- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

ENTERPRISE, Ala. (AP) - The dream career Helen Nichols said she had tucked inside her heart for more than 40 years while she served as an educator became reality a little more than a year after she retired.

Nichols is the owner of Panache Events on Geneva Highway in Enterprise, across from Enterprise City Hall. The event venue, considered one of the larger such venues in the city, opened in November.

Nichols is among retirees who spent time working in one occupation before retiring and either starting or working in an industry of their choosing. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s 2015 Kauffman Index for startup activity reported people ages 55 to 64 accounted for 25.8 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2014, up from 14.8 percent in 1996.

Nichols, who retired two years ago as director of Enterprise State Community College’s Fort Rucker campus, said she had always dreamed of having an event venue for stylish and elegant events. She said it was divine intervention after her retirement that prompted her to open Panache once she fulfilled other obligations.

“I really started thinking about what it was I wanted to do,” she said.

“My pastor at that time gave us a bracelet that read ‘I dare you to trust God,’ and around that same time I visited a friend’s church, where the sermon was to go ahead and do what you wanted.”

Nichols’ pursuit of her dream led to the renovations of a vacant building in Enterprise, which she named Panache Events and designed in such a way to accommodate a variety of celebrations and meetings. Birthday and retirement parties, business meetings, line dancing and wine tastings are just some of the events that have been hosted there.

Nichols said she derived the name from a nickname her husband gave her years ago.

In addition to serving as a director of multiple programs, Nichols was also a guidance counselor, and a teacher in both secondary and postsecondary education. She said Panache Events has gained the attention of several residents near and far whom Nichols encountered throughout her years of service.

“I’ve been so very fortunate that my bookings have come through word of mouth. I’m just over the moon ecstatic,” she said.

“Doing this has confirmed that I have divine intervention here. God has sent people to me to help, from painting the walls to hanging my mirrors, who wouldn’t take any money for it. My contractor was recommended by someone.”

Operating her business is not at all overwhelming or preventative of her plans to enjoy retirement, she said. Nichols said she works with event planner Jackie Johnson to decorate Panache each month with a different theme, and also has others fill in as necessary.

“This type of venture is not taxing. I love to travel and I’m still allowed to do that. If I have something to do I just don’t book that particular day,” she said.

“I also have some wonderful friends who will pitch hit for me if I’m not here.”

Nichols said realizing “it’s never too late” to follow a dream has become her testimony.

“If you want something, you go after it,” she said.

“I determined that the worst that could happen was that if the business didn’t work, it was real estate that I could sell, but I was going to work so hard that it would be successful.”

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Information from: The Dothan Eagle, https://www.dothaneagle.com

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