Lenny and Shirley Wichmann served with the Peace Corps in Africa, lived in Germany for two years, enjoyed Switzerland’s café lifestyle and traveled to 21 countries. He’s from Chicago, she’s a Boston native — and they chose Greenville for their retirement.
“In the ’70s,” Lenny says of their adopted hometown, “it wasn’t much. It started getting better in the ’80s, and now it’s incredible what’s available here.”
The Wichmanns are among nearly 84,000 seniors in Greenville County, according to 2019 federal Census Bureau estimates. Of the county’s roughly 523,000 residents, those 65 and older account for about 16%, the agency says, up nearly 3 percentage points since 2012, a Greenville County report shows.
The couple, married 50 years, moved to Greenville in 1975, though they left for five years in the early 1980s. “We wanted something else,” Lenny says. So they worked in group homes in Texas and Ohio — until Greenville lured them back.
“To me, retirement is retiring from obligation, so you can do whatever you want to do, and you want to be in a place that offers an awful lot of opportunities,” says Lenny, who went skydiving in Chester County when he was 65.
Both applaud Greenville’s abundant cultural and recreational choices, as well as lifelong-learning opportunities, namely the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Furman University.
They also participate actively in Senior Action, a nonprofit organization with some 5,000 members in eight centers throughout the county. Programs include everything from drum circles to wellness programs, from arts to technology classes — even a lawn-mowing service for older adults.
Senior Action, with a $5 million annual budget, could serve as something of a barometer for Greenville’s growth in grayness.
This spring, Senior Action will relocate to a $7.6 million facility, more than double the size of its current 15,000-square-foot center, which opened in 2007. The new site will feature a conference center that seats 400 — up from 100 now — and its first-ever Fine Arts Center.
“They hunger for a good, creative variety of programs,” says Andrea Smith, CEO and executive director. “People want to stay healthy. They want to stay active, and it’s been proven in the growth that we’ve experienced over the past 14 years since I’ve been here.”
Nancy Kennedy has been Furman’s OLLI director since 2014. Some 2,600 participants enroll in hundreds of courses, such as Cooking with Herbs, 19th-century French Photographers and Beginning Poker, in addition to art, music and language offerings.
“They come to classes and they make friends, and then they’re going to lunch and then, ‘Oh, my goodness, you should join my hiking group,’ and it just sort of snowballs,” she says.
Hansen shares some of 2020’s findings: Furman’s OLLI program ranks among the Top 10 of Osher’s 124 others nationwide; the study dialed into 14 of them. Of 5,000 retired professionals interviewed, including some in Furman’s OLLI, the survey found that an average of 25% relocated within the last nine years. Furman recorded the highest level nationwide, with 42% reporting they relocated to Greenville within nine years.
“You could say confidently that measures like this indicate that this is a very desirable place to relocate,” he says.
He and his wife, Pat, retired here 14 years ago from Pensacola, Florida. Married 54 years, they chose Greenville in part because their daughter and grandchildren live in the Augusta, Georgia, area, and he had joined an advisory board at Clemson University.
“We recognized from living in Pensacola how hard it is for a city to make a transition from one era to another and do that well, and Greenville was clearly doing that extremely well,” he says.
Joining a chorus of others, he says he also appreciates the climate: “We had enough experience with hurricanes that we wanted to live in a place that wasn’t a weather challenge every year.”
Mary Lou Merkt, president and CEO of The Woodlands at Furman, a retirement community of 300 residents just off the Swamp Rabbit Trail, says she hears that a lot, too — among the usual litany of Greenville’s award-winning amenities.
The night before her Greenville Journal interview, she wandered around downtown with a group of 70-plus-year-olds, who mingled with 20-somethings.
“There’s something for everyone that appeals to both groups,” she says, noting that her seniors also tell her of their city: “‘I don’t feel out of place. It’s just the right size that’s not intimidating but very inviting.’” (They also mention the convenient parking, she says.)
As another yardstick of Greenville’s draw for the older set, the nonprofit Woodlands last year completed 28 villas, and 44 apartments are coming soon. Residents’ average age has dropped from 80 to 76, marketing director Angela Hacker says.
Summing things up, Shirley Wichmann says: “There’s so much going on, you can never be bored unless you’re a boring person. We’re just enthralled with this place.”
Yet Another Top 10 Ranking for Greenville
Greenville ranked 10th in SmartAsset’s “The Best Places for Retirees to Live and Work in 2020,” a survey of 525 U.S. cities with a population of at least 65,000 people.
“Both sports fans and art lovers have plenty to do here,” the August report says, giving a shoutout to the Greenville Drive and the Greenville County Museum of Art.
The survey examined such matrices as the over-60 population; seniors’ unemployment rate; housing costs as a percentage of retirement income; estimated tax burden for seniors; crime rates; and access to important amenities, namely retirement communities and medical centers.
Housing costs accounted for nearly 25% of Greenville seniors’ retirement income — the nation’s 87th lowest, the report says, with the estimated tax burden slightly above 14%.
South Carolina doesn’t tax Social Security retirement benefits, SmartAsset says, and the state provides a $15,000 deduction for seniors with any other type of retirement income.
According to SmartAsset’s estimated tax calculator, a South Carolina resident with $15,000 in annual Social Security payments and $25,000 in yearly retirement account income — for a total of $40,000 a year — owes nothing in state taxes.
In the survey, Greenville placed just behind Delray Beach, Florida, one of the five Sunshine State cities in the Top 10.
Let’s Get Physical
The number of fitness centers available at low or no cost to eligible seniors through Medicare plans is roughly on par with the total of Starbucks locations nationwide. Want a mocha latte or a lotta motion?
Medicare plans that include programs such as Silver Sneakers, Renew Active and Silver&Fit offer their members access to more than 17,000 fitness centers, from name-brand, for-profit sweatshops to community nonprofit organizations. Locally, those include Kroc Center Greenville, Caine Halter Family YMCA and Senior Action, according to SilverSneakers’ location search.
Silver&Fit offers its “Healthy Aging and Exercise Program” to “eligible Medicare Advantage/Supplement beneficiaries and group retirees.” Members can access vast libraries of workout videos, along with countless in-person, online and on-demand classes, from cardio to Zumba, yoga to circuit training — all tailored to the silver set.
For eligibility and information about member benefits, visit:
Spotlight on Senior Action’s Soon-to-Open Facility
• Conference Center with seating for up to 400 people
• Expanded fitness and exercise space
• New Fine Arts Center with music, art, and movement studios (made possible by a gift from Greenville Women Giving)
Source: Senior Action
The Greenville area is home to several so-called active-adult communities, subdivisions exclusively for homeowners 55 and up. Here is a small sample:
- Swansgate, Greenville: 165 single-family homes and 24 condo units; clubhouse, swimming pool, pond, walking and bicycling trails.
- Cross Creek Cottages, Seneca: 32 homes in a neighborhood on the 18-hole Cross Creek Golf Club; 15,000-square-foot clubhouse, swimming pool.
- The Ravines at Spring Mill, Greer: Attached homes; community clubhouse with fitness center; heated pool.