Fritz and Cheryl Steinhoff spent a lifetime teaching high school students, their longest tenure in Scribner, Neb. Fritz taught agriculture while Cheryl shared her talents as a music and piano teacher. They raised two sons. In 2005, when both were in their mid-50s, they started thinking about retirement and started looking at recreational vehicles.
“We like to travel, so we thought it would be a great way to do it,” says Fritz.
Three years ago, they made good on their plan, sold their “stick and brick house” and now spend half the year—the cold half—in their home-on-wheels in Mesa, Ariz. When the snow and frost are gone, the warm Nebraska weather beckons them back home where they set up at the KOA campsite in Gretna to be close their sons and grandchildren.
Dr. Marvin Johnson and Joy Johnson met in a mental hospital in Clarinda, Iowa, almost 40 years ago.
“That’s appropriate, don’t you think?” cracks Joy, who goes on to explain that Dr. Marv was the chaplain there while Joy conducted a program on death and dying. “I teamed up with the chaplain, and then we really teamed up!”
The couple founded Centering Corporation, the oldest and largest bereavement resource center in the country. As authors and lecturers on the grieving process, their lives were busy enough. But then Joy had to go and write a series of successful mystery/comedy novels set in Omaha called The Boob Girls (Burned Out Old Broads), which forced a change in their lifestyle.
“We lived in the Mayfair Building at 12th and Howard in Omaha,” says Joy. “We were on the road so much because of my Boob Girls speaking engagements that we decided to go full-time in an RV.”
The Johnsons use Orlando as a base of operation during the winter and return to Nebraska in April, staying off I-80 at the Pine Grove RV Park in Greenwood.
Dr. Marvin and Joy Johnson with their travel companion, Barney, at a campsite in Orlando, Fla.
Linda and Dean Erickson, both in their mid-60s, are busy downsizing and getting their duplex in Blair, Neb., ready to sell. Years of weekend camping in state parks in Nebraska and Iowa as members of the local Jayco Club led them to the next stage in their lives.
“We’ve decided to go RVing full-time,” explains Linda, who retired in February from the local phone company, while Dean finished up a long career in the HVAC industry. They are the parents of two sets of twins, born nine years apart.
“We’ll probably be in Texas or Arizona pretty soon,” says Dean. “We’re looking at RV sites around McCallum, Texas. From what I understand, there are hundreds of RV parks within 50 miles of there.”
The three couples don’t know each other personally, but they have a lot in common. They are among the estimated 30 million RV enthusiasts in this country, according to the Recreational Vehicle Information Association. The mobile home of choice for each couple is a fifth wheel—a large trailer that hitches onto the bed of a pickup truck and is towed. They love the freedom the RV lifestyle affords them.
All are instinctively outgoing and have no problem making new friends.
“We aren’t parked more than two minutes before 10 to 15 people will be knocking on our door. Doesn’t matter where we are,” says Fritz Steinhoff, who adorns their $85,000 Mobile Suite by DRV with Nebraska logos. “And you’d be surprised at all the people from the Dakotas and Iowa who are Husker fans.”
Perhaps the most endearing similarity among the couples is they still love each other.
“We aren’t parked more than two minutes before 10 to 15 people will be knocking on our door. Doesn’t matter where we are.” – Fritz Steinhoff
“[Marv and I] are great travel buddies,” says Joy Johnson, 75. “That’s the most important part. You have to enjoy each other.”
The Johnsons also enjoy the company of their 125-pound Bernese Mountain dog, Barney. He happily sits in the backseat of their diesel-fueled Chevy pickup as it tows the 40-foot-long Jayco Pinnacle—a rolling testament to American engineering and design.
The hundreds of motor home manufacturers in the U.S. (Winnebago is still the largest) have listened closely to their customers since the recession hammered the industry. According to the RV Association, sales are surging again thanks, in part, to features like cherry cabinets, oodles of flat-screen TVs, convection ovens, top-quality countertops, surround-sound systems, satellite dishes, and washers and dryers. A standard floor plan for a fifth wheel includes living room, dining area, kitchen with an island, and a master bedroom with a full bathroom.
“We call it camping, but in reality we think it’s roughing it when we can’t get satellite reception,” chuckles Dean Erickson. Their upgrade to a $38,000 used, 37-foot Jayco Designer with four slides (rooms that slide outwards to expand living space once you’re parked) nearly resulted in disaster.
“First time out, I’m going down Nebraska Street (in Blair), and a guy passing by starts waving his arms like crazy. I stop and say, ‘What’s going on?’ And he says, ‘One of your slides is still out!’ Didn’t realize I had so many.”
What about the all-important economics of RVing vs. owning a home?
“We call it camping, but in reality we think it’s roughing it when we can’t get satellite reception.” – Dean Erickson
“It’s been fantastic,” says Fritz. “There are less taxes. No upkeep. And if the wind isn’t blowing at me, I can average 13 mpg.”
“Fuel economy has definitely gotten better over the years,” adds Dean, who figures he and Linda will be better off economically.
Short-term campers usually pay a flat fee to plug in at a site while those who stay in RV parks for long stretches have a meter and pay for electricity, along with rent of $300-$400 a month. Most commercial campgrounds provide Wi-Fi.
For those who still may be on the fence about the RV lifestyle, final words of wisdom from Joy Johnson: “If you don’t like the place you’re staying at, you can just leave.”