Snowbirds Fly South to Stay

Story by Jeannie Stone

The South has a long history of offering accommodations to “Northerners” wishing to escape the frigid and long winters of their native lands. It’s not surprising that many of these fine folks decide to change residences altogether. For two Russellville couples, Wes and Barbara Zulfer and Lynn and Jean Faaborg, the reasons to move to the beautiful River Valley were only too obvious.

Both Wes and Barbara were born and reared in Chicago. The couple reared their two sons in the suburb of Sheridan. Wes was a career banker, and Barbara worked in the insurance business. Their sons, daughter-in-laws and seven grandchildren remain in Illinois.

Although being apart from their precious grandchildren is difficult at times, the Zulfers don’t regret making the decision to move. In fact, the thought had been on their mind for years.

“We were looking to get away from the harsh winters,” Barbara said. The Zulfers had visited friends living in other places and looked at moving to Yuma, Ariz., but the heat was too much for them “It starts to get hot the first of April,“ she said.

Her husband agreed. “Let’s face it,” he said. “We love the beautiful climate here, and the people are more relaxed here.”

Barbara explained, “We had great neighbors, but when I can’t find Wes, I know if I just look outside he’s probably visiting the neighbors we’ve made here.”

The Zulfers are both engaged in the community. They joined the Church of the Assumption in Atkins, and they help prepare a monthly meal to feed the college students at St. Leo’s Catholic Youth Center at Tech. A smaller church requires you to be more active,” Barbara said referring to their Atkins church home.

The Zulfers, however, need no help in keeping busy.

They are both certified hospice volunteers and visit nursing homes weekly along with their therapy dog Scotty, a mini Schnauzer.

“The patients love Scotty’s visits so much,” Barbara said. “And Scotty is all business when we put his little vest on him. He knows what he’s about to do and he loves it.”

Barbara is involved in the Prayer Shawl Ministry at Arkansas Hospice and crochets shawls for the patients. The group has grown very close and regularly prays for the recipients of the shawls.

She also participates in the Water Aerobics class at Tech and has enjoyed several nutrition classes there, as well.

Wes drives the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) van to Little Rock once a week taking Pope and Yell County veterans to the hospital and doctor appointments.

“You’d be surprised what a great bunch of guys they are, and how considerate they are to each other,” Wes said. “They try to solve each other’s problems. If somebody’s running late they want to wait even if that puts them at risk for being late to their own appointments.”

There is a homeless vet that catches the van as he needs, “and everybody checks on him,” Wes said.

The Zulfers knew they would enjoy the weather, but the manners of the people were a surprising benefit.

Barbara said, “The men are much more polite down here. There is just a huge difference. If I‘m waiting in line at the store people will step aside with their cart and say, ‘After you.’ Even on campus the young people are polite,” she said. “In Arkansas, people don’t seem as busy. They make time to be nice.”

According to Wes, they felt at home as soon as they moved to town.

“I love the openness,” he said. “When people ask me where I’m from I don’t even hesitate. I’m from Russellville, Arkansas.”

Lynn and Jean Faaborg moved south under the most trying weather conditions.

“We had 50-mile-an-hour winds and heavy snow on moving day,” Lynn said with a laugh. “We couldn’t get here fast enough.”

Jean was a successful business owner of two hair salons when her first husband passed away from a massive heart attack.

Lynn was going through similar struggles after his first wife lost her battle with cancer. They each had two daughters.

They met through a mutual friend and began following the south winds to North Padre Island, where Lynn’s brother lived. The Faaborg’s bought a bit of land and wintered in Texas for four years.

“We lived six months out of the year in Iowa and six months in Texas,” Jean said.

Then her mother developed pancreatic cancer, and the lovebirds settled back in Iowa for a brief period until her mother’s death.

“Even though it was a tragic time, it was a beautiful time too,” Jean said. Her mother was able to die in her own bed with the family around her because she was a hospice patient.

The couple felt like it was time to move on. They decided to try and find a place halfway between Iowa City and Texas, so their friends and family could visit.

We got out the atlas and started looking. It was kind of fun and quite an adventure,” Jean said.. “We came to this area about five or six times to get the feel of the town.”

“And we liked it,” Lynn added. “It wasn’t too big or too small.

The Faaborgs opened their home right away, hosting a Christmas open house and meeting their neighbors.

“We have the nicest neighbors,” Jean said. “We take care of each other.”

Lynn agreed. “Everybody greets you before you have a chance to say ‘hi’ to them. In the Midwest people aren’t very trusting,” he said. “Here, people aren’t so skeptical.”

Although retired, Lynn stays active with the Knights of Columbus and the VFW where he performs carpentry work on the floats used in parades, serves on the honor guard, and coordinates the Voice of Democracy and Patriot’s Pen essay and speech competitions for area schoolchildren.

Jean realized she missed hair styling, so she started volunteering for Arkansas Hospice where she cuts hair for patients unable to go to the beauty shop or barber. She also works part-time at The Rock House Salon.

“I just love styling hair. I really missed the creativity,” she said.

Both appreciate the lack of bars in Russellville and the natural beauty. “Most of our activities are outdoors,” Jean said.

“People don’t realize how beautiful Arkansas is,” Lynn said.

Jean does wish, at times, to be closer to her family. One daughter lives in Cedar Rapids and the other in Seattle.

“And sometimes I really miss shopping,” she said. “I’m going to love the new mall.”

According to the Faaborgs there are two areas needing improvement — the traffic and the condition of personal property.

“I’ve never seen so much traffic in a town this size,” Jean said. “We really need a mass-transit system.”

“And the one thing I can’t get used to in Russellville is the people who won’t take care of their property. In Iowa people got ticketed for parking in the yard. I wish more people would take pride in their homes and yards.”

The Faaborgs enjoy listening to the conversations around them.

“Folks here say, ‘tars’ for tires and ‘oil’ for all. It’s the biggest twang I ever heard,” Jean said with a smile.

“People ask us all the time where we’re from,” Lynn said. “They pick up on our accent, but, seriously, this really feels like home after only two years. You can just call me a hillbilly.”  

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