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Seniors embracing their golden years in Hall
Active adult living options are varied in county
Gainesville Senior Life Center members make their way to the dock at Aqualand Marina on Thursday morning as they prepare for a two-hour cruise on Lake Lanier aboard an 80-foot houseboat. The boat’s owner, Jack Frost, donated the use of the boat for the group.

Graying of Hall County

• Total population: 196,637

• 65 and older, 2016: 27,725 or 14.1%

• 65 and older, 2010: 20,010 or 11.1%

• 65 and older, 2000: 13,065 or 9.4%

Source: U.S. Census

Seniors searching for active adult living are finding it in full measure in Hall County.

It’s not a new trend by any means. Nancy Simpson has seen the growth of retirees flocking to the area to enjoy their golden years since she took on the role of senior programs coordinator for the city of Gainesville in 1995.

Part of Simpson’s job is to plan fun trips for seniors participating in the Gainesville-Hall County Senior Center. She usually organizes extended trips out of county and out of state in the spring and fall each year. In between, she works up an itinerary of shorter day trips close to home.

“So many people don’t understand what the Senior Center is all about; it’s not a day care,” Simpson said. “It’s an active adult center. Active is relative because we have early retirees and seniors in their 90s, but they’re all independent. Our numbers have grown.”

Glennis O’Neal said she’s enjoying life more fully thanks to the programs offered through the senior center. Many times, she wishes such programs had been more readily available for her mother, for whom she cared for more than 20 years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“This (senior center) has meant everything to me,” O’Neal said during a recent excursion on Lake Lanier on a houseboat made available to the seniors by local businessman and philanthropist Jack Frost.

“I’m so admirably grateful because staff has their heart in this,” O’Neal added. “It goes beyond their jobs and any monetary consideration because if you didn’t have people with heart, it would not work.”

Jennifer Vandiver runs the Active Older Adults programs at the J.A. Walters YMCA, 2455 Howard Road. Vandiver said she is inspired by their passion to live life to the fullest.

“We have 40 fairly active seniors that come to our water aerobics classes, yoga and other various low-impact classes that we offer,” Vandiver said. “We’ve had the same instructors teaching these classes for a long time and they’ve built a relationship with the seniors.”

Vandiver said that why they enjoy coming to the classes to stay fit, they also embrace the companionship and friendship.

“When they’re finished with their classes, we have a cafe, and they all go to the cafe and have coffee,” she said. “There’s 10 or 12 in there visiting and it’s so good for them because a lot of them will go back to a house that is just empty.”

Julie Butler, a spokeswoman for Gainesville Parks and Recreation, said the same dynamics can be found at the city’s Frances Meadows Aquatic Center.

“We see a lot of active older adults,” Butler said. “They are drawn to the warm water and our health and wellness classes.”

Annie Sims, 81, and Wilma Watkins, 84, said they found friendship through senior programs in Hall County that has helped fill a void since their husbands passed away.

“It’s consoling when you find someone who understands what you’re going through,” Sims said. “I needed somebody because I was close to depression.”

Sims and Watkins have also formed close ties to 71-year-old Sylvia Cordell and Jesse McClellin, 66.

The four usually tag along on excursions planned by Simpson, including her so-called “mystery trips” in which the travelers learn of their destination when they’ve arrived.

“We love the trips, but it’s also an opportunity to talk and share our thoughts,” said Cordell, who also lost her husband.

Developers of senior housing projects continue to stake out Hall County following the tremendous success enjoyed by the Cresswind at Lake Lanier development. Since the upscale and gated project opened in 2007, it’s become the No. 1 active adult community for seniors 55 and older in the metro Atlanta area, according to a 2016 MetroStudy report.

The development features 934 single-family homes and a three-story, 36,000 square-foot clubhouse loaded with amenities, including a pool, large party room, fitness center, aerobics studio and games/hobby room.

More senior housing projects are under construction and more are planned. Just this week, Gainesville City Council gave its approval of an 860-home active adult community off Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53.

Gainesville’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan updated earlier this year projects that the senior population will continue to grow.

Since 2000, Hall County’s 65 and older population has doubled from 13,067 to 27,256, according to the U.S. Census.

“While new senior housing has been developed, there is a growing need for senior housing due to Gainesville’s proximity to Atlanta, medical care and quality of life,” the city’s comprehensive plan states.