Best Towns to Retire in Michigan: Kalamazoo
As you consider the many advantages of Kalamazoo, Michigan, as a place to retire, keep in mind that the city is surrounded by the rest of Kalamazoo county. Your ideal retirement home may be in or outside of the city.
Adjacent to the city, to its south, is Kalamazoo's sister city, Portage, which is larger in area but about a third smaller in population—Kalamazoo: 75,984; Portage: 48,508, as of 2016.
Beyond the two cities, scattered about the county, are numerous small towns. Between them are forests, lakes, and farms. Southwest Michigan, including Kalamazoo County, is known for its fruit farms, producing blueberries, strawberries, peaches, pears, plums, grapes for eating and for making wine, apples, and more. Live in retirement in city, small town, or countryside? Each choice has appeals.
10 Factors That Favor Retiring in or near Kalamazoo
1. The city of Kalamazoo has two full-service hospitals, Bronson Methodist Hospital and, in Kalamazoo Township, Borgess Hospital, each with over 300 beds for patients. Bronson has branch hospitals, clinics, and labs all over the county. Borgess Hospital is now owned by Ascension, a Catholic non-profit health system.
2. Kalamazoo County has at least 4 continuum of care senior campuses—Brookdale Senior Living in Portage and in Kalamazoo The Fountains at Bronson Place, Friendship Village Senior Living Community, and Heritage Community of Kalamazoo.
3. From what I can discover online, with some overlap there are at least a dozen nursing homes, at least nine memory care facilities, more than thirty home care agencies, at least five adult day care services, and at least five hospice services. If and when senior care is needed, there is likely something available for every budget and level of need. Senior Services (see #4 below) can help to navigate the choices and to plan meeting current and future senior care needs.
4. Senior Services of Southwest Michigan, a non-profit agency, "is one of the largest and most comprehensive organizations serving older adults and persons with disabilities anywhere," says their website. "With just one call to Senior Services a complete array of services become available."
5. According to Sperling's Best Places, the cost of housing in Kalamazoo is 45% of the national average and the overall cost of living is 78% of the national average. For low income seniors, there are multiple affordable and subsidized senior housing options, such as Sunrise Elderly Apartments, Washington Square Co-op Apartments, The Village of Sage Grove, and more.
6. Kalamazoo is a transportation hub, which is convenient for all ages. For retirees, that makes it a convenient location from which to go visit your adult children and your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, your siblings, and your long-time friends, or to host their visits to you. Kalamazoo County has an airport. Kalamazoo is on Interstate 94, approximately equidistant between Chicago and Detroit. Kalamazoo Transportation Center downtown includes an Amtrak train station, Greyhound and Indian Trails interstate bus service, and Metro, an excellent county and city bus service. (Since my wife and I share one car between us, I fairly often go about town on errands by Metro bus. I have a Metro Senior Card.)
7. Looking for a faith community welcoming of all age groups, including retirees, with opportunities for retirees for spiritual and moral development, socializing, volunteering to further a charity or a social justice cause, or having a leading role in the ongoing life of the community? A site called ChurchFinder locates in Kalamazoo at least 19 Baptist churches (some of these having primarily African-American memberships); at least 6 "Bible" churches; at least 7 Roman Catholic churches; at lease 19 "Christian", Congregational, and Reformed churches; at least 2 Episcopal churches; at least 7 Evangelical churches, and at least 7 Lutheran churches. Kalamazoo and Portage each has a Unitarian Universalist church. There are a number of Jewish synagogues and temples. There is a Kalamazoo Islamic Center.
8. Looking for others who share your hobbies and pastimes? There are over 100 Kalamazoo Meetup groups, including groups whose members are interested in board games, Christianity, creative writing, euchre, hiking, homeschooling, Humanism, kayaking, keto eating, knitting, meditation, nontheism, permaculture, "pub theology", pug dogs, raquetball, Scrabble, Tai Chi, vegan eating, Zen, and much more. And that's just one way to meet with people with similar interests. The downtown public library has a database, available online, of local organizations. Many churches have their own special interest small groups. (The church I attend has or has had groups for persons interested in gardening, memoir writing, needlepoint, and more.)
