Q: Why should anyone consider moving to Florida?

This is a question I have often been asked over the last years. What people are referring to is the GHC Club which is located on the Gulf side of Florida, about a 45 minute drive north of Tampa.

Much has been written, and a good part of it controversial, about this area, especially on the chat lines. I think I am about as qualified as anyone to discuss this subject, since I have owned a house right in the middle of where the action is since 1989. I used to spend only about 2 weeks at a time there in the winter, but for the last 2 years, I have been there almost the entire fall and winter.

Like a lot of people, my wife and I are quite involved socially and with many projects here in Wisconsin. We have lived in the same home since 1973, have raised our 4 children here, and now of course have grandchildren. So we have a lot of ties to an area that we really like, except in the winter when it is cold and dreary. Spring Hill, Florida has been a very nice winter alternative for us. Zig and Vicki Vanderwall were the ones who got us started here, like they did with so many others. Dean and Mary Ann Dusing, who have always watched over our house, have become more like family than friends.

In answering the question of "What about Florida", I always have told people, "Florida is not for everyone, but if you as a pigeon flyer are considering Florida, then Spring Hill and the GHC Club is where you need to go". The GHC Club now has a membership of 160 members. They have outgrown their 3 acres and 2 buildings and are presently engaged in buying a larger parcel of land and plan to put a modern facility on it.

The GHC Club is not only the most competitive and fairest club you can compete in, but it is also a place where the best fanciers of the United States merge in ideas and innovations. Everyone brings something with them when they come. For instance, if you are from the Midwest, you will certainly learn how to trap your pigeons like the people from the East Coast. We are no match for them.

But I really do not want to get into the pigeon flying aspect in this article. That has been written about extensively in the past, and if I get requests, then perhaps I will tackle that subject another time. I would rather talk about Spring Hill as a retirement community for pigeon flyers. More specifically, I would like to limit myself to the Highlands Unit 10 area, where the largest concentration of pigeon flyers is located. This is where I have lived part time the last 12 years, and therefore can talk about the easiest.

Unit 10, as it is known, is just south of Spring Hill. It is an area about 1 mile wide by 1 1/2 miles deep and has about 650 lots that are all one acre or slightly larger. The terrain is somewhat hilly and the soil is a very fine sand. The natural trees in the area are oak, live oak, and a long-needled pine tree. When you see palm trees, you know they have been brought in. What makes this hilly sandy environment so special for me is that there is never any standing water and therefore the area is almost void of mosquitoes. I encountered fewer mosquitoes in Florida the 3 weeks I was there this past July than I see here in Wisconsin in 5 minutes.

There is no shortage of relatives and friends visiting from up North. Spring Hill is located 1/2 hour from Weeki Wachee with the mermaids, about 45 minutes from Busch Gardens or Tarpon Springs, an hour from the beaches at Clearwater, and about 2 hours from Disney World.

Now as to weather conditions. From October 1 until the end of April, it is absolutely beautiful ­ clear blue skies and almost no rain all winter. Spring is the nicest I have encountered since I was a boy in Europe. The songbirds to me were just exhilarating.

You do get an occasional frost during the winter. This means you will be wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and possibly a hooded sweatshirt when you basket your birds early in the morning. But chances are, by 8:30-9:00, you will be back to your tee shirt, and that is in the wintertime when you are flying pigeons.

Of course there are many horror stories about the summer in Florida. I guess one word sums up summers in Florida, and that is "boring". You really don't need to watch a weather forecast if you live in the Spring Hill area. The daytime high will be between 89* and 93* every day. In the afternoon, there likely will be a tropical rain shower. And yes, it is humid. At night the temperature drops to about the mid-70's, and that occurs in the early morning hours. When I open my sliding door at 10 p.m., it is still hot outside.

This bothered me at first, until I started to equate the air conditioning running almost every day and night to my furnace running in Wisconsin in the winter. But that's not a bad tradeoff, since in the summer mornings and evenings in Florida, I am quite comfortable being outside taking care of the birds. It is amazing how well they fly in this climate. And of course the other 7 months of the year, I have climate and pigeon flying that I would not trade with anyone else.

