her years of life, Jean has learned that it is important for women who are in a position of power to offer other women a “hand up”. Jean may have done the work herself, but it was a woman taking a chance on another woman that got her a foot in the door. When women help other women, no glass ceiling can remain intact, for long.
Premier Transitions is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee and partners with retirement communities to implement a full-service relocation program for their future residents. The program includes everything from helping seniors to price their homes competitively to coordinating necessary resources such as decluttering, downsizing, donation, estate sale, and household goods move services. Jean Cherni is the company’s Senior Consultant, operating out of their Connecticut office. To learn more about Premier, please contact us at 888-254-0005 or firstname.lastname@example.org