BY JEREMY SHERE
Over the past several years, Bloomington, like many college towns, has become a hot spot for retiring baby boomers. In 2012, Forbes magazine included Bloomington in its list of “25 Best Places to Retire,” and, in 2013, the AARP Bulletin named Bloomington among its “10 Great Small Cities for Retirement.”
So what makes our town such a popular place for retirees?
“Many people think of their college years as the best time of their lives,” says local developer Eric Stolberg, president and CEO of WS Property Group, who has worked on dozens of projects catering to retirees in Bloomington and throughout Indiana. “There’s a strong pull to retire to the place where you went to college, or a town like it, where you created all those fond memories.”
For Mike McAfee, executive director of Visit Bloomington, the influx of Indiana University students from the East Coast has also contributed to the city’s rise as a retirement destination. “Their parents come and visit and quickly realize that the culture and amenities in our little Midwest oasis are fantastic,” he says. “You can see world-class orchestras and sample the culinary scene any night of the week. Plus, that nest egg goes a lot further here [than on the East Coast] because of the reasonable cost of living.”
The typical retiree drawn to Bloomington, in Stolberg’s experience, is an individual or couple with some tie to the city, via a connection to IU, family, or both. Barbara Johnson, 55, who relocated from Peoria, Illinois, this past May, is a perfect example. A Bloomington native who went to high school here and to IU, Johnson has family in Bloomington — father Howard Mehlinger, former dean of the IU School of Education — and strong emotional ties to her hometown.
“Retiring to Bloomington is everything we hoped for and more,” says Johnson, whose husband, Scott, 58, an executive with Peoria-based Caterpillar, will join her full time next year when he retires. “The culture, diversity, and food options are incredible. I don’t think we’ve eaten at a single chain restaurant since we’ve been here.”
Johnson, a former math professor, subs in Monroe County Community School Corporation classrooms and volunteers as a part-time companion for Home Instead, a local senior care provider. As Stolberg notes, “Many retirees are former professionals who have lots of interest and time and energy to support local organizations and community programs. People who retire here really benefit the community.”
Ed and Jenny Perkins, who retired to Bloomington in 2000 from South Bend, Indiana, also have local ties: Jenny, 76, earned a master’s degree from the IU School of Public & Environmental Affairs, and the couple’s two daughters and five grandchildren all live here.
Another attraction is the local jazz scene. “We’re regulars at Jazz Fables at Bear’s [Ale House & Eatery] every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. I call it ‘geriatric jazz’ because it’s so early in the evening,” says Ed, 80, a former editor at the South Bend Tribune. “We’ve made a lot of wonderful friends by attending jazz performances at Bear’s, the MAC [Musical Arts Center], and other venues around town.”
The Perkinses also regularly frequent the Monroe County YMCA, are Cardinal Stage Company subscribers, and see many IU Theatre productions. “One nice thing about Bloomington is that it’s large enough to provide many opportunities,” Ed says, “but small enough so that when we’re at the theater we know just about everybody, or at least recognize most of the faces.”
Stephen Pock and David Blumberg, recent retirees who relocated from New York City, also appreciate Bloomington’s small city vibe and myriad cultural offerings. “I’m a huge opera fan,” says Pock, 64, who was deputy commissioner for the New York City Department of Homeless Services. “The Jacobs School’s strong opera program was a major draw for us.”
Transitioning from Manhattan to Bloomington, Pock says, was not nearly as difficult as they thought it might be. “There’s more of everything in a big city, but there’s really not much in New York that you can’t find in Bloomington,” says Pock, who attended IU as an undergraduate and is originally from Avon, Indiana. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised, especially by how good the food is in Bloomington. We’re really delighted with the restaurant scene.”