‘Realife’ begins at 55: Co-op members stay engaged in a central location and a supportive community


Leslie and Ray Ryan found a welcoming, genuine community at Realife after moving up from Chicago to be closer to their family.

One of Realife’s cozy common spaces, complete with a fireplace; perfect for having coffee with friends on a cold day.

Members are free to go at their own speed, whether that means cycling around the lake or curling up in the library

Leslie and Ray Ryan hit the ground running at Realife Cooperative of Phalen Village. They parked their car in the garage, unloaded their bikes and haven’t shifted gears since. In the fall, they cruise around Lake Phalen and follow the Bruce Vento Trail. In the winter, they hop on the bus and go see a play downtown. 

Realife’s central location makes it easy to explore the city without a car. But everyone moves at different speeds, and the Ryans have found plenty to do within the 55-and-older cooperative, as well. 

“With a co-op, you’re part-owner in the building. You work more like a team in a way, so there’s a lot more socializing,” says Ray. “If you go down to get the mail, you could be gone half an hour just talking to somebody.”

The Ryans have also met people through attending committee meetings and signing up for volunteer shifts. Realife’s cooperative model means that many members serve on committees, helping out with everything from special events to the marketing committee. 

While the Ryans are serving coffee at an event or shelving books in the library, they’re also meeting their neighbors. It’s been a great way to form a new community organically, while doing meaningful work that helps sustain the place they live. 

After making the decision to move to St. Paul in order to be closer to their children, it was difficult leaving their home of 42 years in Chicago. Without the welcoming atmosphere and supportive transition at Realife, the Ryans may not have settled into their new city as quickly as they did. 

“Once we made the decision to come here, the move could not have been easier from this end,” says Leslie. “People are friendly, everybody greets everybody. We’ve said, it’s like living in a college dorm with no exams and no homework!”

Realife staff helped the Ryans with every last detail of their move. When they arrived, they felt immediately at home. Once inside their unit, they could make almost any changes or renovations they wanted, from repainting to installing new appliances. Moreover, they felt that they had total freedom to come and go as they pleased; Realife offers private, independent living, with the closeness of a cooperative. 

“If something breaks, we write up a work order and the handyman comes and fixes it,” says Leslie. “Living is just so much more carefree.”

Not having to repair their unit, or keep track of countless bills, has freed up a significant amount of time for the Ryans. They can now use this time to ride around the lake, walk to a neighborhood restaurant or take a trip to the mailbox and check in with new friends.  

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