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Seniors And Senior Citizens: Spring Break In Lake Havasu, Arizona

What do you get when you cross raucous college co-eds and retirees? March in Lake Havasu.

As students from across the country descend on the western Arizona community of 53,000, they overlap with the city’s other annual visitors: senior citizens from northern states and Canada.

These self-proclaimed snowbirds flock to Lake Havasu for its blue skies, comfortable winter temperatures, and outdoor adventures.

Just ask 80-year-old Winnipeger Peter Milinkovic. In addition to taking his boat out on the lake to fish, he looks forward to the parties. “The parties are really good,” he said. “Especially this month, there’ll be parties every second day.”

He, and the thousands of other snowbirds that spend their winters in Lake Havasu City, are retiring differently. Many of them have replaced shuffleboard with motorcycles, bridge club with the London Bridge, and mall walking with hiking.

Claire and Gary Garske, a couple in their early sixties from North Dakota, spend much of their winters at Sam’s Beachcomber RV Resort. In addition to their RV, Gary brings his motorcycle and model planes.

“I can fly, golf — there always seems like there’s somebody here coming down from our hometown so we get visitors every once in a while,” Gary Garske said. “We don’t run out of things to do.”

Spending their retirement in an RV park forces them to be social, compared to retiring in a house in the city.

“There’s always people, people going by, people stopping to talk,” Claire Garske said. “In a house, you don’t have that community thing.”

As Baby Boomers get older, they’re continuing the active lifestyles they’ve always lived. Lake Havasu’s Convention and Visitors Bureau President Terence Concannon said the relative prosperity they’ve grown up with has helped.

“For the most part, they have a more fluid income and more options as to how to spend that income,” he said. “When retirees choose Havasu, we find people who are engaged in their community, have a really good sense of themselves, and people who really love the lifestyle of Havasu.”

One park resident said she’s much better off than her parents, because she can afford to spend her days relaxing.

“When retirees choose Havasu, we find people who are engaged in their community, have a really good sense of themselves, and people who really love the lifestyle of Havasu.” — Terence Concannon

“My parents couldn’t afford to retire,” she said. “Maybe a holiday to Hawaii, but that was it.”

Jeff Marlar, the general manager of the Beachcomber RV Resort, agrees.

“A lot of it [is] the economy,” he said. “These people have been coming here for years — 15, 20, 25 years. As long as they can come, they will.”

His wife, Debbie Marlar, is the park’s office manager. And she’s noticed the crowd of retirees getting younger every year. “Before it used to be (people in their) 60s, 70s, 80s,” she said. “And today we find some retirees in their 50s. A lot more in their 50s.”

The RV park’s activity calendar is full of activities that you might see on a college’s club catalog.

“Every Monday they go on hikes, every Thursday they meet here and go four wheeling,” said Debbie. Yoga, meditation, beach parties, and poker round out the days.

According to many of the park residents, their retirement is much more active than their parents. Claire Garske’s parents owned a farm in North Dakota, and spent their retirement winters in Fargo.

“They weren’t full of hobbies,” she said.

But Claire and her husband are full of hobbies.

“One of the things we first did, we took off on a motorcycle, put a small trailer with a pop-up camper behind it, and went to Alaska,” Gary Garske said. “Every year we went someplace on that too in the summertime. We keep active.”

Although they’re not taking shots of liquor with the other seniors on the beach, these retirees are treating every day like spring break. “[They’re] 60-, 70-, 80-year-old kids,” Claire said.

“Retirement is what you make it,” she said. “You can sit on the couch, or you can go somewhere, do something.”