Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Act 2 Lancaster: Ranked first nationwide for retirement, the Red Rose City offers seniors fun, opportunities, second careers.

Ann Willets landed in Lancaster almost by accident.

Willets worked for years as a new product engineer for a large tech company in her home state of North Carolina. After a successful career, her company merged with another, and she lost her job.

“I talked with a friend who also had been downsized,” Willets said. “We agreed to start a bed and breakfast.”

And just like that, a second career was born. But where?

Her partner had grown up in New England, so they drew a line halfway between. Willets had been in Lancaster a few years before and enjoyed the area, and her partner liked the Amish environment and country living. So, the pair found the perfect B&B, King’s Cottage, just east of the downtown.

“We toured the city picking out the best restaurants, galleries and shops so we could provide tips to our customers,” Willets said. “We sold our customers, as well as ourselves, on this being a great place to live.”

And thus began Willets’ “retirement” job. Evidently, she did so in the perfect place.

Lancaster is the best place in the nation to retire, according to a recent ranking in U.S. News & World Report. The news magazine considered six factors: housing affordability, desirability, retiree taxes, happiness, job market and access to quality health care.

Maureen Leader sees many retirees each year in her position as public relations and communications manager at Willow Valley Communities, a 55-plus community just south of the city.

“Just because you are retired from paid work does not mean you are retired from life,” Leader said. “Our residents engage in a full life on our campus and in nearby Lancaster.”

Armand Weller, a minister, spent 17 years with a church in Florida before he retired seven years ago. Both he and his wife missed the beauty of Lancaster County and didn’t like the heat of Florida or the constant threat of hurricanes. So, they headed back north.

“My biggest fear was that I would retire, then after two weeks, go crazy from boredom,” Weller said.

That definitely didn’t happen. Like Willets, he found an unexpected second career.

Weller volunteered at a welcome center outside of Lancaster, where he was invited to fill in at a photo shoot. One of the models asked which agency he belonged to. That night, after talking to his wife and daughter, he decided to contact an agency.

“I called and, two months later, I had my first modeling job,” Weller said. “Now, I’m doing commercials, a documentary brochure and advertisements. For me, Lancaster has all of the excitement of bigger cities such as Philadelphia and New York without the traffic and crime.”

Ross Fairweather attended school in the Philadelphia area, then moved to Raleigh, N.C., as a sales representative for IBM. She was delighted to be selected to build a call center in Atlanta supporting sales of all products, from PCs to mainframes.

“After a 36-year career, I was caught in a downsizing operation, so moved back to the Philadelphia area before being laid off,” Fairweather said. “Tired of home ownership, I moved into an over-55 community in Lancaster because it had residents from a diversity of states.”

Fairweather joined a local church, which operated a breakfast program for students. Her involvement led the church to ask her to be the volunteer coordinator at a local school to recruit mentors for students, a program that continues to grow.

“I love the city.” Fairweather said. “Plus, I feel helping needy families is my calling.”

Betty Price has been in service nearly all her life.

After finishing college, she joined the Air Force, eventually obtaining a master’s degree in East Asian studies, which resulted in a career in military intelligence. As an intelligence officer, she served in a wide variety of duty stations, including the Pentagon and Korea.

When she retired from the Air Force, Price worked for MITRE Corp., a defense contractor. During this time, she moved to an over-55 community in Loudoun County, Va., and started her own company as a personal trainer.

“Washington, D.C., is an exciting place,” Price said. “But to get to the things I like, such as wonderful galleries or the Kennedy Center, I needed to fight traffic or take the Metro.”

So, she moved to Lancaster to retire, slow down the pace of life and pursue other opportunities.

What’s the secret to Lancaster’s No. 1 ranking? It seems to be a combination of urban living, historical charm, plenty of parks, lots of culture and nightlife and a chance to do something entirely new later in life.

“I love Lancaster because, like D.C., it has restaurants, art galleries and theaters, but all within a few minutes commute,” Price said.

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