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Where are they now? Lynn Taplin, off the beaten path

Courtesy PHOTO San Ramón, Costa Rica, where Lynn Taplin, Shelter Island High School class of 1971 lives nearby

Courtesy PHOTO
San Ramón, Costa Rica, where Lynn Taplin, Shelter Island High School class of 1971 lives nearby

Lynn Taplin, Shelter Island class of 1971, has never been one to sit still and watch the world pass by.

“When I was 19, a friend — Kris Waddington — and I bought a 1955 Ford bread truck that friends had fixed up as a camper to travel the country,” Ms. Taplin said in an interview via email. “But they chickened out at the last minute, so Kris and I bought it and drove across country until we ran out of money in Phoenix.

“It was during that trip when the travel bug bit me, and hard.”

Ms. Taplin has been a passionate, committed and, at times, courageous traveler ever since. She has visited more than 30 countries — often as a solo traveler — and her many adventures have included a cable car ride to the top of the Jungfrau (a nearly 14,000-foot mountain in Switzerland), a 1,000-foot parasail outing in Hawaii, and a tour of the salt mines of Salzburg, Austria.

“All were heart-thumping,” she said. “And that’s how I’ve lived my life.”

It’s been a long time since Ms. Taplin called Shelter Island home. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from SUNY Fredonia in 1979, and then a law degree from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1985.

“It was there that I made what I still think is my greatest academic achievement,” Ms. Taplin said. “Even though I was a first year law student, one of my assignments was to write a brief to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal jurisdiction, and not only did the assistant U.S. attorney adopt it exactly as I wrote it, he used my brief in its entirety and gave me credit.

“I was utterly astounded, as this almost never happens,” she said. “In fact, I’ll bet I’m the only first year law student to ever get credit on a brief in the Federal Reporter.”

After completing law school, Ms. Taplin settled in Minnesota where she practiced law for 27 years. During that time, she was politically active in St. Paul, volunteering for political campaigns, serving as treasurer for a state representative, working on the staff of Paul Wellstone’s 1990 campaign for the U.S. Senate, serving as associate chair of the St. Paul Democratic Party, and organizing her neighborhood’s Crime Prevention Block Club in 1989 (which remains active).

“I also had my own family law practice for many years and did quite well,” she said. “But it was the crash of 2008 that brought me down and forced me into retirement in 2011.”

In 2012, at the age of 58, she married John Semmer, who owned an IT firm in Minnesota. Four and a half years ago they retired to Costa Rica where Ms. Taplin is still not sitting idly by.

The couple and their dog now live 4,000 feet up in the mountains at the edge of a cloud forest near the town of San Ramón. In addition to a lot of other expats, their neighbors include tropical birds and howler monkeys.

The wildlife, however, is not for everyone. While composing an email to the Reporter about life in the country, Ms. Taplin noted that a bufo toad had hopped into her house.



“I whisked it out with a broom. This is the second time it’s happened,” said Ms. Taplin who explained that bufo toads are highly poisonous and exude a hallucinogenic poison through their skin.

“If an animal licks it, it could die. Natives used to lick the skin to experience highs similar to an effect from LSD,” said Ms. Taplin who added that a few weeks ago, a neighbor found a 6-foot python taking a nap on the top of her open back door.

These days, when she’s not managing the local fauna that’s found its way into her house, Ms. Taplin works as a volunteer at a nonprofit English language school where she helps students of all ages.

And Friday, she said, is the day for shopping at the local farmers market where all kinds of fruits, vegetables and locally grown and processed dark chocolate can be found.

“Unfortunately, we bypass a lot of the stuff that we have no clue as to what it is,” she said. “My favorite vendor of orange yams — to die for — always greets me with a cheek kiss and an elaborate handshake that makes everyone watching laugh.

“We are accepted and welcomed.”

Knowing that folks back home might be curious about the health care situation, Ms. Taplin explained that medical coverage in Costa Rica costs about $60 a month for herself and her husband, but, she added, the waits for service can be long.

“So we also pay a monthly premium of $13 each with a very progressive private clinic in San Ramón, where all diagnostic and preventive care is provided with about a 60 percent discount from the usual — but low — costs. Amazingly, it’s better equipped than the clinic I used in St. Paul.”

But unlike St. Paul, there is no snow to shovel.

When asked to reflect on her time at Shelter Island School, Ms. Taplin admitted she struggled as a student and didn’t particularly enjoy high school. But she does recall a few highlights.

“The most important course I ever took in high school was English grammar,” she said. “I can’t remember the teacher’s name, but I can see her face clearly. Our yearbook was dedicated to her, as she died during our sophomore year, I think.

“She taught me sentence construction, syntax, grammar, everything that has made me a successful writer. I owe her.”

Another key figure in Ms. Taplin’s life was her older sister, Karen, who suffered with cerebral palsy. She had no friends at school, so retreated into the world of books, many of which Ms. Taplin subsequently read herself.

“Karen was the one who caused me to love to read. It’s to Karen that I owe my number one debt to my success. No joke,” she said, adding that Karen died in a car accident in October 1984 when Ms. Taplin was in her second year of law school.

“It devastated me, and I still cry sometimes thinking about her death. She was so giving.”

Ms. Taplin’s life experiences, starting with her time on Shelter Island, may not have followed the traditional path, but they offer good reminders that sometimes, it can take time for young people to find themselves and figure out what direction they need to go in.

“I graduated at the bottom quarter of my high school class,” she said. “I’m sure my peers thought I was most likely to fail. I was simply not engaged.

“Now I am.”