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Nothing Leisurely About Camarillo's Leisure Village

The senior community, celebrating its 30th anniversary, is loaded with activities and organizations for its 3,500 residents.

September 18, 2003|Karin Grennan | Special to The Times

Drive through the manned security gate into Camarillo's Leisure Village and you enter a world where every street ends in a cul-de-sac, cats must be on leashes and everything, as resident historian Jack Whalen puts it, is "antiseptically clean."

But while life in Ventura County's largest retirement community may be orderly, it is hardly boring.

Leisure Village, which celebrates its 30th anniversary today, has 62 clubs, for activities ranging from amateur radio to yoga. There are groups for those who want to play bocce ball, learn conversational Hebrew or practice folk dancing.

In addition to the 18-hole golf course, swimming pool and tennis courts, there are vegetable patches for gardeners, grinding and polishing machines for rock hounds and a billiard room for pool sharks.

"If you can't find something that interests you here, there is something wrong with you," said Ruth Resnik, who heads the on-site travel agency and takes water aerobics classes three times a week.

Much of eastern Camarillo was open space in 1973, when Leisure Technology began building the 440-acre senior community off what is now Santa Rosa Road. Today, shopping centers and housing developments surround the Village's 2,136 houses, where 3,500 seniors are in residence.

"We knew everybody and it was sort of cozy, family-like," Charlotte Romero, a former school secretary who moved into the Village in October 1973, said of the early days.

To buy a home at the Village, at least one member of a household must be 55, with the remaining residents 45 or older. Many are much older -- the average age is 76.

The 1,000- to 2,000-square-foot homes sell for $200,000 to $400,000, according to Recreation Facilities Manager Susan Rockwell. Villagers also pay $250 to $350 a month in Village fees, said General Manager Randy Watkins.

Many seniors move to the Village for safety reasons. Security officers patrol 24 hours a day. They are trained in CPR, carry defibrillators in their cars and respond in less than a minute to calls for help, Watkins said. An ambulance service is just outside the gate, and a fire station is 500 feet away.

Death is a common occurrence because many people live out their final years here, but those who refer to the community as "Seizure Village" miss the mark, residents said.

"Around here, there are people who are healthier and more physically fit than young people," Romero said. "You go to the swimming pool and you see all these people swimming 50 laps, you go to the gym and you see people out for an hour or more."

Volunteering is a way of life for many of the residents. Members of the Woodshop Committee fix neighbors' chairs and picture frames, and Computer Club mentors make house calls for those with technical problems.

Residents take their volunteer efforts outside the walls of the Village as well. The 400-strong Women's Club has raised thousands of dollars for hospitals, schools and the needy by selling members' handicrafts. Other residents glean produce from fields for Food Share, lecture in schools on their life experiences and volunteer for St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital, the Camarillo Health Care District and Camarillo Hospice.

"I think many of them are working as hard for their community ... as they did for their jobs when they had to work for a living," said Camarillo Mayor Charlotte Craven.

"They're vibrant, they're active and they want to make a difference, and I think they do."

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