Eldon Herd, 83, always fondly remembered Lawrence from his days as a Kansas University student in the early 1950s.
He had been away for almost 40 years when he and his wife, Glenna, decided to move back and retire there in 1991. Lawrence’s culture and sophistication added to an intimate community where people knew and cared about each other’s welfare.
“My wife and I both went to school here,” he said. “It had a lot of things you look for when you want to retire. There’s always a lot of activity in college towns.”
The Herds and others formed the Kaw Valley Bridge Center in North Lawrence with close to 80 members who meet regularly to play and socialize.
They’re not alone in returning to Lawrence for retirement. Most times it’s a mix of seniors moving back to take care of elderly parents and former faculty or alumni returning to a place that held fond memories, said John Glassman, director of Douglas County Senior Services.
“My personal belief is part of Lawrence’s economic development is capturing people who lived here and went to school here,” Glassman said. “When people are able to move in that age group, they are bringing wealth.”
Glassman himself moved back to Lawrence out of Denver after years in health care administration to be near his elderly mother. Many seniors come in looking for the most basic of needs, he added.
“My spouse had problems with X, are there services that we can get help for it?” Glassman said.
Other services available through Douglas County Senior Services range from assistance with filling out insurance forms to arranging for rides with a program called Senior Wheels. In most cases, seniors just want some help in improving their standard of life.
One such resident is Alice Howlett, 83, who moved to Lawrence two years ago from Trenton, Mo., to be closer to family after a fall left her cheek gashed. Fiercely independent, Howlett agreed as long as she could live in her own apartment and come and go as she pleased.
“I didn’t want to come to Lawrence,” Howlett said of the initial move. “I wanted to be independent so I wouldn’t be dependent. I don’t like to be told what to do.”
But living alone on a meager check every month brought up problems. Missouri’s rules on income allowed greater flexibility in applying for Medicaid, but the rules in Kansas did not. Howlett and her daughter asked for help during a senior resource fair that brought them to the county’s Project LIVELY booth a month after she had moved to town. Soon after, Laurie Moser, a social worker who helps administer the project for the Douglas County Health Department, was assigned to her case.
Project LIVELY (Life, Interest and Vigor Entering Later Years), a program designed by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department in 1982, “assists older adults with multiple needs by coordinating the help needed to remain in their homes as long as possible.” Help could include applying for programs that pay for in-home phone service, housing assistance and discounted prescriptions.
With Moser’s help, Howlett applied for as much assistance available that would also allow her to stay in her apartment and keep her freedom of movement. She still drives but limits trips to necessities like doctor’s appointments and runs to the local market.
Howlett, a former assembly line riveter at a B-25 bomber plant in Kansas City during World War II, likens Project Lively to a lifesaver and considers Moser a great friend who made the transition to Lawrence much easier.
“She did a lot of things to help me because I did a lot of things wrong,” Howlett said. “She’s my best friend.”
Moser knows simple things like setting up Meals on Wheels, getting breaks on insurance premiums or getting a housekeeper twice a week can make the difference for seniors in frail health living from month to month on limited means.
The tally of cases has grown steadily every year, Moser said. In 2007, Project LIVELY served 180 seniors. A year later, the number was 193.