Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Pre-Retired in Sunny Sarasota

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Pre-Retired in Sunny Sarasota

Article excerpt

When Lori Danko decided to relocate from Wicker Park, a gradually gentrifying Chicago neighborhood with a history of violence, drugs and prostitution, she had a few requirements. Her new locale had to have:

A hospital. (She's an ER nurse.)

A Whole Foods (preferably with a job opening for her partner, Sindy Ning).

Warmer winters. (By the ocean wouldn't hurt.)

Less crime. (There were 41 gunshot wounds on her last shift in Chicago.)

Oh yeah, and a roller derby team.

Sight unseen, Sarasota was the winner.

"We just took this giant leap of faith," said Danko, 43, who moved here in April with Ning, 40, a native of Taiwan. "We were up for the adventure."

Danko accepted a position in the ER at Sarasota Memorial by phone. Ning, a Whole Foods scanning specialist, hooked up with the local branch. They rented their house in the Alta Vista neighborhood by Skype.

When the Sarasota Rolling Renegades confirmed they'd be thrilled to have Danko, it was a sealed deal.

"All our friends thought we were crazy," she says. "They were like: 'Are you all right? Is something wrong?' I told them we were in pre-retirement. Why wait to come when we can enjoy it now?"

Still, when you are a self-described "weirdo, nerdy artist person" with tattoos, an Asian same-sex partner and "an inappropriate sense of humor," you sometimes wonder how you might be received.

"We've both happily lived pretty 'out' lives in Chicago," says Danko. "But you start introducing yourself as a biracial lesbian couple to your new neighbors and I was like, well ... let's see how that goes."

Happily, it has gone well. Neighbors welcomed them open-armed. The hospital changed her hours to the 7 p.m.- 7 a.m. shift she prefers. And before they'd even unpacked -- when Ning got word of her mother's breast cancer diagnosis and hopped the next plane to China -- the Renegades jumped to help Danko unload her "pod" of belongings.

"That's how welcomed we were in Sarasota," Danko says. "It's why I knew it was a special place and I was glad we'd chosen to come here rather than somewhere else."

Not everything in Danko's life has gone so smoothly. She grew up in rural Rockford, Michigan, a painfully awkward misfit, even in what she calls her "pull my finger family." Her mother, Dixie Lee, "never raised her voice or rocked the boat in her life." Her stepfather was the local fire chief. Her sister and stepsiblings accepted her eccentricity, but wondered when she'd find herself.

At 18, she married "the first ticket out of town" and moved to Seattle. Two years later she had two daughters and an ephiphany.

"I got to a place where I made some realizations," she says. "One was that I was gay. I was the last to know. My whole family was just waiting to see if I'd figure it out. I joke that when I came out, I was the first gay person I knew. …

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