A Snowbird’s Tale

By Harold Miller
Email: hmiller@mcsmms.com

Juno Beach, Fla.
Juno Beach, Fla.

T’was Christmas holiday in 1972 that my wife Janet and I packed all five of our kids in our Oldsmobile station wagon (yesteryear’s SUV) and headed south to visit Mickey and Minnie. Disney World had just opened its theme park doors to a fantastic success that would eventually turn Florida from a rich man’s winter hideaway to everyman’s winter vacation spot and retirement retreat.

Our Florida trip was not only to visit Disney World, but to visit my brother-in-law, Dick Hirsh, and his family, who had recently purchased a condominium in the sleepy little town of Juno Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, just north of Palm Beach.

We spent Christmas Day at Juno by the Sea with the Hirshes at their beautiful apartment overlooking the Atlantic beach. Our kids swam in the ocean for the first time and they were entranced. Dick told me that he bought the condominium unit for $36,000 and there were just two more units left. On the way back to the motel where we were staying, I said to Janet, “Why don’t we buy one of the remaining units?” Now, Janet is the conservative partner of our marriage and she reacted as I knew she would: “We can’t afford to do that,” she said. I had played an ace-in-the-hole with five kids in the back seats shouting, “Yes, we can, Mom — yes, we can.”

Janet melted and we went back the next day and bought our vacation home on the beach in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

South Florida has an ideal climate for snowbirds. During the winter season, from December through February, the average air temperature in sub-tropical southern Florida is 75 degrees. Likewise the surf temperature also averages 75 degrees. The tropical desert winds that blow off Africa’s coastline drive the Gulf Stream all the way to the southern tip of Florida where it dutifully pivots north and runs offshore up the peninsula. Fortunately, the Gulf Stream is the closest to the shoreline in the Palm Beach area. The entire Florida peninsula is much like an outsized sand bar with a layer of (barely) potable water separating the salt water below from the sand above. The highest elevation in the entire state is but 700 feet above sea level.

The advent of Disney World and a few other theme parks nearly 50 years ago created a building boom — and except for a couple of pauses in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century — the building boom continues unabated to this day. The condominium we bought in 1972 for $36,000 (and subsequently sold) is worth over half a million dollars today.

What’s it like retiring to Florida for six months a year or permanently?

“As a result of low taxes, almost perfect climate and a retirement-friendly government, the Sunshine State now displaces New York state as third largest in the USA.”

Well, for one thing, you will have a lot of company. A healthy percentage of Auburn retirees spend winters here (yes, I’m writing this from my southern residence). A shocking statistic from the Wall St. Journal reports that six out of 10 people move from our beloved New York state when they retire and most of them land in Florida. In case you haven’t guessed the reason — it’s the high taxes in New York state and the low taxes in Florida. As a result of low taxes, almost perfect climate and a retirement-friendly government, the Sunshine State now displaces New York state as third largest in the USA.

The overriding reason to spend winters in Florida is to be out in the fresh air and exercising virtually every day of the year.

As you reach your senior years, most people are reluctant to fight the snow and ice to walk and exercise outside. It’s a lot easier to light up the fireplace and spend your days in a rocking chair watching TV. But statistics prove that if you exercise every day you will add at least 10 years to your life (of course the statistics come from the Florida Chamber of Commerce).

In any event, the sun, salt air and beautiful surroundings will be good for both your physical and mental health — and I can guarantee that.