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Lloyd Huck, 83, a retired chairman of the board of Merck & Co, lives on the campus of Penn State University, his alma mater. He takes a class and enjoys football games and theater.
Lloyd Huck, 83, a retired chairman of the board of Merck & Co, lives on the campus of Penn State University, his alma mater. He takes a class and enjoys football games and theater. (Alan Wycheck/ Getty Images)

Seniors opting to retire with a touch of class

Live golden years near campuses

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Lloyd Huck, a retired chairman of the board of Merck & Co., could afford to retire anywhere in the world, but two years ago he chose to live near his beloved alma mater: Pennsylvania State University.

Huck, 83, is now living out his golden years as vigorously as he did on campus 60 years ago: He's taking an astronomy class, attends football games, enjoys theater and opera, and chats with students as he strolls the elm-shaded campus.

''We didn't want to go to Florida, and our friends were dying off in Morristown, N.J., so we decided we needed younger friends," Huck said.

Like Huck and his wife, Dottie, nearly 70 percent of the 200 residents at The Village at Penn State, an 80-acre retirement community that overlooks Beaver Stadium, are either alumni or retired faculty. They are also part of a growing trend of seniors paying tens of thousands of dollars to live their twilight years near a university campus.

Spurred by growing research suggesting that mental activity fights off dementia, college-affiliated retirement communities have sprung up in 50 college towns across the country, linking the retired set with schools such as Notre Dame, the University of Florida at Gainesville, the University of Michigan, and Lasell College in Newton, according to Leon A. Pastalan, professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Michigan.

''If you look at traditional retirement communities, they do not provide much for personal growth," said Pastalan, who studies housing issues for older adults. ''They provide you with a nice place to live, but there is really nothing for the soul or for self-enrichment. I view this as an extremely important movement that is really just beginning."

For seniors, returning to their college campus brings back old memories of a seemingly care-free time when they met classmates and were just beginning to think seriously about their careers.

Peggy Hill, 73, is a 1954 graduate of Cornell University who lives at Kendal at Ithaca, a retirement community near her alma mater and Ithaca College in New York. Every Wednesday night, Hill and five other residents, three of whom are members of the class of 1954, bring a bottle of wine to dinner and talk about current events. ''I've always wanted to return to Cornell," said Hill, a retired executive.

But college life for seniors comes with a range of perks besides nostalgia, including reduced or free classes, priority access to football and cultural events, as well as intellectual vigor and youthful energy they might never get on the golf course. In turn, colleges perceive these educated and affluent retirees as ready-made mentors, teachers, cheerleaders in the football stands, and, perhaps more important, donors.

The nation's oldest college-linked retirement community opened in 1985 near the campus of the Indiana University, but according to Pastalan, the boom in development took off in the past three to five years. The Village at Penn State was fully operational in 2004, though some residents such as Huck and his wife arrived in 2003, as the community was still being constructed.

The inspiration behind the communities varies. Retired faculty at the University of Michigan started the one in Ann Arbor, as did faculty at Cornell. The Village at Penn State is a joint venture between the school and a private developer. Penn State president Graham Spanier came up with the idea, and the university agreed to lease the land, as well as its name.

Lasell Village, a retirement community at Lasell College in Newton, began its planning back in the 1980s. Slowed by lawsuits over whether the retirement community should be tax-exempt as educational, it finally opened its doors in May 2000, even though the litigation is not settled, said Paula Panchuck, the dean of the village. The residential community, home to 210 retirees required to take 450 hours of classes, has received so much interest from gerontologists and retirement operators from around the world that it started its own consultation group, according to Panchuck.

But some in the education and housing fields believe that it is strictly up to the schools to begin thinking about how to stimulate retirees, especially because people 65 and older will total 70 million in 20 years.

''We ask kids, 'What are you going to be when you grow up?' That is a serious question for society, but when someone retires we draw a blank because we don't have a precedent," Pastalan said. ''We don't have institutions to deal with it in the same way as we have institutions to deal with occupational training."

Critics say college-linked retirement communities are too costly for the average person, though Pastalan believes that the prices, not very different from upscale retirement communities, will fall as they become more common.

Hill, the Cornell University graduate, pays a fee of $225,000 for lifetime use of her apartment. She also pays $3,800 a month, which includes medical care as she grows older.

Entrance fees at The Village at Penn State began at $171,000 to $372,000 for cottages overlooking Beaver Stadium, such as the one the Hucks live in. Monthly fees can be as high as $3,500, which includes meals, housecleaning, and long-term medical care, said Jill Lillie, the marketing director.

While residents do not own apartments or cottages, many, including the Hucks, have made renovations. The Village also includes onsite healthcare, an assisted living facility, and a nursing home.

Tom Clements, executive director of The Village of Penn State, said residents are attracted to the way of life not only because it provides them with a lifetime of medical care, freeing their adult children from worry, but because it also allows them a chance to mingle with the young.

The intergenerational relationships being cultivated between the retirees and Penn State students are exactly what Spanier was envisioning, Clements said. For instance, students or interns come to the Village to provide exercise and swimming classes, and many of the residents teach classes or mentor the students.

''The worst thing for old people is to be just with old people," said Helen Manfull, a 72-year-old retired Penn State theater professor who lives at the Village. ''And I think the young people here really fall in love with the old people."

Like the Hucks, Manfull attends lectures, classes, and a plethora of cultural events on campus. This semester she is taking a class on the history of opera.

The Hucks are sponsoring three scholarships for students who otherwise couldn't afford Penn State's annual $20,000 price tag. The couple have donated millions to their alma mater, according to the school paper. He is on the school's board of trustees and serves as a mentor to Christopher Urban, a biology major, 22.

Each week, the two meet in Huck's office, which is on campus. Urban said Huck, who was a chemistry major before he went off to become a war pilot in 1940s, urged him to go on to medical school.

''He's told me so many stories about his experiences from being a pilot, to a flight instructor, to a CEO, and even being on the board of trustees at Penn State," Urban said. ''He still flies a plane and earlier during the semester he took me flying. It was a great experience because I've never flown in a small plane before."

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