Meet the residents of Sun City—where ageing is actually fun

In this Arizona community, retirees attend prom, join cheer squads, and shoot pool. In short, as one resident says, ‘This is not God’s waiting room.’

By Jacqueline Salmon
Published 17 Mar 2023, 10:04 GMT
Sun-city-Arizona-MJ8858-holiday parade
The Sun City Poms stride in formation at a holiday parade in nearby Litchfield Park in 2021. The squad presently ranges in age from 61 to 90. “It feels great to be together, put on our costumes, and perform,” says member Kathy Villa.
Photograph by Kendrick Brinson

It was while watching the movie The Savages in 2009 that photographer Kendrick Brinson caught her first glimpse of Sun City, Arizona, a sprawling retirement community northwest of Phoenix. The film scene—with bright desert light, cacti, golf carts, and tidy rows of ranch-style homes—“had this really strange, very visually interesting look to it,” she says.


In 2017, Curtis Hay, 87, shows off his vintage golf cart after shooting pool at one of Sun City’s recreation centers. “There’s enough activity to keep people our age busy,” says Hay, a retired engineer.
Photograph by Kendrick Brinson
Jean Woods, 77, poses for a portrait at the 2020 Sun City Senior Prom at Sundial Auditorium. When she moved to Sun City, she began calling herself Purple because she loves the color. Last year she had her house painted lavender.
Photograph by Kendrick Brinson

Since then, Brinson, 40, has gone every year to photograph Sun City’s residents, some of whom have become her close friends. Observing the enthusiasm people have for the many activities there, the self-described perfectionist says she learned something about herself: “I realised that I don’t have to be great, or even good, at something. I can just like the way it feels.” She’s taken up hobbies such as watercolour painting.

Swimmers from the Aqua Suns synchronized team form a star shape while rehearsing for a 2013 holiday show at the Lakeview Recreation Center. Although the team disbanded as an official club in 2020, some of the women continue to gather each week, practicing routines and swimming together. Sun City has around 120 chartered clubs, including groups dedicated to square dancing, ukulele playing, fitness, woodworking, and yoga.
Photograph by Kendrick Brinson

Opened in 1960, Sun City bills itself as the Original Fun City, designed for residents 55 and older. While retirement communities have proliferated across the country to cater to growing numbers of greying baby boomers, Sun City remains one of the largest. Its 14 square miles of palm tree–lined streets feature eight golf courses, eight recreation centres with seven aquatic facilities, multiple strip malls, two libraries, a hospital, and one cemetery.

In 2021 Tony Trevino, 83, and dog Gigi lean against his 1965 Chevrolet Malibu SS, which is also pictured on his prosthetic leg. He and his wife are snowbirds, traveling back and forth between Sun City and Idaho.
Photograph by Kendrick Brinson
Mary Zirbel, photographed in 2021, is the longest running member of the Sun City Poms, at 23 years. The 81-year-old considered quitting because of her age but decided to march as long as she can. “I’ve got more energy than most people,” she says.
Photograph by Kendrick Brinson

The average age of the nearly 40,000 residents is 73. Sun City has been overwhelmingly white, but Brinson says the community is starting to focus more on diversity and inclusiveness and now has an LGBT club. On each visit, she finds herself reenergised. “It’s this purposeful learning, socialising, playfulness that I find super fascinating,” she says.

As with any group of ageing people, loss is very much a part of life at Sun City; some of Brinson’s friends have passed away. But residents say they don’t dwell on death. “This is not God’s waiting room,” one told her. “Everyone is active and doing something.”

Larry and Jeannie Klein, here in 2018, first met in second grade; Jeannie died last year. “Ninety-eight percent of the people [in Sun City] are open and kind and good,” says Larry.
Photograph by Kendrick Brinson

This story appears in the April 2023 issue of National Geographic magazine.


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