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June 22, 2015, 6:01 a.m. EDT

Retire Here, Not There: Mississippi

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By Anya Martin

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Getty Images
OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 01: A general view of the stadium as the Auburn Tigers face the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Oxford, Mississippi. Auburn defeated Mississippi 35-31. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Oxford

For avid readers, Oxford is a mecca. Author William Faulkner was born here and used the town as inspiration for several cities in his books. That literary legacy continues today with living authors such as Richard Ford, John Grisham and Curtis Wilkie settling here. The town also has plenty of bookstores, including nationally known Square Books 2, which not only hosts author signings but also packs in live audiences for Thacker Mountain Radio, a weekly public radio broadcast featuring author readings and live music every Thursday night.

The University of Mississippi, or “Ole Miss,” is the intellectual home base for the state. Its Gertrude Ford Center for the Performing Arts regularly hosts Broadway shows and other touring performances, as well as receiving national attention as the site of the first campaign debate between President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, his Republican challenger, in 2008. Retirees also can enjoy college football, baseball and basketball, and participate in its lifelong learning program, which allows seniors to take four hours of courses each semester for free.

Like many Southern towns, Oxford residents are notoriously friendly and welcoming, says Jon Maynard, president and CEO of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation. Retirees can join a “newcomers club” to meet new friends, he adds. “The Square” downtown serves up plenty of places to get together from boutiques to art galleries to live music venues and a nationally known culinary scene including several high-end restaurants owned by James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence. “Oxford offers the urban lifestyle with a southern small town feel,” Maynard says.

Oxford provides opportunities for plenty of outdoor activities, too, including golf, fitness trails, and hiking, boating, fishing and other water recreation at nearby Lake Sardis. Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi is one of the fastest growing acute care centers in the region with care provided in 30 specialties, and plans are underway to build a new state-of-the-art replacement facility. One drawback: the nearest airport for international and numerous direct domestic flights is in Memphis, 72 miles away.

By the numbers

  • Population: 19,022

  • Median home cost: $196,200

  • Cost of living: 2.6% higher than average

  • Unemployment: 4.9%

Source: Sperling’s Best Places

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