9. Indications of culture and quality of life in Kalamazoo and other cities and towns of Kalamazoo County include public libraries, public parks and preserves, lakes with boating and fishing, municipal and private golf courses and driving ranges, hiking and bicycling trails, live plays theaters, live music auditoriums and venues, art galleries and an art museum, sports arenas, restaurants and taverns for most budgets and tastes, and more.
10. Kalamazoo is home to Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, with opportunities for continuing education for retirees and opportunities to attend free and inexpensive lectures, recitals, and other cultural events. KVCC offers a Senior Tuition Waver. WMU is home to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
To give an inkling of the possibilities, below I've described the retirement experiences of my wife and me and of some of her relations and of our acquaintances. These real-life examples are meant to flesh-out the above facts and figures. I begin with my wife's parents.
My In-laws' Retirement Experience in Kalamazoo
When Kayle Rice and I married in 1995, we were middle-aged—I in my early 50s and she in her early 40s. Her parents, Don and Louise Rice, were then in their early 70s. They had been high school classmates in Kalamazoo, and they had dated and married when Don came back after serving in the Marines in the Pacific in World War 2. Don got a job in advertising and soon started his own advertising agency.
Don's and Louise's daughter Kayle and son Steve were born in Kalamazoo. With the income from Don's ad agency plus from his sideline as a photographer, Don and Louise raised Kayle and son Steve in Portage.
In 1995, when I married Kayle, Don and Louise were retired. For years in retirement, well into his 80s, Don wrote a weekly newspaper column, in which he highlighted what was successful and praiseworthy about selected local businesses. Louise worked part-time in the accounts services department of a local bank and was a very active member of several duplicate bridge clubs.
The house in which Don and Louise lived their retirement years while in their 70s and 80s was a 2-bedroom with full basement and an attached 2-car garage in the South Westnedge neighborhood in the vicinity of Whites Road and Bronson Boulevard, a middle-middle-class environment a few blocks from the Kalamazoo Country Club, where they were members. Don was passionate about playing golf.
One of Don's hobbies in retirement was backyard gardening. During the years 1995 to 2010, whenever Kayle and I would travel to Kalamazoo from wherever we were living, I would be very impressed by their backyard. Don landscaped it in several levels and various areas—each with beds of flowers, vegetables, or ornamental plants. The yard was a fertile work of beauty, the charm enhanced by numerous bird feeders that attracted a variety of birds.
Satisfying a long-time wish, in 2010 Kayle and I moved from Moscow, Idaho to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We were there less than a year when we decided to move to Kalamazoo. A tiny spot of cancer had been found in one of Louise's lungs, and Don had had a minor stroke and was showing the first intimations of dementia. We wanted to be their neighbors and to visit with them often while they were still relatively free of infirmities. Kayle and I moved into an apartment a mile from their house.
In the ensuing years Don's dementia got steadily worse. He continued to drive his car, such as to meet nearby with buddies for coffee, for a few years, until that got too risky and Louise sold it. He joined a veterans memoir writing group that met at Portage Public Library and wrote poignant memoir essays about his World War 2 experiences. Those are now in the Zhang Legacy Collections Center, Archives and Regional History building.
Then his confusions and his tendency to fall made caring for Don at home untenable for Louise, and she put him in a nursing home that had an available bed.
Back when she got her lung cancer diagnosis, Louise opted to let it take its course and not fight it with surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, figuring that at her age the cons of treatment outweighed the pros. Her good fortune has been that the cancer has not grown, and she has remained physically active and mentally alert.
During the years of Don's decline, she got advice from her adult children and from legal and financial experts, but she herself made the hard decisions. She moved Don into a memory care facility, and then she did the calculations of savings, pensions, and investments, sold their house (the backyard gardens long neglected), and moved Don and herself into Heritage Community of Kalamazoo. It is a nonprofit complex on Portage Road in Kalamazoo that includes independent living apartments, assisted living apartments, a memory care building, and a skilled nursing and rehabilitation care building. Louise moved into an independent living apartment and arranged for a room for Don in the nursing care unit.
Her up-front cost of admission was steep and her monthly rent is high, and of course Don's care was very expensive. (I don't know the details.) Louise said that other such communities in the area are for-profit and are even more expensive. She chose to move Don and herself into Heritage because, once admitted, they guaranteed that she and Don could stay for the rest of their lives even if they ran out of money, in the appropriate building. Also, Louise had realized she did not have the stamina or the desire to manage her house and yard alone.
Don was confused about his circumstances—he seemed at times to think he still had his advertising agency and to think he was in a luxury resort—but to the end he was a charmer when chatting with the nurses and staff. In his last days he had hospice care. Born November 6, 1923, he died June 6, 2016, age 92.
As of when I'm writing this in spring 2018, Louise Rice, now age 92, still resides in her Wyndham independent living one-bedroom apartment at Heritage Community. She has a little kitchen but mostly prefers to have breakfast and lunch in the "bistro" and to go to the dining room for supper. The menu and the service there are like in a posh restaurant. (Kayle and I are occasionally her guests.) She still plays bridge there at Wyndham Apartments. She reads a lot. She enjoys the social and cultural opportunities provided and is active on the committee that gives the residents a voice in management.
Not because she couldn't drive but because she did not need it enough to warrant the upkeep, insurance, and parking costs, she gave up her car last year. She pays a freelance driver to take her shopping when a relation can't take her. Kayle visits her or takes her shopping or out to eat often but has to get on Louise's events and appointments calendar to do so. The two of them sometimes invite me to join them.
Kayle and I take Louise to extended family events. Besides her daughter and son and their spouses, she has three adult grandchildren and five great-grandchildren living in the county.
My Wife's and My Retirement Experience in Kalamazoo
For most of her working years, Kayle was a small town church minister, sometimes part-time and sometimes full-time, initially in United Church of Christ churches and later in Unitarian Universalist churches. Betweentimes she had a variety of positions—community college adjunct teacher, phlebotomist, hospital chaplain, retail store clerk, hostital patient sitter, hospice chaplain, and others.
In my working years, my longest position, 28 years, 1977 to 20005, was as the owner-manager of a mail-order used books business inherited from my parents—a hand-to-mouth sole proprietorship. Before and after that I had a variety of jobs—factory hand; office clerk; dishwasher, and so on. The upshot is that, in retirement, our Social Security retirement pensions and her church minister pension are small.
I took early retirement (started collecting Social Security) when I turned 62 in 2004. My book business was losing money because of World Wide Web competition, and I sold my remaining stock cheap and discontinued antiquarian bookdealing. My focus in the following years was as a church minister's spouse and on my creative writing avocation.
Kayle retired from church ministry in 2010, when we moved to Santa Fe and then to Kalamazoo to be near her parents. She gave being a retail clerk a try; worked for a time for Kalamazoo Senior Services, and then found a position as part-time assistant chaplain for a for-profit hospice company. Kayle took early retirement and started collecting Social Security when she turned 62 in 2016. She has continued to work a few hours per week as an as-needed hospice chaplain and bereavement coordinator.
By living frugally, we have managed to stay self-sufficient. We were lucky when we moved to Kalamaoo to find a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a 4-unit converted house in an ideal location (the south edge of the Westnedge Hill neighborhood) at a rent cheaper than we could get subsidized senior housing. We squeak by financially while managing to enjoy life. These days, since switching to a 'keto' diet, Kayle has been doing less arts and crafts (mixed media art; artistic sewing and quilting, etc.) and has become a running enthusiast. I am the organizer of a critique writing group Meetup; I am active on several committees and teams at Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Portage, and I spend as much time as I can find on my creative writing avocation.
