July 2, 2008 -- Many retirees are redefining retirement, opting out of condos in Florida and finding new places to call home. Karl and Karen Gotting, for instance, have chosen to retire to the University of Michigan, where they both attended school almost 50 years ago.
"We met here on a blind date," Karl Gotting said. "As a matter of fact, it was a mistaken blind date because I wanted to get a blind date with her roommate, but her roommate was busy."
After discussing the range of retirement options — Florida and New York states among them — the couple heard about the University Commons program in Ann Arbor, Mich., in an alumni magazine. The program is self-described as a "21st-century approach to active adult communities," with one of its main goals, as well as the Gottlings,' being lifelong learning.
"We had to stay active, stay vital, and we felt part of that was not only physical activity but also our mental stimulus," Karl Gotting said. "And that we found here at the university."
The Gottings live on the north side of campus in a special housing development for those 55 and older. They enjoy the constant activity and vibrancy of a college campus.
"There are things going on here every day. There are recitals, concerts and lectures," Karen Gotting said. "All we have to do is walk across a very small street and we're there."
The couple frequently attends lectures in Hill Auditorium and classes at University Commons.
"There is a camaraderie here that we never found in the neighborhoods in the 40, 50 years that we lived in that situation," Karl Gotting said.
And they are finding that college is better the second time around. While college students tend to be preoccupied with making a grade or going out for the night's party, Karl Gotting finds more value in his education.
"Half the time it wasn't of interest to me, but I had to do it," he said. "I think I could get a better grade now than before."
More than 30 retirement communities with direct ties to universities have popped up, and dozens more are in the planning stages. College communities often have better hospitals, more public transportation and a variety of spaces to exercise the mind and body.
The University of Michigan hospitals and health centers in Ann Arbor were ranked 14th in the nation, according to a 2007 U.S. News and World Report.
Even if retirees do not live near a college campus with a retirement community, or cannot make the move in the current economic environment, a virtual community offers another option within the comfort of their own home.
Cyberspace is full of sites such as Eons, Eldr and The Senior View, which cater to retirees. Baby boomers are the first group of tech-savy retirees, and of the 78 million boomers living in the United States today, 65 million are online, making up a third of Internet users.
Millie Garfield, an 82-year-old from Swampscott, Mass., began using the Internet four years ago to keep in touch with her son, Steven Garfield, a video blogger. She has expanded from typical e-mail use to sharing her photos on Flickr, instant messaging on Twitter, running Google searches and even writing her own blog.
"My friends in retirement, most of them don't know anything about blogging," Garfield said. "I think they lead unproductive, dull lives because they are doing the same old thing — talking about the same old thing."
According to The Ageless Project, a Web site that compiles people's blogs by birth year, Garfield is one of the Internet's oldest bloggers. The octogenarian writes and talks about everything on her mind, from her cataract surgery to a Sunday performance of "Contact" she attended and reminiscing about shopping for magic tricks for her husband back in the old days.
Her son records videos of her daily life, where Garfield's vibrancy emanates from the computer screen. She posts a series of humorous videos that document her struggle to open a Tylenol bottle and the new cap on a shampoo bottle.
Garfield's thoughts have reached thousands around the world, connecting this retiree to an even greater community.
"It's been a big comfort to me because a number of my friends have either passed away or they are very ill," she said. "Now I have new friends. I have this community of bloggers that are, I feel, close friends."
Garfield's blog gives her a sense of camaraderie and a creative outlet for her energy. Cyberspace is no longer the domain of the young, she said.