Home to 400,000 people — and with nearly 30% of its residents over age 65 — Sarasota County is a mecca for the aging. It’s not surprising Where to Retire magazine, the only magazine in America that aims to help people with retirement relocation decisions, elected to profile Sarasota as a top retirement town in its March/April issue.
Here, retirees take advantage of everything the community offers to keep them on the go — pristine beaches, a world-class arts scene and extensive volunteering opportunities.
The magazine notes that each year, 700,000 Americans relocate for retirement and states that these people generally are healthier, better educated and more affluent, contributing significant economic benefits to their new states and hometowns.
According to the Sarasota County Five-Year Economic Development Strategic Plan from October 2009, the county’s current age profile represents what the United States is projected to look like in 2025. The plan identified aging as one of its key platforms, a budding initiative that would be the first of its kind, designed to generate significant economic benefit for Sarasota County and the region.
The five-year plan includes three initiatives: “The Institute for the Ages” focuses on global leadership for a global issue through innovation of products, services and policies; “Medical Tourism” identifies Sarasota County as a national destination for health care nationally recognized medical specialists, with nationally recognized hospitals and rehabilitation; and “Silver Entrepreneurship,” declares the area as a regional destination for older entrepreneurs.
SCOPE’s — Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence — “Institute for the Ages” aims to bring together forward-thinkers in business, government, research and nonprofit organizations, who will work hand-in-hand with communities, and the institute will act as a national resource for aging issues. For the next four years, Sarasota Memorial Hospital will house the institute’s office for free.
“We’re demographically the oldest large county in the country and considerably ahead of the rest of the country and world with regard to issues that relate to demographic change,” said SCOPE Executive Director Tim Dutton. “Our environment is such that we can try (the institute) out here — Sarasota is a naturally-occurring laboratory.”
Sarasota is home to many organizations that assist the county’s aging demographic. The following are a few.
At 104 years old, Faye Watkins still plays bridge at 1 p.m. every day. She goes to exercise class four days a week and gets her hair done every Friday. She didn’t even own a walker until she turned 101.
“If she loses (in bridge), she’s a sore loser,” said Fran Covalt, administrator of the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Housing Council. “You don’t mess with bridge here.”
The Kobernick House is a not-for-profit independent-living community for seniors, founded in 1993.
Every quarter, Executive Director Darlene Arbeit hosts “Tea and Conversation,” a feel-good meeting for residents, during which they discuss positive personal matters or campus happenings. Residents can also take classes to learn Hebrew, attend current-events meetings and even join a political action committee.
“We care about the residents beyond the scope of just another independent-living setting,” said Covalt.
“It’s a warm, fuzzy atmosphere, and we go out of our way to make the days very special for them because they’re on the short end of special days.”
Senior Friendship Center
Karaoke reigns at the Senior Friendship Center.
Starting at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, the amplifiers get cranked up and seniors pile into the room, waiting for their moment at the mic. The activity aims to build confidence in the seniors, helping them stay engaged and connected.
When it’s his turn, Dick Wieneke, who runs a similar karaoke activity in Michigan, assumes the position before his audience and belts out “Tiny Bubbles.”
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Wieneke said. “I’ll continue doing this (singing) until I drop.”
The Senior Friendship Centers is a non-profit network of centers in Southwest Florida that offers a diversity of activities for people ages 50 and up and extends into the community with volunteer opportunities for all ages.
Its Sarasota location, founded in 1973 by Brother William Geenen, tracks more than 1,500 visits per week and offers everything from ballroom dancing, yoga and creative writing, to brain fitness, knitting, weaving and Wii.
“We’re realizing what a key part socialization is to longevity,” said Barbara Celnar, community services manager at the Sarasota Senior Friendship Center. “People are finding they can’t just sit around and expect to age well. They have to live well at the same time, and that means choosing things that help you get that better quality of life.”
For many of Plymouth Harbor’s 300 residents, the secret to aging gracefully lies in staying active, not only physically, but mentally, as well.
One of the most popular programs at Plymouth Harbor is its Sarasota Institute for Lifetime Learning Lecture Series, or SILL. Every Thursday, Pilgrim Hall is filled to capacity for the weekly lecture series, which is simulcast directly from The Players Theatre. The college-level lectures cover global issues such as “Iran in Transition” and “Energy: Beyond the Politics of Petroleum.”
Plymouth Harbor is a non-profit continuing-care retirement community founded in 1966. It offers a variety of classes through the Pierian Spring Academy, a college-level continuing-education program that offers residents learning opportunities in art, history, government, theater, language and more.
It also offers a variety of exercise classes including yoga, aquacise, advanced exercise and tai chi.
“The one thing we try to tell folks is that even though you’re older, that doesn’t mean there are specific activities you have to do as an older person,” said Gordon Okawa, vice president of marketing and community affairs at Plymouth Harbour.
Sarasota Bay Club
Four times each year, the Sarasota Bay Club, a 300-resident retirement community that opened in July 2000, holds “Masterpiece Living.” The event is a day in which residents participate in a variety of activities centered around a particular theme. From morning through evening, residents become immersed in the physical, cultural and educational aspects of the day’s topic.
“If people are constantly challenged as they age, in both the mind and the body, they will sustain a longer and more productive life,” says Jill Ross, arts and leisure director at Sarasota Bay Club.
Sarasota Bay Club boasts two fitness centers and a variety of daily exercise classes, such as chi tao, a martial-arts practice similar to tai chi. Residents also get their dose of culture with twice-weekly professional entertainment, including musical and theatrical performances. Recently, Sarasota Bay Club offered residents a four-part concert series entitled “Spectacast,” which streamed in live concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Residents also take trips to see the Sarasota Ballet at the Van Wezel and even took a recent trip to Tampa to see “Billy Elliot.”
“Our residents are all actively involved,” said Ross. “They keep us going.”
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected]