The founders of McDonald’s, Coca Cola, and Kentucky Fried Chicken were all over 50 when they established their businesses, proving that it’s never too late to be what you might have been. Whether you’re chasing a longheld dream, or want to try something new, here are seven incredible women who will inspire you to take that risk.
John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in 1961 when Wini Yunker was working in Washington, DC. She tried to join but was turned away because she didn’t have a college degree. Yunker moved back home to Kentucky and earned her degree in her fifties while working and raising her son. At 65, Yunker joined the Peace Corps, a dream she’d had for nearly 40 years, and spent two years in Ukraine. You can read more about her story in this interview.
After working in the White House and earning her MBA, Ina Garten opened a successful specialty food store called The Barefoot Contessa. The business grew and grew until it was seven times its original size and had become a landmark gathering place in East Hampton. In her fifties, Garten decided it was time for a change. She sold her store to a couple of employees in the late ’90s and decided to write a cookbook while she figured out her next move. The success of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook led to even more cookbooks, which then led to Garten hosting her own cooking show on the Food Network. She was 54 when the show started the highly rated in 2002. She has since sold millions of copies of her now more than 10 cookbooks and launched Barefoot Contessa Pantry in 2006, which is her own line of packaged cake mixes, marinades, sauces, and preserves.
When she was 11 years old, doctors told Ernestine Shepherd she wouldn’t be able to do any type of exercise or ride a bike because one of her legs was slightly longer than the other. So she never tried. In her fifties, Shepard’s husband invited her and her sister, Velvet, to a church picnic, and told the women they could wear swimsuits. After trying on the swimwear, the sisters decided they needed to get in shape, so they started working out. Velvet told her sister, “If anything were to happen to me, do you think you can continue what we started through prayer, exercising, eating healthy, walking, running, lifting weights?”. Shepard replied, “Yes, I could do it.”
But when Velvet died of a brain aneurysm in 1992, Shepard wasn’t sure she could keep her promise to her sister. Two years after her sister’s death, Shepherd began exercising again and started working with a trainer at the age of 71. Seven months later, she won first place in her first bodybuilding show, for novice competitors of any age. In 2010, she was declared the world’s oldest bodybuilder at age 74. But Shepard truly believes age is just a number. Her mantra is: determined, dedicated, disciplined to be fit.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Dr. Ruth didn’t start spouting off sex advice to the masses until she was in her fifties. A Holocaust survivor, Dr. Ruth was born in Germany in 1928. Eventually, she emigrated to New York, where she attended the New School, earning her master’s in Sociology in 1959. She then worked for Planned Parenthood and became an associate professor of sex counseling at Lehman College in the early ’70s. In 1980, a speech she gave about the need for sex education programming to New York broadcasters landed her a local radio show at the age of 52.
Dr. Ruth has been America’s favorite sexpert ever since. Now into her 90s, Westheimer is still active today, authoring books, producing sex-education videos, and giving lectures. A documentary about her life, Ask Dr. Ruth was released on Hulu in 2019.
Working in the field of Geriatrics and Home Care since 1984, Gerry Fioriglio spent decades as a registered nurse before she been laid off several times by large corporations. In 2000, the 57-year-old founded her own business, the Family Caregivers Network in Pennsburg, PA. Now, the entrepreneur’s senior home care agency operates in four counties.
Iris Apfel worked in interior design and textiles, launching Old World Weavers with her husband. On their travels, she picked up some interesting outfits, which she would then wear to fancy parties. Apfel became known for her style, although she is no designer. In 2019, at the age of 97, the Accidental Icon signed a modeling contract with global agency IMG.
Judith Susan Sheindlin
Judge Judy was 51 years old when she was offered to star in her own reality courtroom series.
The prosecutor-turned-judge was known for her acerbic wit, which landed her a profile in the LA Times. This led to a 60 Minutes special on her family court career, which led to a book deal. Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining was published in 1996, the same year she retired as a Manhattan family court judge to star in her own show, Judge Judy. Now in her late seventies, Judge Judy is the highest-paid host on television, earning $47 million per year. Her Emmy award-winning show is now in its 24th season.