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The age of change

Sarah L. Stewart

When Sheri Mintz and her husband, Michael, moved from New Jersey to the valley full-time four years ago, she knew a laid-back retirement wasn’t in her immediate future. She was ready for the more structured, demanding career that had taken the back burner to raising her two sons and working as a private practice social worker.

“I wanted to commit to my profession,” says Mintz, Eagle County manager of adult, family and volunteer services. “I was not feeling that I was ready for the retirement stage of my life. There was definitely work that I felt I needed to do.”

Mintz, 49, is one of many baby boomers choosing to settle in the valley. In the next decade or so, Eagle County’s population over 50 is projected to grow far faster than the general population ” increasing 94 percent by 2020, as opposed to 36 percent for the population at large.

For many middle-aged arrivals, moving here signals a significant change in lifestyle ” a second act, so to speak, in the production of their lives. Some leave behind hectic careers, long hours and big city living to find new purpose volunteering in their adopted community; others continue to work, either by telecommuting or, like Mintz, by finding a different career path here.

Either way, Boomers who choose to uproot themselves and make the valley their new home are bucking the trend of their peers.

“When people retire, only a minority make drastic changes,” says Dr. Manfred Diehl, professor and director of the Center on Aging at Colorado State University. A small percentage opts to live in two places, he says, and an even smaller percentage move somewhere permanently.

So who are these 50-plus residents who have ventured into a drastically different phase of their lives? And why have they chosen the valley as a place to do so?

Two main factors distinguish those who do make a major change later in life from those who don’t, Diehl says: affluence and adventure.

Affluence shouldn’t be surprising ” anyone who lives here knows it takes some hefty resources to relocate to the valley. And an active, adventuresome lifestyle may not be a prerequisite for living here, but it certainly makes it a lot more fun.

When Herb Luhman and his wife, Sherry, moved to Singletree 10 years ago, they came for the recreation that makes this area unique: skiing, hiking, fly-fishing. After working 10- and 11-hour days as vice president for human resources for Lockheed Martin in Orlando, Fla., Luhman says it took just a few hours to adjust to his new mountain lifestyle.

Luhman, now in his 60s, is an example of the “young old” that Diehl says is the most likely group to make drastic changes later in life. The group, which ranges in age from 60 to about 75, tends to be healthy and financially well off, he says.

Many of these people who end up in the valley aren’t satisfied just being here, says Bob Moroney, director of the Arrowhead Alpine Club, a social organization that has seen an influx of older residents looking to make a difference.

“They have a lot of time and a lot of talent,” Moroney says. “They have a desire to be a real local, if you will.”

The woman was in her late 50s when she visited Dr. Meredith Ringler, a Vail psychologist, and she was depressed. She had been told that once she hit 50, it was all downhill from there, and she took it to heart ” until Ringler told her she had just completed a Half Ironman triathlon to celebrate her own 50th birthday.

It was the first step on the journey to a new life for the woman, who began skiing and biking, and found happiness, love and marriage.

“I helped her realize living here can be the beginning of a new life, no matter what your age,” Ringler says. “You can come here for a whole different way of life.”

That attitude is part of what makes the valley an ideal place for older residents to turn a new leaf. For many, that means the traditional concept of retirement ” sitting on the porch, playing a few holes of golf and watching your golden years tick by ” is a thing of the past.

“Retirement as we knew it two decades ago will completely disappear within the next five to 10 years,” Diehl says.

Some will continue working part time to earn some extra income and healthcare benefits. Others may leave their jobs entirely, but will find renewed purpose within their community, as many Eagle County retirees have.

Arrowhead resident Bob Nolan spent 33 years in Michigan’s auto industry, becoming a Ford executive who worked more hours per week than he now cares to count. When he and his wife decided to live in the valley full time, he says they were swept away by the amount of activities offered here.

Leaving the corporate world behind, Nolan wanted to find a way to make a difference that would stick, he says. He soon joined the men’s group at his church and several other organizations, including one at Arrowhead Alpine Club that is committed to community service.

“I basically want to be a servant,” he says. “How can I affect people’s lives in a positive way so they will experience the difference?”

Perhaps as importantly, Nolan found like-minded people who also were ready to start a new phase in their lives.

“(When we moved here) we really felt that people left their stripes at the door,” Nolan says. “What they achieved in life in the past is not talked about.”

Starting anew in the valley ” or anywhere, for that matter ” isn’t always easy, however.

“Stepping out of work into retirement, it’s a traumatic experience,” Nolan says.

Most, like Nolan, make the transition pretty smoothly: Only a small number, fewer than 5 percent, “sort of fall into a black hole” after retirement, Diehl says.

But problems can arise between couples when one person’s paradise isn’t necessarily another’s, Ringler says.

She fairly often sees couples in which one partner is thrilled about the opportunities the mountains have to offer, while the other just tags along. This can create a conflict, particularly when the spouse who isn’t as excited about living here also misses the friends and family they’ve left behind.

Others may find the area’s small, close-knit community a little difficult to break into if they aren’t willing to make the first move to meet people, Ringler says. Her advice for boomer’s (or anyone else’s) best chance at happiness here: First, be sure they’re coming because they really enjoy the area and aren’t trying to escape an intrinsic unhappiness, and second, take advantage of ways to meet other people.

It worked for her: Ringler, who moved to the valley from Denver in 1996 at the age of 44, calls it a fabulous move that enables her to enjoy the athletic activities she loves.

On winter mornings with six or more inches of fresh powder, her clients know they have to reschedule appointments.

During his 50-year career as a trial lawyer in Cleveland, Ohio, skiing in Vail was Keith Spero’s escape from workplace stress. When he and his wife, Karen, visited the valley in the summer, however, they decided this was where they wanted to settle.

“It was diametrically opposed to my life in Cleveland,” Spero says. “We thought it would be terrific.”

The transition from working six days a week to living in Singletree and volunteering as a Beaver Creek mountain host and on the board of the Vail Valley Institute was easy, 74-year-old Spero says.

Spero also found a welcoming social network here, quickly making friends and joining Vail Club 50, a social organization for the valley’s 50-plus population. The group, with Herb Luhman as president, is just one way that people who move here to start their second act can more quickly become a part of the community.

Luhman has also found new friendships and satisfaction through his many volunteer activities, from the Vilar Center to passing out chocolate chip cookies at Beaver Creek Mountain. Between helping out in the community and taking advantage of the cultural offerings here, none of Luhman’s worries that retirement wouldn’t be intellectually stimulating enough have come to fruition.

“There is no reason not to be stimulated here,” he says.

As the valley’s over-50 population grows, that should come as reassurance to those looking to move into the next phase of their lives here.

“This is a place to get younger rather than older,” Ringler says.


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