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Archive for the month “January, 2011”

A Sense of Community

The other day a friend said she was confused by the concept of a “community living room” and could i better explain it. It was the perfect segue into a brief historical perspective of the community and why in the 60’s and 70’s there was such a strong sense of community. Obviously the DEVCO corporation used it (the residents) as a marketing tool. Who could better tout this new way to live better than those experiencing the joys of it on a day-to-day basis?. It was brilliant.

Think back; in the first 8 years, there was only 2 rec centers and everyone living in Sun City came from somewhere else. It was a close-knit community and Community Center (now Oakmont) and Town Hall (soon to be the newly completed Fairway) were the hub of virtually all activities. The quickly growing population gathered at each for weekly pot luck dinners and opportunities to meet and greet new residents. With DEVCO assigning ownership of those amenities to the community, the residents needed to work in concert to build an infrastructure that oversaw them. They also quickly came to understand that ownership meant they needed build a self-sustaining structure of governance and support units. Truly, an amazing time.

As noted in earlier blogs, there were internal struggles. Through it all, for the most part, people were able to work out their differences and work together. I would argue the sociability and sense of community were the tenets that pulled them through. Of course it didn’t hurt to have DEVCO’s helping hand on site to push things along. By 1968 when Mountainview rec center opened the community was running smoothly and in 1969 when they moved across Grand Ave, Sun City was on the fast track to national fame and acclaim.

If there was and still is a problem with Sun City, it is its size. With 43,000 residents, 27,000 homes and the sprawling 7 mile long and 3 mile wide community, it is almost too vast for the small town sense of belonging. One of DEVCO’s earliest promotional pieces touted Sun City “as a metropolis in miniature with a small home town feel.” As we grew out, some of that was lost. Add in today’s technologies that allow residents to stay connected to the family back home and there is most certainly a difference from the early 60’s when we more needed each other.

With that said, there is no reason we can’t set our sights on finding ways to bring the community back together. Without question, the 50th anniversary gave us a start. It would be a shame to lose the headway we made by reverting back to a fragmented community where people only cluster in their own clubs, churches and at the nearest rec center. The perfect solution would be a single gathering place, a central location where residents could drop by for a cup of coffee, read a newspaper or chat with friends.

For lack of a better term, someone coined the term “community living room.” The phrase was intended to impart a sense of being comfortable, of feeling at home. Conceptually there are details to work out, but it could be a book exchange, wifi hotspot, televisions mounted on the walls, free coffee, local newspapers, comfortable chairs, sofa’s and tables for playing cards or just socializing. We would have a community bulletin board where residents could post items for sale and clubs could promote events. Best of all, it would be one of the places realtors would stop by with potential buyers to get a feel for the community and why residents love Sun City.

Let’s be honest, there are no guarantees this would work or that people would use it. Many of the newer age restricted communities are building these suggests they are popular attractions for the coming boomer population. We know from the history of Sun City, there were a handful of items that helped both shape and sell the community. Only a fool would ignore those techniques, because the one thing that would help Sun City the most is a strong marketing program. By selling the value and the values of Sun City, we would begin to rejuvenate home sales while at the same time, build a stronger sense of community.

Peeling Back The Skin Of The Onion

Like an onion, Sun City has layers and layers of an infrastructure built and based on volunteerism. For many residents, they came to play and found ways to expand their horizons and set them far higher than just chasing a small white ball around lush green pastures. We touched on this in the last blog post, Sun City was about building a new active way to live and evolved into a more highbred version of what was originally planned.

It exploded with an abundance of opportunities for residents to take the skills they learned in their previous life and put them into play in their new community. For years, seniors who reached retirement age often felt they were kicked to the curb and left to sit and wait for the end to come. Oh sure, they had their families who relied on them to babysit the grandkids or watch the family pet when they vacationed, but it was almost like they weren’t an integral part of society any longer.

