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American Families

Starting Again at 65

Robert and Rhonda Kamphey
Clearwater, Fla.

Robert Kamphey thought he'd be leaving the working world about the time his son Andrew was entering it. Instead, the father and son are hunting for jobs together.

Andrew, 23, said, "It's odd because now my dad and mom are in the same position I am. I'm fresh out of college and don't know what job I'm going to have, and now they're getting out of an industry and don't know where they're going to be."

Robert, a 65-year-old machinist, and his wife Rhonda, 55, owned a Florida mold-making business for 27 years. Now they're more than $500,000 in debt and stand to lose their home along with the business they've already lost.

Starting about six years ago, the movement of mold-making to China, along with the industry's increasing computerization, spurred the downfall of the Kampheys' company.

As business owners, they re-mortgaged their home twice to keep the business afloat.

Rhonda said knowing what they know now, they would have done things totally differently.

"I would have never touched the house; I would have closed the business down sooner. At least, we still would have had a place to live, that we had lived in for 15 years."

In order to keep their company going, the couple dissolved their IRAs, stock portfolios and savings account. "We always thought business and the economy would pick up. That is why we did the mortgages – the banks wouldn't talk to us; our parents didn't have funds. Also it was the only place to get money to keep ourselves alive until we could save ourselves, which didn't ever happen," said Rhonda.

Robert said that the couple, besides believing that they would return to profitability, failed by trying to take care of the business and their 12 employees before their own financial well-being.

"You always hope. You keep your best men and your best people. When things got to a down turn, I would try to keep them busy with work internally, even though there was no income coming in. I believe I made a mistake there."

Now the couple, married 32 years, is working through the sale of their home, factory, and equipment. They've filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and are taking it day by day.

"Like any other couple you have good days and bad days, and some days I have to pick her up, and some days she has to pick me up. It is very emotional right at this particular time in our lives, more then any other time that I've felt since starting work," Robert said.

The Kampheys' plan, after completing their property and equipment sales, is to start over and work toward downsizing their debt.

"It is a real monkey on our back just to eliminate all that and start clean again," Rhonda said.

Robert, who started working at 16, added, "I sort of feel like I've worked all my life and have been defeated. I didn't plan it this way."

Initially the Kampheys were hesitant to tell Andrew about their business troubles out of embarrassment and a desire to not burden him.

But the recent University of Florida graduate is keeping his parents positive by helping his father search for jobs online and giving him resumé advice. Robert is turning away from increasingly-obsolete machine work toward new fields like security and law enforcement.

Andrew said he knows how hard his parents worked on their business, and grew up with his father sleeping at the factory many nights to ensure operations went smoothly. His pride in their efforts makes him quick to dismiss his parents' feelings of defeat.

"My family has gone great distances. We've been pioneers, sort of setting out on our own with not much help. That's what our family does."

Robert remains upbeat, with hope for the future placed squarely on Andrew and Rhonda.

"I just want to stay healthy and have a roof over my head and stay married to my wife and see my grandchild."

When Rhonda reminded him they don't have a grandchild yet, Robert replied, "Some day I will."

Even though he'd rather see his father enjoying some rest and relaxation than looking for a job, Andrew knows the important thing is that they're all together.

"We are out on our own. We will work through it."

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