By Ellen Chrismer
Retirees are increasingly choosing to spend their senior years living near their ol alma mater.
One evening, soon after she had moved into the University Retirement Community, Lois Spafford came in late from an outing and worried, just for a second: Am I going to miss lock-out?
It wasnt such a stretch for Spafford, 71, to suddenly think about the dorm curfew rule imposed on tardy students during her days at UC Davis in the early 1950s. The main building of the northwest Davis retirement communitywith its apartment-lined long corridors, communal dining room and posters advertising upcoming events and lecturescould be easily taken for a college dorm.
In fact, the Craftsman-style main building, with its shingle-style facade and exposed beams, reminds Spafford of the old Davis dorms, North and South halls.
But even more revealing than the looks of the University Retirement Community are the personalities that inhabit the nine-acre complex. Despite having no affiliation with the UC Davis campus, the two-year-old retirement community is full of UC Davis alumni, emeriti professors and former staff members.
Many of the students and young professors who flocked to the University Farm when it reopened after World War II are entering a new stage in their lives. In their 70s and 80s, the not-so-recent retirees have moved out of their family homes and into whats known in senior circles as a continuing care communityoffering independent living apartments and several levels of medical support designed to sustain them for the rest of their lives.
Along with Spafford are Bill Allewelt, class of 1950, and his wife, Jean. And former professors Sam Hart, Bob Hagan, Norm Akesson and dozens of others.
Hart, 78, also a UC Davis graduate, class of 1948, says theres a simple reason that he and 150 UC Davis-affiliated retireesabout 40 percent of the communitys residentshave decided to move to the University Retirement Community. Were Aggies, he said.
Hart is not alone in his sentiment. In recent years, thousands of retirees across the country have pledged lifelong ties to the Iowa State Cyclones, Virginia Cavaliers or Penn State Nittany Lionsto name a few examplesby moving to continuing care communities close by or even affiliated with their home universities. In doing so, the residents gain a sense of comfort and camaraderie during what they realize is the last stage of their lives.
There are no formal ties between URC and the UC Davis campus, but residents and visitors to the community alike can sense a collegiate feel.
The people who run University Retirement Community like to call its complex of cottages and a four-story main apartment building the campus. And in many ways, the retirement community has the same energy as close-knit college life. The mailroom on the first floor of the main building is a hive of activity early afternoons as residents collect their letters and bills, stopping to chat with neighbors or pausing to look at sign-up sheets for outings to Napa, San Francisco or Sacramento, or for movie nights and lecture series. Nearby, a cozy library with comfortable reading chairs is stocked with bookscarefully cataloged, in university convention, in the Library of Congress system. In the evening, residents gather in the centers dining room. Its a tight squeeze to maneuver around the buffet and salad bar, what with the residents, many wearing nametags, stopping to chat with one another.
Bill and Jean Allewelt appreciate the friendly atmosphere.
Were pleased to be reunited with old friends, and were enjoying the new friends weve made, Allewelt, 73, said. Hes been joined at the retirement community by college pals George Hickman, a 1950 graduate, and Don Sloan, of the class of 1949.
Between walking groups, swimming, movie nights and trips back to campus for consulting or volunteer work, the retirement communitys residents are active and extremely social.
The URCs Resident Executive Council meets regularly to discuss topics like food, activities and parking. More than two dozen residents edit, write, lay out and circulate the monthly newsletter, URC-ing the News. Former rhetoric and communication professor Ralph Pomeroy, the resident director of the Senior Learning Unlimited program, couldnt possibly take a reporters call until he finished editing the September issue.
There are book clubs, bike outings and aqua-aerobics classes in the pool. A resident-run Coping with Change support group helps members deal with the loss of a spouse and declining health as well as any emotional transitions that come with moving to a place like URC.
It does take a special kind of person to settle upon a destination like thisits people who are thinking ahead, who understand the consequences of not [moving here], said Allewelt, the retired president of produce cooperative Tri-Valley Growers. You get a group of stimulating people.
David Schless, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Seniors Housing Association, has watched the trend of retirees moving to a college community emerge in the past 10 or so years. Across the United States and Canada, about 100 retirement communities tout proximity to a college campus for their cultural and intellectual opportunities and access to top-rated health care. Many campuses offer local seniors the chance to audit university classes for free or provide professors to teach mini-classes at the communities.
The concept works because there are so many ways for the seniors to continue their personal growth, Schless said. The setting offers so many potentially enriching activities.
Some of the most successful examples include the Colonnades at the University of Virginia and Green Hills at Iowa State University. At soon-to-open Village at Penn State University, several top university administrators sit on the retirement community board, and the project has the endorsement of legendary football coach Joe Paterno. We wanted [The Village] to be the best of its kind, the best in the world, and we thought we had the talent to do that, he said in a promotional video for the project.
No retirement community is directly affiliated with a University of California campus, but in Palo Alto, the Hyatt Corp. is building one of its upscale Classic Residence communities on 22 acres leased from Stanford University. When its completed in 2004, faculty and staff will have first dibs on living there, followed by alumni and university donors. Already Hyatt has accepted about 750 $1,000 deposits from potential residents.
We havent even really opened up to the general public, said Hyatt sales manager Barry Johnson.
At North Carolina State, the Association of Retired Faculty is negotiating with the university administration to build a retirement residence on NC States research campus, close to a campus library and a gymnasium. To gauge local interest in the retirement community project, the university recently held a conference to discuss lifelong faculty and staff campus involvement, said engineering professor emeritus Tom Elleman.
A type of symbiotic relationship often exists between the campuses and the retirement communities.Residents of Kendal at Oberlin, located near the small Ohio liberal arts school, can take courses alongside the colleges undergraduates. And students receiving financial aid from the college have fulfilled their work-study duties at Kendal. At the Colonnades, built on UVA land in Charlottesville, and Green Hills at Iowa State, physical therapy and nursing students from the universities work as interns and conduct studies on aging.
