Snowbirds, meet the Phoenix

Here’s an idea. When the oppressive heat and humidity of the south and west become too much to bear, spend three months in Green Bay, Wis., particularly on the UW-Green Bay campus.

It’s the antithesis to the “snowbird” concept, in which Northerners flee to a warmer state during the winter months. It’s becoming more and more desirable for residents of the south and west to migrate north for the summer.

Gary and Rita LeRoy, from Temple Terrace, Florida (North of Tampa), have been “summering” in Green Bay for nearly a decade. What few know, is that the LeRoys, and about 45 other “sunbirds,” live right here, on the UW-Green Bay campus, with amenities few vacation resorts can match. Just a couple-hundred paces from their summertime residence in Pamperin Hall, they are able to dine, play golf, check out a book, watch a sunset, attend a concert or begin a trek through UW-Green Bay’s beautiful arboretum.

“There are so many pluses to being here, we can’t even come up with a negative,” says Gary, who is an Ashwaubenon native. The couple is in their eighth year renting an apartment on the UW-Green Bay campus. For Gary, who spent years 19 years working as a national sales representative for Bristol-Myers before retiring in 1993, it is a welcome return to the area.

“We had friends stay with us recently who had to go back to Tampa. All they can talk about, was how wonderful it is here,” Gary said. “We can’t say enough about UW-Green Bay… the location (minutes from town, live concerts, great restaurants), the staff — John (Gerow, associate director) and Kelly (Steffes, program associate) are incredible, as is the maintenance staff. One thing that is difficult is getting our stuff up to the rooms. Do you know that this year they had a cart waiting for us in every one of our rooms?”

Rita has three campus favorites. The library, The Phoenix Bookstore (where she says she can spend hours) and the UW-Green Bay students. “It’s a wonderful library, and its free of charge to the snowbirds to check out books and have access to the computers. And I love being around the students,” Rita says. “They take the time to smile and talk.”

Gerow said that UW-Green Bay Residence Life began to rent our room to snowbirds beginning in 2003 (he officially calls it the Snowbird Summer Housing Program). The idea originated from Bob Schaefer — former University Village Housing Inc. (UVHI) president. “Bob said, ‘John, you need to look into this.’ And he was right.” Two couples rented an apartment in 2003. Now, with camps, clinics, conferences and UW-Green Bay students occupying many of the rooms, the snowbird program is annually at capacity with about 30 couples, with little to no advertising.

“Once in a while we might put an ad in The Villages newspaper,” Gerow said. “But really, word-of-mouth has taken care of filling our apartments.”

The snowbirds gather informally in the residence hall lounges to watch athletic events like the U.S. Open or the Packers games. They play cards and golf together, and many grab a bite to eat (with a signature Wisconsin old-fashioned, of course, according to Rita). Another favorite activity of the flock is attending summer camp concerts, or heading down to Communiversity Park and jockey for a spot to “watch the beautiful sunsets over the Bay of Green Bay.”

And for Gary, a short stroll to Shorewood golf course is a “slice” of heaven on earth.

“Not only can you eat, and get good food at Shorewood (many snowbirds end up there for lunch or dinner), but they offer an excellent summer rate to play this beautiful nine-hole course, and practice on a recently added driving range… as long as you are willing to share the course with the resident geese.”

Needless to say, the LeRoys are reluctant to leave and will be watching for their opportunity to make reservations for their return trip in the summer of 2018.

“Other than Rita’s eight suitcases (Gary Jokes), these apartments have everything we need. The truth is, we would like to stay a bit longer, but understand that the campus has to get ready for their influx of students.”

“We believe this is a gifted opportunity to stay here,” Gary says. “We could go on and on… cleanliness, safety, efficiency, location, services like the mailroom. It’s so peaceful and quiet.

The only negative is the 1,471 miles to get here.”

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