Boomerville: A Grown-Up Day Camp That Got It All Wrong

A place for boomers to hang out sounds like fun, but not if we’re playing dominoes

I recently stumbled across an article about a couple who are turning their lovely home into an “eldergarten” — like a kindergarten, only for folks at the other end of the age continuum.
Now that their own children are grown, Mike and Sue Nistler of Jacobs Prairie, Minn., are repurposing the 150-year-old farm they bought in 1993. Sue already runs a day care center out of one of the buildings. And ever since he retired from his union carpentry job five years ago, Mike has dreamed of building an “eldergarten” complex.
Finally, the Nistlers’ dream is just days away from being a reality.

“Boomerville,” slated to open its doors in October, is proud to offer guests a number of indoor and outdoor activities. There’s a lilac labyrinth, and visitors can whoop it up playing horseshoes and corn-bag toss or riding vintage two- and three-wheelers along a paved path. They can also take a ride in a wagon tricked out with a deck and a loading ramp for wheelchairs and walkers.

The décor is a perfect complement to all that hubbub. The activity center is awash with maps. vintage posters, games, books and toys. Guests can while away the hours playing cards, bingo, dominoes and board games. Musical entertainment will be ’60s rock and classic country; a partial list of cinematic fare includes Laurel and Hardy, the Little Rascals and the Three Stooges. If that’s not enough, every day-tripper will be given a free notebook and a pedometer and encouraged to “learn the joke, word and quote of the day” and “find locations on the various maps in the hallway.”
All this for just $5 per hour, which includes free coffee.

At this point in the article, I confess, I had to stop reading and do a double take. Was this “garten” really for boomers?! In the next paragraph, Mike Nistler clarified it: “This is not only for Baby Boomers, but for those of the Greatest Generation and younger people, too.”

(MORE: Summer Camps That Cater to Grown-Ups)

What’s Wrong With This Picture?
“The Greatest Generation,” aka seniors, makes sense. And I know Gen Xers are big on irony. But do the Nistlers seriously expect a flood of porkpie-hat-wearing 30- and 40-somethings to find their way to his complex for a day of Keno? Or listing through the lilacs on a vintage tricycle?
While I admire the vision and high-minded purpose (“to keep Baby Boomers’ minds and bodies active,” per the article), I have to question the appropriateness of the offerings.
For starters, the Nistlers should be aware that boomers, those 78 million people age 48 to 65, don’t fancy themselves “elders.” (We barely ’fess up to being middle-aged, though according to actuarial tables, we’re well past that point.)
On top of that, while boomers by and large respect their elders and probably call some of them friends, I doubt many of us would want to spend a Thursday afternoon hunting for locations on maps with them. Watching a Stooges movie, maybe — but we’d probably enjoy sipping something stronger than Maxwell House.
(MORE: What Does It Mean to Be a "Baby Boomer"?)
How to Build a Better Boomerville
They didn’t ask, but if they did, I could offer some tips to the Nistlers for attracting more boomers to their garten.
Let’s start outdoors. Instead of vintage bikes, how about some mountain bikes — or racing bikes? Could you add a couple of lanes to that bike path for runners? (You might attract some marathoners.) While you’re at it, how about a few tennis courts, a volleyball court or maybe a nine-hole golf course? If that’s too much money or work, consider a disk-golf course. 
The lilacs do sound lovely, but how about a community garden, where we can do our own puttering? Offer individuals small plots of their own and you'll never have to grow another zucchini.
In that activity room, could we have a tech center, with high-speed Wi-Fi and places for us to plug in? When we’re ready to unplug (you could force us to by imposing one-hour limits), we’d love to watch some films. An inexpensive subscription to Netflix or Hulu will give you classic and current films and shows. But instead of having us stick a blue pushpin into Addis Ababa or Helsinki on the wall, how about inviting local experts to give TED-style talks about their areas of expertise? We’re a smart group and we want to keep learning
You know what else would be great? An indoor exercise room with a few cardio machines, some weights, kettle bells and mats. But to keep our middle-aged hearts pumping, could we have a wider range of music than Donovan and George Jones? We love our oldies, but we also like Arcade Fire and Porcupine Tree. Give us a dock and we’ll DJ.
(MORE: Fantasy Camps for the Young at Heart)
How to Finance Your Dream

I will give the Nistlers credit for one smart decision: Mike converted the Boomerville silo to a home-brewing operation and for the past three years has been making his own “Schnitzelbrau” beer.

When the story ran, a formal opening date had not been set, though the Nistlers are aiming for early October. Hours are weekdays from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but Boomerville closes for meals (12–1 p.m. and 5–7 p.m.).

I’ve got one final suggestion. If the Nistlers need a little help financing their dream, how about keeping camp open from 5 to 7. Call it happy hour. Crank up the ’70s rock, put out some healthy snacks, tap a keg and charge by the glass. Play your cards right and I’ll bet by next summer there’ll be waiting lists for the tennis courts and disk-golf course.

For more information, call (320) 293-4058 or visit Boomervillelodge.com.

Suzanne Gerber
By Suzanne Gerber
Suzanne Gerber, former Living & Learning editor for Next Avenue, writes about inspirational topics including health, food, travel, relationships and spirituality.@@gerbersuzanne

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