Much of that activity revolves around the University of Michigan, whose 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students account for about a third of Ann Arbor's population. And needless to say, the retiree population includes plenty of voluble Wolverine fans. Bill and Janet Cassebaum met in Ann Arbor in the 1950s, when he was a law student at Michigan and she was an undergrad. They married in town, then moved to eastern Pennsylvania, where Bill practiced law for 40 years. They finally returned to Ann Arbor after retiring in 1998—and still haven't had their fill of college sports. The couple regularly takes in baseball, basketball, and of course football at Michigan Stadium, which seats more than 100,000 and is known as the Carnegie Hall of sports. The games (and tailgate parties) help draw their two teenage grandsons for a visit. Their 5-year-old granddaughter prefers the local parks and the Hands-On science museum.
The Cassebaums also spend time behind the scenes helping to organize some of the local activity. Janet, 75, is active in the Ann Arbor City Club and recently ran a fundraising campaign to help renovate a historic building in town. Bill, 78, volunteers as a timer for college track meets, a pleasant reminder of his days as a high-jumper. "It's low-level," he says, "but I can still participate in athletics."
Ann Arbor is just far enough from Detroit—about 40 miles to the west—that it feels insulated from Michigan's battered auto industry. And real estate prices have held up much better than in other parts of Michigan, where a depressed economy has hammered home values. But the access to a major city comes in handy. The Detroit metro airport has nonstop flights to most big cities, and the Cassebaums can fly easily to southwestern Colorado, where one daughter lives.
The Powells lived in Ann Arbor years ago and noticed when they returned that it had grown from a quaint college town into a small city, with a skyline and more diversity. Big-city amenities include ethnic restaurants, ample shopping, and visits by world-class performers like Yo-Yo Ma and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. There are also two premier medical systems: St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and the University of Michigan Medical Center. "Between the two, we feel like we're getting top-notch healthcare," says Ron Powell.
The biggest complaint is the demise of the local paper, the Ann Arbor News, which ceased daily delivery and became a Web operation in July. There's also the little matter of winter. Ann Arbor, known as "Tree Town," is verdant and pleasant in the summer, with a full change of seasons. But winters can be snowy and cold, with moisture from nearby Lake Huron and Lake Erie contributing to a high proportion of cloudy days. But retirees do have advantages over Mother Nature. Edward Couture and his wife, Marilyn, moved to Ann Arbor from Los Angeles after he retired in 1994 and have no regrets about the perennial sunshine they left behind. "When you're retired, if the weather's bad, you're not compelled to go anywhere," Couture says. "You just stay in the house." Then, when the maintenance troops have shoveled them out of their condo, they head out for tai chi, history classes, free concerts, or volunteer gigs. In Ann Arbor, nobody stays in the house for long.
Nestled in a pocket of the Blue Ridge Mountains, two hours away from any major city, Asheville, N.C., might be assumed to lack culture and polish. Not so. On any given Friday night, you might stumble upon a street-corner bluegrass band, an art gallery opening, a festival (if you're lucky, the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival), and maybe even a mime. "Life is never dull here," says Sheila Murphy, who retired to Asheville in 2003 with her husband, Dennis, after moving 31 times (he worked in the oil business). "You can do things for free, for a nominal fee, or a donation, and see all kinds of plays, shows, and music should you desire."