In 2007, Murry and Jerry Perlmutter left their Woodridge, Ill., home for a retirement community at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Their friends were baffled: the Perlmutters had no ties to the school, and they didn’t know a soul in Durham. Helen Restall Mary Gundel, right, a resident of The Village at Penn State, talks to a university intern at a weekly water exercise class last year.

But the Chicago winters had made it difficult for the couple to stay socially active. And as they neared retirement (Mrs. Perlmutter, 73, had been a social worker; Mr. Perlmutter, 78, a psychologist), they...

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