110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Destination West Volusia for retirement
By Bill Hall
That old bromide about Florida being God’s waiting room just isn’t true anymore. Businesses large and small move here, young adults from beyond Florida go to college here and remain as permanent residents, and many are born here.
Nevertheless, Florida continues to attract retirees, and West Volusia is now a retirement destination, not just a fuel stop on the way to somewhere else.
Many of our newcomers are longtime Floridians escaping the crowds, the cost and the coast (as in hurricane coast) for a saner, more affordable, less-frenetic tempo than Boca Raton, Sarasota or St. Petersburg. Thus, immigrants are almost as likely to be from South Florida as South Bend.
For the retiree seeking a place in the sun with amenities beyond the shuffleboard court, West Volusia is the emerging gem of Central Florida; a Southern version of a Norman Rockwell painting with just enough affluence to provide the good things in life without the pretensions, cost and traffic of Florida’s teeming metropolitan areas.
Of course, there are the typical draws for retirees, such as housing options that range from low-cost, adults-only manufactured-home communities, to luxurious, resortlike retirement centers. The latter often offer flexible accommodations that change as often as retirees' needs change. Residents can move from villas with housekeeping services, to apartments with visiting nurses, to full-blown nursing centers, all on the same meticulously manicured green campus.
Housing that caters to retirees abounds in West Volusia, but amenities for the mature crowd go far beyond housing options.
West Volusians have a first-rate cultural life here, thanks to Stetson University, but absent the hordes of a mega-school such as the University of Central Florida in Orlando (a metropolis within a megalopolis).
The West Volusia arts community is vibrant. The Cultural Arts Center in DeLand offers the Sands Theater and The Museum of Florida Art. In DeBary, there is DeBary Hall, restored home of the steamboat magnate and wine importer Frederick deBary. Deltona has the Arts & Historical Center and is working on a larger home for the arts. Lake Helen offers the Shoestring Theatre and Huck Finn charm, and Stetson University’s esteemed School of Music beckons the community to concerts throughout the year.
Small-town life flourishes here with just enough urban amenities to accommodate the need for good food, wines, shopping and medical care. For those in desperate need of an urban transfusion, the bright lights of Daytona Beach are a mere 25 miles away to the east, while Orlando and its congestion, er, attractions are just 40 miles to the south.
There are no beaches here (and no storm surges), but there are abundant waters. There are Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, winter home of 100 manatees; Gemini Springs in DeBary; and DeLeon Springs State Park just north of DeLand, offering swimming and picnic areas. Best of all, there is the St. Johns River, with the flora, fauna and unspoiled scenery that attracted the naturalist William Bartram more than 200 years ago.
Boat rentals are available at a number of places along the river, with everything from pedal boats to canoes to pontoon boats and river cruises that offer food as well as scenery. Those who have not seen Florida from its rivers have not seen Florida.
To learn about the colorful history of the area, a trip to the Henry DeLand House in DeLand, home of the West Volusia Historical Society, reveals literature and videos on historic features and personalities from DeLand’s past. Visit the Volusia County Historic Courthouse, and discover the Legendary Florida paintings by Jackson Walker. The paintings are displayed in the rotunda on both the first and second floors and are chronologically arranged, so one can take a leisurely trip through Florida’s history (the good and the bad of it) in just a half-hour and it's free.
For anyone wishing to know more about West Volusia, a trip to the DeLand Area Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center will provide a trove of information on the area and why it’s a good place for those golden years.
Hall and his wife, Jo, found West Volusia in semi-retirement. Bill Hall writes an Opinions-page column for The Beacon.
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