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VOL. 7 | NO. 52 | Saturday, December 20, 2014

Knoxville Area a Magnet for Retirees

National rankings confirm what makes East Tennessee special


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Retired air traffic controller Sterling King moved to Knoxville when his brother needed him. Five years later, he has fallen in love with the area and everything it has to offer.

Moderate weather, without the bone-chilling Northern winters or the searing heat of Florida summers, is a big draw, along with its location in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, says King, 58, who migrated from Dayton, Ohio, to Raleigh, North Carolina, and then to Knoxville.

“It’s beautiful country if you like mountains and hills,” Kings says, noting that the postcard-like fall foliage will “take your breath away.”

Sterling King looks over a Mobile Meals Kitchen delivery sheet with Emil Jones and Laurie Gooch.

(The Ledger/Chase Malone)

From a financial standpoint, the biggest attraction for a retiree in Tennessee is the absence of a state income tax, says King. Tennessee relies primarily on sales taxes for revenue though it does have the Hall income tax on investments and dividends.

But for King, the attitude of the people makes living here most attractive. They seem to enjoy life and want to help others enjoy it, he adds.

“When you drive around Knoxville, it doesn’t surprise you when someone waves at you,” King says. “They’ve got a smile on their face. When somebody asks, ‘How are you doing?’ they really want to know how you’re doing.”

It’s little wonder then that for the second year in a row, Knoxville ranks as one of the nation’s Best Places to Retire, according to the website Livability.com, moving up to the second slot from seventh place in 2013.

Knoxville’s relatively low cost of living, 2 percent below the national average, combined with a sales tax of 9.25 percent as the primary tax, help it lure retirees.

The city ranked second for housing affordability of those that made the list, including Springfield, Missouri, at No. 1, Bellevue, Washington, in the third spot and locales such as Largo, Florida, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Honolulu.

“Knoxville is a magnet for retirees for several reasons, including our mild climate, diverse selection of housing styles, access to top-notch health care and a vibrant downtown offering non-stop cultural events, unique shopping and dining,” says Doug Lawyer, vice president of Economic Development for the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce.

Sterling King helps load coolers filled with meals and food items. Meals are delivered to people in need throughout the Knoxville community.

(The Ledger/Chase Malone)

Retirees also add a “unique dynamic” to Knoxville’s thriving entrepreneurial network by helping budding start-ups companies with their career experience, Lawyer adds.

The city also had the lowest unemployment rate for seniors in the cities ranked, a sign that it’s a good place for a second or third career.

Proximity to the Smoky Mountains and the natural beauty they provide can entice people who want to stay active. And Knoxville has miles of hiking and bicycling trails, including the Urban Wilderness.

Even though it gets more snow than most areas of Tennessee because of its higher elevation, Knoxville’s weather is comparatively warm and sunny, enabling retirees to hit local golf courses or downtown Knoxville, which has been transformed into an eclectic collection of cool shops, restaurants and art attractions.

The University of Tennessee offers opportunities for seniors to take courses, and of course, UT football and basketball provide sporting entertainment.

Seniors draws
The Knoxville Museum of Art, which recently went through a major renovation, attracts members of all ages, but about 34 percent of its members are seniors, in addition to a large number of its volunteers, according to museum marketing director Angela Thomas.

“The museum is a great place for all ages but can be a nice asset to retired couples and individuals as they generally have more free time and can take advantage of the ever-changing exhibitions,” Thomas says.

The city’s Urban Wilderness, which is just a stone’s throw from the downtown area, offers a great experience for people of every age, including seniors who want to walk for exercise.

“I think what is unique to Knoxville and the Urban Wilderness is you can be on trails all day and then be in the downtown area in just a few minutes,” says Carol Evans, executive director of Legacy Parks Foundation.

The Urban Wilderness held a senior bicycling event last spring that attracted about 200 people from across the community.

Sterling King helps load coolers filled with meals and food items into waiting cars. The meals will then be delivered to people in need throughout the Knoxville community.

(The Ledger/Chase Malone)

“Seniors are a very active group. Now we’re seeing them wanting that experience,” Evans adds.

Getting involved
Susan Long, with Knoxville’s Office of Aging, says it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many people are retiring to Knoxville from other cities.

But she says the city has as much or more to offer seniors than any other market in Tennessee.

“I’m not totally surprised people will come to this area because it is an easy city to live in,” she explains.

“I do run into people who say they love it.”

Plenty of sidewalks for pedestrian use along with public transportation make getting around easier, she notes. A directory of senior services is available, as well.

Knoxville has three senior facilities for residents:

  • John T. O’Connor Senior Citizens Center, 865-523-1135
  • Larry Cox Senior Center, 865-546-1700
  • South Knoxville Community Center, 865-573-3575

Getting acclimated
Darlene “Penny” Regnas, 76, moved to Knoxville after nine years in Omaha to be near her daughter and son-in-law. She lost her husband recently.

“It really is a great place to be,” she says, adding she is a member of a senior center and volunteers her time with Meals on Wheels.

In Omaha, she volunteered at the Veterans Administration.

Regnas is disabled herself, and after having surgery in March, she’s exercising at a senior center to rejuvenate herself.

“They have a lot of activities for people who don’t want to sit home alone. They want to get out and do things,” she says.

Regnas, who lived for 35 years in Chattanooga, also enjoys the climate.

“You get to see the leaves turn,” she notes, and it doesn’t get as cold in Knoxville as in Omaha.

David and Judy Terwell, 77 and 75, moved to Knoxville four months ago from Grand Lakes, Colorado, just northwest of Denver.

Their backyard was Rocky Mountains National Park. But they loaded up and made the shift to Knoxville to be close to their daughter and young grandchildren in Lenoir City.

“It was time to get closer to medical [hospitals and health care] and away from so much snow,” Judy explains.

They definitely have better access to hospitals and don’t have to rough it through miles of snow to reach health care. Knoxville has six major hospitals for adults, including University of Tennessee Medical Center.

And even though snow falls every winter in Knoxville, the Terwells won’t get the 200 inches that Grand Lakes normally receives.

David retired as a packaging salesman in 2000, and she was a homemaker. They’d been traveling to Knoxville for years to see their younger grandkids and “just loved it,” she says.

They haven’t taken a trek on Knoxville’s trails or Urban Wilderness yet, but they’re the adventurous type, hikers and mountain snowboarders, so they plan to hit the hills and trails as soon as they figure out what is offered.

The Terwells are also happy with their new church, Peace Lutheran, and, like Regnas, they deliver for Meals on Wheels. They also help with the Tyson House through church and volunteer with KARMS, which feeds the poor.

Though they’re new to the area, most people they’ve met have lived there 20 to 30 years, and they know they’ll connect soon with new “best friends.”

“We feel extremely lucky to have chosen Knoxville and think we’ll be very happy here,” Judy adds.

King, meanwhile, also volunteers with Meals on Wheels, in addition to the Knox County Sheriff’s SCAN program, which conducts welfare checks on the elderly to make sure they’re safe and being cared for and to ensure nobody’s taking advantage of them.

As for trails and hiking, though, King says he got enough of that in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I did enough hiking to last a lifetime,” he says. For now, the changing leaves and mountains will have to do.

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