The other comment that is often made is that there is too much summer. It is not how bad it is, since there is always a breeze off the Gulf, but instead, it is the duration of 5 months of the same conditions. The sunlight also seems much more intense, and that is true whether it is summer or winter. As much as I love to be in the sun in Wisconsin, in Florida I always seek out the shade.

When we first started going to Florida, I knew that I would enjoy the pigeon competition. However, I was afraid of uprooting my wife Kathy, who is very much involved in community life in Wisconsin. I did not want to make her a pigeon widow. I guess just the opposite has occurred. Now when we get ready to go back to Wisconsin, both of us, but especially she, has a hard time making sure she says good-by to all her friends.

So what is it like living in Unit 10 in Spring Hill Florida? At the crack of dawn, as the birds are exercising or coming home from training, you will see people walking along the street, and most are people you know. Kathy will be one of the people walking the subdivision. During this walk, she enjoys what she calls the sounds of the subdivision, as you hear scrapers and pigeon whistles everywhere.

One of the early groups walking is usually Karin Bennett, Tony Young, and Fran Van Lake. Before the morning is up, Betty Hees will call a cheerful hello to me as she and Cleo make the rounds. Then there's the regular duo of Pat Payne and Bev Ali. Some men are also walking, and if Henny Schipholt is not walking, then she will be clipping by on her bicycle with her scarf flying in the breeze. This all goes on as I do my loft chores, and everyone who passes has a comment or waves. However, Randall Berky doesn't believe in this wimpy walking in the morning. He is a dedicated pigeon man who would not take the time early. Rather, he comes by early afternoon, either on foot or bike. And you better not count out his wife Darlene either.

Each day, many of the non-walkers can be found at the Breakfast Club. There are usually 3 to 4 tables of pigeon flyers, some with their wives, coming and going all morning long.

The social schedule at Spring Hill can be as full as you want it to be. In the evening there are different groups at different restaurants. Monday nights it is not unusual to have 30-40 people meet at AJ's Sports Bar. Tuesday night a large group goes to Wings Plus. Wednesday night the VFW hosts a large group. There is somewhere to go for supper with friends every day of the week. During the season you ship pigeons every Friday night, and you can eat at the club, where the Auxiliary runs a kitchen. You also can ship on Monday nights and if you like, Tuesday nights.

In the off-season, there is a group of people anchored by President Tom Sawyer and Pat Kness who like to golf. Then you have the fishermen such as Vic Sternberg, Jerry Macintosh, and Jim Portenga. Other people regularly work out at the local gym, and let's not forget the rollerskating rink. There is no boredom sitting around as a retiree and getting rusty joints; there is always activity.

Art Hees is a class competitor and a pigeon flyer well-known across the country. At times we visit on shipping nights as we observe the hustle and bustle of the club in full swing. Other times he stops by my yard and we watch a large flock of pigeons going over. Then he will smilingly make this classic comment, "Isn't this great!" And how can anyone not agree with him? This is retirement with joy and action.

The women have a social calendar second to none. Once a month they schedule an official outing where they usually travel by bus. Also, once a month flyers meet for lunch at Ryan's Buffet. Here you come with your wife, but she ends up sitting with 20-30 women while you sit with 30 or so guys. Some women enjoy their line dancing group. Others go to aerobics. Another group enjoys a local dinner theater. There are the ladies in the Orchid Club. TOPS has a very active group. Flea markets are among the biggest in the country. Then you have Jackie Sawyer and her contingent at the beach. I would like to challenge anyone in the country to show me a group of "pigeon women" who are as healthy and physically fit as we have in Spring Hill. Of course I have to remind these ladies to act their age every so often, since they are all grandmothers! They really like me saying that.

So as I said earlier, if you are considering a warmer climate and are thinking of Florida, you need to take a very serious look at Spring Hill. I consider this primarily a retirement community, with camaraderie second to none. And pigeon flying is the real bonus, because you will not find stronger or more fair competition anywhere else in this great country.

As most of you know, the GHC is also the sponsor of the Gulf Coast Classic, one of the major races across the country. Also, this year the Tampa Bay Combine is hosting the AU Convention.