In retirement, Jan and Ernie Gibeault have struck the perfect balance: enjoying the outdoors, tinkering on their antique tractors, caring for Jan's white steed and volunteering at numerous chamber functions.

"It's a lot of fun," said Ernie about the couple's involvement with the Hesperia Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors. "We go everywhere wearing our jackets."

In fact, the couple is so dedicated to attending Hesperia Chamber functions such as ribbon cuttings, grand openings, ground breakings and mixers that the organization earlier this year presented them with the coveted Lillian King Award.

"I still can't get over that," said Jan, whose emotion was caught on camera by the Star when the couple received the award during the annual chamber gala. "I was so surprised."

It's not uncommon for the couple to attend two Hesperia Chamber functions a days, a Zank's Coffee Club early Friday morning and a mixer later that night.

"We choose to do it. We enjoy it," Ernie said.

What's not commonly known, however, is that the Gibeaults spread their volunteering spirit around. Not only do they give their time to the Hesperia Chamber, but they also attend functions at the African-American and Adelanto chambers. In fact, Jan was the honorary mayor of Phelan in 2001 and 2004.

But their allegiance is clear: "Of course because we're Ambassadors, Hesperia always comes first," Jan said.

They're perhaps most well-known for riding their antique farm tractors, one a bright red beauty, in the Hesperia Days Parade and other area events.

"We've got a 1940, 1948 and a 1949," Ernie said. "They're in good shape."

FROM VERMONT AND IOWA

For the Gibeaults, the cold Phelan winters only get their blood circulating. In fact, it's downright pleasant compared to where Ernie, who has French-Canadian blood, grew up.

"I grew up in Westfield, Vermont, right on the border. I've seen it 40 below."

When he hit adulthood, he decided it was time to head west.

"I just wanted something different. There's only place to go. That's California."

He landed a job at Knudsen, the Los Angeles company known for its dairy products. First working in the plant, he later drove a truck.

Meanwhile, Jan, who is six years her husband's junior, first lived in Webster City, Iowa, 60 miles north of Des Moines.

"I left there when I was 7 when we moved to California.

She lived mostly in Orange County, but when she got married to her first husband, the couple moved to New Orleans for three years. Back in the Los Angeles area, she worked in ITT Diversified.

One day in the mid-1980s soon after Jan had purchased a home in Buena Park, a gentleman who was visiting her neighbor offered to fix the broken mirror on her car.

"Can I help you, missy?" Ernie said.

Today, Jan still remembers the image clearly:

"He was wearing boots, a corduroy jacket and dark brown pants. And here I was in my jeans. That was Dec. 18, 1986."

She had been since for many years. He had been divorced for almost two decades.

"And I sure wasn't looking to get married again," he said.

But the attraction was immediate, and so was the connection.

"We just had a lot of things in common," Jan said.

MOVING TO PHELAN

The couple was married 18 years ago, on Feb. 3, 1990. Soon after, they built their Phelan home, coming up on weekends.
"I fell in love with it back then," Jan said.

"It's peaceful," Ernie added. "I like the seasons too. We set right here and look at the snow."

So explicit directions were given to the builders: "I want to be in the kitchen and see the mountains. I want to be in the dining room and see the mountains. I want to be in the living room and see the mountains," Jan said.

In 1993, Ernie retired after 33 years at Knudsen at the young age of 53. Jan also retired from ITT at an early age. Spending all their time in the High Desert allowed them to pursue their loves. For Jan, one of them is "Elan," an energetic 29-year-old gelding who acts more like a 5-year-old.

"He's a Polish Arab, so he'll live pretty long. He's going to out-live me."

Ernie maintains the tractors, which cost only $42 each in yearly insurance payments.

The Gibeaults joined the Hesperia Chamber in 2000 and since have volunteered their tractor services -- thanks to a flatbed trailer that can carry two tractors.

Today, the inseparable couple will go wherever they are needed. If one goes to a function alone, which almost never occurs, people get curious.

"Is Ernie OK? How come he's not here?" Jan says people ask.

"We don't go anywhere alone," Ernie said.

For several years, recently, the couple has prepared Christmas turkeys to feed about 200 people at the Hesperia Chamber Christmas party.
When they get the chance they travel in their RV, unless the trip conflicts with their Hesperia Chamber activities.

"We hate to miss it," Ernie said. "If we can work it out, we do."

"Hesperia's still the best chamber," Jan said.

Clearly, early retirement was the perfect choice.

"I retired 16 years ago," Ernie said. "I had all this beautiful life."

But, he added, "If you're going to live good, don't set down."