The Homestead: Southern Comfort

December 11, 2013 in Luminaries, Winter 2013 Issue by oliviagrider

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Indiana couple finds perfect home on Weiss Lake and meaningfulness in retirement by embracing their adopted community

story and photos by OLIVIA GRIDER

Jeff and Alexis Wolfe didn’t expect to retire in Alabama. The northwest Indiana natives worked in the Midwest’s famed steel industry, Jeff for U.S. Steel Corporation’s railroad division and Alexis in business administration before the couple had children. They moved with Jeff’s job from Indiana to Pittsburgh to Illinois, and when it was time to retire, Jeff, now 61, wanted to be on a lake. (Lake Michigan was the obvious one, and he had his eye on Wisconsin.)

But Alexis, 64, had another idea. “If you’re going to move, why go where it’s colder?” she asked. So the couple compromised.

Their daughter and son-in-law, who work for NASCAR , had been living in Gadsden, Ala., for two years. The Wolfes decided to consider real estate on five nearby lakes – Smith Lake, Logan Martin Lake, Weiss Lake, Lake Wedowee and Lake Martin.

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]They were looking for a home with hardwood floors, granite countertops, large windows and a yard with trees. They didn’t find anything they liked on Smith Lake. On Logan Martin Lake, a foreclosure was a possibility, but it needed work; they liked another house as well, but a grave in the neighboring yard was a deal breaker.

Then they looked at a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house on two acres adjoining Weiss Lake.

“Well, that’s it,” Alexis recalls saying. “When you walk into a house and you’re looking, you get that feeling. It just felt like my house. It’s homey. It’s easy to clean.”

Both Jeff and Alexis loved the hickory floors, stacked-stone fireplace, two-story living-room ceiling and tall doors and windows. Alexis found the earth-tone color scheme perfect. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” she says she thought.

They even liked the furniture in the house. Their traditional, farmhouse-style furniture fit their previous house well, but this home had a more contemporary, Tuscan feel. They accepted the owner’s counteroffer on the house with the contingency that the furniture stay.

That was in 2011, and now the couple has not only settled into their Cedar Bluff, Ala., home, but introduced numerous friends and family members to the area and immersed themselves in their adopted community.

The home’s layout is great for the parties and crappie fries (Weiss Lake is known as the “Crappie Capital of the World”) the Wolfes host and for overnight guests.

Each of the three bedrooms is in a separate part of house. “There’s privacy,” Jeff says. “Everyone has their own space.”

Thirty to 40 out-of-town guests from states including Illinois, Indiana, Florida, South Carolina, California and Pennsylvania have stayed with the Wolfes in the two years since they bought the house.

“It’s amazing how comfortable people feel here,” Alexis says. “People can watch TV in the living room without feeling like they’re bothering anyone else in the house. Some just like going out and sitting on the boat dock.”

In addition to taking guests boating and tubing, the couple shows them the many natural and cultural attractions they’ve discovered in northeast Alabama, northwest Georgia and southeast Tennessee. Among the places they visit are Mentone and Fort Payne in Alabama, Chattanooga, Tenn., Little River Canyon and DeSoto State Park on Lookout Mountain and Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia.

“I was really surprised at the things you can do in the area,” Alexis says. “There are so many parks that you could visit here. You can go to a restaurant that’s a hardware store [Hardware Café in Mentone] and an antique store that’s a restaurant [The Strand in Fort Payne]. Little things like that. It’s just unique.”

Jeff, who enjoys outdoor activities like hiking and biking, says the mountains and trees are a nice contrast to the flat cornfields he was used to in Indiana and Illinois.

“We had no clue what to expect here,” Jeff says.“We’ve had fun exploring Alabama.”

After five months in Alabama, Jeff, a self-professed organizer who was a village trustee in Manhattan, Ill., was getting involved in the community. “I want to be active in my retirement,” he says.

The couple’s 31-year-old daughter, Jamie, and her husband are avid rock climbers, and they introduced Jeff to Cherokee Rock Village, a range of boulders on the bluff of Lookout Mountain. On the initial visit, he says he thought, “This is my kind of place.” Soon he was a member of the Cherokee County Park Board, which oversees Cherokee Rock Village. He also joined the local Lions Club, having been a member in Pennsylvania.

Alexis had the house situated and was asking herself what she should do. She always wanted to be involved with the humane society, but never had time. “I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’m going to do that,’” she says. She called the animal shelter in Cedar Bluff and asked about volunteering. “They said, ‘Come on down. We need you,’” she recalls. Now she volunteers twice a week, and one of the couple’s dachshunds, Bo, was adopted from the shelter.

She joined two women’s groups as well – the Cherokee County Connection, which gets together for lunch, book clubs and to play cards, and the Women’s Club of Weiss Lake, a community-service organization that funds scholarships, donates to area food banks and sponsors educational programs.

Both Jeff and Alexis are involved with the Cherokee Rose Garden Club. “Garden club was not on my retirement list,” Jeff says. “It was hiking, biking, golf and fishing.” But he was pleasantly surprised. “This is the best group of people,” he says. “You can’t believe how much fun we have.” The group maintains Cedar Bluff City Park, flowerbeds at a post office and a butterfly garden at a school in Gaylesville, Ala.

Jeff headed up a landscaping renovation the garden club did at the Cherokee County Courthouse. Overgrown ivy and bushes were obstructing monuments to World War II and Confederate veterans. “People couldn’t see these things,” Jeff says.

A team of 40-45 volunteers from the garden club replaced shrubs, created a drainage system for the site and built a retaining wall and pathways to the monuments. “It really turned out nice,” Jeff says.

He does find time to fish in spring and fall and tries to golf with a friend every week. They play at Cherokee County Country Club in Centre, Ala., Terrapin Hills in Fort Payne and Twin Bridges Golf Club in Gadsden.

“You wonder going anywhere if people are going to accept you,” Jeff says. “My advice to any retiree is just to get involved in the community.” The Wolfes have met people living in Cherokee County who are from Michigan, Kentucky, New Jersey and other states, and everyone is accepted, he says. A desire to help others is something they all have in common. “We have a pretty good life, a good retirement, so why not?” Alexis adds.[/s2If]