Retiring in the NRV

by Aaron Wilson

Text by Joanne M. Anderson


The New River Valley gets national attention every year for its quality of life and natural beauty across all demographics. For retirees, the mild climate, recreation, reasonable cost of living, wonderful healthcare and friendly people take center stage. Some of our senior citizens came for business reasons and decided to stay after leaving a career, and others move to the region to be near family. Still more, though not profiled here, return to the college town of their youth for its enduring appeal in their hearts.


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Margaret Ray
[photo by Nathan Cooke]

Tom and Margaret Ray came to the New River Valley as business owners in 1989 when they purchased, and subsequently restored, The Oaks Victorian Inn in Christiansburg. Fifteen years and millions of work hours later, they retired to a charming riverfront property off a dirt road in Giles County.
As Tom’s health deteriorated, Margaret researched assisted living options in several states, including Ohio and Michigan, where their children and grandchildren live. “The best place was right here under my nose,” Margaret reveals, referring to Warm Hearth Village. “We have concerts you’d pay $80 a ticket for in a big city, along with country music, lectures, walking trails, the village center and terrific residents and staff. The New River Valley is beautiful, and you can’t let go of it easily. I’m here to stay.”
She enjoys many activities from her 2-bedroom, Warm Hearth townhouse with full basement and patio. “Perfect for me,” she’ll say. This plaque rests in a lovely garden Margaret has created:
“If you are weary, come sit in my little garden. Stay awhile. Reflect. Find peace in nature as was intended.”

This garden established in loving memory of Tom Ray
A kind and gentle man
05-20-33 — 01-01-14


©2015 Amodeo Photography. Blacksburg Virginia Photographer |


Larry and Carolyn Kyle
[photo by Amodeo Photography]

Larry Kyle thought Blacksburg was a great place to be “from”, as the local boy (BHS class of ‘62 and VT class of ‘66) moved to California and Arizona then back to Virginia. As an engineer, Larry lived in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and other states. At 35, a mid-life crisis struck when he realized he was not enjoying his chemical engineering career at the expense of personal stress and family time. He returned to school to follow in his father’s footsteps as a dentist. With children ages 3, 5, and 7 at the time, Carolyn returned to teaching.
“I will work for myself and be the best dentist the Lord will permit,” he determined. After school, the Kyles could go anywhere. They studied population to dentist ratio, quality of schools, recreation, climate, shopping and more as they trekked to nearly two dozen possible locales. “We chose Blacksburg,” he explains, “for the same reasons we are retiring here: beauty, culture, people, fun, quality health care and ‘Go Hokies’.”
Carolyn thinks they can’t live anywhere else because half or more of Larry’s wardrobe is orange and maroon, and he attends every home VT football and basketball (men and women’s teams) games. All the kids graduated from BHS and Virginia Tech, as well. She embraces quilting, Bible study and gardening, and Larry adores the New River for fishing and canoeing along with art classes, winemaking and bow hunting. It’s a complete circle for Larry, and Carolyn loves being along for the ride!


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Chuck and Susan Bricken
[photo by Nathan Cooke]

Having grown weary of suburban/city life, traffic congestion and lack of congeniality, Chuck and Susan Bricken decided to relocate once he retired as a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. “Distance between locations was expressed in units of time (usually hours),” Susan relates, “rather than miles. Doing anything that required leaving the house was difficult, and we never laid eyes on our next door neighbors, let alone met them.”
Like a pioneer, except with a car and GPS, Chuck headed southwest on an exploratory mission. “We wanted to be within reach of family in Raleigh, N.C., and northern Virginia,” Chuck explains. “Because we both grew up in the city, we felt that a university nearby would offer some cosmopolitan influence, so I turned the wheel toward college towns along the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge regions.”
He liked the New River Valley immediately. “We live with views that city folks drive hours to see,” Susan states, referring to rolling pastures and misty mountain mornings when she steps outside their Christiansburg home for the newspaper. In the decade hence, they have served as Intermediate EMTs with Christiansburg Rescue, made friends, joined the ACBL duplicate bridge group, rescued many cats, and Susan trains in what she calls one of the best pools in the country at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. “Life is so much easier here,” they say almost in unison, especially being close to nature and experiencing a friendliness they say permeates the New River Valley.


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Roger and Diane Westman
[photo by Nathan Cooke]

When you ask Roger and Diane Westman how they came to live in the New River Valley, the response is quick: 6 grandchildren. There’s also a fantastic son, much loved daughter-in-law and now 3 great-grandchildren. The couple met at Iowa State University and raised their family in Colorado. Four short years ago, they left the Rocky Mountain State for Southwest Virginia and their first adventure living east of the Mississippi.
“There’s nothing not to like about it here,” quips Roger, who can be found most mornings reading the Wall Street Journal, a 40-year-long habit, at Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea or Panera Bread. Diane might catch a few more winks or enjoy a cup of coffee with her daughter-in-law. Roger and Diane have stepped out comfortably into church and community activities, like a day trip with the Blacksburg Senior Center crowd. Coincidentally, they all decided to try the same church on the same Sunday, and they are all still at Blacksburg Christian Fellowship.
Though there are some Western things they miss, the Westmans, married 55 years, do delight in songbirds, lightning bugs, locust and cicada sounds, rocks the size of potatoes (not automobiles) and the air. “The air is soft,” they concur. “Along with cookies, crackers and paper” [referring to our humidity, not common out West].”

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