Retirement redefined: Seniors share their housing stories

John and Zillah Erickson of Blaine intended to move to a senior apartment a few years ago because it was getting to be too much to maintain their house and property.

Zillah and John Erickson wanted to sell their Blaine home a few years ago, but the housing market collapse made this difficult. Photo by Eric Hagen
Zillah and John Erickson wanted to sell their Blaine home a few years ago, but the housing market collapse made this difficult. Photo by Eric Hagen

They put in new windows and painted the house to make it more attractive to buyers. The roof was replaced not too long ago.

Unfortunately, the housing market collapsed and their valuation significantly decreased.

“We’re pretty well stuck here right now until things straighten out,” John said. “I don’t want to give the place away and go through the hassle of trying to sell it for a year.”

On the other hand, Jan and Art Blair three years ago were able to sell the Orono home they lived in for almost 40 years. They now live in the Historic Rum River District condominiums in Anoka. Jan loves that they are within easy walking distance of shopping and dining options and they can have a dog in their unit.

Don Howard moved to the Guardian Angels long-term care facility in Elk River last year. His wife Alice lives at the Realife Cooperative of Coon Rapids.
Don Howard moved to the Guardian Angels long-term care facility in Elk River last year. His wife Alice lives at the Realife Cooperative of Coon Rapids.

Alice and Don Howard downsized and moved to the Realife Cooperative of Coon Rapids in September 2003. A stroke ultimately made it necessary for Don to move to a Guardian Angels long-term care facility in Elk River. Alice commutes almost every day from Coon Rapids to Elk River and hopes that an option closer to home will present itself.

2010 Census statistics

Every senior citizen has a different set of circumstances that dictates where they reside, but 2010 Census data shows that many are still staying in owner-occupied homes.

According to the 2010 Census for the state of Minnesota, there were 343,355 owner-occupied homes in which the householder was a person age 65 or older. There were 87,360 females and 35,599 males in that age group that were living alone.

Jan and Art Blair downsized three years ago when they moved from Orono to a new condo building in Anoka.
Jan and Art Blair downsized three years ago when they moved from Orono to a new condo building in Anoka.

There were 100,270 rental units occupied by senior citizens, which includes 58,468 females and 20,032 males living on their own.

There were 33,675 seniors living in group quarters such as nursing homes during the 2010 Census study.

Jennifer Sorenson, executive director of the Minnesota HomeCare Association, said the trend is that seniors want to age in their homes, so home care options to make this possible comes into play. There are many options depending on what level of care is needed. There are personal care attendants to help with low-level needs and there are registered nurses and physical and occupational therapists that can help with higher needs. A person’s personal physician and county human services departments are good resources for help in finding out more about what is out there.

According to Andi Egbert of the Minnesota State Demographic Center, the office projects population, but does not project how many seniors are still expected to be living in their homes by 2035. There are a lot of factors such as the economy, a person’s income and availability of housing that makes it difficult to speculate.

Living at home

The Ericksons have lived in their Blaine home since 1977. They once had about 6.8 acres but have sold about half of that over the past 15 years for neighboring housing developments.

John Erickson was diagnosed with a type of bone marrow cancer six to seven years ago and has been going through treatment since then. One of his kidneys had to be removed because of the cancer. He needs a new left knee. Zillah Erickson had a kidney transplant almost five years ago.

Although they would like to downsize, they still love their home. Zillah said the neighbors are great and the family is able to helps them out with household chores. There is an over 500-foot buffer and a lot of trees Erickson planted in the back yard about 35 years ago that provides a buffer between them and the newer homes. They have an elevated deck to enjoy this private setting and to watch birds and squirrels go to the bird feeders or the heated bird bath.

They also appreciate being close to a lot of retail and dining options and the police station. They looked at The Willows of Ham Lake while shopping for a senior apartment a few years, for example, but this location and others they looked at were too far from shopping and dining for their taste.

“At some point in time you may not be able to drive, and you want to be near public transportation,” John said.


The Blairs were at the point about three years ago where they did not want to maintain their home and big yard in rural Orono in the southwest metro. They also wanted to be closer to retail and dining options. Many senior development options they looked at in communities like Maple Grove and Rogers were in areas where walking to these locations would be difficult, Jan said.

They were familiar with Anoka because they drove through the area to get to their cabin in northern Minnesota. They heard about a new multi-level condo being proposed and reserved a unit before the facility was completed.

“I liked the idea of moving into a town where we could walk to anything we want,” Jan said.

It took two years to sell their Orono home and they had to reduce the listing price, but Jan said the move was well worth it. They let their kids decide what items to take from the old house. Everything else they did not need was donated, sold or thrown away.

Jan said the condo building in Anoka has many community events. There are game nights, potluck dinners, coffee parties and much more. The community room is available at any time an activity is not planned. There is a library, an exercise room with a few pieces of equipment and underground parking. A five-person condominium board consists of people who live in the building. Jan is the board secretary. They hire a management company to oversee building operations and maintenance.

Long-term care

Don Howard had a stroke 22 years ago at the age of 59, just about six months after he retired from Honeywell. He was able to recover and do the daily activities he had done before the stroke.

Even after Don and Alice Howard moved to Realife in Coon Rapids he was fine, but Jan said her husband started having seizures in the years to come that took their toll. In March 2011, he had a second stroke.

He went to Camilia Rose in Coon Rapids for rehabilitation between March and May 2011 and then moved back to Realife with his wife. They hired certified nursing assistants (CNAs), they purchased a lift and other equipment to make it possible for Don to stay at home. He went through physical and occupational therapy.

After he fell in July 2011, doctors at the hospital recommended that Don move to a long-term care facility where people could help him around the clock. The doctor told them Don could stay in the hospital for three days, but then they would have to find another arrangement.

Alice wanted Don to stay close to home, but the closest vacancy they could find was at the Guardian Angels facility in Elk River. She has been very impressed with the facility because of the staff and the amenities. Chapel service, coffee time, oil painting classes, rehabilitation and exercise classes, game times, reading groups and baking classes are just several examples of activities that take place. There is a gift shop and dining room area where residents and their friends and family can go to if they want an alternative dining option.

Although she likes the facility, Alice hopes a vacancy opens up closer to Realife so she can cut down on her almost daily commute.

Long-term care is not cheap. Alice said it costs about $5,800 a month. She did not notice much of a price difference between Guardian Angels and other facilities she looked at.

“I think down the road, long-term care insurance is going to become almost a necessity,” Alice said.

Don did not have long-term care insurance because they could not afford it, she said.

Eric Hagen is at
[email protected]