Retirees looking for their perfect place often find it in Washington County, thanks to the community’s many amenities geared toward older adults. With affordable educational opportunities designed for mature learners, high-quality health-care services and top-notch assisted living facilities, the county retains its retired residents while drawing relocating retirees in droves.
“I didn’t grow up in Washington County, but I plan to retire here,” says David Matlock, executive director of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon. “I was first drawn here because of the area’s beauty, and my wife and I have chosen to stay because of the people. There’s a very strong sense of family here, and relationships are important in this community. Lots of people retire here – people from all over the world – and they bring such richness to our town.”
Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center College for Older Adults
Learning never has to end in Washington County. Through the College for Older Adults at the SVHEC, students who are age 50 and older can take an unlimited number of non-credit courses for $40 each semester. Students can choose from more than 40 classes per semester, with options like Native American History, Successful Aging, Genealogy and The Lost Art of Cooking available. Classes meet on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and all courses are taught by volunteers from the community.
“As you grow older, you want to keep your mind sharp, and one way you do that is by learning new things,” Matlock says.
The COA also offers social components, giving its more than 350 students opportunities to mix and mingle. At 9 a.m., an hour before classes begin each day, students can attend the COA Coffee, which includes free coffee and sets the stage for students to make new connections. In addition, students can participate in monthly off-campus outings like movies and bowling, and specialty classes offered each semester only meet once and often involve day trips to destinations such as restaurants, wineries, museums and theaters.
“My wife and I have always been interested in furthering our education, so we signed up for courses at the COA, and it’s been a very rewarding experience,” says Wayne Miller, who moved to Washington County with his wife, Sharon, after retiring 10 years ago. “A lot of the instructors are retired professors and professionals, and they really have a lot to offer.”
Health Care and Assisted Living Options
Washington County’s strong health-care sector also makes it a preferred retirement location, as older people want to ensure they have access to high-quality services and skilled caregivers in aging care. To ensure the area maintains a qualified workforce to staff its health-care facilities, there are many notable health-care degree programs in place.
For example, the SVHEC partners with Bristol, Tenn.-based King University to offer a two-year family nurse practitioner program, which is also part of the SVHEC’s master of science in nursing degree program. Additionally, the two institutions have joined forces to provide a bachelor of science in nursing degree program at the SVHEC.
“Most of these nurses are residents in our community, and they plan to stay and work here after they finish the programs,” Matlock says.
The SVHEC also partners with Virginia Commonwealth University, based in Richmond, Va., to offer a two-year certified registered nurse anesthetists program – the No. 1 CRNA program in the U.S. – as well as a bachelor of science in clinical laboratory sciences degree program.
The county’s assisted living facilities, including English Meadows Senior Living Community and Commonwealth Assisted Living at Abingdon, take care of retirees, too. While Commonwealth has studio apartments, English Meadows offers one- and two-bedroom living spaces, and both facilities offer daily activities such as exercise classes, bingo games and movie viewings.
“My mother says all she does is party at English Meadows,” says Susie Buckner, who relocated her 89-year-old mother, an Abingdon resident since 1954, to the facility in June 2015. “They have holiday parties, socials every day and they play games; there’s always something to do for those who want to join in.”