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They Made the Lists

Ken Cutler

THERE’S AN OLD SAYING: Good things come in threes. That’s certainly been true for one aspect of my life. I’ve lived in just three locations—and all of them have been featured in national “best places” lists.

My early years were in Moorestown, New Jersey, a quiet town with a population of some 20,000. It’s an affluent suburb of Philadelphia that defies stereotypes about New Jersey. In 2005, Money magazine identified Moorestown as the best place to live in the country. This was well after I’d moved away. Still, the town was certainly a pleasant place to grow up during the 1960s and ’70s.

Moorestown has a strong school system, which I experienced first-hand. It also has a relatively low crime rate, a charming downtown and beautiful public spaces. It’s a little over an hour’s drive from the Jersey Shore. One downside: The town is so popular that homes have been richly priced for decades.

After I graduated from Moorestown High School, I made my way to Blacksburg, Virginia, to attend Virginia Tech. Blacksburg regularly makes lists of desirable places to live. For instance, Forbes included the town in its 2016 list of the top 25 places to retire. In 2018, Blacksburg was named the 63rd best place to live in the country, according to Livability.com.

I was only in Blacksburg for four years, back in the 1980s. It was an idyllic place to attend college. With the town located in the Blue Ridge Mountain range, it was easy to get away, even without a car. Within 10 minutes of leaving campus on a bicycle, you could feel like you were completely away from civilization.

The college itself has a mix of academic sophistication and friendly country charm. In a survey a few years back, Virginia Tech’s student quality of life was reported to be the best of any U.S. college. It was also recently rated as having the third-best college food in America. Sadly, that was far from the case when I attended.

All of my post-college life has been spent in either Lancaster, Pennsylvania, or an adjacent suburb. According to U.S. News & World Report, Lancaster is 2023’s top U.S. city for retirement. Lancaster County is probably most famous for its Amish population, but there’s much more than that.

The food scene here has exploded—a good thing for my family of foodies. For instance, when I first came to Lancaster nearly 40 years ago, there were no Thai restaurants. Now, there’s easily a dozen, most of them outstanding. Sushi is another family favorite. There’s a large number of great sushi places, Genki being our personal favorite.

Want top-notch Vietnamese? There are several options, along with Burmese, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Indian and Peruvian restaurants. In fact, name just about any ethnic cuisine, and you can find it. Of course, the famous Lancaster County Pennsylvania Dutch buffets are still around, as well as many fine dining establishments that defy easy definition. In short, this small city of 60,000 has just about everything you could want, food-wise.

What else is there in Lancaster County to attract retirees? A great health care system, parks galore, the Sight & Sound theater, top-rated farmers’ markets and sprawling shopping outlets. The historic Strasburg Rail Road is popular with both tourists and local folks. Scenic drives through farmland abound. And, oh yes, you’ll see plenty of Amish folks with their horses and buggies. You may even get to know some of them when you buy their produce.

There are several large, high-quality retirement communities in or near Lancaster. Willow Valley is the most prominent, with around 2,600 residents living on 210 acres just south of Lancaster.

It’s convenient to already live in such a location. As I ease into retirement, we’re not planning to move any time soon. Most of our social network is here. We love the people in our church, where we’ve been members for nearly 30 years. I regularly get together with friends from work. We have great neighbors on either side of our house, in back of us, and across the street.

We also have established relationships with a medical practice, a dental practice, auto mechanics, hairdressers and landscapers. A fully stocked hardware store is less than a mile away, and our well-managed fitness center is also close by.

Since the criteria used in the various “best places” lists change regularly, I fully expect Lancaster to relinquish its crown as the “best place to retire” sometime soon. No matter. We’re staying put.

Ken Cutler lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and has worked as an electrical engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than 38 years. There, he has become an informal financial advisor for many of his coworkers. Ken is involved in his church, enjoys traveling and hiking with his wife Lisa, is a shortwave radio hobbyist, and has a soft spot for cats and dogs. Check out Ken’s earlier articles.

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