As far as Charles McDowell, 58, is concerned, there aren’t many places where a person can get the best of a big city—like world-class concerts and top-notch health care—and still be in a very small town: “When we go shopping at the Farmers’ Market, it’s not just a great place to get food, it’s a big social outlet—I can see 30 or 40 people I know in a few hours.”
So when he and his wife, Candace, 57, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Multicultural Student Center, started planning for retirement, the decision to stay in town was an easy one. Charles loves that it’s an easy walk to shopping and health clubs, and that there are four golf courses within ten minutes of his house. And between the university and civic groups, meaningful volunteer opportunities are everywhere.
Madison has worked hard to earn its reputation as a green—and healthy—city. An extensive bus system cuts down on congestion and air pollution, and the bike trails are numerous and well maintained (when it snows, bike paths are plowed at 4:00 a.m.). In warmer weather, kayaks, canoes, and sailboats dot the local lakes; in winter, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and ice-boating are popular.
Nor is it surprising that Madison—known for its cutting-edge environmental and urban-planning policies (it had the nation’s first curbside newspaper-recycling program, back in 1968)—is embracing retirement issues with the same enthusiasm. For example, the Madison Senior Center recently received a prestigious research grant to study ways in which boomer volunteers can best work with older adults, says Margie Groom, program coordinator.
Certainly some of the credit for that goes to the University of Wisconsin, whose presence is a primary reason people choose to retire here: those 60 and older can audit many of the courses on campus for free. But one of Madison’s key strengths is that it’s more than just a college town. It was named Wisconsin’s capital long before the university was born, and the handsome granite capitol building continues to be the city’s centerpiece.