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Changing demographics alter economic landscape

Kenai Peninsula attracts growing number of seniors

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Favorable economics, a desire to be with family and the quality of life are all reasons more and more people are choosing the Kenai Peninsula as home in their later years.

Between 1990 and 2000, age groups showing the largest percentage of growth in the Kenai Peninsula Borough included 85 years and older, 167 percent; 75-84, 157 percent; 45-54, 107 percent; and 55 to 59, 91 percent, according to a report of key economic indicators, compiled by Jeanne Camp, borough economic analyst.

On the other hand, the age groups showing a decline over the same period were 25-34, down 23 percent; under 5 years, down 15 percent; and 5-9 years, down 0.9 percent.

One of the primary reasons seniors are retiring here is family, said Dennis Murray, administrator of the Heritage Place nursing facility in Soldotna. Ninety-five percent of the facility's residents are seniors.

Many people came to Alaska during World War II when they were in their 20s, according to Murray. They raised their families here and now those pioneers are in their 80s, staying here to be with those families.

Other attractive features on the peninsula for seniors are "the very dynamic, beautiful senior centers," the cost of housing and overall cost of living, a desire for the slower pace of a smaller community and certain tax exemptions offered to those over 65, said Murray.

"Our medical community is growing, also," said Murray.

"Six or seven years ago, we had one internist -- a specialty many seniors need. Now we have six."

"One problem with expansion, though, is not having an adequately trained work force," Murray said.

For that reason, Heritage Place is partnering with Kenai Peninsula College, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and Central Peninsula General Hospital to do certified nursing assistant training. Heritage Place also is involved with the college for registered nurse training.

"Currently, we have 13 students who will graduate in May," Murray said.

"We hope they stay here."

Rachel Craig, director of the Kenai Senior Citizens Center, also believes seniors are choosing to retire on the peninsula because of family.

"A lot of seniors are not moving Outside because their families are here," she said.

"And we have many people here whose parents are moving up to be with their families."

As with senior citizen centers throughout the peninsula, the Kenai center offers low-cost, nutritious meals to its senior members Monday through Friday, in addition to numerous arts and crafts and social activities for those over 60.

If seniors want to join the Senior Connection there, they may do so by paying a voluntary membership fee of $5 a month.

Recreational opportunities are another draw for seniors to the peninsula, according to Judy Warren, director of the Sterling Senior Center.

"We have a lot of retirees out of Anchorage," she said.

"They seek the many recreational opportunities here and a lot of them are of an income level that allows them to have a retirement home here and another in the Lower 48 for three months of the year," Warren said.

She said many choose the Sterling community because housing is priced lower and the real estate tax base is lower than in Anchorage. People over 65 also enjoy a tax exemption on up to $150,000 of their property, she said.

Weather is chief among drawbacks to retiring here, said Warren.

"The winters are icy and dark, and many seniors don't like driving at night. It's difficult for them to see," she said. "The weather also keeps them too confined."

Seniors over 55 years old are invited to join the Sterling center for a nominal $15 annual fee.

In addition to the daily meal service, crafts and social activities offered by many peninsula senior centers, members may receive help with various office services including paperwork, notary service and fax service. Centers may also be affiliated with Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, enabling members to join that institution as well.

Senior centers also provide transportation services and offer the free loan of books and movies to members.

"Alaska is the second fastest growing senior population in the United States," said Jan Fena, director of the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center. "Nevada is number one."

"The quality of life Alaska offers is the number one thing (seniors) look at," she said.

According to Fena, more than 900 seniors live in the Soldotna area and, according to the Alaska Commission on Aging, the senior population has grown 103 percent in the last 10 years and is expected to grow 246 percent by 2025.

Fena said many seniors visit the area from the Lower 48 and like the idea of the smaller community that the area offers. The same holds true for those who retire here from Anchorage.

"Pioneers choose to retire here because of the services that are offered and because of the community connection," Fena said.

She said another attribute drawing seniors is the hospital, which now offers specialties seniors need, including a full range of imaging and MRI equipment.

The Soldotna Senior Citizens Center also looks out for the health needs of its members by offering periodic clinics for eye and ear exams, flu shots, pneumonia screening and tetanus shots.

Other benefits seniors enjoy when retiring here, according to Fena, include exempt license plates for one vehicle, free fishing licenses and heating-bill assistance. She said seniors qualify for many Alaska benefits at age 60, and they can become members of the senior center at 55 for $20 a year, but seniors are not required to be members to visit the center.

Housing designed with the needs of senior citizens in mind is one item that is somewhat lacking on the Kenai Peninsula, according to Heritage Place's Murray.

But the general manager of Blazy Construction, Kelly Keating, and his wife, Gerri Litzenberger, have begun a pilot project that may soon correct that deficiency.

The couple is building four townhouse units in Soldotna with seniors in mind.

Each unit is completely on the ground floor and features extra-wide doors for easy entry by people in wheelchairs, accessible showers, handicap-friendly toilets and kitchens that meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We hope to get them in the ground this spring," said Keating.

"And, if all goes well, we might look at acquiring some land through Blazy Construction for more development."

