Retirement, Sarasota-Style

By staff June 1, 2002

We do retirement differently in Sarasota.

I knew that even before we began working on this issue, which has a special focus on retirement; but it really hit home a few weeks ago when I was invited to lunch by friends who have recently moved to the Sarasota Bay Club, one of that new breed of luxury retirement high-rises. My companion and I were a generation or so younger than the rest of the guests-one of the many advantages of living in Sarasota is that you can pretend you're part of the younger set even after those first subscription offers from Modern Maturity start arriving in the mail-but we soon realized we were going to need all our energy and then some to keep up with this crowd.

The retirees around the table included an attorney, international manufacturer, college professor, author and opera singer. Several had lived abroad, and they all seemed to read stacks of books, magazines and newspapers. The conversation raced from chocolate-making to corporate accounting to Cuban architecture, and several also mentioned classes they were taking, from French history to Verdi's operas.

There's an entire story just in those classes, I realized later, when, inspired by that luncheon, I attended one of the Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning's lectures. SILL, which was founded in 1970, attracted about 18,000 older Sarasotans to more than 70 lectures and seminars this year. Professors, ambassadors, authors and even several Nobel Laureates spoke on such subjects as composing music in the modern world, new theories of the universe, the human genome, and Afghanistan as viewed by a U.N. ambassador just back from Pakistan. The lecture I attended was about the civil war in Sudan, and every seat in the Players' Theatre was filled with alert, intent listeners. Like the speaker, the man next to me was a former foreign service officer, and he told me that Sarasota is home to more retired diplomats and ambassadors than any city outside of Washington, D.C.

As an independent, all-volunteer organization, SILL may be unique in the United States in size and scope, but it's not the only educational venue for senior citizens in Sarasota. Older students also enroll in classes at the Pierian Springs Academy, the Education Center on Longboat Key and many other venues. At the Community Music School, for example, a retired city planner with a rich baritone voice decided to realize his lifelong dream of singing in public, and after a series of lessons recently wowed them at a family wedding. And well into her 90s, the late Francoise Stravinsky (daughter-in-law of the famed Igor Stravinsky) polished her piano technique there as well.

Brainy and cultured as they may be, Sarasota seniors also like to play, which is why we asked sports writer Ron Kozlowski to check out the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. The academy is one of the many sports programs at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, which trains weekend warriors along with famous pros. Greg Norman and Nick Faldo have honed their game at Leadbetter, and Kozlowski says he tore down and rebuilt his golf swing during his three days there. A duffer of any age can't ask for much more than that.

It takes good health to do all that our retirees do, so our issue also includes a story about the best doctors in town. In partnership with Best Doctors in America, we've published a directory of Sarasota's top doctors along with some advice on finding the physician-or second opinion-that's best for you.

With age comes wisdom, and for some exceptional women, enduring style as well. Our editors chose five women who exemplify the elegance and polish that experience can bring, and we photographed them in the building that epitomizes what's grandest and most gracious about Sarasota-the newly restored Cà d'Zan. After spending an afternoon with these ladies, everyone on the shoot had fallen in love with them. "They were so elegant, so full of life and so classy," sighed event coordinator Jocelyn Stevens. "We all discussed which one we wanted to one day become, but it was impossible to choose just one."

And for at least one of the ladies, the afternoon evoked similarly intense emotions. When Lelia Windom was named the "Most Popular" and "Best Looking" senior at Sarasota High, she and the other class notables were photographed at Cà d'Zan. That was before the state had taken possession of the mansion, when it had started to fall into disrepair. After all these years, to be photographed there again on the eve of its grand re-opening, was, she wrote to us, "a strange and wonderful experience."

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