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Number of Older Texans Grows

December 15, 1999

KERRVILLE, Texas (AP) _ With meticulous handiwork, 83-year-old Helen Niehaus and several other women stitch a colorful quilt in a spacious room at Dietert Senior Center.

``It’s fun just to be with friends,″ Ms. Niehaus said.

They chuckle, recalling how they ended up in Kerrville, one of the state’s most well-known retirement towns.

Suzanne Dolby _ who’s only 58 _ joins spry 84-year-old Frances Dismukes in the dining room, where chefs prepare meatloaf with creole sauce, squash and hashed brown potatoes.

In an exercise studio, agile retirees chat with their instructor after another session of tai chi.

Welcome to the future of Texas.

Or, at least, a significant slice of it.

As the number of Texans grows entering the new millennium, and baby boomers age, older people are comprising a larger percentage of the state’s population.

At the turn of the century, one in 10 Texans will be 65 or older. By 2030, that number is projected to increase to one in six, according to Steve Murdock, director of the Texas State Data Center at Texas A&M University.

According to the 1990 U.S. Census, the elderly population in Texas was mostly female. There were about 68 elderly men per 100 elderly women.

While the state’s three largest metropolitan areas _ Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston _ contained about one-third of Texas’ elderly population, some smaller communities had large proportions of older people among their citizenry.

Llano, Hamilton, Mills, Hall, Motley, Baylor, Coleman, Coke, Donley, Sabine, Dickens and Foard counties had populations of more than one-fifth age 65 or older.

Not surprisingly, the scenic, hilly part of the state encompassing Kerrville, Fredericksburg, Boerne and New Braunfels is likely to become home for more elderly Texans.

``In the Hill Country areas, where the aesthetic beauty is obvious, we’re going to continue to see lots of retirement migration _ not just Texans retiring to the Hill County but people from other parts of the country, as well,″ Murdock said.

Kerrville has lots of experience with older residents. For years, the city has been known as a retirement spot for people who own vacation homes and ranches here or for those relocating to find an easygoing lifestyle.

``I brought my parents down here to retire and guess who retired? Me,″ Ms. Dolby said. ``As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best place in the world to retire.″

The mild climate and picturesque terrain frequently are cited as reasons for moving to the Hill Country.

Hattie Osborn, 92, who came to Kerrville from Washington state last year, said her daughter’s residence here was a key reason for her relocation. But she also loves the weather.

``If I didn’t, why would I come back?″ she said.

Dietert Senior Center is a hub for elderly activities in Kerrville. One of the first private, nonprofit senior citizens centers in Texas, it has evolved into much more than a Meals on Wheels delivery site.

Founded in 1969 by Harry W. Dietert, the center was created by the late mechanical engineer and businessman as a place for older people to keep themselves busy.

``His perception was when people become idle, they begin to die,″ said Rick Breckenridge, the center’s development director. ``We will never lose sight of our heritage.″

Today the volunteer-driven agency offers meals on site and for home delivery; classes in dance, language and computers; trips to nearby towns and faraway destinations; and, in the past two years, job placement for people who need additional income or simply desire to keep themselves active.

In fiscal year 1998, Dietert Senior Center assisted 4,358 people through its various services, and its volunteers logged more than 41,500 hours.

``I’m sure that it’s absolutely gone much further than Mr. Dietert ever expected,″ said Marie Hurt, the public relations coordinator who has worked at the center since 1974.

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