CREDIT:Photo by M. Scott Moon

CAPTION:Volunteers at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center sort donated boots before they were delivered to local schools last fall.

BYLINE1:By PHIL HERMANEK

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

Favorable economics, a desire to be with family and the quality of life are all reasons more and more people are choosing the Kenai Peninsula as home in their later years.

Between 1990 and 2000, age groups showing the largest percentage of growth in the Kenai Peninsula Borough included 85 years and older, 167 percent; 75-84, 157 percent; 45-54, 107 percent; and 55 to 59, 91 percent, according to a report of key economic indicators, compiled by Jeanne Camp, borough economic analyst.

On the other hand, the age groups showing a decline over the same period were 25-34, down 23 percent; under 5 years, down 15 percent; and 5-9 years, down 0.9 percent.

One of the primary reasons seniors are retiring here is family, said Dennis Murray, administrator of the Heritage Place nursing facility in Soldotna. Ninety-five percent of the facility's residents are seniors.

Many people came to Alaska during World War II when they were in their 20s, according to Murray. They raised their families here and now those pioneers are in their 80s, staying here to be with those families.

Other attractive features on the peninsula for seniors are "the very dynamic, beautiful senior centers," the cost of housing and overall cost of living, a desire for the slower pace of a smaller community and certain tax exemptions offered to those over 65, said Murray.

"Our medical community is growing, also," said Murray.

"Six or seven years ago, we had one internist -- a specialty many seniors need. Now we have six."

"One problem with expansion, though, is not having an adequately trained work force," Murray said.

For that reason, Heritage Place is partnering with Kenai Peninsula College, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and Central Peninsula General Hospital to do certified nursing assistant training. Heritage Place also is involved with the college for registered nurse training.

"Currently, we have 13 students who will graduate in May," Murray said.

"We hope they stay here."

Rachel Craig, director of the Kenai Senior Citizens Center, also believes seniors are choosing to retire on the peninsula because of family.

"A lot of seniors are not moving Outside because their families are here," she said.

"And we have many people here whose parents are moving up to be with their families."

As with senior citizen centers throughout the peninsula, the Kenai center offers low-cost, nutritious meals to its senior members Monday through Friday, in addition to numerous arts and crafts and social activities for those over 60.

If seniors want to join the Senior Connection there, they may do so by paying a voluntary membership fee of $5 a month.

Recreational opportunities are another draw for seniors to the peninsula, according to Judy Warren, director of the Sterling Senior Center.

"We have a lot of retirees out of Anchorage," she said.

"They seek the many recreational opportunities here and a lot of them are of an income level that allows them to have a retirement home here and another in the Lower 48 for three months of the year," Warren said.

She said many choose the Sterling community because housing is priced lower and the real estate tax base is lower than in Anchorage. People over 65 also enjoy a tax exemption on up to $150,000 of their property, she said.

Weather is chief among drawbacks to retiring here, said Warren.

"The winters are icy and dark, and many seniors don't like driving at night. It's difficult for them to see," she said. "The weather also keeps them too confined."

Seniors over 55 years old are invited to join the Sterling center for a nominal $15 annual fee.

In addition to the daily meal service, crafts and social activities offered by many peninsula senior centers, members may receive help with various office services including paperwork, notary service and fax service. Centers may also be affiliated with Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, enabling members to join that institution as well.

Senior centers also provide transportation services and offer the free loan of books and movies to members.

"Alaska is the second fastest growing senior population in the United States," said Jan Fena, director of the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center. "Nevada is number one."

"The quality of life Alaska offers is the number one thing (seniors) look at," she said.

According to Fena, more than 900 seniors live in the Soldotna area and, according to the Alaska Commission on Aging, the senior population has grown 103 percent in the last 10 years and is expected to grow 246 percent by 2025.

Fena said many seniors visit the area from the Lower 48 and like the idea of the smaller community that the area offers. The same holds true for those who retire here from Anchorage.

"Pioneers choose to retire here because of the services that are offered and because of the community connection," Fena said.

She said another attribute drawing seniors is the hospital, which now offers specialties seniors need, including a full range of imaging and MRI equipment.

The Soldotna Senior Citizens Center also looks out for the health needs of its members by offering periodic clinics for eye and ear exams, flu shots, pneumonia screening and tetanus shots.

Other benefits seniors enjoy when retiring here, according to Fena, include exempt license plates for one vehicle, free fishing licenses and heating-bill assistance. She said seniors qualify for many Alaska benefits at age 60, and they can become members of the senior center at 55 for $20 a year, but seniors are not required to be members to visit the center.

Housing designed with the needs of senior citizens in mind is one item that is somewhat lacking on the Kenai Peninsula, according to Heritage Place's Murray.

But the general manager of Blazy Construction, Kelly Keating, and his wife, Gerri Litzenberger, have begun a pilot project that may soon correct that deficiency.

The couple is building four townhouse units in Soldotna with seniors in mind.

Each unit is completely on the ground floor and features extra-wide doors for easy entry by people in wheelchairs, accessible showers, handicap-friendly toilets and kitchens that meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We hope to get them in the ground this spring," said Keating.

"And, if all goes well, we might look at acquiring some land through Blazy Construction for more development."



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