If you drive about one mile east of the intersection at 34th Boulevard and Williston Road and take a right, you will find yourself traveling a paved path through emerald trees on SW 25th Terrace. After winding through beautiful avenues of dark oak trees, a small villa and gate reveal the entrance to a hidden community.
A few moments later, quaint, cream yellow villas appear at the first intersection, dotting the road from left to right toward woody nature trails. Drive a little further, and a pristine four-story building waits.
The paved road trails along the front of the length of the building and wraps around white pillars of the Oak Hammock Commons. Biking trails weave through the greenery that flanks the outside of the building. When the automatic glass door slides open, the lobby reveals itself to be yet another gem. Soft autumn hues of red harmonize with vintage style furniture, a grand staircase and a warm staff.
The residents take academic classes, workout in a 20-thousand square ft. gym and volunteer in the Gainesville community.
No, they’re not college students.
In fact, the residents are primarily seniors whose ages range from 60 to 90, according to Star Bradbury, the Oak Hammock director of sales and marketing.
“We’d like Gainesville to know about this jewel of a community, tucked away in the woods,” Bradbury says.
Oak Hammock began when University of Florida alumni and faculty members proposed an idea to bring other alumni back to Gainesville and encourage retirees to stay in the community, Bradbury says.
In 1998, the University of Florida foundation appointed a board of directors for the community. After the development phase, the Oak Hammock finally opened in 2004. Today, Oak Hammock has 269 independent living residences: 200 apartments, and 69 club homes and villas on 136 beautiful acres.
Although UF alumni made up many of the initial residents, an affiliation with the university is not required for prospective residents to live there. “Fifty percent of the people who live here have no formal affiliation with the university,” Bradbury explains, “And many have relocated from outside of Gainesville.”
The community challenges traditional notions of retirement with extensive learning and physical fitness opportunities. Included in their monthly fee, residents can enjoy expanding their education through the Institute for Lifelong Learning in Retirement. The ILR offers a diverse range of courses taught on site, such as a Shakespeare seminar.
“We all want to keep learning, even as we get older,” Jeff Hagen, the Oak Hammock CEO, says.
The facility provides transportation to residents who wish to expand their scope beyond the classes taught on site, as well. This fall, one resident is taking advanced German literature at UF, according to Bradbury.
“These are people with a history of wanting to learn and wanting to stay mentally involved and interested,” Bradbury says.
Oak Hammock also provides transportation to residents who may wish to go to Gator games, the performing arts center or any spot downtown, so they do not have to worry about parking.
The second floor hallway is adorned with beautiful paintings, including landscapes and portraits. While the exquisite pieces resemble the likes of famous artists, Bradbury says they were created by Oak Hammock residents. She beams about the work and the most recent winning piece from their art competition, an extremely precise and detailed oil painting of a young girl in a cream dress. In addition to an art studio, residents can channel their creative abilities into other forms of expressions such as the stain glass studio or the on-site woodworking shop.
The 20-thousand square-ft. gym boasts state-of-the-art equipment, a studio, a 50-ft. indoor aerobic pool and a 75-ft. lap pool outdoors. Tai chi, water aerobics, Pilates and total body workout classes make up just a sliver of the classes residents can take to stay in shape.
While a diverse workout regimen and well-rounded education keep residents engaged mentally and physically, interest groups help the residents foster relationships with one another. Oak Hammock offers more than thirty different clubs to appeal to all interests. Residents can join a travel club, volunteer club, or book club to socialize and stay engaged.
comraderThe , social opportunities and active lifestyle attract new residents to the Oak Hammock community. As residents age, they are guaranteed additional care, should they need it. This way, residents do not have to worry about leaving their Oak Hammock family or finding healthcare elsewhere.
“We offer what’s called a Life Care Contract, where we promise them should they need a higher level of care as they age, that it will be provided for them,” Bradbury says. “We provide peace-of-mind level of care for our members.”
Thanks to a recent expansion on the skilled nursing and assisted living units completed in July of 2016, these physical therapy and rehabilitation services are available to the public. The University of Florida provides the healthcare services at Oak Hammock through Shands.
“A lot of people move to a retirement community for the social and active part of life, but the real end goal is the healthcare aspect of it,” Hagen says. “They know that we provide good service in that area.”
Hagen moved to Oak Hammock with his wife in May of 2016, he tells me.
“You could have all the nature you want right outside the door,” he says of the community’s location.
While Hagen believes the scenery is tranquil and beautiful, the downside is that Oak Hammock is hidden from people who may be interested. All the same, the bike trails are not his favorite part of the community.
“What’s the best thing?” he asks. Barely enough time passes for a grin spread across Hagen’s face. He says, “The residents.”
Photography courtesy of Oak Hammock