I know that sounds harsh, but the recorded conversations from seniors who moved here said it time and time again, suddenly they felt they had a purpose again. Don’t get me wrong, they loved the concept of moving to the great big play ground called Sun City; many found taking ownership of shaping of the organizations made them responsible and accountable. Of course not everyone got into the mix, but substantial numbers did and it helped create a sense of community. It was about people pulling together.

I once read where a poster said Sun City had a “horizontal organizational table.” It was a brilliant assessment. Almost everything the majority of us know is built on the concept of a vertical structure. Someone was always telling us what to do and when and how to do it. From our earliest days in school, through our work lives we answered to someone above us. Even those owning their own company had the federal or state agencies dictating how to act. It was just how we lived.

I would argue, one of the joys of Sun City was the uniqueness of it. Within months of moving here, residents knew there was a difference. Each entity was free-standing, having nothing to say about how others elected to function. Better yet, if one found something wrong, they could get involved and try to change it. Life in Sun City was about hands on and being able to fix what was broken, change what they disliked or add to what was there. It was the ultimate opportunity for those who wanted to give back something to their new way of life. It was that good.

The good news is; some 51 years later, it still has essentially the same ingredients. Of course things have changed, some for the better, some for the worse. But for anyone looking for a better way to live, Sun City is still the answer. Play time is unlimited and for those looking to be a part of something, the community’s infrastructure is still run by volunteers. Here’s just a brief sampling of options:
* Rec Centers of Sun City (RCSC): The largest organization in the community. They oversee the golf courses, rec centers and other amenities. While there more than 300 employees, there is an elected board of directors and a dozen volunteer committees.
* Sun City Home Owners Association (SCHOA): Unlike most home owners associations, membership is voluntary and is $15 per year. Their job is to enforce the CC&R’s (about 8 very simple obligations to all owners in Sun City) and to interact with Maricopa county. They have 10 employees, an elected board of directors and volunteers to assist them.
* Sun City Visitor Center: They function essentially as our “Chamber of Commerce.” There is one paid staff, a volunteer board and a large number of volunteers to greet visitors and residents looking for information.
* Del Webb Sun City Museum: The first model home has been converted to look like it did opening day and there is a wealth of historical data and memorabilia that details how and why Sun City came to be. One part-time employee, a volunteer board and volunteer docent keep the place running.
* Sun City Tax Payers Association: This group is interesting as they have helped ensure the cost of living stay continue to be affordable for seniors. They have aggressively fought for lower rates on any increases in water, utility and property and sales taxes. They also assist low-income seniors in tax preparation and other needs.
* Sunshine Service: Perhaps no other organization better defines Sun City. They provide FREE use of medical supplies, home items for visitors (car seats, infant beds and fold away beds) for those looking for short-term use. They do accept donations but this organization is simply a fabulous addition to the community.
* The PRIDE: Everyone visiting Sun City for the first time notes how clean it is; the reason for it is simple, 300 volunteers pick up the streets, medians and roadways.
* The POSSE: An amazing organization of volunteers who “police” our community. They have no police powers, but they assist the Maricopa county sheriff’s department and do things vacation watch for those who leave during the summer months.
* Banner Boswell Hospital: Sun City exploded in growth and quality medical care for an aging population. The hospital came to be when residents raised a good portion of the money to build it (along with a sizeable donation from Jim Boswell). From the day it opened, volunteers have filled roles as shuttle pickup in golf cars, greeter’s at the front door and assisting with paper work and other activities. At one point there were more than a 1000 volunteers a year, though the number is down a bit now.
* Condominium Owners Association (COA); With a third of the 27,000 homes in Sun City being in condo’s or duplex’s, this group of volunteers helps the boards within these small associations get it done right.
* 31 Churches: There are 31 Churches within the walls and like everywhere, they rely on volunteers to keep them running.
* Senior Centers: There are a number of senior centers assisting residents as they age, most of which are staffed by volunteers.
* 120 Clubs: There are 120 chartered clubs in Sun City and every one of them most have at least 4 officers who have term limits they can serve. The goal is to insure there are new folks getting involved in the process.
* Meals on Wheels: Like most community’s, the meals on wheels program delivers 7 days a week and has a large number of elderly or sick residents getting low-cost meals delivered to their door. Naturally, all volunteers.
* Second hand shops: There are no less than 6 thrift stores in Sun City to benefit various organizations. While they have a handful of paid staff, volunteers are the nucleus behind their success.

