Retirees find Seniorlandia 'muy interesante'

It was early afternoon in mid-January when we stepped into the courtyard of a popular lunch spot just a block off the central plaza in Oaxaca, Mexico. Every table was taken but we could see folks contemplating the tab. Space would open up soon.

As we waited, we spotted a tourist couple waving to us from a table across the patio. I returned a wave, signaling, I thought, that we were content to wait for a separate space. The wavers persevered. “Dean?” the man called above the noise of chatting diners. We glanced at one another and shrugged. He knew my husband’s name.

In one of life’s enchanted, small-world moments, we’d crossed paths with retired Eugenians Wayne and Rita Kingsbury who remembered Dean from a brief business contact 20 years ago. As such occasions warrant, we sat down and traced a trail of connections that had not intersected once in 20 years of local proximity but now brought us together in Oaxaca, 3000 miles south of the Oregon community we all called home.

Here, we fit easily into the profile Wayne identifies when he refers to this city in the south of Mexico as “Seniorlandia.” The description covered more than a few of the diners lunching on organic green salads and sandwiches with house-baked ciabatta in this courtyard restaurant.

Credit blue skies and a welcoming culture for thousands of seasonal visitors, many retirees like the Kingsburys, who flock to Oaxaca for warmth and cultural diversity while escaping gray months at home.

The couple have wintered in this inland city for the past 12 winters, nesting in a rental apartment south of city center for eight to ten weeks a season. We’ve made the same journey almost as many years, warming ourselves for two or three weeks in a family bed and breakfast on the opposite side of town.

Until this year, we were no more aware of these hometown neighbors than we had been on the streets of Eugene. Now, in this distant city, the bonds of a shared zipcode quickly spanned the distance sustained by routes and routines at home.

As we compared impressions, experiences and paths that had led each of us to Oaxaca, it became clear that the Kingsburys had been preparing for just this kind of active, adventurous retirement long before they retired. She, a former director of Eugene’s Campbell Senior Center, and he, a computer specialist at States’ Industries with a passion for language study, had satisfied a hunger for international connections with 25 years of dinners for University of Oregon foreign students.

As Friendship Family volunteers, they fostered relationships that wrap around the world. The students provided a cultural diversity that Rita, 72, missed from growing up in the Bronx of New York City. For Wayne, 73, they delivered accents and attitudes he came to value as an Army intelligence officer in Germany and in six years of work in Brazil.

Rita discovered her professional niche with her first job in a senior center run by the city of New York. A full scholarship at the University of Oregon set her on the path to an eventual Ph.D in gerontology and a career with an emerging population of active, ambitious seniors. Wayne’s educational course took a circuitous route, starting college as a German major and winding through international work stints to arrive 32 years later at a degree in Spanish from the UO.

Combine the international connections they both savor with Rita’s years in senior centers and you get a recipe for a great retirement, she insists.

“My 25 years of working in senior centers was the best training for retirement you could get,” she says. The retirees she met in 20 years of leadership at Campbell Senior Center inspired her. They modeled a lifestyle of intellectual curiosity, travel, social contacts, and zest for life.

“I loved my job,” she says. “There wasn’t a day I didn’t look forward to my work.” Still, when she became eligible for retirement in 2003, she didn’t look back. She looked forward to “life as a joyful retiree.”

By now, lunch was over, plates had been cleared. Before we parted, we agreed to join our new Eugene friends for a birthday party at their apartment a few days later.

We arrived to join a lively cluster of 40 or so people jostling for space in the Kingsburys’ unit—one of 16 in a two-story rental building arranged around a central patio. Most of the units are rented by retirees from the US and Canada. Many of the guests have spent winters here for a decade or more.

Ask what brings them back year after year and conversations bubble into enthusiastic accounts of volunteer work at the English language library and connections with Oaxaca Street Children which supports education for needy students. And then…there’s the pleasure of free concerts in historic buildings, archaeological ruins, scenic villages, favorable economics, sunny skies. Plus writing groups, bridge games, Spanish tutors.

Wayne Kingsbury studies Spanish with a tutor twice a week in Oaxaca to sustain fluency. Rita maintains conversational facility with exchanges that emerge whenever she pulls out the silver filament she knits into sparkling necklaces and bracelets. Everywhere, she says, on buses, in restaurants, her jewelry projects invite questions and connections--exactly what she wants.

“In Eugene we have a good life,” she says. “It’s not stressful, but we have obligations there—grown children, grandchildren, housekeeping “I love my life in Eugene, but Oaxaca has become a very special place for us. Here, there are no ‘have-tos.’”

Carolyn Scott Kortge of Eugene is a former Register-Guard editor and writer, and author of The Spirited Walker. Contact at spiritedwalker@gmail.com.


Not the Retiring Type

by Carolyn Kortge

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