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1/4/2004

Married to the job

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Love and marriage and work?

During the dawn of American history the topic would be completely un-newsworthy. Men and women then toiled together on farms and in family stores without question.

Modernity, by contrast, has given the workforce a zillion niches to fill — at times with highly specialized skill sets. And in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, husband-and-wife business partnerships slowly wandered apart down different career paths.

It is today the exception, not the norm to make a marriage double as a business partnership — especially given the ongoing popularity of personal space.

Yet, some individuals knew well before their nuptials that that is precisely what they wanted.

“I didn’t know what I was looking for in a perfect mate,” said Mary Lou Moore, 47, co-owner of Jester’s Dinner Theatre in Longmont with husband Scott Moore, 36. “But he always said, ‘She’s gotta play the piano.’”

The two met in 1987 during a local community theater production of “My Fair Lady” — she played Eliza Doolittle and he Col. Pickering — and almost immediately launched a theater company together.

They married in 1993.

Despite sharing the same love on and off stage, blending their professional and personal roles took a lot of learning, she said.

“There was a time,” Mary Lou Moore said, “when Scott felt like he was working for me.”

During the day, she teaches private voice and piano lessons at their Longmont home before heading for the theater to accompany rehearsing or performing actors.

“He would come home, take the money out of my box to make a deposit, and I would say, ‘So, what did you do today?’”

Scott Moore admitted that time at the theater can vanish doing non-money-making chores like squishing cardboard boxes and taking out the trash.

“You want to be artistic, and you’re fixing toilets,” he said. “It’s a reality of being a business owner.”

But the press of time can work like a great iron on relationship wrinkles, the couple said.

Trial and error, for instance, taught them that helping versus

harping works wonders in both areas of their relationship, Mary Lou Moore said.

“We’ve also learned it’s better when we do it all,” she said.

Though their business is always about entertainment, she once gravitated toward education and he food preparation on the side.

“One of our goals,” Scott Moore said, “is to get Jester’s to where we don’t have to do it all.”

Until then, this couple and Mary Lou Moore’s two teenage sons from a previous marriage will keep putting in long hours together wearing all of the hats, Scott Moore said.

“We know a lot of people who work their 8-to-5 jobs and come home with their 8-to-5 paychecks and are miserable,” he said.

That, according to real estate brokers Jon and Lucy Pope, is why they decided to hang a shingle together in 1997, and the home-based First Choice Reality & Associates was born.

During the early days of their courtship, which culminated in 2001 with vows, they competed to see who could make the most cold calls, said Jon Pope, 60.

Now, they share each other’s business with zero competition, said Lucy Pope.

“Everything with Jon and I is now intermingled. If we want to have an office affair, we have an office affair,” she said with a laugh.

Though both take off at least once a week in separate directions — he to socialize and she to shop — they usually enjoy partnering in all things, Jon Pope said.

“Being self-employed together, you can do what you want. There are no bosses — only Lucy,” he said. “We’re spoiled.”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, we are. But when you live and work together, it’s important to never go to bed angry, to say ‘I love you’ at least once a day and to have a lot of patience.”

That is especially true for couples such as Anne and Gene Schiferl, who never shared a business until later in life.

After marrying in 1961, the twosome worked miles apart. Gene Schiferl, 65, flew commercial airlines for decades while she raised their three children.

But in 1993, after he retired, they decided to toe the line together by starting the Early Learning Center in Longmont.

“We knew it was going to be a struggle because we are individuals and are individuals at work,” he said.

So, before making the leap of faith, they soul-searched, Gene Schiferl said, to find out what they shared in terms of business philosophies and business plans.

“Before we ever opened the doors,” he said, “we tried to figure out what we had to make the business a success.”

It was, in some ways, more of a gamble to conjoin their lives at home and work after so many years apart during the week, Anne Schiferl said.

But 10 years later, their business and their marriage remain intact.

Part of the success is figuring out a sensible division of labor, she said. For instance, he operates as the business manager and she serves as the more “people person” executive director.

Drawing healthy boundaries between work and home life also has supported the harmony they enjoy with few exceptions, Anne Schiferl said.

“We can be talking hard about this situation while he’s mixing up a salad for dinner, and then we’ll both say, ‘OK. No more shop talk. This is time for us.’ But we usually have to say that two or three times,” she said.

Other couples end the day more abruptly.

“We don’t have to talk about work after hours because we know what the other has been doing all day,” said Dan Ditslear, co-owner with his wife Jean Ditslear of the home-based Red Wall Communications in Longmont.

The couple, both now 31, met at a marketing firm in Ohio before marrying in 1999 and moving to Colorado. After they got laid off, the duo decided to launch their own company and give the live-and-work-together lifestyle a whirl.

“You tell yourself that at 5 o’clock, the day is over,” said Jean Ditslear of the boundaries they’ve set.

“After 5,” Dan Ditslear said, “we try to answer the phone differently. Instead of, ‘Red Wall. This is Dan or this is Jean,’ it’s just ‘Hello?’” he said.

But this couple, like every other mingling romance and labor, needed to learn more about how to do it without divorcing.

“He’s always coming in and straightening my office, and then I’m mad because I can’t find things,” said Jean Ditslear, who works in a room on the main floor, while her neat-freak husband occupies a corner of the partially finished basement.

They also needed a system to keep their schedules under thumb — especially now that they have their 9-month-old daughter Lia.

So, a giant white board leans against the wall on the staircase landing between his-and-her offices. The husband writes his appointments in green. The wife writes hers in blue. Shared appointments show up in black and personal appointments in red.

It’s just one more tool, they said, to put some sanity in what could become a crazy mish-mash of loyalties and responsibilities — which has happened to plenty of other people hoping to make togetherness work in all the slices of life.

“You just have to consider what’s important — the business or the relationship,” Jean Ditslear said. “If it wasn’t better this way, we wouldn’t do it.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.