Winter and ‘converted’ Texans fuel South Texas economy

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McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — There’s a growing group of retirees who are making the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas their permanent home and they’re being called “converted Texans.” Local business owners say they are helping to boost the local economy and having a whole lot of fun in the process.

Curt James works for Welcome Home RGV, a McAllen-based organization that helps to organize activities for seniors who are Winter Texans or permanent residents. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

Unlike the “Winter Texans” who come down for the climate but head north when the temperatures soar into the triple digits, these die-hard converted Texans are all in when it comes to the Lone Star State. They love living on the border. And they seem to do everything together.

“A converted Texan is someone who came down and is staying here forever. So they don’t go back and forth. They have a lot of pride in being called converted Texan as opposed to Winter Texan. They’re here all the time,” said Curt James, who works for the organization Welcome Home RGV, as a self-described “in-house entertainer.”

Kristi Collier is president of Welcome Home RGV in 2006 when she noticed there was a tremendous need by seniors in South Texas for help finding activities for them and connecting them to one another. Her business is booming and she recently did a six-day recruitment trip up North to entice more seniors to consider moving to South Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

Kristi Collier founded Welcome Home RGV in 2006 to help market some of her other businesses and to mainly sell coupon books, she told Border Report recently. But immediately, she became swarmed by seniors wanting her to help organize events for them, to communicate with other mobile home parks and to help hook them up with more seniors. Fast forward 13 years and Collier is at the center of a whirlwind of activity and expresses her exhaustion from trying to keep up with these fun-loving seniors.

“We do a wide variety of things to work with our Winter Texans and to welcome them home when they come,” Collier said. “Recognizing the economic impact our Winter Texans bring to South Texas and we try to really make them feel like part of us.”

Last year, she organized a cruise to Mexico and 300 seniors went. This summer, they started a weekly dinner club on Thursdays.

Fran Adams is a senior who lives in the Rio Grande Valley and works part-time for Welcome Home RGV. She attended a Sept. 19, 2019, dinner for senior South Texans in McAllen. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

The dinners actually start at 3 p.m., but most seniors begin arriving as early as 1:30 p.m. Because as Fran Adams explained, “These are senior citizens and they’re not going to get any place late because they don’t want to get left out.”

The dinner (more like lunch) clubs started this summer with only five people. Collier said at first it was mostly her staff bringing their spouses. But then the seniors heard about it and it really caught on.

At one dinner held Sept. 19 at the Applebees on N. 10th Street in McAllen, more than 80 seniors came. The week before, more than 100 people attended a dinner at Cheddar’s, Collier said.

A survey of Winter Texans done in 2018 by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley found that most indicated they planned to return, and many would consider making South Texas their permanent home.

The survey of 774 seniors is the first and only of its kind done in the Rio Grande Valley, so far, Collier said, and it provides some insight into why these seniors come.

Over 80 seniors, most who live in South Texas year-round, attended a dinner on Sept. 19, 2019, hosted by Welcome Home RGV at Applebee’s in McAllen where staffers gave out raffle prizes. The dinner started at 3 p.m., but most arrived by 2 p.m. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).
Seniors attending a dinner in McAllen on Sept. 19, 2019, received these free key chains. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

The survey noted how seniors give such a boost to the South Texas economy, their average age, gender, hobbies and special interests. And the overwhelming majority of 2018 Winter Texans — 95 percent — said they planned to return in 2019.

The survey also found that Winter Texans are
increasingly much less concerned about terrorism or threat of violence as a reason for not returning to the Valley. “These findings suggest that concerns about Mexico violence or the 2014 surge of undocumented immigrants and security forces to the Valley is not pervasive,” the survey stated.

The people who were attending the Sept. 19 dinner interviewed by Border Report said they love living in the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s like having six Saturdays and one Sunday every week,” said Ed Herlay, who relocated with his wife, Kathy, 12 years ago from Nebraska and live in Bit O’Heaven RV and Mobile Home Resort in Donna, Texas.

Kathy and Ed Herlay enjoy dinner on Sept. 19, 2019, with other converted seniors in McAllen, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez).

“There are activities every day of the week. Monday’s the bowling league; Tuesday is happy hour; Wednesday is entertainment; Thursday is soup supper — all you can eat for 3 bucks; Friday is always the dance. Saturday is music jam. Plus all the other activities mixed in. It just goes on,” he said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com. She is traveling with a team driving the border from San Diego to Brownsville Texas.

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