State's "Eden" awaits retirees

Book boosts Princeton

by Tim Padgett
Chicago Sun-Times  Feb. 1987
PRINCETON, Ill. - Folks here say they rarely feel the need to lock their doors at night, and the sort of newcomers they're expecting probably won't send them scrambling for deadbolts. 
Princeton has good reason to anticipate an influx of retired people since the publication in January 1987 of Retirement Edens Outside the Sun Belt by  Peter A. Dickinson.  The book recommends this north central Illinois town, 120 miles west of Chicago on Interstate 80, as one of the top U. S. communities for retirement. 
"This really is a plum dropped into our laps," said Dr. Richard Dorsch, then president of the Princeton Chamber of Commerce.  Most long-time Princetonians, in fact, said last week they were unaware they had been forging a retirement haven to compete with the sunny sites of Arizona or Miami Beach.
But the signs are recognizable.  The town has four nursing homes, two golf courses, a 97bed hospital and seven parks.  It sports a quaint 2.5 mile shopping strip on, of course, Main Street, which offers some of the state's most unusual small-town shops, including a rare-china collector who numbers the White House among his clients.

The town's average age - nearly 40 - suggests that Princeton already has attracted a good share of retirees, including Chicagoians such as Herb Whipple, 71, and his wife Marjorie, 66, who came in 1980. 
"We wanted to get out of the hurly-burly activity and traffic, " Whipple said, "but we didn't want to be too far away from Chicago.  I don't know where you could go wrong here."
The Whipples have found, for example, that the cost of living on Main Street is a far cry from the Loop.  "People here would be shocked at the prices we normally paid in restaurants or for groceries in Chicago, " he said. 
But perhaps the feature here most coveted by retirees is the degree of health care for the elderly.  The town's four nursing homes can accommodate almost 400 residents, and 65 percent of the calls for the fire department's three ambulances are for senior citizens.
"Princeton has always had an aura of a retirement community about it, " said Fire Chief Terry Himes.  "This was traditionally an agri-business area, and when people retired off the farm they just came here." 
The farmers since have been replaced by urban businessmen such as Whip

ple, who was attracted in part by Princeton's country club. 
In addition, there is a new $3.7 million recreation center and the local senior citizens group has begun taking in the theater in Chicago. 
"People today like to retire in an active place, " said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Don Allen.  "In that sense, Princeton doesn't look so much like your typical retirement community." 
Despite it's progressive image, Princeton has been a small town steeped in a highly conservative tradition since it was founded in 1885 by Swedish immigrants.  Life-long Chicago Democrats who retire here, for example, most likely will pass their golden years under Republican rule. 
The town is all white and predominately Protestant.  It also is dealing with the farming crisis and is battling to win back some of the industry it has lost lately.  But another transplanted Chicagoian, Princeton Mayor Bill Nelson, said retirees overlook such problems when they consider how safe life is here.  "In Chicago we didn't even know our next-door neighbor, and they were probably afraid of us next door, too, " said Nelson, who came here in 1949 to start his own drugstore on Main Street.