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Actively Aging: Snowbirds heading south for the winter

(WQOW) – The temperature is dropping which means snowbirds will be heading south for the winter.

Jeanette Suchla will soon march her way down to Florida, but first, she is working to pump up a class at the L.E. Phillips Senior Center. It is one of the classes she teaches there.

“Oh everyone will miss her because she’s very active here,” said Karen Weissinger.

Weissinger enjoys Suchla’s cardio drumming class.

“We do on the sides and on the floor, to the right and to the left and behind, and we go to the beat of the music which is mostly the 60s because we all like the 60s and are stuck there,” Weissinger said.

It’s a favorite among members, but a new teacher will need to fill Suchla’s spot when she is gone, because she is what you call a snowbird.

“We go down mid-October, we come back at Christmas for a couple weeks and then we go down and come back in mid-April,” Suchla said.

Every year, she and her husband spend 5 1/2 months in the villages.

“In the winter up here it’s not as active,” Suchla said. “Basically in the villages, there are over 2,500 different activities that I had never thought about doing. I got into dragon boat racing, love it. Of course we golf because there are so many golf courses. So, there’s just so many activities, that’s why we decide to go down there and spend our winters rather than being cold and shoveling snow.

The director of the L.E. Phillips Senior Center said there are about 300 members who leave at one point or another during the winter months. The circulation director at the Leader Telegram said last year there were 360 subscriptions that were frozen during the winter months. The post office provided News 18 similar numbers regarding mail that is forwarded.

That is not to say each number represents the household of a snowbird, but it is a possibility. There really is not a hard and fast way to track them all, but one thing is evident – the void they leave when they go.

“Jeanette comes into my classroom and works with kids,” said Altoona teacher Shalyn Gagnon. “She gives them the individual time and opportunity that I don’t always have the chance to do.”

Whether they volunteer in the community, teach classes or just love on others, they sure are missed.

“Things are different when they’re not here and so it’s a great celebration when they return,” Gagnon said.

And who’s to say the feeling isn’t mutual?

“People go away for the winter, but they still come back to their hometown because it’s home,” Suchla said.

While Suchla is in Florida, she’s an electronic pen pal for the students and she sends pictures of all the activities she is involved in.


Bridget Curran

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