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Creative Retirement in Asheville, NC

Area attracts older adults with creative scene, active living

By Laura Hill on October 5, 2015

Asheville, NC
Asheville / Courtesy of John Warner

People thinking of retiring to Asheville, N.C., had better bring their hiking boots, bike, laptop, kayak, telescope and a supply of notebooks – they’ll need them.

Drawn by its convenient location, great outdoor recreational options, gorgeous scenery and a vibrant cultural scene, retirees have flocked to Asheville in recent years, eschewing life in a traditional retirement community for an active, involved life in a city. It’s a creative new way to look at, and live, retirement.

Culture, Events and Activities in Asheville, NC

Active, Involved Retirement

“We knew when we were planning to retire that we had to be someplace where we could be involved, that would give us something meaningful to do, and that would keep us active and contributing to the world around us,” says Catherine Jordan, who moved to Asheville five years ago when her husband, Jerry, retired from his job as a professor at the University of Texas in Austin.

What made the Jordans decide on Asheville was learning about one of Asheville’s special attributes: the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI. An outgrowth of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, OLLI in Asheville (there are other OLLIs around the country) has become a center for learning, civic engagement, recreation, the arts and community for thousands of older Asheville residents, particularly transplants from other places.

Some 2,200 members belong to the institute, and more than 1,100 each quarter are taking some of the hundreds of senior college classes offered annually – and not just cake decorating or scrapbooking.

“These are real courses,” Jordan says. “I’ve taken advanced Shakespeare, world economic issues and astronomy. My husband and I both take a lot of academically rich courses that keep us sharp and on top of a variety of content areas and events.”

What it’s Like to Live in Asheville, NC

Building Community

Besides its highly respected courses, offered at the Reuter Center on the University of North Carolina campus, OLLI has created a close-knit, active community of like-minded retirees who enjoy diverse experiences and backgrounds but share common interests, from kayaking and biking to history and music. 

“About 90 percent of our members are people who relocated here, and they want to meet new people,” says Catherine Frank, OLLI executive director. “Asheville is still a relatively small town, a college town, but still pretty eclectic. People meet people, in classes here for example, and they become great friends. Some say they’ve made the best friends of their lives because they are based on mutual interests.”

For Bill and Judy LaMee, finding a supportive and welcoming community has been important. They have become deeply involved in OLLI, taking classes, serving on committees and volunteering.

“So many of us have moved here, so in a sense we are all learning a new place and a new way of life, which helps to foster our sense of community,” says Judy LaMee, who moved to Asheville four years ago from Bradenton, Fla. “Retirement is different now than it was for my grandparents’ generation. They were not idle, but they were involved in a very different way than our generation wants to be involved. My husband and I are greatly enriched by what we have gained from OLLI, and hopefully [we] have given something back.”

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