Mailmen's paradise in Florida found too affordable, successful and sleepy Dogs not permitted in retirement town

May 26, 1991|By Tim Golden | Tim Golden,New York Times News Service

NALCREST, Fla. -- Somewhere between the hard life of a letter carrier and Mailman Heaven there is Nalcrest.

The town gets lots of rain, but almost no sleet and never any snow. By dark of night, just about everyone is watching television, playing bingo or asleep. And dogs are not allowed.

Nalcrest was carved from the piney flatwoods of central Florida with a simple goal: to provide retired mail carriers, at the time some of the poorer-paid civil servants, a nice affordable place to retire.

Yes, the lake had an Air Force bombing range at one end, and alligators. But the 500 bungalow apartments were set around a quaint pair of adjoining ponds, and the monthly rent for a furnished one-bedroom unit was $68.

Nearly three decades later, Nalcrest, which was named from the initials of the National Association of Letter Carriers, has succeeded almost too well.

Across the Floridian galaxy of adult villages and leisure worlds, it is not unusual to find older lives made easier by rising retirement incomes, particularly those of former federal government employees.

Nalcrest, though, has become so affordable -- at $240 a month -- that most of its citizens have taken to summering in cooler climes.

"Up until recently, most people lived here year-round," said Edwin Hughes, who manages the town for a foundation run by the letter carriers' union. "Now, people only live here about seven months out of the year."

As happens every spring, the bugs have begun to gather like clouds and the shuffleboards to sizzle in the midday heat beyond the point where real competition is feasible.

And as temperatures continue on their implacable rise, Nalcrest has started to get a little lonely.

Duplicate bridge has been canceled. Aquarobics, an ultra-low-impact version of the popular exercise regimen, is down to one class a day.

The Roy Maddock Bowling League, the softball games, the American Legion Auxiliary -- all memories, nothing more until autumn.

Still, it would be a big mistake to suspect that such relatively quiet moments would give way to a lot of reminiscing about old bite wounds. "You want to get tired, just watch some of these old people," said Henry R. Horn, the 64-year-old Nalcrest postmaster.

The philosophy is clear to Arthur Zimmer, who at 90 has given up swimming with the alligators in Lake Weohyakapka but still insists on clambering from the pool without the help of stairs, and who loves to tell how he picked up his third wife, Beatrice, at a Nalcrest dance some years back. She was giving him "the eye," he recounts, and one thing led to another.

"You gotta have fun," Mr. Zimmer said. "Otherwise it just gets normal."

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