There’s more, small agencies and groups that rely on residents giving of their time. Suffice to say, the one overriding them is…VOLUNTEERS. Because we are unincorporated and we run ourselves, we were founded on the principle of giving back and becoming a part of something very special. In many ways, early residents had no choice but to step up and do a fair share of the work behind the creation and running of a self-sufficient community. For some it would seem taxing, for many of us, we see it as a chance to enhance a great way to live.

Sun City isn’t for everyone. For those looking for a unique and stimulating way to live, you’ll find Sun City is a community where being active, engaged and having fun is the center of our values.

Imagine

It is often difficult for people to picture in their mind something so different that they have no frame of reference for. We can easily grasp things we understand, that we see on a regular basis; but ask them to visualize things unique and unlike anything they know and a look of bewilderment often ensues.

It was that simple fact perhaps that convinced John Meeker to embrace the play and stay package that saved a struggling Sun City in the mid 60’s. It certainly wasn’t that Sun City didn’t get good exposure, virtually every major magazine covered them. And, DEVCO was buying ad copy across the country in extraordinary volume.

The challenge was trying to get people to grasp the concept of a “different way to live.” It was foreign to them, it just made no sense. Until Meeker offered up the week stay for $75.00 people in middle America had no idea. The beauty was once they came, things changed almost immediately. Sales jumped 5 fold and the legend was born.

Interesting to note, it is still much the same dilemma some 51 years later. If there is any concept of Sun City at all, it is that we are old and tired; hardly the place for a boomer. The perception is far different from the reality. The question always come back to the basics; how do we overcome the image?

Most think showing the abundance of options for playing ones life away is the key. I see it as far more. I’ve said it before; Sun City is a sum total of its parts. Where this gets fascinating is just how many parts there are that come together to make it such a vibrant and vital community for so many people.

I could easily talk about the 7 recreation centers (including the 22 million dollar Fairway project that will open the end of this year), 11 golf courses, 2 lakes, Sunbowl amphitheatre and Meeker’s mountain; but all that is too obvious. It’s the underbelly, the infrastructure that so few people see or understand even when they live here. It’s what makes us special.

Imagine a community where two or three dozen organizations function purely based on donations of time and money from those living within the walls. Imagine organizations that thrive on volunteers and though they are ever evolving, they have been able to stand the test of time. Imagine coming to Sun City to play and finding a community where it’s almost impossible not to want to give back a piece of yourself to preserve what countless others have built from literally nothing.

In a coming blog i will peel back the skin of the Sun City way of life and focus on the structure of a self-governed and self fulfilling community that was shaped by those drifting in and finding such a unique commodity. They settled fast and with an intent to enjoy life but quickly found they still had plenty to offer from their life experiences. The one thing we know for sure, after 50 years of aging, Sun City is still one of the best values in the country for seniors looking for a quality way to live.

The Sun Finally Sets In Sun City

One of the true joys of Sun City living was seeing the sun almost every day of the year. In Minnesota, we learned to live with gray days, and cold ones at that. Now 9 days out of 10 we get exploding sunrises and sunsets behind the clouds that at times leave you breathless. They are that beautiful. It was one of those things that helped sell Sun City from the very beginning.

