College Days Redux

New Hampshire has been discovered — it has become a popular retirement destination. A recent article in the Union Leader says that the over-65 population will triple by 2025.

Why New Hampshire? What entices retirees to come northward and battle with ice and snow and frost heaves? Perhaps it’s the media blitz every four years. Now that reporters have dropped the plaid-shirt-and-suspenders image, a varied and interesting New Hampshire comes through. Or maybe it’s the four-season recreation opportunities (make it three — we won’t mention black flies). Perhaps it’s the livable communities, small enough to get acquainted and big enough to have the amenities that retirees want.

Once the decision is made to come to New Hampshire, many retirees choose to settle in or near a college community. They are attracted to the variety of music, theatre, sports and adult education that college communities offer. And, though there may be some late-summer grumbling about the traffic returning students create, many people prefer a mixed-age community. “There is an energy on campus that spills over into the community,” says Jim Hellen, of Durham. “We were looking for that liveliness.”

The Hellens, Jim and Carly, are UNH graduates, class of ’59. After many years in the Midwest, they moved to Durham in 2002. “We did get some strange looks from friends,” admits Jim. “A typical reaction was ‘All that ice and snow … why not go someplace warm?’” In fact, the snow was an attraction for Jim, who is an avid skier. Both enjoy the changing seasons, and “if the weather is too bad, we don’t have to go out.”

The Hellens quickly became involved in campus life. Carly trained as a “peacekeeper” for the annual Take Back The Night event. She started a knitting group for students and townspeople, to knit Afghans for Afghans. This winter Jim will serve as a supervisor for student ski trips. They participate in a program called “Durham, Where You Live” to welcome incoming freshmen. Jim is on the board of the Active Retirement Association, open to adults over age 50, for a $45 annual fee. The ARA offers classes at locations throughout the community and gives access to many campus facilities and events.

Jim says, “You have to be intentional about this. We didn’t wait to be invited; we sought opportunities. We attend college events. We make an effort to meet students, including the international students.” They are delighted with their active retirement.

Around the country, colleges have established adult programs. The early programs were known as Institutes for Learning in Retirement and were developed in cooperation with ElderHostel. There are now over 700 programs using the ILR model. The ARA at UNH is one such program. A typical program offers a variety of 8-week courses each semester, for a modest fee. A board comprised of program members does much, sometimes all, of the planning. Courses may be taught by college faculty or others, often retirees with academic backgrounds.

Keene State College hosts the Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning, or CALL. Courses are held on Fridays at several campus locations. About 150 people are enrolled in the fall term. Courses include Ecology, Music of Gilbert and Sullivan, International Human Rights Treaties, a senior acting class, books and films about Africa and more. CALL member Jules LaRocque teaches a course in Political Economy.

LaRocque, retired from the faculty of Lawrence University in Wisconsin, is a dedicated hiker who has climbed all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks. He considered moving to the White Mountains, but opted for a college community, feeling diversity was critical. He includes Dartmouth College and the five-college area in northern Massachusetts as available within an easy drive and says, “This gives me an amazing array of high quality cultural and academic opportunities.”

The college’s music programs are popular with older adults. Faculty recitals and student performances offer classical music at affordable prices, usually below $10. “Our jazz concerts are a great favorite of the older generation,” says Jackie Hooper, of the alumni office. “Tickets sell out within days after the dates are announced.”

At Plymouth State University, Nancy Granger is settling back into familiar territory. She graduated from Plymouth State. Her family roots in the area go back to the late 1600s. She and her husband spent many summers in the area. As they looked ahead to retirement, they identified the importance of cultural activities and, specifically, good symphony. Following her husband’s death, Granger decided to leave Florida for permanent residence in the Plymouth area. “It was a confluence of genealogical, spiritual and educational forces,” she says.

Though she has been a permanent resident just since May, she already volunteers for the college development office. She enjoyed the music of the New Hampshire Festival Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in their annual summer residence at Plymouth State. She plans to become involved in the Campus Ministry. A former women’s basketball administrator, she is looking forward to basketball season.

At Dartmouth College, 1,000 older adults are members of the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth College, or ILEAD. ILEAD offers 20 to 30 courses. In a typical semester, about 600 people attend one or more courses. A few of the current choices are Medical Ethics, Opera Exotica, Fiction Writing, and Eastern Europe in Transition.

Ginia Allison was involved in developing the ILEAD 12 years ago. Six years ago she and her husband Huntly moved to Kendall of Hanover, a retirement community. The Allisons enjoy many cultural events in their larger community, which includes several Upper Valley towns. Huntly is an ardent supporter of Dartmouth College athletic events.

For those who want access to high-quality, affordable cultural and educational opportunities, a New Hampshire college community is a good choice. And where else is the waitperson at your favorite restaurant likely to be a budding economist or art historian? NH