No Place like East Tennessee Home

East Tennessee has become a popular destination for retirees to spend their golden years.

Many of them are settling in the Lakeway Area for a better standard of living, whether it be financial or lifestyle.

“We’re seeing a growing number of folks moving from the North to the South, especially Tennessee. It’s a lower cost of living, low taxes and no state income tax,” Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said. “Taxes on dividend incomes are going away soon, and property taxes are low, so it’s a retiree-friendly area.”

Brittain also said a low-tax base isn’t the lone reason for retirees to relocate to the area.

“We have the mountains, and a good healthcare system like Morristown-Hamblen Health System here. We have the base to meet their needs,” he said. “There are plenty of things to do. Also there are plenty of volunteer opportunities here.”

Volunteering was something Steve Lawrence and his wife Irene did long before calling the Volunteer State home. From 2014 to 2016, the Lawrences taught in Jamaica while serving in the Peace Corps. Lawrence, a New York native, lived in Southern California where his wife hails from before living in Denver for several decades

After returning to the United States after their Peace Corps service ended, the couple looked several places to call home before they decided to join Irene’s five family members in East Tennessee, namely a sister in Claiborne County.

East Tennessee and the Lakeway Area has proven to be a popular destination for retirees

“We knew we could end up anywhere we wanted to,” Steve said. “When we came back from service (in Jamaica), we went back to California, bought a van, packed up the dog and drove to East Tennessee and stayed with her sister in New Tazewell.”

While looking for a place of their own, the Lawrences took a drive through downtown Morristown – and instantly found their permanent home. The historic buildings, as well as the Sky Walk, fascinated the couple, however, it was the people who drew Steve and Irene to Morristown the most.

“There was something about Morristown that reminded us of Jamaica,” Steve said. “In Jamaica, it’s a local custom that if people say ‘hello’ to you, it would be disrespectful not to say ‘hello’ back.

They weren’t allowed to have cars, he said. They walked everywhere.

He found they would say ‘hello’ to at least six to eight people while walking to class.

The Lawrences also found the cost of living in the Lakeway Area to their liking.

“We bought a house here for 30% of what we would have paid for the same house in Colorado,” Steve Lawrence said. “Nothing’s further than 15 minutes away in Morristown.”

Like many transplants to East Tennessee, the Lawrences brought their life experiences to their new community. Irene brought her love for art and teaching the craft to students in Morristown, while Steve is an adjunct professor at Walters State Community College.

“We really like the people here. We’ve gone out and become a part of this community,” Steve Lawrence said.

Steve also served as the assistant director for Recruiting Hispanics to Achieve Project at WSCC, an outreach program to future and current Hispanic students. He also helps teach international transplants to the Lakeway Area how to make speeches and presentations relevant to the local population.

“This community is becoming more and more diverse and international – and I fully support that,” Steve said.

Irene recently won honorable mention at an art show at the McKinney Center in Jonesborough. Steve ran for city council in the last election. Though he fell short of claiming a seat, the campaign was a worthwhile venture.

“As a Democrat in this part of the country, we had a higher percentage of the vote than any Democrat (running for a city council seat) in the last decade,” Steve said.

The Lawrences enjoy Morristown so much, they’ve even recruited a recently retired couple to relocate to the area.

“We hosted a couple from Florida who bought property in Middle Tennessee – and they were just bored of the area,” Steve Lawrence said. “We assisted the (Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce) to show them around our area, and they loved what Morristown has to offer.”

Barbara Garrow, executive director for Crossroads Downtown Partnership, said the retirees who are moving to the area have a great deal to offer to younger generations who are also calling Morristown home – and that education is the most important gift older generations can give to their younger peers.

“We are now not just attracting older people, we’re attracting younger people. It’s a blend that’s important,” she said. “Older people have a heart for downtown because of the memories from their younger years.

“We want all groups to feel attached to downtown.”