From, June 17, 2007:

Area colleges, universities build retirement communities
near campuses to benefit students and seniors

By Rebecca Berdar,

The Village at Penn State retirement community
opened in 2003 near the University Park Campus
in State College.

(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec)

STATE COLLEGE — Burned out on the Sunshine State after more than a decade of retirement, Bob and Ruth Ellis were ready for a change of scenery when they learned Penn State University was developing a community for retirees.

In 2003, the Philadelphia natives and die-hard Nittany Lion fans retired to The Village at Penn State after starting their retirement in 1988 in Florida.

Four years later, they average about 10 educational field trips per month with fellow Village residents. They attend sporting and cultural events on campus and mingle with Penn State students.

‘‘There’s a lot going on, and we’re doing much more now than we were during our last few years in Florida,” said Ruth, 78.

The Ellises, who were among the first to move in, now have about 250 neighbors.

Colleges and universities across the country are taking notice that retirement isn’t limited to the rocking chair on the front porch.

They’ve realized that there are many people who would rather approach retirement as a learning experience, complete with home football games and class assignments.

Penn State is the first in the area to establish a retirement community and bless it with a collegiate advantage, and at least two other central Pennsylvania institutions are in the planning stages to do the same.

Juniata College in Huntingdon and St. Francis University in Loretto are teaming with Massachusetts firm Campus Continuum LLC to create retirement communities that have direct tie-ins to campus resources.

Juniata’s board of trustees decided last month to move its project forward based on the results of a market demand survey.

Incorporating green technology and linking directly to campus by walking and bike trails, plans for the community include construction of about 120 units for about 200 residents on 30 acres in Oneida Township adjacent to Huntingdon Borough.

‘‘There are great opportunities and a need for tutors, mentors and career advisers,’’ Juniata President Tom Kepple said. ‘‘In addition to encouraging intergenerational interaction, we hope that many among the community of lifelong learners will socialize with our faculty and staff.”

Similar to Penn State’s community, which offers residents a choice between five apartment floor plans and two cottage floor plans, Juniata’s will offer residents the option of condominium-type housing or single-family homes.

Unlike the Penn State development, which offers a continuum of care — independent living, assisted living and a skilled nursing facility — Juniata’s community is planned as a new lifestyle option for healthy, active, independent adults.

Alan Smith, executive director of the Huntingdon-Bedford-Fulton Area Agency on Aging, said it comes as no surprise to him that colleges and universities are taking interest in their students’ parents and grandparents.

‘‘There is considerable difference that begins with lifestyle in comparison to what we refer to as that past generation of older persons,’’ Smith said, adding that he remembers his grandparents were content to enjoy their garden after retirement.

He said baby boomers have seen the world in ways their parents didn’t, and just because they are ready to retire doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to take it easy.

‘‘The older generation ... retired from work. Now people are retiring to do other things, like volunteering, being physically active, reading books they’ve never read before and traveling to places they’ve never been,’’ Smith said.

Academic institutions such as Penn State and Juniata hope these folks retire to campus.

‘‘There is the energy that a campus and college students bring to a retirement community,’’ Village executive director Marianne Hogg said.

One resident still teaches at the university and brings in her acting students to perform. The College of Music also conducts regular programs.

‘‘It’s academic, but it’s not all academic. It’s a very rich atmosphere and balanced between wellness and fitness and the intellectual,” Hogg said.

That’s what attracted the Ellises, who were looking for a campus connection.

‘‘It just made a nice package for us. You have the interaction of two generations with at least one in between — that’s what I’ve found walking around campus and going to class,’’ Bob Ellis said.

Mirror Staff Writer Rebecca Berdar is at 946-7458.