At most places there is some university reason for doing this, said Elleman, who studies campuses efforts to build retirement communities. One trend he believes will emerge is that university faculty will be less likely to job-hop knowing that, first, their parents and, then, they themselves will have a secure, comfortable place to retire to.
We thought that we would merge those goals, he said. It all came together in the retirement community. Now, Rose said, alumni living at the Colonnades donate more heavily to UVA than most other graduates.
UC Davis involvement in URC activities is more informal, and thats just fine with most residents, as well as with campus administrators.
I see real benefit in housing emeriti faculty and alumni in the community, whether or not they are at the University Retirement Community, said Bill Lacy, vice provost for university outreach. He mentioned their ability to continue giving back to the campus, either through financial support or their professional expertise.
Several residents, like Spafford and former vegetable crop specialist Bill Sims, have season tickets to UC Davis football and basketball games. Many residents heavily support UC Davis Presents and other campus programs, and most emeriti professors still do some work on campus with their departments.
Akesson easily moves between a campus office in Bainer Hall and his home office in his URC cottage. Hagan is helping develop a consulting hydrologist position for the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. Sims spends 10 hours a week working on a mechanical harvesting study with several campus departments.
Performers from UC Davis theatre and dance department stage productions at URC, and the community provides transportation to UC Davis cultural events. The URCs acting administrator, Mike Morris, said he has not been approached by any university department hoping for research ties, but he would welcome such an arrangement.
The universitys mere proximity to the retirement community, Morris said, is an easy selling point for URC.
From the start the leaders of the retirement community project aimed to have their facility built in the city of Davis. Planning began about 20 years ago by a group of retirees under the auspices of the Davis Community Church. Later, other local churches got on board with the idea, adding an assisted living feature to the existing residential plan.
It wasnt just a personal need, said Hagan, professor emeritus of land, air and water resources and UC Davis 1948 Ph.D. graduate, who headed a committee looking into the project. I felt that it was a faculty need in the community.
Many of the emeriti faculty and alumni living at the retirement community raised their families here, retired and, as they aged, began seeking out a place free from household and medical worries.
Other residents like the Allewelts are relative newcomers to Davis. The couple, active in the UC Davis Foundation, retired to a home here in 1994 but knew they would soon seek out a place like URC. Still others not affiliated with the university but intrigued by the idea of retiring near a campus came from across Northern California and as far away as Vermont and New York.
California State University, Sacramento, philosophy professor Bill Lovitt and his wife, Harriet, who retired from Skidmore College in New York, moved to URC after Bill landed in the hospital with pneumonia. Despite affiliation with the Sacramento university rather than UC Davis, the couple has found a kinship among others who share their interests in travel and conversation.
Recently Lovitt hosted a talk on existentialism as part of the communitys Inquiring Minds series and was impressed by the level of discussion. His only complaint: There are almost no [UC Davis] people here from the humanities, said Lovitt, 73. Its mainly agricultural people who are here because they are the oldest on the Davis campus.
Shirley and Ned Frondorf moved to the URC from their retirement home in Sonoma. They knew no one in Davis when they moved to the community. The couple craved an interesting atmosphere, but worried that the URC would be exclusive. Not to fear.
I find the people friendly, well-educated and extraordinarily intelligent. Ph.D.s abound, said Shirley Frondorf, 74, and a retired attorney. Thats very different than most retirement communities.
Like many that have opened across the country, the University Retirement Community now includes traditional apartments and cottages, assisted living units and rooms and suites for residents who are terminally ill or suffering from Alzheimers disease or dementia. All apartments are equipped with emergency buzzers. Sutter Davis Hospital is just across the street.
While we have an independent-living apartment, its reassuring to know that these other options are here, Allewelt said. Hagan, 85, agreed.
Its very traumatic to move out of your home, said Hagan, who moved into the retirement community in July 2000 with companion Gennie Riddle. It would be very traumatic to move again. Weve made the last move.
Despite the benefits of living in a town where you went to college or where you long worked, a move to a retirement community does not come easyfinancially, logistically or emotionally. Residents of URC had to pass a health and financial screening before moving in and pay a large entrance fee, up to $258,000, based on the size and amenities of the apartment or cottage they chose. They also often go through the arduous process of what the New York Times has referred to as de-thingingparing back the accumulated possessions of 40 to 50 years to fit in reduced living space.
Hagan struggled with dividing up nice dishes, furniture, kitchen utensils and mementos after moving out of his Oak Avenue home. He gave some of his possessions to his two sons, others to International House and local community groups. Then, he and his partner Riddle chose the mix of furniture, antiques and knick-knacks that now fill their two-bedroom apartment with a floor plan and careful measurements, Hagan said. And then, most importantly, they must come to terms with living in a community where everyone comes to die. That troubles some and befuddles others.
There have been a lot of people who have died since weve been here, said the 81-year-old Peg Akesson, who herself suffers from the autoimmune condition lupus. It can be very discouraging.
But residents appear to be making the most of their time at URC, despite any initial misgivings over their new stage in life. Spafford, the widow of alumnus and longtime campus administrator Ed Spafford, acknowledges that her new life at the URC has its ups and downs. But she says shes eating better and exercising more now that shes not living alone. And shes more social.
I still have my friends from Davis, but Ive made new friends here, she said.
Life in this retirement community doesnt have much spare time, agreed Haganwhich is a good thing, he said, because thats how the UC Davis retirees at URC have always lived their lives. Its beginning to feel like home, Hagan said. But its a different kind of home.
Ellen Chrismer is the associate editor of Dateline UC Davis, a newspaper for faculty and staff.
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