CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Shari Jung spent nearly five decades living in Dallas before moving to Clemson 2 1/2 years ago.
“I decided to come to Clemson for the love of my life,” said Jung, whose husband, Mac Wood, is a Clemson alumnus. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here. This is what I call my fourth-quarter adventure.”
For Jung, Clemson was the perfect location.
“If you love the outdoors, it’s wonderful for hiking. If you love interesting people, if you like further educating yourself, it’s ideal,” Jung said. “The economy is not so high that you can’t afford to live here on a budget.”
Across Pickens County, 9.9% of owner-occupied homes are owned by people 65 and older, but the percentage jumps to 36.6% in Clemson, according to the city’s comprehensive plan. Additionally, Clemson has a higher percentage of older seniors with 2.5% of people aged 85 and over compared to 1.6% across Pickens County.
While some in Clemson have lived in the area for decades and are now aging in place, others are following family members to the Upstate, moving back to be near their alma mater or choosing the area for the warm weather, football weekends and relatively low cost of living.
“You can’t go into a grocery story or church without realizing we are a sort of an aging community here,” said Clemson University professor and city council member Fran McGuire, whose academic focus is leisure in later life.
The rising senior population provides economic benefits for the city but also raises questions about future needs.
Eunice Lehmacher is a Clemson resident who works with caregivers of those with dementia at Oconee Memorial Hospital. She has seen people come to retire in the area and buy big homes. When a spouse dies, those houses sometimes become unmanageable, and they move to a place like Clemson Downs, a retirement community that’s been around for more than 40 years, she said.
“In Clemson, we tend to think about students, first, and professors,” Lehmacher said. “I wonder if we could also think about people that live in Clemson and are retiring and what are their needs.”
Julie Vidotto sees the aging population as a “blessing and a curse.” Vidotto directs the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI, at Clemson University, which McGuire helped establish and which offers classes and excursions for adults, particularly those over 50.
The growing and aging senior population has needs that have not been fully addressed, from adequate accessible parking to sufficient public transportation, Vidotto said.
In a July 2018 progress report the city gave itself a “D″ rating for not meeting goals set in a 2014 comprehensive plan to “explore the provision of community facilities for seniors, encourage the involvement of seniors in the community, and explore ways to meet the needs of the increasing senior population.”
Mark Smith, chairman of the South Carolina Advisory Council on Aging, said the issues in Clemson are reflective of challenges across the state. Smith said people are thinking a lot about the needs of aging baby-boomers, but he said problems with access to transportation, healthcare and housing have already surfaced.
For example, he said, there are seniors in the state who are unable to drive and live in areas without public transit who feel like “prisoners” of their homes. He has seen some churches and nonprofit organizations trying to fill the gap and get people to community centers for healthy meals.
On the flip side, Vidotto said an aging population adds vibrancy to the community. For example, it can give businesses a base to rely on aside from students, most of whom leave town in summer.
And Vidotto said retirement looks vastly different today than in the past.
“It’s not work, work, work, retire, then golf and sit on porch,” Vidotto said. “Just because someone is 60 doesn’t mean they aren’t hiking eight miles each day. Seventy doesn’t mean feeble.”
Gary Faulkenberry was also drawn to Clemson for retirement. Initially, he and his wife built a house in Patrick Square as a second home, but after going back and forth between Lake Wateree and Clemson, they moved to the college town full-time.
At 75, Faulkenberry is remarried; both he and his wife lost spouses to cancer.
“I never really gave strong consideration to retiring to Clemson,” said Faulkenberry, who graduated from the university in 1965.
A unique situation drew him back, though: About a dozen members of his fraternity, Kappa Delta Chi, have made their way back to the area, which gave him a core of friends to return to. He also said he has found Patrick Square to be a “great melting pot of seniors and young people.”
Vidotto said Clemson’s OLLI, which is housed in Patrick Square, is approaching 1,500 members and has grown by about 500 in the last five years. The program draws people from a wide swath of the Upstate and even north Georgia and western North Carolina.
The OLLI program at Furman, which has just shy of 2,500 members this year, has also seen growth and has doubled in size in the past seven years, said director Nancy Kennedy. It is the eighth-largest OLLI in the country out of 123 similar programs and has members ranging from their 50s all the way up to an active participant who is 99.
South Carolina is on the low end of senior-living costs compared with other states. The insurance and financial planning company Genworth’s 2018 Cost of Care survey ranked the state among the cheapest 10 for homemaker services and home-health aides.
The median assisted living cost in South Carolina is $42,000 a year, according to Genworth, but that number is estimated to grow to $56,444 by 2028.
In 2017, Clemson was named one of the 25 best places in the country to retire by Forbes. College towns tend to be top contenders on such ranking lists due to concentration of activities.
While many retirees in the Upstate are very active — Kennedy has OLLI members that bike to classes — an aging population also means future healthcare and living needs on the horizon.
Two years ago, Lindsey Daugherty, the principal manager for two new assisted living communities, came to the Clemson area and started talking to senior citizens. She went to the YMCA, local stores and restaurants. Daugherty said she has never seen such a clear demand for more senior-living choices.
In March, Dominion Senior Living opened its doors to a new assisted living community in Patrick Square. Dominion opened a similar building in Anderson in December. Daugherty oversees both.
Daugherty said the Upstate is currently “under-bedded” with fewer long-term care spots for seniors than will be needed in the future.
Before opening, Daugherty said the Clemson Dominion location was 70% filled and had a wait-list of 20 people who are not ready yet for assisted living but know they might need it in the future.
At the Anderson location, Daugherty said she sees more residents who were already living in the area or have moved there because of a nearby son or daughter. In Clemson, she said it has been more of a mix with some residents moving from Florida.
Daugherty also said she has residents who retired to the Upstate and are now getting to an age where they need more care.
“I think we are getting to where parts of the population have aged up,” she said. “They’ve been here but are now hitting their 70s and 80s.”
While students on Clemson’s campus live in dorms, eat at dining halls and are surrounded by activities, Clemson’s other seniors often want something similar, what Daugherty calls “maintenance-free living,” she said. Similar to other independent-living properties, Dominion has a dining room for meals and activities on site, plus places for residents to tailgate and watch Clemson football.
“It’s almost like a senior college experience,” Daugherty said.