While that topic is spectacular, this post isn’t about our majestic solar views. Tonight, January 12, 2011 we are bringing down the curtain on what has been one of Sun City’s finest hours; the closing ceremonies of our 14 month celebration of 50 remarkable years of the Sun City way of life. It has been a year to remember. The planning began back in 2008 and from its beginning was fraught with problems. The economy was in the tank and money was scarce (that’s being polite). Sponsors were hesitant and the committee putting the event together lacked clear direction. It’s easy to become indecisive when you have no money to pay for things.

We plowed ahead, shifted gears a bit and asked the residents to step forward. Like always, they did. We remarketed (is that a word?) ourselves a bit, and when we did, we found local businesses join in along with great support from the clubs and organizations within the walls. It truly became a community event and at that point we knew we were going to make it. I won’t recant the hundreds of events and the thousands of folks who were party to them. Suffice to say it way long and arduous and extremely rewarding.

Tonight is the last scheduled program and it will be a humdinger (geez that word makes me feel old). The New Christy Minstrels will perform from 7 to 9 pm at the Sundial auditorium. Tickets are sold out as this legendary folk group returns to Sun City and before an audience cut from that exact cloth that made them so popular back in the 60’s (though i suspect we are all a bit tattered around the edges with age). At the show we will also hold the 50th anniversary raffle drawing. Interesting to note, at the 40th anniversary celebration they raffled a Cadillac that was about 30 feet long. This year we have a Smart car that might well fit in the truck of that caddy. Perhaps it’s all just a sign of the times eh?

It has been an incredible year. The committee has been rebuilt a couple of times as some dropped off and new ones came on. It simply was about getting the job done. Sun City’s history is filled with that kind of sentiment. Sun City was called the great social experiment, and the greatest testament to that phrase is…we succeeded. We came together as a community from its very beginning and now 51 years later, we are still plugging along.

George Hartman, a Sun City resident, just died. He was the man who coined the slogan that best defines us: The City of Volunteers. We were from the beginning and we still are today, the community that works because we give back enough of ourselves to keep it working. Truly unique in so many ways, and most assuredly different from so many places outside the walls. The sun may well be setting on this party, but Sun City and Sun City West are two of the greatest places to retire in this entire planet. If you ever get a chance come and visit us and you will see why in a matter of hours…its that darn good.

Happy new year…

Yup, just like it’s written, small n, small y; i’m not talking about the holiday itself, i mean have a great 2011. In the past blog i wrote my disdain for the holidays and all things commercial that go with it. Don’t get me wrong, i spend money (maybe worse than most), i just resent all of the hype around a religious holiday and how they have turned it into a fest and feast of over indulgence. That said, i love the turning of the calendar and looking forward to a new year of opportunity and growth.

Interesting to note, the first day i saw Sun City (in 1997), i fell in love with it. I knew it was where i wanted to be in retirement. It was that fast, that certain. There was something about the community that spoke to me. It was calling out and within a couple of years we had bought a place and i knew we had found “home.” Over the years, i have come to read dozens of stories from people who had the same experience…it was love at first sight.

Maybe it was the way Sun City was born. 51 years ago today the doors were opened on the model homes and recreation center. People streamed through them in numbers that staggered everyone. It was a setting the experts said would fail; just proving how little “experts” sometimes know. Webb was dumbfounded as were others, and except for a short glitch in plans (1964 and 1965), Sun City was on a course to become the birthplace of a new active way to live. In turn, it also became the benchmark all other age restricted communities tried to emulate.

Perhaps that is the essence of January 1 being one of my favorite days of the year. No, not because it’s Sun City’s birthday, but because it represents exciting new opportunities to plot, plan and prepare for a new beginning. Sun City was and still is that for everyone moving in and beginning anew. On the first of every year i look at it as a chance to start over and make the coming year even better than the last. Growth, change and the opportunity to learn are all part and parcel of the thrill i feel.

Silly? maybe for some; for me it is invigorating. In any case, however you feel about the new year, try to savor it, it is a very special day.

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