November 14, 2023
Editor’s Note: This article was written and submitted by senior-living executive Beth Kuberka. If you are a senior-living executive at a community with an idea for an article that you’d like to write and publish in Senior Living News you’re welcome to submit your written article or idea to our editor, Jim Nelson, at email@example.com. We welcome all ideas including, but not limited to, staffing recruitment and retention solutions, addressing the middle market, and successful, innovative programs or technology.
Sixteen years ago, Bill and Harriet Hartman had a date circled on their calendar: Bill’s 62nd birthday. Bill was traveling extensively for his job with an auto manufacturer, and both Hartmans were ready for him to retire.
“One of us wanted to play golf,” said Harriet, now 70, “the other wanted to travel.”
When his birthday passed, the Hartmans packed up their home outside Los Angeles and moved to East Tennessee. Yes, it was travel, and yes, the new home is nestled among three golf courses.
“Other places looked like a rocking chair on the front porch,” said Bill, 78. “That’s not what we wanted to do!”
The Idea of Retirement is Changing
For generations, the idea of retirement was a chance to finally relax and reap the fruits of decades of labor. But, for a variety of reasons, the idea of retirement is changing.
The Hartmans chose the active-adult community Tellico Village, outside of Knoxville. They’re part of a nationwide trend.
In 2018, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies noted that “fully 55 percent of the nation’s households are now headed by someone at least 50 years old.” Meanwhile, according to the National Association of Homebuilders, one of the biggest trends is to locate communities near big universities, for continuing education opportunities.
It was one of those continuing education opportunities that introduced the Tennessee Bluebird Society to the Hartmans, and Bill and Harriet now share the title of president of the Tennessee Valley Chapter. He spends his days making bluebird boxes, teaching others to make them, and both Bill and Harriet put those boxes on trees around East Tennessee. Both Hartmans also volunteer their time — and a few old nests — at the local elementary school during the first-grade bird unit.
“I never expected,” said Harriet, “that I would be referred to as the Bluebird Lady or that Bill would be the Bluebird Man.”
While volunteering may have dropped a bit overall after the pandemic, we see still a lot of it here in Tennessee.
Of course, the Hartmans do things for themselves, too.
“It’s amazing how you can fill your days,” Harriet said as she listed off what else she does: gardening, boating, socializing with neighbors. Harriet also still works for the same company that employed her in California, though she’s cut back to one day a week.
The Look of Retirement is Changing
“It’s not like I wanted my retirement to be a certain thing,” said Holly Seguine. “I knew I wanted to enjoy life. I knew I wanted to spend more time in Canada. And here I am.”
For years, Seguine worked in the communications industry, mainly in Chicago. She knew she did not want to work in retirement. She wanted to be active, and she wanted to be on the water.
“I’m totally a water person,” she said as she looked over the St. Lawrence River while visiting her family’s 100-year-old cottage.
For most of the year, Seguine is in the water in more temperate Tennessee. She grew up loving synchronized swimming. She did it in college. Even now, she does it; at 67, she’s medaled in the Tennessee State Senior Games.
More seniors are living longer, and a 2020 article in Lifespan.io says that “today’s elderly are in better physical and cognitive shape than people of the same age were a generation ago.” Maybe 70 is the new 60, at least the way Seguine lives it.
Seguine helped start her community’s Master Swim Club, which typically has 10 people in each class. It isn’t about becoming a medalist, she said. “Really, it’s for anyone who likes to swim, wants to get better at it, and be in better physical condition as a result.”
This echoes what the National Association of Home Builders found: Boomers want to stay healthy, stay involved, and expect a community with amenities to provide that. Seguine’s community has multiple pools, in addition to a large lake for her kayaking and jet skiing.
Another side effect of those swim classes: a happier Seguine. “It’s the socialization,” she said. “That makes me healthier. It gives me a community of swimmers, and that is so important — to be with others who like the water as much as I do.”
“To have your life and identity wrapped up in a job would not work for me,” said Seguine. “This is my opportunity to devote my life to the things I really enjoy doing. And being on or in the water with friends is one of them.”
The Purpose Of Retirement Is Changing
Randy Vogel was photographing a wild orchid in the woods one day when he found his post-retirement purpose.
A passing hiker assumed he fell. Retired ecologist Vogel assured him he was fine, then took the opportunity to discuss the four layers of the forest (herbaceous, shrub, canopy, and sub-canopy), including the layer Tellico Village’s forest was lacking (the herbaceous layer), and how easily — if slowly — it could be replenished.
That conversation turned into a position on a newly formed community environmental committee. Vogel’s been planting seeds in soil and souls ever since.
“I’m one of the lucky people whose advocacy matches my vocation,” said Vogel, who just turned 69.
Vogel is currently planting wild geraniums in four different green-space areas around his community. A few neighbors are helping, and he hopes the help grows along with the flowers.
Being an unpaid ecologist “was not on my radar screen at all,” said Vogel with a laugh. He figured he’d spend his days hiking, or on his Harley or scuba diving. “But I’m having fun doing it.”
He is happy with starting multiple new ventures at once: retirement, reforestation, and a renewed purpose. “It’s not what I envisioned,” he said, “but I’m drawing a lot of satisfaction from it.”
Boomers are rewriting what it means to retire — with a sense of purpose, with a sense of self, and without any preconceived ideas from previous generations.
This interview has been lightly edited.