- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - When Harold and Debbie Bruner moved from Fort Meyers, Florida, to Auburn this past June, two things happened. They became retirees, and they went from living in a quiet, elderly community to a dynamic, upbeat town that introduced new activities into their lives.

“The thing I can comment on is, it’s nice to be around young people,” said Debbie Bruner, 66. “In the Florida situation, we were around many people our age and older. (Here), you walk outside, and you just smile. It’s a happy atmosphere. (There’s) more energy.”

Harold Bruner, 65, agreed with his wife and added that there are several enticing qualities about university towns like Auburn that influenced the couple to move there.

“It’s culture,” he said. “It’s sports. It’s the continuing education opportunities.”

The Bruners’ move to Auburn is one example that the cultural and educational prospects, low cost of living, and general vibrancy associated with college towns is attractive to more than just students. An October 2013 article published by USA Today profiles a current trend: today’s retirees - the “Baby Boomers” as an “adventurous generation,” with more of its members moving to college towns to retire. The article describes how the culture of retirement is evolving in favor of a more active one - defined more by opportunity and personal growth and less by passing lackadaisical days in a rocking chair.

The Bruners are Indiana natives. They raised their children there, while Harold worked in the forestry business and Debbie had a career in the public school system. In 2001, they made a major life change.

“We knew that neither one of our kids was coming back (to Indiana), so we said, ‘What the heck,’” Harold recalled. “So we moved to Florida and started a second career in real estate.”

While living in Florida, the Bruners visited Auburn four or five times a year to see their daughter Kim - throughout which time the couple fell in love with the town. After seriously considering the move for about a year, the Bruners’ final push came when their son,

Matthew, who had also been living in Florida, was offered a job as the elementary principal of Lee-Scott Academy.

“The minute we knew that was going to happen, we said, ‘OK, now’s the time to move,’” Harold said.

Almost immediately after moving to the area, the Bruners discovered a continuing education program associated with Auburn University that is specifically catered to the 55 and older age group- the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).

The OLLI program features a selection of weekly classes that members can choose from, ranging anywhere from foreign language courses to poetry and literature, from economics to etymology and exercise. Members also benefit by having the ability to audit Auburn University credit classes, use the Auburn University library, the university’s Tiger Transit bus system and more.

“Both of us signed up for basically the maximum membership fee, plus a tuition that covers the fall and the winter and the spring courses,” Harold said. “It was obvious to us that this was such a bargain and a good deal in so many ways that we just committed ourselves forward to it for the year.”

Linda Shook, OLLI at Auburn director, explained that OLLI is a nationwide program associated with universities that promotes “lifelong learning.” She said it would not exist without the existence of the university.

“This term we have about a half dozen active faculty members who are teaching a class for us,” Shook said. “We’re very fortunate in that we think that we have a lot of support from the university, and we’re part of the university.”

Like the Bruners, Auburn resident Annie Clark-Gates had a family incentive to move to the area when she moved 800 miles south from Maryland in 2006 to be closer to her daughter Melissa; however, she has found several motives besides her family ties to stay.

Also an OLLI member, Clark-Gates emphasized continuing education opportunities for older adults as a reason why college towns are fitting for people in her demographic. A retiree after 35 years of teaching, she said these, among other attractive qualities the area possesses, make it “the ideal place to live for retirees.”

“OLLI offers me a day to- day thing - activities to do and learn,” she said. “Having been a teacher, I love learning new things.”

In addition to OLLI courses, Clark-Gates said she has also taken advantage of on-campus events.

“The university offers cultural events, and the music department and theater and also sports,” she said. “I enjoy going to the gymnastics competitions.”

Clark-Gates also referenced superior health care facilities and public safety services as inviting qualities for retirees.

“I like the complement of Auburn and Opelika,” she said. “Both towns together offer a lot.”

And as the culture of retirement may be changing, both Clark-Gates and the Bruners are accelerating that evolution by taking full advantage of what college towns have to offer.

“I have stayed here, and this has given me quality things to do with my time,” Clark-Gates said. “I have fallen in love with Auburn and the Opelika area and love it here.”

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