Dwayne and Catherine Johns

Spring 2007 CSANews Issue 62  |  Posted date : Jun 06, 2007.Back to list

Dwayne Alwyn Johns started life and his career in Canada's Midwest. When he graduated from Brandon Collegiate Institute, he was not yet old enough for the Armed Forces (the Second World War was underway), so the teenager applied for a position as announcer at the local radio station. He decided early on that he was cut out to be a broadcaster and, even when he subsequently joined the RCAF, he was posted to an armed services radio station in Newfoundland. When hostilities ceased, he moved to Kitchener, Ontario, followed by stints in Sarnia and Ottawa, during which he underwent a few name changes. He used Sterling as a surname, with Paul in Sarnia, then Keith in Ottawa as given names. He returned to Kitchener as Keith Sterling for the remainder of his half-century of radio work.

While in Sarnia, he met and married Ilene and raised three sons and a daughter. Sadly, Ilene lost her battle with cancer at age 60. Dwayne's uncle Frank, who owned a mobile home in Arizona, invited Dwayne to spend his winter holidays at his Apache Junction address. Dwayne accepted and for 15 years, flew from Kitchener to Arizona for vacations that, during his working years, ranged from one to three weeks. In the process, he became more and more imbued with the snowbird lifestyle. While taking an early-morning walk one day, he spotted a 'for sale' sign on a mobile home and decided to buy it for his own use. When retirement came along, Dwayne drove down for the winter months.

The new snowbird soon found himself delivering the monthly newsletter around the property, and then doing the actual writing of the bulletin. It wasn't long before his fellow trailer park residents realized that a former broadcaster would make an ideal master of ceremonies for the many social events they ran at the Holiday Palms. It was at one of these functions that he met Catherine, who had been widowed a few years earlier, and a seniors' romance started. It was a long commute from Kitchener to Calgary where Catherine lived, so Dwayne packed up his belongings and moved to the Stampede city. Now when cold weather threatens the foothills, they both head south to their double-sized unit near Mesa.

While Dwayne and Catherine always go to Arizona, they manage to get away for other trips, using the Grand Canyon State as their travel base. They drive to Las Vegas from time to time to take in the shows and donate some funds to the slot machines and tables. They have cruised the Mexican Riviera and have transited the Panama Canal. They enjoy closer-to-base side trips to explore places such as Tombstone, Tortilla Flat and Sedona from the multitudinous attractions available in Arizona. To do all of this, they must have wheels. Dwayne takes his older car to the Grand Canyon State and they use Catherine's newer SUV to do trips away from their winter home. That allows them to have two vehicles on hand in case this is required.

For what appears to be a standard investment figure, Dwayne and Cathy purchased their modern mobile home for $10,000. They have spent quite a bit on upgrades which include hardwood floors, extensions, redecorating and furniture. They spend around $400 per month for upkeep and maintenance. The couple does not expect to get anywhere near a profit when they eventually sell. In the meantime, they consider it a worthwhile investment in health, friendship and pleasure.

Dwayne and Catherine are still enjoying an active lifestyle, albeit a little more slowly than a few years ago. Dwayne still delivers the monthly newsletter, but has given up writing it.

Q: Why did you buy instead of renting?
A: Renting is a hassle from year to year. After renting, you have nothing but memories. Owning, you have an asset. You can't calculate what the home is worth in terms of lifestyle and the friends you have made by returning to the same location each year.

Q: What happens to your home in Canada? Does your family watch it or do you pay for service there as well?
A: We have a couple who tend it and forward mail, shovel driveways and sidewalks. We pay them a flat fee ($1,000 CAD) for the five-month season.

Q: Do friends and/or family visit your "southern home"? How often and for how long?
A: Infrequently. On average, less than a person or couple a year, usually for a week to 10 days.

Q: Do you have a social network at your "southern home"?
A: More than at home.

Q: How did you come to meet people in the South?
A: A mobile home park is like a small town; everyone knows everybody by their first names and are constantly doing things together, as in golf, bowling, bingo.

Q: Are they Canadian? Are they American? Are they snowbirds/winter residents?
A: Yes to all of the above, with a few year-rounders.

Q: Do you keep up with Canadian news when you are down South?
A: It was difficult to do until recent years. Now it's possible due to Internet and hometown stations streaming audio, and also satellite radio.

Q: What do you do for fun?
A: A number of activities. Golf is high on the list, and a couple of times a week sees us on a course somewhere nearby. One club charges $18 per person per round; another is $12. We like to go bowling and that runs to $9 per occasion. The rest of the fun takes place at the mobile home park and includes: bingo (you pay, but you might win!); dances (we met at one); a Jacuzzi pool and all-winter swimming pool; exercise facilities; and, oh yes, lots of opportunities for elbow exercising.

Q: How much does your "snowbird lifestyle" cost?
A: In actual dollars, it's difficult to tell because we don't have two wardrobes, we have lower living costs in terms of activities, food and new clothing. But we add in out-of-province insurance and that climbs at an alarming rate when you hit 80! Overall, it's remarkably less than you would pay for a series of short vacations, or probably one 'glamour' vacation. Also to be considered is the ongoing good health by avoiding the stresses of a Canadian shovelling, skidding winter. We undoubtedly save the Canadian health-care system hundreds of thousands of dollars for the ounce of prevention that snowbirding contributes.