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All this activityorganized spontaneously by Sun City residents without artificial "cruise-director" stimulationseems to make oldsters healthier as well as happier; they make fewer trips to the doctor, and the death rate is actually lower than for comparable age groups elsewhere. Hypochondriacs are at a minimum; when one of Sun City's three resident doctors gets a call, he knows he had better get there fast.
Helping the doctors is the Sunshine Committee200 volunteers organized by the Rev. E. Duane Thistlethwaite, 70, a retired Methodist ministerwho take the sick to doctors and hospitals, lend wheelchairs, crutches, and even money to widows waiting for their social security or estate funds to start coming in. With typical Sun City initiative, the community church (an amalgam of 35 Protestant denominations) is currently raising money for a small nursing home for long-term cases.
Pioneer Spirit. "We love all the things you can do out here," says Dr. Chester L. Meade, 76, a tanned, lithe, white-haired man who gave up his dental practice in Mason City, Iowa, and moved to Sun City last November. His wife Mabel chimed: "People say, 'But don't you miss Mason City?' Those dear friends, yes, but not Mason City. We're not lonely at all, and the people are so friendly here.'"
"Back there," interrupted Dr. Meade, "you can play golf only a few months of the year. The rest of the time you go to the Elks Club and play two-bit rummy."
"We love children," said his wife. "But as you get older, you don't care about having a lot of them around. The fact that you can have your own yard and flowers without worrying about children traipsing through is appealing. And then again, it's wonderful having everybody on the same level. Here they're not interested in your financial status the way they are in most communities."
"I think there's the spirit of the old original settlers out here," says Dean Babbitt, onetime president of the Sonotone Corp., who moved to Sun City from a large estate in New Hampshire to which he had already retired. "People here have pulled up stakes and started over. Whether you're living on social security or a bunch of money, it makes no difference."
Underlying it all is the oldsters' feeling that Sun City is a town that is their own to shape and enjoy. They have no fear of being shouldered aside by younger men. They find that they are competing with no one, and the camaraderie of shared age and past achievement makes for relaxed companionship.
Webb makes no claim to be motivated entirely by Christian charity. "We knew we were taking a calculated risk," he says, "but you have to do that in the contracting business. It was a gamble, but I was pretty damn sure it would work."
He is surprised and pleased, though, that it worked so well. Retirement housing has become a major element in the Del E. Webb Corp., and it has already built similar developments at Kern City, Calif, (just outside Bakersfield), and at Sun City. Fla. (17 miles southeast of Tampa). Sun City, Calif. (20 miles south of Riverside), which opened officially four weeks ago, has already sold 833 units.