Steve Rupert: Finding true love and purpose at work after 50

Steve Rupert grew up in Michigan, but he moved 21 times since 1987 before finally settling down in Fredericksburg, Va., after meeting Patti, the love of his life, to whom he got married in September 2021.

It opened a new door for him because Patti has a son and a daughter, and they have kids as well, which makes Steve a grandpa.

“I get to experience all the joy of being a grandfather without dealing with all the sleepless nights and diaper changes that come with parenting,” he explained.

Prior to turning 50, Steve had multiple careers. His first stage involved working as an electronic technician in the Air Force where he was stationed in the Philippines and Oklahoma. He did that for nine years.

Then, in the mid-1990s, he worked in the telecommunications industry at jobs that took him to several different states. But, Steve kept bumping into a ceiling on all the jobs because he lacked a college degree.

So, in 2002, he went back to school to complete his bachelor’s degree, and then began working in project management positions until he wound up working for a wind turbine company is Washington state. Family pressure encouraged him to move back to Virginia to help his father, but he continued working on various projects there as well.

Desire for adventure

An adventurer at heart, Steve likes to scuba dive and he even involved his wife in underwater exploration. He also likes ziplining, water sports, rappelling down waterfalls, whitewater rafting and snow skiing. He even tried skydiving.

Perhaps his favorite adventure to date was hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, Peru, and the Lost City of the Incas. It involved hiking 26 miles at elevations ranging from 9,000 to 13,800 feet to complete the journey.

“It was a fascinating experience walking along a trail that was created thousands of years ago and visiting ruins of ancient Inca civilizations,” said Steve. “No matter where I visit, there are likely to be some really cool things about that area. So, I’m going to enjoy the local flavor and appreciate a culture that’s different from what I’m used to.

Steve loves to read, especially fiction books involving wizards and dragons. He loved the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit and Star Wars trilogy. However, when it comes to reading, he has a downfall.

“I am the kind of person who starts to read a book, but then can’t put it down. All of a sudden it’s 4 a.m., and I need to be at work by 6,” he said.

As for movies, he especially likes those that follow Marvel comic storylines. Upon occasion, he will watch a romantic comedy with his new wife.

“When we were dating, Patti’s daughter told me that I couldn’t continue seeing her mother unless I watched the Muppet Movie all the way through,” he said. “I rather enjoyed it.”

Prior to turning 50, Steve was most proud of winning a competition among Air Force, Army and Marine combat communication teams, partly because he sprained his ankle during training. He begged to remain on the team, and after some intense training and competition, his team wound up becoming the best combat communications group.

“I was really proud of that because it was one of the harder things I ever did,” he explained. “I had some big obstacles to overcome, but I did and we succeeded.

Finding true love

After turning 50, Steve’s life changed when he found true love for the first time. He had been married twice before, but he got involved in relationships for the wrong reasons.

“I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to find someone,” he explained. “After a while, I was filled with self-doubt and wondering what I was doing wrong.”

That all changed after a chance encounter in Great Falls Park near Washington, D.C., shortly after Steve turned 50. Hiking along the trails requires people to scramble over loose rocks and some rather large boulders. He was with a group of strangers and just chatting with others as they hiked.

“I met Patti and discovered we had a lot on common, which I thought was neat,” he explained. “At one point I was hopping from rock to rock, kind of like the lava game we played as kids where we tried to navigate from one area to the other without touching the ground.”

Later in the hike, Steve was doing it again when he looked back to see Patti also jumping from rock to rock.

“I thought she might be a kindred spirit,” he added. “We wound up talking for several hours that night, then went out the following night to a restaurant where we get just talked for hours. When we saw the staff staring at us, we realized the restaurant had closed 45 minutes earlier.”

Be yourself

The experience taught Steve a lesson that had avoided him earlier in his adult life, and that was to simply be himself rather than trying to pretend to be somebody else.

“I can totally be myself around Patti, and she loves me for who I am,” said Steve. “I had spent most of my life trying to make other people happy, which meant being the type of person they wanted me to become.

“I finally understood it was up to me to make sure that I keep myself happy rather than relying on other people for affirmation and my personal happiness,” he added.

“After two failed relationships, I was concerned, scared and cautious, but I had not given up on eventually finding someone I was completely compatible being with,” said Steve. “Patti and I have been together for eight years now, and we still haven’t had an argument. Disagreements, yes, but no arguments.”

Patti was the first to decide she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Steve. However, he was too scared about making another mistake. He wanted to be “in love” and not just in love with the idea of being in love.

