Battling Age with Active Living: The Villages in Florida

At The Villages

At The Villages

Are you retired and thinking of change, maybe moving to a warmer climate where seniors who drive like seniors are welcome? The Villages, a large retirement community in central Florida, may be for you.

My wife and I just spent a couple of days at The Villages visiting friends—two of about 110,000 people living there part- or full-time. The Villages occupies about 35 square miles and is growing fast.

Activities, Activities, Activities

Our friends play golf about five days a week, weather and other appointments permitting. They bought a small house in one of neighborhoods within The Villages and thereby have access to (currently) 32 executive (9-hole) golf courses and 12 championship (18-27 holes) golf courses. Each of the 12 championship courses operates as a country club with priority memberships (extra fee) and a full set of amenities—restaurants, pro shop, golf instruction, patio dining, pool and tennis courts that are available to club members. Golfers pay greens fees to play the championship courses. All residents of The Villages can play the executive courses free.

A map of recreational facilities shows swimming pools (among other facilities). The Villages has about 65 pools, 8 of which are part of country clubs, leaving 57 independent pools for all residents. They include family, neighborhood and sport pools, each with a different focus. All of them are outdoor pools kept at about 82 degrees and can be used year around. It’s easy to find a time for laps or a class for water aerobics.

There are about 2,300 “companies” or groups for residents to join, including support groups like AA, and clubs for bridge, chess, exercise, jazz, dance, model railroads, quilting, scuba diving, sculpting, table tennis, theatre, photography, vegan potluck, walk away the pounds, writers, and Zen meditation, among many others.

And if your spouse passes away, you can join the singles club. In any older age cohort men die faster than women, which means widowers in The Villages face better odds than widows.

Residents play pickle ball, tennis, golf, shuffleboard, table tennis and polo. They dance, swim, play music, walk, hike, run, bike; they do yoga, Pilates, weight training, body building, and more.

There is an 8,000 sq. ft. woodworking facility, open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday that boasts almost every conceivable wood working tool. It’s home to the Woodworkers Club with over 800 members.

The Villages sponsors a Lifelong Learning College that offers hundreds of reasonably priced classes. Many involve learning new activities, like working with computers or cameras, or perhaps doing a new exercise or dance, painting with watercolors or speaking a foreign language. Some of the courses are introductions that students can further develop by participating in a “company” or group for the same activity: a resident might study Spanish then join a Spanish conversation company.

Life’s Context

Health care seems readily available. Several healthcare centers, a Villages Regional Hospital, cancer center, VA outpatient clinic, and senior living facilities are all in The Villages, and they accept many insurance policies. Also, the emphasis on sports promotes health. Any new resident is sure to have dozens of offers to join health-promoting activities.

The Villages Daily Sun is the local paper. The February 10 edition had a front news section with stories about The Villages and wire service articles from around the country. The lead article covered the widening of a county road that goes through The Villages. Some readers claim the Daily Sun is the fattest newspaper in the country because it caters to a generation of readers accustomed to getting a daily paper.

When we arrived in the late afternoon, we sat on Ann and Jack’s lanai and talked about their life in Florida. Golf and other exercise activities, along with restaurant dining and evening music events, occupy their time. Like many older people, they spend much time with family, siblings, children and grandchildren, none of whom live in The Villages.

They have a two-bedroom, two-bath home with a full kitchen, dining area, and indoor living area. The homes are compact and easy to maintain, and the lots are often, though not always, very small. Prices for homes range from about $100,000 to over $1 million, with a typical cost between $150,000 and $450,000.

The next day we took a tour of the area, seeing many of the sites mentioned above. We had lunch at one of the many restaurants and dinner at another—dinner for four with drinks totaled $88, before tip. We joined an outdoor concert for a while, having two beers and two glasses of wine for $10.

My wife and I found The Villages astounding. We’ve never seen so large a retirement community with so many recreational activities. Most retirees have never lived in a place so focused on their needs and pleasures.

The people are older than Americans in general, so all the stereotypical characteristics of old people are common, or too common. People show up early—a note in the catalog for the Lifelong Learning College asks students not to show up more than 15 minutes early. Such a notice never graces the pages of an ordinary college catalog.

People go to dinner anytime after 4:30 p.m., and most restaurants are empty by 9 p.m. The last movie showings in the  theaters start at 7 p.m. By 10 p.m. the streets are nearly empty.

The homes and streets are uniform and compact. There are golf carts everywhere. The entire area is clean, well maintained and dotted with flower beds.

There are no homes with farm animals or garage-based businesses. You don’t see working pickups or other business vehicles in the driveways. No piles of lumber, dirt or cement blocks. Children are scarce.

There is not even the appearance of poverty: no trash, no oddly colored or dilapidated homes, no homeless people wandering the streets. The residents are mostly white, Republican and middle class.

In Counterpoint

Today in America many neighborhoods as well as rural areas are in decline. The path often starts with the closing of a major employer. Young families exit to find work elsewhere, taking their children along. Older residents stay behind. Buildings fall into disrepair, churches and other organizations close and life for those who stay grows bleak.

Perhaps with such images in the back of my mind, I anticipated rejecting The Villages, thinking it might be like those areas in decline but with newer houses. Levittown’s uniformity came to mind, and I expected a quiet, almost antiseptic environment like the hallways of a nursing home.

The Villages stands in counterpoint to all those images. Vibrant, growing, well maintained, sporting a robust civic life, we found it invigorating and appealing.

At the same time, not everyone will like it. Many retirees devote themselves to children and grandchildren and would not want to move away from them. Others thrive on rural life, maybe with a small farm or woods. Some pursue volunteer work or second careers. The Villages can accommodate such interests, but it doesn’t focus on them.

Maybe life in The Villages is like life in a college sorority or fraternity. At both times in life people are facing a great divide often with uncertainty and apprehension. Most college students and most Villagers are not working full-time for money; nor are they caring for dependents. In both, people are of like ages, living in active yet restricted communities. Living quarters are close, social pressures may be keenly felt and people are alike. And somewhere, at every time of day, there is a game or party.

Readers can find more information on The Villages website. Interested in churches? Look at the Lifestyle tab, then Houses of Worship. Readers can also do general Internet searches: Google (or search with another search engine) your interest plus “the villages fl”. Want to know about “church in the villages fl” or “swimming in the villages fl” or whether there is a “philosophy club in the villages, fl”?

A gallery of photos will follow tomorrow.