National Geographic : 2004 Jul
NALCREST, FLORIDA maintenance crew, and Oppermann, also known as the Rabbit, was the designated runner for several of his teammates. ("We can't expect these guys to run the bases;' he says. "Some of them have bad knees, and one guy is 83 years old.") The team is sponsored by Johnson's Funeral Home, perhaps because it's good civics-and perhaps because it's good busi ness. After all, notes 15-year-resident Mable Latulip, "They call Nalcrest God's waiting room." It's a familiar joke in any retirement community. But this isn't just any retirement community: Nalcrest stands out as an oddity, a town built for union retirees. The NALC in its name stands for the National Associa tion of Letter Carriers, the union for city letter carriers whose longtime president William C. Doherty lobbied for years to turn 300 acres of unin spiring central Florida real estate into a four-million-dollar retirement community. Doherty turned the first shovel of dirt in 1962 and became one of the 500-apartment complex's first residents several years later. Sure, the community's Lake Weohyakapka had an Air Force bombing range at one end, not to mention alligators. And what if it's so hot in the summer you can barely stand still on the shuffleboard courts? With an efficiency renting for under $75 in 1964, Nalcrest was nirvana for postal retirees. It remains a bargain: A one-bedroom rents for only $305, and dinners at Jay Bee's II, the town's only restaurant, average $6. The natural surroundings attract as many people as the low prices and warm weather. With half the land still undeveloped, Nalcrest is as much a nature preserve as a town. Hawks soar overhead, sandhill cranes stroll through town and peck at their reflections in windows, and "owls are the size of fire hydrants," says Kane. And contrary to what you might expect from a community of Cliff Clavens, no one sits around reminiscing about Sears-catalog-induced hernias or half-mile sprints just ahead of an angry rottweiler. They're too busy with the stereotypical senior activities-bingo, bowling, art class. It's a lot like being in college (no jobs, few responsibilities, lots of parties) without the midterms. Just ask George and Mae Bill Ryan (above right) says Nalcrest isShangrl-la: "We're just regular blue collar guys and gals having the time of our lives." Some opt for the open road: George Glascock (above left) cruises on his BMW motorcycle, while Marion Bozman (above center) bikes four-plus miles a day. Others find fun Indoors. At the Homecrafters and Service Guild, women make wreaths from plas tic bags (below right). Gossip flows at the Ameri can Legion Auxiliary (below center), and spirits rise at the Literary Club and Choral Society' weekly meeting (below left).