Retirees not just after fun in sun

Jean and Erwin Anderson left the small farming town of Wahpeton, N.D., as a young couple. Their jobs took them to New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis.

But when it came to retiring, they weren't lured by warm weather or previous adventures. They moved to Ottertail Lake in Minnesota, 40 miles from Wahpeton - close enough to family and friends, says Mrs. Anderson, but far enough to feel like they've gotten away from it all.

While it may seem as if retirees are interested in spending their days playing golf and basking in the sun, the reality is that lifestyles don't change much when people retire. Studies show that 90 percent of seniors are unwilling to move more than 100 miles from home after they retire.

The realization that a seersucker climate isn't everything - while perhaps coming as a news flash to Florida - is beginning to change America's definition of "retirement community." Like the Andersons, new retirees are leaving big Northern cities, but often they're going no further than in-state tourist spots - Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the Dells in Wisconsin, the Poconos in Pennsylvania.

"Communities within striking distance of major metropolitan areas" like Boston, Chicago, and New York "are ripe for development," says Charles Longino Jr., director of the Reynolda Gerontology Program at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Leading retirement developer Del Webb Corp. has finally caught on to this trend. Two years ago, it opened its first Sun City in the Frost Belt - and found it was filling up as quickly as those in the Sun Belt. "This development has been very successful," says Harriet Ford with the new Sun City in Huntley, Ill. "There was definitely a pent-up demand for this type of option."

Del Webb is considering other "four-season" communities. Smaller northern cities may become the retirement meccas of the new millennium as baby boomers near age 65.

According to the US Administration on Aging, more than half of those over 65 live in only nine states, including Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Most didn't move far when they retired, for a variety of reasons from a desire to stay close to family and friends to familiarity with their surroundings. A Del Webb survey last year found that 82 percent of respondents plan to stay in-state when they retire.

Kitty Voss and Peter Grossman are one such couple. Born and raised in Chicago, the two recently retired to the newest Sun City in Huntley, about 45 miles north of downtown.

Here, they say, they have the best of both worlds - plenty of clean air and sunsets, and easy access to world-class museums and Broadway shows.

"Chicago is an exciting place to be," says Ms. Voss, who also factored in a number of very close friends she was not willing to leave.

Says her husband, "I really love climate; warm weather is really monotonous."

Being bored by all that sunshine is hardly a problem in Minnesota, where the Andersons are spending their third winter on Ottertail Lake.

"It feels like our first," says Mrs. Anderson. "The past two winters were so mild, we didn't even have to take out the snowblower."

The couple isn't willing to give up just yet. They ramble on about the picturesque icehouses on the lake, revel in the line-less grocery stores and the daily trek to the mailbox three miles away, and enjoy the company of the occasional hearty family who endures the year-round experience with them.

"I just love the peace here. And the people are really quite sociable. Everybody kind of depends on everybody else," Mrs. Anderson says.

She says she has friends who have been going to Naples, Fla., every winter, but last year they came back complaining about how crowded and expensive things have become.

Indeed, there is some evidence that traditional retirement locales are decreasing in popularity as they become bigger and harder for the elderly to manage. A good example is California. It has been ranked second as a retirement destination since 1960, but its share of the retirement pool has declined in every decade since then, from 13.6 to 6.9 percent. This is "good news for all of those states ... that are not already on the top of the list of destinations," Dr. Longino says.

In Ottertail County, Minn., property around the more than 1,000 lakes is quickly being bought up by people from nearby cities like Minneapolis.

Many of those haven't reached retirement age yet, but are planning ahead.

"Baby boomers, people in their 40s and 50s, are buying property now so they can have it for retirement," says Barbara Nelson, a real estate agent in Ottertail County. "There's a real scramble for good lakeshore, and prices are escalating."

Ms. Nelson, who spent almost 20 years in the Los Angeles area before moving to a 94-acre farm here, says she's not going anywhere when she retires. "You wouldn't get me out of Ottertail County for anything."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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