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Leisure Spending

Yes, Retirees, You Can Go Home Again

Yearning to return to where you grew up? The perfect retirement spot may be your hometown.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the July 2008 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Like many young people, Ronald Gonterman pulled up stakes and left his birthplace to seek a bright future elsewhere. After receiving his master's degree in mineralogy at Ohio State University, he worked for 25 years for Owens Corning in Danville, Ohio, and Aiken, S.C.

But his heart was always in his hometown of Cub Run, Ky., about 60 miles south of Louisville. Gonterman missed rural life. So when his management job was eliminated in 1997, he returned home with his wife, Joyce, who had grown up nearby. Now age 59, he's a glass-industry consultant.

The homecoming had been planned years earlier. When Gonterman was 40, he bought his grandfather's 150-acre farm and built a house that he and Joyce planned as their retirement home. Gontermans have been in this part of Kentucky for generations. Gonterman even became the volunteer manager of the family cemetery.

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"Living in Cub Run allows me to get reacquainted with family, high school friends and churches," he says. "Making connections with ancestors through stories told by the surviving members of my parents' generation is a bonus in returning here."

Home Is Where the Relatives Are

Who says you can't go home again? As baby-boomers begin to retire, many are returning to the place where they grew up. Charles Longino, a Wake Forest University sociology professor who studies retirement-relocation trends, says younger retirees look to relatives as a means to integrate into the community. Older retirees, he says, "want to position themselves for family assistance."

The transition has its hazards. If you're heading back to a city, the proceeds from the sale of your suburban home may buy you only a one-bedroom apartment. For rural boomerang retirees, Longino says, the dream can turn sour if they've romanticized a childhood Mayberry of "friendly people, good informal story tellers and a church-centered social life." He notes that the culture may be more racially biased and "more dogmatic and rigid than the more-worldly person would appreciate."

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For Jean Mertz, the return home to small-town North Carolina has been a positive move. She left the state in 1954 to marry Pennsylvanian Herbert Mertz, an engineer. His jobs in the paper industry took them to Delaware, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Mississippi.

When Herbert retired eight years ago, they considered various retirement venues. But Jean, then in her mid sixties, told her husband: "I've followed you all these years. Now we're moving back to where I want to live." They moved to Wilson, a city of 40,000 less than 20 miles from Grifton, where she was born.

Soon after they moved, Herbert was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and he died three years later. Like many retirees who move back to their hometowns, Mertz was buttressed by close family members and longtime friends.

Mertz is comforted by the Southern culture, and the importance of church life. She was easily accepted into the community. Even so, she says, "people can't make out my accent."

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Jill Edelson's journey took her to a far different place than Wilson, N.C., but she's just as happy as Mertz is with her move. In the early 1960s, Edelson and her husband, Ken, moved to Ridgewood, N.J., from New York City to raise a family. In 1999, they bought a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan's East Side for weekend trips.

Ken died in 2001, and this year, Jill, 75, decided to sell the Ridgewood home and move back to Manhattan. Many of her friends in Ridgewood had moved away or died, and two of her four sons live in the city. She's had an active social, cultural and volunteer life in Manhattan for years.

Edelson loves the idea of giving up her car. "I can get around by walking or using mass transportation," she says.

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