National Lutheran News

Retiring in a Lutheran college community

Nearby campus can be a bonus

There are lots of considerations to be taken into account when deciding where to locate in retirement. If you can’t bear to leave your long-time friends, you may just stay where you are now. Perhaps you need to be close to your relatives. (This writer once stopped for gas while driving across a desolate stretch of Nevada. When I asked the woman who ran the service station why she lived there, she said, “My family is here. There’s nowhere else I’d want to be.”)

There are other considerations. One would surely be a location where medical facilities are available or nearby. For some, the availability of a really good local library is important (but the pervasiveness of the Internet may be changing that). One person half-jokingly said, “I’d never live in a town where I couldn’t get decent cell phone and cable television service.

For those who have an appreciation of what a college or university community can offer, living in a town with such an institution is key. While the Twin Cities offers an abundance of such institutions — including three Lutheran campuses — some are naturally drawn toward smaller communities. As a resident of a small college town recently said, “You get the advantage of intellectual stimulation, cultural and athletic events — without the traffic jams.”

That explains why an increasing number of Lutheran retirees have opted to relocate to smaller Minnesota Lutheran college communities like Moorhead, St. Peter, Northfield, and Mankato — or, just beyond the state’s borders, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, or Decorah and Waverly, both in Iowa.

Eisenach Village, a venture envisioned by leaders of Wartburg College and Bartels Lutheran Care Center, is a work in progress. Sixteen units are finished or under construction. The goal is to construct about 90 such units, plus a community clubhouse. Metro Lutheran photo: Michael L. Sherer

A retiree who opts for a “continuum of care” facility in one of these towns can buy into a cooperative, allowing for membership in an independent living facility and providing priority for more complete care if and when it is needed. Many care facilities are now organized in this way — with condo-style living at one end of the spectrum and dementia and hospice care at the other. The Eventide care community (located on several campuses) in Moorhead is an excellent example. This Lutheran ministry is proximate to Concordia College, where residents can take advantage of campus events.

The same is true in Northfield, where the ELCA-affiliated Northfield Retirement Community includes Kildahl Park Pointe, a cooperative for active adults 55 years of age and older. St. Olaf College is just up the hill.

An increasing number of Lutheran retirees have opted to relocate to smaller Minnesota Lutheran college communities.

An unusual paradigm is currently underway south of the Minnesota border. Waverly, Iowa, is the home to Wartburg College, an ELCA school in a community of nearly 10,000. Almost adjacent to the campus is the Bartels Lutheran Care Center, another facility offering a continuum of care — from independent living to nearly total care for those needing it. What is interesting about the new paradigm at Bartels is that it involves an intentional partnership with Wartburg.

The college owns a lot of land north of its campus — so much that some of it is leased to local farmers. Some of it adjoins the Bartels campus. Several years ago the then-president of Wartburg, Jack Ohle (now president of Gustavus Adolphus College) and Deb Schroeder, the CEO at Bartels, came to the same discovery. The college and the care center held potential for some interesting synergy. The result was Eisenach Village.

Eisenach (named for a German town at the foot of the hill on which Wartburg Castle stands) is a work in progress. As in other retirement cooperatives, residents buy memberships that entitle them to live in the development. Locating there puts them on a priority list for more complete care at Bartels if they reach the point where they can no longer live independently. (The cooperative, owned by Bartels, will buy back their membership at that point.)

But the value-added element is drawing many of the new residents to Eisenach Village. With their membership they receive a package of benefits from Wartburg College. Included are free admittance to all the home athletic events on campus; free passes to all concerts on campus; four tickets to “Christmas With Wartburg,” a popular December musical extravaganza; free tuition for enrollment in any undergraduate class offered on campus (on a space-available basis and with no credit offered); a free ticket to one “Keep on Learning” event for older adults each school year; discounts for campus Artist Series tickets; the opportunity to join Wartburg students on service trips, some of which take participants overseas; and a first-month free pass to the Wartburg-Waverly Health and Wellness Center, known as “The W.”

Finding community after retirement

Kirsten Hafermann was sold on Eisenach Village even before it was announced. She and her husband, Herb, are retired ELCA missionaries who served more than 40 years in Tanzania. (Herb still travels to East Africa for part of each year.) Kirsten told Metro Lutheran, “We lived in Issaquah, Washington, back when Lutheran Bible Institute, which became Trinity Lutheran College, was talking about partnership with a care center. But that fell through. If they’d gone forward, we’d be living there today.”

Dale Johnson is in the process of selling this house in southeast Waverly. His new Eisenach residence, currently under construction, should be ready before Christmas.

Instead, the Hafermanns moved to Waverly, where Herb attended Wartburg in the 1950s. They wanted to locate in a Lutheran college town.

“We like the idea of living in a community of like-minded people. As missionaries we usually lived in such communities. Eisenach is a good choice for us.”

The college and the care center held potential for some interesting synergy.

At age 73, Hafermann wants a secure environment. “We feel really safe here,” she says. “The neighbors here really pay attention to one another.”

Soon to occupy a not-yet-finished unit at Eisenach, retired public school teacher Dale Johnson is more than ready for the move. His family of four enjoyed their historic ten-room, two-story house near the Cedar River for decades. But Johnson’s adult children now live in other states. His wife recently died. And, like many in Waverly, he was a victim of the epic river flood of 2008 that filled the basement of his house with water.

“I went to an open house for Eisenach Village,” Johnson says. “I thought about it for about six months. I decided I didn’t want to keep doing home maintenance. And the place I’m having built [at Eisenach] should be easier to keep clean.”

Johnson’s unit, about a block from Hafermanns, should be ready for move-in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. From his living room window he’ll be able to see the cross and tower of Wavering Chapel on the Wartburg College campus.

“I know some of the people living at Eisenach,” Johnson says, “and some who plan to locate there. It’s becoming the kind of community I can comfortably be a part of.” He says it would not have been such an easy decision at age 55. “But at 75, it wasn’t that difficult. Ten years from now I won’t have any regrets having made this choice, I’m pretty sure.”

Johnson is no stranger to the college. He’s on the committee that selects speakers for the annual “Keep on Learning” series at Wartburg.

‘Reformation familiarity’

Mike Cooley manages the sales office at Eisenach Village. He says there are four “draws” that influence people to choose this community. “If a potential resident finds at least two of the four compelling, they are likely to decide to live there,” he suggests.

On Cooley’s list are: (1) an age-restricted (55 and older), maintenance-free environment; (2) the spectrum of continuous care offered through Bartels; Eisenach residents become part of that “system”; (3) the Waverly community. “For a town of 10,000, this place has incredible assets — a great community health care facility, high-grade schools, a vibrant economy and a quality of life a lot of people in larger towns really envy.” (4) Wartburg College.

Eisenach has not only a “Lutheran-sounding” name, but has gone so far as to name its streets for people and places evocative of the Lutheran Reformation and the Wartburg heritage. You can drive along Knight Avenue (borrowing the college’s athletic nickname), Elizabeth Drive (as in “Elizabeth of Thuringia”), Bach Drive, and Martin Avenue.

When the third and final phase is completed, perhaps in two or three years, the village will have around 90 homes, most of which will be fourplexes, one-story condo-style residences with double garages. Sometime in 2011, if all goes as hoped, a community clubhouse with a meeting room and exercise machines will also be available.

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