Finding a community to feel welcome and comfortable in is a goal of many when they’re looking for a place to retire. Having hobbies, interests, and activities to spend time on is an important part of picking the perfect place. For Sue Roper, finding an active community with a diverse selection of clubs and activities to get involved in wasn’t the only reason she picked The Villages in Central Florida.
“It is also a very patriotic community with a large veteran population, both male and female, and veterans are highly regarded.”
Sue was born and raised in South Florida and joined the Navy in 1974 as a nursing student at Jackson Memorial School of Nursing. After graduation in 1975, she was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy Nurse Corps. Her duty stations included:
- Naval Hospital, Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia
- Naval Medical Center in Yokosuka, Japan
- Naval Hospital in Millington, Tennessee
- Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia
- Naval School of Health Sciences, Portsmouth Detachment in Portsmouth, Virginia
- Naval School of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland
While on active duty, she was also assigned Duty Under Instruction orders to Maryville University in St. Louis, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (graduated 1985), and to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where she received a Master of Science in Education (graduated 1991).
“I loved the years I spent in the Navy and was able to travel to many places throughout the country and overseas. I especially loved the friends I made and the wonderful comradery we shared. Being a woman in a predominately male-oriented institution, it was challenging at times, but I had some great mentors that guided me and helped me to hone my leadership, management, organizational, interpersonal relationships, and teaching skills.”
In 1995, at 42 years old, Sue retired from the Navy as a Commander (O-5) after serving 21 years. After living all over the country, it was time to figure out where she would settle down and enjoy retirement.
She decided on The Villages, a 55+ retirement community located in the heart of Central Florida. With over 138,000 residents, there’s something for everyone from recreation facilities and golf courses to parks, shopping, restaurants, and medical care.
We talked with Sue about the top 5 reasons, as a veteran, she loves spending her retirement at The Villages.
1. Clubs And Activities
Sue has been the president of Tri-County Women Veterans, Inc. since 2017. It’s one of the clubs at The Villages geared toward veterans. It has more than 250 members that meet monthly and hold various fundraisers to assist women veterans and other veteran groups. It also has the only all-female military veteran Color Guard in the area.
“Being involved in these clubs provides veterans with the same sense of comradery they felt while serving on active duty. It provides them with a non-judgmental ‘safe place’ where they can share their common experiences.”
A few clubs available to veterans include American Legion Post 347, which is the largest American Legion in the world; Villages Honor Flight, which has flown veterans to DC on 55 flights including the first all-women veterans’ flight from Florida; Military Order of the Purple Heart chapter; Disabled American Veterans chapter; and many more.
There are dozens of groups that provide information specific to community resources available and updates on pending legislation that affects veteran benefits and those currently serving on active duty.
2. Serving The Community
With dozens of clubs and resources available to veterans at The Villages, Sue says she’s proud to serve the community alongside others. There are numerous ways she and others do so year-round.
Groups provide scholarships, assist homeless veterans, conduct food drives for local food banks, provide essential equipment to severely injured veterans to increase their independence, and effuse a true sense of patriotism throughout the community.
Many of these clubs such as Villagers For Veterans, Operation Shoebox, and Retired Military Family Group are open and available to all Villagers.
Speaking of patriotism in the community, Sue says most clubs open their meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance, and you will hear the Star-Spangled Banner at various ceremonies held in the community. She says the song, “Proud To Be An American” can be heard at various concerts held in the town squares or at various restaurants and country clubs.
American flags are proudly displayed at individual homes throughout the community. Most of the veteran organizations have a uniformed Honor Guard or Color Guard that presents/posts colors and marches at numerous events and local parades.
4. Veterans Memorial Park
While you typically won’t hear a veteran asking for a thank you, Sue says veterans living in The Villages are highly regarded, recognized, and honored.
“Both male and female veterans are proud to wear something, ball caps, shirts, vests, pins, patches, etc., reflecting their military service, and not a day goes by without veterans being individually thanked for their service.”
The Villages also has its own Veterans Memorial Park where 10 patriotic ceremonies honoring active duty and military veterans are held annually. The park is made up of thousands of bricks etched “in honor of” or “in memory of” veterans who are villagers or family/friends of villagers.
5. The Villages Outpatient VA Clinic
The Villages Outpatient VA Clinic provides a broad range of medical services, including primary care and specialty medical services, a pharmacy, diagnostic services, physical rehabilitation, and more.
For services not available at the clinic, Sue says she drives about 45 minutes to the Gainesville VA Medical Center.
While Sue has retired from the military, her duty to serve her country hasn’t slowed down. Keeping active in the clubs and organizations, giving back to those in need, and finding a sense of community were goals she’s accomplished in her retirement.
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