Unlike some of my friends, my decision to retire was not difficult. A career as a home builder had been both challenging and rewarding, but it often required long hours and could be stressful at times. An additional career as an officer in the U. S. Army Reserve was equally rewarding, but it took time away from my family and consumed vacation time for more years than I care to remember. I planned to use the “Golden Years” as a means to even things out a bit.
Today, my passion is travel and sharing the journey with others on our website, Easin’ Along. I want to see as much of North America as I am able, and I want to do it by taking the roads less traveled. After several extended road trips in our car, Helen (adorable wife) and I invested in an RV. Now, a 26-foot travel trailer named Gracey has become our home on the road with the potential to enrich our lives tremendously.
Around the time Donna honored us with a request for a contribution to her Sunday Series, we were preparing to take Gracey on our next adventure–a snowbird trip to someplace warm. My suggestion to Donna was a post about snowbird retirees if I could find any. Well, Donna, we found a gaggle, and we couldn’t wait to introduce a sampling of these interesting folks to your readers.
Ken and Patty have been snowbirding in Florida campgrounds since 2003 to escape the winters of Southern Michigan. After overhearing a group of volunteers discussing their campground duties for the day, Patty immediately told Ken that she wanted to get involved. They have volunteered at campgrounds ever since and served as campground hosts on occasion. Their current post is The Orman House, a historical home in Apalachicola, Florida built in 1838 by a cotton merchant. They volunteer as guides three days a week, but work in the gardens on their off days “just because we love it.”
Bill and Eileen began coming to Jekyll Island, GA from their home near Akron, Ohio many years ago. Wanting to do more than sit and whittle, Bill soon volunteered to perform odd jobs around the camp. After parking Gracey in the campground at Jekyll Island State Park, we would see this pleasant gentleman applying a coat of paint to signposts, doors, windows while chatting with everyone who passed. Bill told me that painting gives him a great deal of satisfaction and allows him to engage with other snowbirds. “Besides,” he said, “there is a lot to paint here, so this is great job security.” Bill is a volunteer who loves his winters and his work.
Jeff and Barney, two brothers from Buffalo, NY come to the Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville, FL every year to serve as hosts in the RV Park on the base. Both are Army retirees with over 20 years of service to our country. We met them shortly after we arrived and encountered difficulty connecting the utilities to Gracey. Jeff and Barney came immediately, and soon we were up and running. We discovered that we had served in several of the same posts in Germany, and I had a delightful time sharing old Army stories with them. The next morning we found this tireless twosome in the camp kitchen cooking up pancakes for the monthly pancake breakfast. Throughout our stay, we continued to see both men riding through camp in golf carts offering a hand to anyone in need. I enjoyed meeting them.
Not all the snowbirds we met were looking for responsibility. Some just came to thaw out and pursue activities other than the usual chores associated with life in their hometown. We observed a couple in Panama City who visited the beach each day to read, perhaps work a crossword puzzle or nap. Others came south to participate in the many campground activities organized by the volunteers. We found large bulletin boards filled with lists of activities available to snowbirds eager for stimulation and social encounters. Others just wanted to sit around a campfire and share information about RV lifestyle and travel, including very valuable information about favorite campgrounds.
One morning at Jekyll Island, I passed the Community Room where three ladies were seated in comfortable chairs, each knitting furiously, and absorbed in lively conversation. I entered the room and asked them what they were making. A lady, with an enormous ball of twine in her lap, looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Friends.”
In a word, that sums up much about snowbird retirees.
Joe Bruner retired from a career in the home building industry and a second career as an officer in the US Army Reserve. He and his wife Helen, who retired from the staff of a private preparatory school, live in Knoxville, Tennessee. They have written extensively about their travels and retirement lifestyle on their website Easin’ Along.