For Barbara Nordling, Lawrence is just large enough.
After 50 years in the western Kansas community of Hugoton, Nordling was ready to experience on a daily basis some of the amenities her beloved Kansas University has to offer.
“We watched the Lied Center being built, and that is what they didn’t have in western Kansas,” Nordling said. “That’s why I wanted to come back.”
For Dee and Chuck Blaser, Lawrence is just small enough. After 30 years in St. Louis, they knew of plenty of places to take in art and culture.
“But it would take you an hour to get to any of them, and you didn’t always know whether you were safe,” Dee said.
In Lawrence, planning for a night of the arts is a little different.
“We can be at the Lied Center in about five minutes from our house,” said Chuck, who retired from an engineering career with a pet food company.
If Lawrence ever does attract a flock of retirees — as community leaders hope — perhaps their mascot will be Goldilocks: Not too big. Not too small. Just right.
Dee Blaser and Nordling are examples of Kansas University alumni who have moved back to Lawrence. Chuck Blaser isn’t a KU graduate, but he’s been learning about the university ever since he and Dee moved to Lawrence in 2001.
“The amount of events and activities going on at KU is really surprising,” Chuck said. “You could almost do something every night, if you really wanted to.”
Nordling has been in Lawrence fulltime since 1993, when she and her late husband, Bernie, moved here after he retired from his Hugoton law practice.
“I just like being involved with KU,” she said.
KU makes it easy to be involved, too. Both Nordling and the Blasers — who are next-door neighbors — belong to the New Generation Society, which is affiliated with KU’s Hall Center for the Humanities.
Chuck Blaser said the group is an example of how the organizing power of the university can make it easier for retirees and people of similar interests to make connections.
Nordling said the topic of Lawrence often comes up in the group.
“We all feel so lucky that we retired here,” she said. “We talk among ourselves, and say it is the best thing we ever did.”
Judy Wright and her husband, Jack, also are examples of the type of retirees Lawrence and Douglas County are looking to attract: Longtime residents who decide to stay in Lawrence when they retire.
“We keep having people ask us whether we are going to leave now that we are retired,” said Judy, who retired from the KU Endowment Association and Jack who retired from the university’s theater department. “We say, heavens no. This is home. This is too important to leave.”
Judy Wright said the city also works well for a base of travel, noting that Lawrence’s central location means they can fly to New York to see family in just a few hours.
Chuck Blaser said that was a key consideration as well. But it not only ease of travel, but the pace of travel that Blaser said he appreciates.
“People here think they have traffic in Lawrence,” Blaser said. “There’s no traffic in Lawrence. I can tell you that the speed of things around here has sure made us happy.”
More on the way?
Retirees are happy with most aspects of Lawrence. But there are some improvements that could be made too.
“It would be nice if we had more shopping in town,” Nordling said. “Older people like me don’t like to go out of town to shop. A few more upscale, quiet restaurants also would be nice.”
Wright said there also can be a few financial issues that retirees have to consider about the Lawrence area.
“I don’t know how much we can do about it, but people do look at how much housing costs and how much taxes are,” Wright said. “We are at the high end of some sales taxes. Lots of states don’t tax groceries, but we do.”
Chuck Blaser said Lawrence will have to prove it is a value for retirees. Just because retirees may have some disposable income that doesn’t mean they are going to just freely spend it, he said.
“Speaking for myself, anyway, I think a lot of us are pretty frugal,” Blaser said. “Or as my wife would say, tight.”
Blaser said he thinks the economy probably will have to pick up before Lawrence starts to see a true surge in retirees moving to the city.
“Activity in terms of new members in our group has slowed down some,” Blaser said. “My guess is it is because they haven’t been able to sell their homes where they are at. But I would expect that to start picking up now.”
Nordling hopes it does because she said one of Lawrence’s greatest assets for retirees are fellow retirees.
“There are so many wonderful people here,” Nordling said. “That’s really the bottom line. I tell people there are so many great things to do and great people to do them with.”