Highland Green
A home in Highland Green.

Not Quite Quittin’ Time

Older adults who want to keep one foot in the working world are finding that Maine is the ideal destination.

Rob and Marianne Barry
Rob and Marianne Barry in front of their new shop, Old and Everlasting.

Heading into their 65th birthdays next year, Rob and Marianne Barry have done a lot of the downsizing you’d expect for people their age. They sold their 18-acre homestead in Cazenovia, New York, which included a 175-year-old farmhouse and a herd of goats. Rob stepped back from the commercial cleaning business he ran for 40 years. Marianne transitioned her home-goods and women’s-clothing shop, Old and Everlasting, into a wholesale greeting card operation. They moved to Topsham, near the Maine coast where they’d enjoyed so many vacations. 

But the Barrys have no intentions of retiring any time soon. Last year, they reopened Old and Everlasting in Wiscasset.

“We really like the sense of purpose we get from running a business,” Rob says. “If you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t really feel like work.”

The Barrys have plenty of company. They’re part of a global wave of older adults who are working beyond the age that has been conventionally reserved for retirement. Many are looking to Maine — where 28 percent of the workforce is 55 or older, compared to 23 percent nationwide — as the perfect “pre-tirement” setting, with its low housing costs relative to major metros, beautiful landscape, and wealth of opportunities for outdoor recreation, plus improving broadband connectivity that makes remote work more feasible.

“In Maine, you can have this live/work/place balance,” says Jim Damicis, of Scarborough, a senior vice president at the economic consulting firm Camoin 310. “You can be working by an ocean in the summer, near the mountains in the winter, and be near Boston year-round without paying big-city prices.”

In Cathance River Nature Preserve, which backs up to Highland Green, residents find a wealth of opportunities to hike, paddle, and connect with nature and each other close to home.

Another draw, according to Lori Parham, state director of AARP Maine, is that so many Maine communities are working to be more livable for older adults, with projects like pedestrian improvements and development of accessible trails. Seventy-one communities in Maine have joined AARP’s Age-Friendly Network, which provides a roadmap to improvements in eight domains that influence quality of life for older residents.

Don and Darel Stein
Don and Darel Stein recently relocated from Atlanta. Don is working remotely and plans to continue his consulting and science writing.

Because of the relatively small size of most Maine towns, older adults may find it easier to be more intimately involved in community affairs as they throttle back on their professional lives. “It’s small enough that you can have an impact and make connections,” Damicis says. 

The opportunity to engage is what Don and Darel Stein have come to enjoy about living in Maine. The Steins recently moved to Topsham from Atlanta to be near family in Edgecomb. Don, 81, a professor of neurobiology and behavioral biology at Emory University, still teaches and plans to continue his consulting and science writing. 

“I don’t have to give that up, that’s why it’s so nice being here in Topsham,” Don says. He and Darel like being close to the Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby college campuses and all of their programming. “Living near this active academic life just feels very comfortable for us,” he says. “And we’ve met so many people we like and feel compatible with.”

Since moving to Maine from Oakland, California, 14 years ago to be near family, Bob and Pat Allen have come to appreciate the many perks of living in a less densely populated area, like quicker access to medical care, less traffic, and the ease of navigating Portland International Jetport. Bob, 74, still practices corporate law part-time and for years flew back to the Bay Area on a regular basis. 

“It’s just easier to get around and go about your life here,” he says. He has also come to cherish Mainers’ friendlier attitudes, even though that took him a while to get used to. He still does a double take every time he sees a farm stand that lets customers leave payment on the honor system. “Can you imagine that in a big city?” he asks.

At Home at Highland Green

The Barry, Stein, and Allen families are all neighbors at Highland Green, a 55-and-up active-adult community in Topsham. The 635-acre campus, which includes more than 200 freestanding homes, is expanding, adding a 48-unit cottage neighborhood, apartment-like independent- living residences, and an assisted-living and memory-care facility.

The families were drawn to Highland Green thanks in part to the activities and resources the community offers, including lectures, book signings, and opportunities to explore the 230-acre Cathance River Nature Preserve, which backs up to the development and is managed by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. 

“You’ve got this beautiful place and all these great trails for walking and biking, and so many opportunities to snowshoe and cross-country ski in the winter,” Stein says. “It’s not an easy thing to pick up and move, but this has been such a pleasant place.”

Though most Highland Green residents are retired, Allen has been heartened to find so many like-minded people who share his interests, like golf and music, and a vision of cutting back that doesn’t involve sitting still. He plays drums with a Highland Green music group called Off Their Rockers. “It’s not what you think of as a sedentary lifestyle,” Allen says. “We’re not sitting around watching grass grow.”

Highland Green