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In Full Pursuit of the Good Life

ELDERLY HOUSING IN THE '90S: Third of four stories on the most popular housing options for the elderly.


Nan and Don Gholson live in the village of Mykonos, where curving streets have romantic Greek names and bougainvillea blossoms spill over white stuccoed walls of tiny villas.

It is one of six neighborhoods at Leisure Village Ocean Hills in Oceanside, where active adults, 55 and over, live and play in a setting that emulates the hill towns by the Aegean sea.

"We love the surroundings, the amenities, the security, and we've developed a bonding with fellow residents, many of whom are retired chairmen of the board, heavy-duty scientists, stuntmen, actors, orchestra leaders," Don Gholson said. "It's fascinating to watch how they operate.

"What you purchase here is a lifestyle. It's where the good life is even better," he said, quoting the community's slogan to make his point. "The house itself could have been built for around $50,000."

Targeted to affluent couples and single seniors, homes sell from about $240,000 to $350,000, in addition to monthly homeowners' association fees varying from $185 to $250 a month.

Don Gholson occupies the upper floor of their two-story duplex, while Nan's domain is the ground floor, a preference dictated by occasional bouts with arthritis. Tasteful furnishings throughout the home reflect the couple's keen interest in Oriental art and a love of music and sailing.

"We're only a short walk from the country club," said Nan, referring to the community's 27,000-square-foot recreation center, which Don likens to a cafeteria:

"You name it, they've got it--a Wall Street clubroom, a chamber music room, arts and crafts studios, a billiards parlor, photo printing lab, concert hall, a medical emergency room and a library outfitted with the cabinets and shelving of a 19th-Century French apothecary.

"I've discovered golf, something I'd never tried before," Don said. "But the real bonus is in having one's own 18-hole golf course and not having to pay to play. There's also tennis, boccie, croquet and aquatic sports in an Olympic-size pool that Nan regularly enjoys."

The Gholsons, both in their 60s, moved to Ocean Hills six years ago from Kansas City, Mo., where they had lived in a sprawling 3,000-square-foot, log-and-rock home on two acres by a lake.

"We really looked forward to our retirement years on the West Coast, where all three of our children now live. There'd be no more shoveling snow in the winter or mowing the lawn in the summer," said Don, a former research chemist and government quality-control regulator.

"We wanted to be in in a very special place that would justify leaving behind familiar places, parting with neighbors who had grown close over the years, severing community ties and clearing out a lifelong accumulation of mementos," Nan said.

Don, an accomplished sailor, would miss the familiar shoreline where he had sailed his Nanny boat for so many years. He has since taken a course to qualify as an ocean sailor. And Nan would find it hard to leave her satisfying work training docents at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

"For a while, I found myself equating retirement with no longer being part of the 'now' world," she said, recalling the need to reassure one another, as the couple left Kansas City, that they were embarking on a big adventure.

"The first culture shock hit us when we learned that home prices in the Southland were beyond anything we had imagined. Homes similar to ours were selling for more than $1 million.

"We looked at various retirement communities all the way from Dana Point to La Jolla, before deciding on Ocean Hills," Don said.

"I happen to like music and art," Nan said, "so I'm quite involved in the fund-raising that brings in high-quality concert performances to Ocean Hills. Don is an active member of a sailing club, chess club and plays golf regularly."

The Gholsons admit there's one thing about living in a retirement community that is hard to get used to.

"There are so many deaths. At the same time, everyone is so supportive when it happens," Nan said. "We value the fact that we both are still active and in good health."

Don added: "Our calendar is solid. Even our children have learned not to drop in on us without warning.

"Of course, we love being with them, but they have their lives and we have ours. Company is like fresh fish. You don't want to keep them around too long," he said with a wink.

"I guess we lead a pretty selfish lifestyle. At our age we enjoy being pampered. We deserve it."

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