My Wausome Story: Steve and Maryann Gullihur, Retired, Relocated to Wausau from California

Original publication date: December 29, 2020

We spent the majority of our lives as Central California residents. We built our careers, raised our children, and developed life-long friendships there.

But as we started thinking about our retirement, California was not calling our name. Instead, Wausau, Wisconsin was.

What would cause two healthy, active adults to say goodbye to the warmth of California’s sun as well as our friends and family, and relocate to a relatively small city in the upper Midwest?

Truth be told, a lot.

California’s negatives were quickly starting to outweigh its positives for us. It’s overpopulated. The taxes are horribly expensive. Clean water is scarce. The air there is the smoggiest in the country. It’s 100 degrees all summer long. Yes, we had a lovely home, and wonderful friends and relatives nearby, but the rest of the equation wasn’t working.

When we started thinking about where we’d like to relocate, we considered what we wanted and needed in retirement. Our online research and interests landed on Wisconsin. We flew out in July 2017 to tour a number of cities in the state, starting with Milwaukee, then Oshkosh, and on to Appleton, Green Bay, and Stevens Point. While each city had its advantages, none of them felt just right.

Just in case we needed a ‘back up’ city to look at, we had a few Zillow listings for Wausau also, (including as it turned out, the house we bought!). We figured if we hurried we could make it to Wausau before everything closed, and arrived just before 5 pm on a Friday. The downtown was beautiful, with many local businesses, and of course the 400 Block. There was a sophisticated, progressive feel to it. We could sense that it wasn’t just a ‘bar town’ like others we looked at. We immediately went to the Visitors Center and as we found out more about the city, discovered all the activities, and the real sense of community, we looked at each other and said this is where we want to live.

And as we learned more about the community, it became a no-brainer for us. The cost of living is very reasonable here. We have easy access to absolutely wonderful healthcare. The city has been designated as an AARP age-friendly city. We find it is incredibly easy to get around, by foot or car. The neighborhoods are inviting and walkable. Being able to get out and about and explore the city by foot has been important to us.

The quality of entertainment in Wausau is incredible. You have the Grand Theatre, numerous events like Chalkfest, Artrageous weekend, and 400 Block concerts, historical tours of neighborhoods, museums, restaurants, and so many outdoor recreation opportunities. The summers are cool here compared to California. You can actually go outside and enjoy it.

We love the four seasons. Of course, there is snow, but we welcomed it. It’s pretty special to wake up in the morning with a fresh snow fall and listen to the stillness of it. If you have lived here your entire life, you likely start to take that for granted, but it is pretty special to us.

The cost of living here is unbeatable. The worst winter month we’ve had here was during the polar vortex. We hadn’t yet replaced the windows in our home so they were drafty. Our power and heating bill here was still half the price of what our average bill was in California.

Compared to California, housing is also affordable. We knew the style of house we wanted and we fell in love with Wausau’s southeast side neighborhood. We found the perfect home and purchased it a few days after visiting Wausau. We began renting it, while still living in California, because at the time, we thought we needed to work for another four to five years. But we soon realized the cost of living here would allow us to retire early. We quit our jobs, said goodbye to our family and friends, and became official Wisconsin residents in June 2018.

The people here have solidified why we made the right decision. When we first got here, the people actually took us aback, as we weren’t used to the friendliness and helpfulness. Neither of us have ever experienced neighbors just showing up to help. Here, we had a branch fall in our yard. The neighbor across the street heard it and before we could do anything about it, had shown up with a chainsaw. Two more neighbors came out and stacked the cut wood in our driveway. They were happy to help. They didn’t want anything in return.

And we’ve seen it again and again. When it comes time to shovel snow, people are just showing up to help. We’ve never lived in a community where people come to help without being asked. It’s pretty special and something we don’t take for granted.

Of course, some of our friends and family still think we are crazy. People ask us all the time, “Why did you choose Wausau?” And we say, you haven’t walked in our shoes. 100 degree heat for 30+ years. High taxes. Constant hustle and bustle, keeping up with the Jones’ style of living. You don’t have that here. The values are different. The quality of life is better. The ease at which we can get out and do the activities we enjoy is easy. If we had found Wausau 30 years ago, we would have moved then and raised our kids here. We love it and are thankful we can now call it home.

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