MURRAY, Ky. — If this western Kentucky town of 15,000 had been made up, you might have trouble believing it: People don't lock their doors. The last homicide occurred 12 years ago. Last year there were just six robberies. And surrounding Calloway County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.4%.
The editors of the new book, "Retirement Places Rated" (Rand McNally: $12.95), hardly made up Murray. But for those reasons and others they ranked the town and the wooded rolling hill country around Kentucky Lake at the top of their list of the 131 most popular retirement locations in the nation.
The competition was based on cost of living, climate, personal safety, services, health care, continuing education, housing, taxes and leisure living.
But don't look for retirement villages, senior-citizen condominiums and trailer-park complexes in Murray. They're not here. Instead, it's a thriving area that has drawn younger as well as older residents from other parts of the country.
Bill Wells, 42, for instance, is principal of the local high school. He moved here in 1982 from Greenville, Ill., "because of the educational opportunities for my children and the many pluses of this area."
80% Go to College
Eighty percent of the graduates of Murray High go on to college, he noted, compared with a national average of 45%.
Loretta Jobs, 48, owner and principal broker of the Century 21 realty office here, said the average price of a 2,000-square-foot, brick, three-bedroom, two-bath, double-garage home in Murray is $50,000 to $60,000. The houses are all on half-acre to one-acre lots.
"We are centrally located," Jobs added, "45 minutes to a large mall in Paducah, two hours to Nashville, a four-hour drive to St. Louis and eight hours to Chicago."
Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley and the 170,000-acre undeveloped wildlife park between the two artificial lakes are managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. It is prime recreation area with 300 miles of unspoiled shoreline dotted with beaches, 200 miles of hiking trails, marinas and campgrounds. And there are a number of golf courses.
While all of that goes on in town, things in the rural area are pretty quiet.
"Noise here is when a squirrel jumps off a tree or when the mail man comes at noon," said Dolly Lorenz, 72, who lives with her husband, Ralph, 77, deep in the woods on the western shore of Kentucky Lake.
Searched Coast to Coast
They built their 10-room home on a 1 1/2-acre wood lot on the shore of Kentucky Lake 15 years ago after moving here from Decatur, Ill. They had traveled coast to coast looking for the ideal retirement place.
"The land cost $3,000, the house $28,000," said Ralph Lorenz, a retired vice president of a small trucking firm. "We added two rooms three years ago."
"Sure we're out in the country, but we certainly don't lack for things to do," Dolly Lorenz said. "Classes and plays at Murray State University, square dancing, card groups, church activity, walking in the woods, boating and fishing on the lake . . . ."
Murray State University, with an enrollment of 7,000 students, offers one free course a semester to retirees. It also offers an outstanding curriculum, concerts, lectures, theatrical, art and sports programs.
Other retirees live in homes that would cost three to four times as much in other areas--and even more than that in Los Angeles. They are scattered throughout Murray and in tiny towns and rural areas of Calloway and Marshall counties and along the western shore of 40-mile-long Kentucky Lake.
"Surprisingly, the best place to retire is not California, Florida or anywhere else in the Sun Belt," noted David Savageau, who co-authored the Rand McNally report with Richard Boyer.
Moved From Michigan
Leslie Moore, 81, and his wife, Mary, 68, neighbors of the Lorenzes, agree. They moved to Miami from Michigan 30 years ago.
"We thought Miami was the greatest place on Earth to spend the rest of our lives," Mary Moore said. "But Miami has changed. It's too crowded. We didn't like the climate." In Murray, summertime temperatures are in the low to mid-80s.
Leslie Moore is a retired Ford Motor Co. employee. Mary Moore is a retired schoolteacher. In 1960 they bought their 278-acre farm for $13,000 as an investment. The farm is 12 miles from Murray and not far from Kentucky Lake and the Land Between the Lakes.
They moved to the farm from Miami in 1979 and for a few thousand dollars renovated the old farmhouse. The Moores raise a little tobacco, but, for the most part, the farm, surrounded by a forest, is not worked.
The Lorenzes and the Moores are concerned about the attention focused on their area by the 219-page Rand McNally report.
"We'd like for it to stay as it is. If a lot of people move in, our life style will change," Mary Moore said.
Gary White, 39, and his wife, Kimberly, 34, are among the younger transplants. They and their three children moved here recently from San Juan Capistrano, Calif.