In our July/August issue, Lynsy Smithson-Stanley sat down with four retirees to talk about the highs, lows and surprises of retiring in Chapel Hill. Here, we offer more from the interview with participants Paul Hardin, 80, a former chancellor of UNC who lives in Carolina Meadows; Jean Epple, who is in her late 80s and lives independently; Steve Scroggs, 60, who lives with his wife downtown and recently retired from his post as assistant superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools; and Evy Barrow, a resident of Galloway Ridge who is in her mid-80s.
Paul Hardin: I remember the day that I came home knowing that I wouldn’t go back to the office because it was my effective retirement day. I let out a war whoop after being home about 30 minutes. And my wife said,"‘Paul, what is the world is wrong with you?” And I said, "Well, I just accomplished in 30 minutes what some of my friends failed to top off … “ I am completely satisfied to retire, and that comes from someone who loved what he was doing.
Evy Barrow: I was a librarian in my other life and just loved my job. My husband used to kid me on Sundays because I couldn’t wait to go to work in the morning, which is true. I retired in ’86, and I, too, have not been paid since then but have kept very, very busy, which is easy to do. [I've] been here 18 years and been very very happy.
PH: I think that Chapel Hill is pretty close to the retirement mecca, and it’s just amazing how many people I meet that came here after 70 or 75 years of age. Why? Because somebody told them about Chapel Hill; they went up and down the East Coast and they decided Chapel Hill.
EB: I’ve heard that story over and over. We all have.
LSS: So they know they want the major things that the region offers, such as the climate and access to the beach and access to the mountains. But you’re saying that after looking at multiple locations that they choose this specifically, even after being retired five, six, seven years?
LSSS: Did you all look at the retirement communities before you came down, or it was it just a sense that your husband had about Chapel Hill that he said, ‘I think we would fit there’?
Jean Epple: We did. We looked at Arkansas; we looked at Missouri … we looked at Tryon, but we’re not horsey. A neighbor said, "Have you tried Chapel Hill?’"Something clicked.
Steve Scroggs: And I think Paul brought up a good point about retirement in the Triangle. Understand we do have N.C. State, Duke, Shaw, St. Augustine’s, North Carolina Central, Carolina, all within 20 minutes. That’s what makes the Triangle so powerful. Research Triangle Park – the whole shooting match – and here’s Chapel Hill on the corner of that with, yes, the best university, the best public school system… But also in looking down the road at retirement, my mom lived at Carol Woods for 15 years until her passing. And I also know there are places I can move and still stay in my beloved Chapel Hill when it’s not possible for me to stay in the house downtown. I think for retired folks the range of services available … we’ve got the best medical center going, in UNC hospitals. We’ve got excellent retirement facilities, be it Carolina Meadows, be it Fearrington, be it Galloway Ridge, be it Cedars now, the list goes on. And it continues to grow.
And our seniors in Chapel Hill are active seniors. You can count on them to be at the polls when there is an election. And it is the fastest growing segment of our population in Chapel Hill. They are active; they are excited, and that’s good.
But people don’t understand that in retirement, it’s not just playing golf or playing bridge or going to the gym: it’s still being a productive and complementary person to society, still being an active citizen. I serve on several boards now. I never did when I in the schools business because I was in schools. But now your participation in church increases, participation on volunteer boards that work with you.
LSS: You’ve all talked about the positives to living here in a college town and in an area that is so saturated with colleges, but are there any negatives?
SS: There is one negative that bothers me. The cost of living in Chapel Hill has gotten to the point that some of our families – our African-American families, our minority families – can’t stay in Chapel Hill.
LSS: You mean even as older adults?
SS: Even as older adults. Property taxes have gotten to the level where we who are natives call Old Chapel Hill – I’ve been here a long time, so I say "old" I mean real old – can’t hang on to their properties. Developers are buying them out to make student housing, so it’s pushing neighborhoods out.
EB: It’s also being repeated in many other places.
SS: No, it’s certainly not unique to Chapel Hill.
PH: You know, I was trying to think why it’s so hard for us to think of negatives when we burst with positives. I think it’s because the town has character, and it works its way through difficulties. You can’t park in town, so what do we do? We cooperate with the university and have free bus transportation.
SS: Perfect example.