Happy Valley—The Unretirement Choice for ProfessionalsWhether it’s the beautiful country side, the abundance of community activities, or the low crime rate, Happy Valley has become a mecca for people who have earned their right to a quiet retirement, but who choose, instead, to embark on a second career.

Wendy Oakes is one such resident. After a lengthy career helping to create medical device start-up companies, the past 13 years of which were spent in Silicon Valley, she decided to begin a new chapter in State College.

“Happy Valley is really the crossroads of Pennsylvania, but it’s also the crossroads of the northeastern United States,” Oakes says. “We’re three hours to Pittsburgh, three hours to Philadelphia, and about the same to New York City, so while there’s plenty of events to enjoy in State College, it’s also easy to visit a major city because this is such an accessible location.”

Oakes says while larger cities, like her former home of San Francisco, might play host to major concerts and sporting events, many of those activities are inaccessible to local residents because of parking costs, travel time, and the inconvenience of dealing with large crowds. She also notes that the cost of living, along with the obligatory long work weeks that are the norm in major cities, make it difficult to relax and enjoy the weekend activities that are available.

The State College area, on the other hand, provides a wealth of cultural, athletic, and community activities almost every day of the week. Most of these events are only a 10 to 15 minute drive from almost anywhere in State College.

“With State College and Penn State, the community here has a high level of interest in concerts, plays, athletics, and philanthropic events” Oakes says. “It’s easy to take advantage of the thriving environment.”

Oakes notes that moving her 83-year-old mother, Norma, to an area that she was comfortable with was also a deciding factor in where she would launch her second career. Norma grew up in Pennsylvania, lived for several years in the mid-state, and has always been fond of the State College area. “It was important that I bring her back to the state that she loves and adores,” Oakes says. “Mom always talks about how beautiful State College is and she has a lot of opportunities here that she might not be able to access in a larger city.”

Some of the activities Norma enjoys include State College Spikes games, Penn State museums, and the Centre Region Senior Center, where she gathers with new friends each Thursday to play bridge and socialize. 

Although State College is an “unretirement” destination for many people regardless of their background, Oakes says that giving back to Penn State was one of the driving forces in her decision.

As a 1982 graduate, Oakes recognized that the education she received from Penn State enabled her to launch a successful, long term career that helped her travel across the world for her business endeavors. In the next step of her career, Oakes wanted to pay Penn State back for everything she learned here.

“While still living on the West Coast, I had the opportunity to meet members of Penn State’s development staff when they visited San Francisco,” Oakes recalls. While development and fundraising was a career path she wanted to explore, Oakes decided that Penn State was the only place where she’d want to it.

Oakes is now the associate director of corporate relations in the Office of University Development at Penn State, where she focuses on raising support for the sciences that make up University Park and Penn State College of Medicine. “Given the chance, it was time to return to Penn State and give back to my alma mater.”

Oakes says that concerts at the Bryce Jordan Center, performances at Eisenhower Auditorium, and athletics like Penn State football, gymnastics, and volleyball all make this an exciting area to live in, one in which you can easily go to an event by yourself and meet up with friends and co-workers who are also there.

“Unlike other areas where I’ve lived, even though they have their good points, State College has a nice community atmosphere,” Oakes says. “There’s a real warm community here where people on the streets say ‘hi’ to one another. It gives you a welcoming sense of belonging.”