What will happen down the road of life as old age becomes older and older and older age, ever increasing the odds of infirmity--dementia; a stroke; a heart condition; whatever? How long can we each remain self-sufficient? Time will tell.
A Few More Examples
A couple whom Kayle and I know at church had careers as IT professionals in one of the big local corporations. The company gave them early retirement deals. With the cash, they built a farmhouse and a barn on a few acres of land about an hour's drive west of Kalamazoo, in the next county. They turned the property into a hobby farm. Now they have 2 dogs, 2 Angora goats, a dozen or so chickens, a beehive, a fishing pond, a vinyard, a garden, and a wild flowers field.
Kayle's brother Steve and sister-in-law Jan are within a few years of retirement. His career has been as a salesperson and/or store manager for a paint company. Hers has been as a public school reading specialist. They have three adult children and, so far, five grandchildren. They recently bought another house and moved. It's a 5-bedroom designated historic Italianate house, also in Portage, built in the 1870s. There is a room for her sewing and quilting, an office den for him, a guest room for visiting grandchildren, and more. He has been into running since he was a young man and is still running marathons and half-marathons. They seem all set for satisfying retirements.
'Snowbirds'—retirees who summer in Kalamazoo and winter in Florida or another southern state—are common in Kalamazoo. We know one retired couple who live in the far north of the lower peninsula of Michigan in the summer and winter in Kalamazoo.
What attracts me to Kalamazoo as a retirement location is:
What about the Weather?
If you love snow and can't get enough of it, Kalamazoo is not the best place for you. You'd be happier in a city or town in the Upper Peninsula, such as in Marquette or Houghton, where the leaves start turning color in August, there are still patches of snow on the ground in the middle of May, and where record snowfalls are over 300 inches of snow in a season and average snowfalls are nearly 200 inches.
If you love cold weather, Kalamazoo, in a hardiness zone of 6, is not the best place for you. Consider moving to the higher elevations of the UP, such as to Ishpeming, where the hardiness zone is 4, or to a town in northern Minnesota, where the hardiness zone is 3.
If you hate snow and hate cold weather, Kalamazoo is not the best place for you. Consider retiring in San Diego, San Antonio, New Orleans, or Miami.
If you crave sunshine, Kalamazoo, which has slightly more overcast or rainy days than sunny days, is not the best place for you. Consider retiring in Yuma, Arizona, or in Redding, California. If you hate sunshine, consider moving to Juneau, where you'll see the sun on less than a third of the days of the year.
If you hate raking leaves and consider deciduous trees a nuisance, Kalamazoo is not the best place for you. Southwest Michigan is in a northern lakes and forests ecoregion. Consider retiring in a city in the Southwest, such as Santa Fe, where Kayle and I lived from fall 2010 to summer 2011 and where I increasingly longed to see green leaves.
If you hate weather variety, Kalamazoo is not the best place for you. Consider moving to The Bahamas, where just about every day of the year is in the 70s F, or to Tierra del Fuego, where most days of the year are in the 40s F.
Kalamazoo has a humid continental (Köppen Dfa, but almost Dfb) climate. That means warm to hot, humid summers; the coldest month averaging below freezing, and little precipitation difference between seasons.
If what pleases you is weather that is rarely extreme and rarely boring; if you like weather variety—to be able to say, "If you don't like the weather now, just wait a day or an hour"; if you love the coming and going of seasons—the daffodils and the baby tree leaves of springtime, the thunder storms of summer, the colorful tree leaves of fall, the beauty of freshly fallen snow; if you like weather that gets you outside and gives you some exercise—planting a garden, raking leaves, shoveling snow; if you like weather that gives you something about which to converse and about which to complain or rave, then Kalamazoo, Michigan is a just-right, excellent retirement location choice for you.
And, in Kalamazoo, you can do what many retired Kalamazooians do—move south in the winter and take a car trip vacation in July or August.