Sarasota Herald Tribune,
 March 23, 2002

- RICH BROOKS, Comment

Retirees here have great impact, even when they’re leaving for good

Living on Florida's west coast requires a certain amount of tolerance when dealing with the friends and family up north.

Upon learning that you live in Manatee, Sarasota or Charlotte counties they will invariably regale you with tired, worn out jokes making light of the number of retirees here.

"How does it feel living in God's waiting room?" is one. "When you go to church, do you think you're in a box of Q-tips?" is another.

Of course we have our own rejoinders aimed at foreigners: "Is there a corpse on the beach, or is that a tourist from Minnesota?"

If folks up north got to know us a little better, they would find we have many elements equally deserving of facetious remarks - sweltering summers, swarming love bugs, blood-thirsty mosquitoes, cockroaches that can fly (palmetto bugs), alligators, lizards, poisonous snakes and surly rednecks whom we send to Tallahassee every year, where they pretend to work.

Besides, retirees have proved to be wonderful community assets. They offer a rich pool of volunteer talent and financial resources for dozens of worthy causes and organizations. For schools, they are a firm properly tax base without contributing costs, meaning they provide money without adding students to the system.

Their presence is felt in the area's cultural, recreational and leisure activities, as well. Do you think there would be as many golf courses, theaters and concerts without the thousands of well-to-do and well-educated retirees?

Our communities are safer because of them, too. The majority of crimes are committed by males between the ages of 18 and 35, which is why cities such as Venice have low crime rates.

Robberies and holdups require a lot of energy. It's difficult to flee a crime scene if the driver of the get away car is napping.

Not only have retirees impacted nearly every facet of the way we live, it seems they are also changing how we leave this life.

According to an article earlier this week in the Washington Post, and an article last summer in the Herald-Tribune, families are increasingly choosing cremation over traditional burial.

In 1975, less than 7 percent of bodies were cremated. By 2000, that figure climbed to 25 percent. The Cremation Association of North America expects cremation rates to hit 50 percent in 25 years.

Many believe the reason for the increase in cremation is the cost - about half the price of a traditional funeral - and the simplicity.

And disposing of cremated remains offers more options. Ashes of loved ones can be packed into a fireworks shell and given a pyrotechnic send-off. They can be mixed with paint and applied to canvas as a portrait, landscape or, appropriately, still life. They can be blasted into space or be scattered around a memorial tree.

One of the most intriguing options, however, exists right off the coast of Sarasota. There, the ashes of more than 100 people have been mixed into concrete and used to make domes known as Reef Balls. These artificial reefs attract marine life and fish.

Increasing interest in cremation shows we view the passing of our lives differently than decades ago. Perhaps it's a desire to reflect in death the things we loved in life.

Being tossed into a vat of concrete was once only for stool pigeons who squealed on crime bosses. Now it's possible for anyone to become part of a favorite highway or parking lot.

As for me, I'd like to be part of a speed bump in Tallahassee or Washington, D.C. The idea of politicians cursing my presence I find strangely warming.

Rich Brooks can be reached at (941) 486-3051 or rich.brooks@heraldtribune.com.