Elderly Americans live in retirement communities in Florida
The people who retire to The Villages in Central Florida aren’t interested in slipping softly into old age. Take Michael Roach, a New Jersey native who says he’s done everything from teaching high school history to working as a casino dealer and describes himself as an extrovert.
“I like to dance, and I saw there was live entertainment every night. I liked it,” he says, as he stands outside a crowded bar in a retirement community where midday drinking is in full swing. “Plus, you can plug in as much or as little as you want.”
More than 22 million people live in Florida. One in five is over the age of 65. Retirees are often attracted to the warm weather, relatively low cost of living, and lifestyle available in retirement communities such as The Villages.
“It’s all about what retirees want to do, how they feel, what makes them happy, what kind of music is playing, and what our interests are,” says Denise Mullen, a retired financial planner who relocated from Texas. “I definitely feel valued here because they serve their age group. They really think about what my age group does, the retired group.”
Ray Henry from Pittsburgh, who worked as a mason, and mostly drilled holes in the foundations of buildings, came for a visit and never left.
I didn’t want to leave after being here. “It’s so much fun,” says Henry, standing outside the busy pub and describing a typical day. “Get up and come over here. See some friends, do a little dancing, have a few drinks. Go to some great place to eat and get up and do it the next day.”
Roche, Mullen and Henry are among the nearly 80,000 people who live in the Villages, making it one of the largest retirement communities in the world, according to 2020 US Census data.
The Villages—a census-designated place in Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties, covering 57 square miles—is a Community Development Area, with powers similar to local governments.
Besides 50 golf courses, The Villages offers hundreds of other activities and clubs, including arts and crafts, book clubs, games, dance, and singles events. There is also nightly entertainment in the three town squares, which have a variety of restaurants and shops.
Lauren Richey, a retired columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, used to report on villages and their residents.
“They’re buying a lifestyle. And the lifestyle they’re buying is one they’re convinced they deserve. They’ve worked all their lives, shoveling snow every winter,” she says.
“People call it Disney for seniors. Well, that’s exactly what it is. And there’s a certain person who wants to live in the kind of atmosphere that the place creates. There are other types of people whose families are the number one priority, and they want to stay up north to be near,” she added. of their descendants.
Safety is also a primary consideration for some retirees.
“There are no small neighborhoods in The Villages. Everywhere you go, you feel safe,” says Roach, the New Jersey native who bought his home here in November 2022. “Nobody looks over their shoulder or worries about being robbed. And that’s important in America today.”
Feeling safe was also a big draw for Barbara Weisz. She lives in Hawthorne at Leesburg, a gated retirement community about an hour’s drive from Orlando, where emergency personnel are always on standby.
“We have buttons in our homes, so, if you have an emergency in the middle of the night, you press the button. Someone will come over and check and see what’s going on,” Weese says. “It feels very safe, especially for people who are widowed or alone.”
About 2,000 people live in Hawthorne, making it much smaller than the villages. Retirees looking to move to Florida have hundreds—as many as 670 by one count—of active adult retiree communities to consider.
“We have so many communities to choose from that someone will find a suitable one,” says realtor Sharon Wooten. “I think the over-55 communities are a perfect fit for a lot of people who are retired… A lot of people work their whole lives and when they retire, they want to go somewhere that has activities, things to do, comfort, just a more relaxed lifestyle.”
It’s a lifestyle that Wiz has embraced. She says she came to Florida for the climate, the camaraderie, and the chance to reinvent herself.
“There are opportunities in these communities for older people to do things that would normally only be the domain of young people, especially when you get into your 80s,” she says. “Maybe in high school you played the trumpet, you never played it again, and then you go down to one of these communities and you discover… there’s an orchestra or something and you start playing the trumpet again.”
But for Wiz, 87, and her husband of 90, the party is coming to an end. After 30 years of retirement in Florida, they returned to Maine to be near their adult children. They plan to live in a townhouse attached to their adult daughter’s dorm.
“Let’s be completely honest about it. When you’re 87, 90, you won’t be here in 20. So maybe it’s time, while you can still walk and talk and chew gum, to leave and settle down somewhere when you say no,” Weese says. “You’re not going to stay healthy forever. When you say no, your family is there.”
Realtor Wooten says it’s not unusual for older clients to leave Florida.
“You get to that point in life where you may not be able to drive anymore, and you may want to be closer to your kids or family members,” she says.
Although she’s enjoyed living in her retirement community for the past three decades, Weese is optimistic about the move.
“It’s an adventure. It’s new. It’s a new chapter.” Not many people at 87 have a new milestone.
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