Changing careers

During the same time, Steve opted to change careers after he had been putting in 60 to 70 hours a week on a project. He was emotionally and intellectually exhausted, and it showed in his attitude. In fact, he wound up being terminated.

“Before I lost my job, all I did was work and it made me very stressful and unhappy,” he explained. “I had little time remaining in the week to do anything meaningful with Patti.”

Steve knew he needed a new job, but this time he was being really picky. Patti admitted that she’d rather see him happy working at a minimum wage job rather than having a lucrative position somewhere, but working a lot of hours. In the end, he started his own company as a mobile RV technician and RV inspector.

“It’s neat to have a positive outlook on the future because I’m doing something where I can have fun,” he explained. “For years, experts have said if you find something you enjoy doing and figure out a way to get paid for it, it will change your life. It certainly has for me.

“There are a lot of people in America who realized during the past two years that they can’t go on a cruise, fly over to Europe and really don’t want to wear a mask all day at Disney World,” he added. “But, they can go camping.”

He’s assessment is accurate. RV sales in America have skyrocketed during the past two years. Manufacturers are cranking out units as fast as they can, which means that they likely overlook something during the construction process that will need repair once people start using the RVs and discover problems with their units.

A lot of people also love the idea of owning an RV, but don’t know where to start looking to buy them or how to evaluate one they are thinking of purchasing.

“I took some classes and became a certified RV technician and certified RV inspector,” said Steve. “Now I am in business for myself helping people buy new or used RVs and maintaining them after the sale.”

The business seems ideally suited toward Steve’s unique skills.

“Pretty much my entire life has been spent troubleshooting and solving problems,” he explained. “The beautiful thing about this business is that I can work as much as I want to and even set my own schedule.”

It didn’t take long for him to get his first clients and Steve can envision a time approaching soon where he will need to turn down work or risk falling back into a 70-hour work week. The business offers a lot of flexibility so he and Patti can go camping for a week or two by fixing RVs at the campground in the morning, and hiking together in the afternoon.

Chance encounter

Steve discovered the opportunity one day when he encountered a man walking his dog that he hadn’t seen before. They started a conversation and Steve learned the man was a self-employed RV technician. Since Steve had an RV in his driveway, they had something to talk about.

“I like fixing things and working with my hands,” he explained. “When the man said I could make RV repair a possible career, it caught my attention.”

Steve started researching where to get training and about the financial aspects of working as an RV technician or inspector. When Patti expressed her support for the idea, Steve pulled the trigger. He enrolled at the National RV Training Academy in Athens, Texas, and spent 11 weeks there getting trained.

“I just went full bore at the opportunity. I took every class they had back-to-back-to-back,” he explained. “Everyone at the school was probably over 50 or close to it. They all wanted more control over their lives and their income.”

After attending all the advanced classes, buying tools and equipment, paying for food and space at the RV park adjacent to the academy, setting up an LLC and getting insurance, Steve estimates he spent between $30,000 and $50,000.

Not only was Patti supportive of his decision, but so were his friends and other close family members.

“They all said it was the perfect business for me and they predicted I would be very successful,” said Steve. “I’ve been fixing things around my house and helping my neighbors when they had problems for many years. I also had experience troubleshooting electrical problems. This opportunity was right up my alley.”

He also gets a lot of personal satisfaction helping others by fixing problems that either prevent them from using their RVs or getting full satisfaction out of doing so.

“I might have helped save someone’s vacation from becoming a complete disaster simply because their air conditioner stopped working,” he explained. “Afterward, I just get a kick out of knowing it was a tough air conditioner problem, but I fixed it and everyone is happy and relieved.”

Preparing for retirement

Both Steve and Patti hope to retire full-time within six years. But, even then, fixing and inspecting RVs is something they can do part-time as long as he has the strength and desire to do it.

That means, they can finance their own travels by completing RV repairs along the way. Travel is something Steve and Patti want to do together. Although Steve has traveled extensively, Patti has not.

“There are so many neat places to visit in America. I’m looking forward to seeing them again and enjoying Patti’s reaction as she experiences them for the first time,” said Steve.

Best of all, operating the business gives Steve a goal to pursue, just as trying to be the best husband he can be gives him a sense of purpose, as well.

“I saw a T-shirt a few years ago that proclaimed if you haven’t grown up by the time you’re 50, you no longer have to,” he explained. “Fortunately, my life came together at just the right time with a relationship to a woman I adore, and a business that is ideally suited to my skills and experience. While I have grown up considerably in the past few years, I am having more fun than I have had in decades.”

To connect with Steve, visit his business website at Sunrise RV Services.