EAST MANATEE -- Like most missionaries, Lloyd and Marilyn Kress had little money to spend when they came home to the United States.
The Kresses, who served in southeast Asia for 10 years, bought a mobile home in North Port to live out their retirement. Still, the bills kept piling up and the couple was forced to put their home up for sale and find less expensive housing.
Il Villaggio, an apartment community for evangelical Christians ages 55 and older who have spent their lives serving as pastors, chaplains, missionaries or even Sunday school teachers, was exactly what the Kresses wanted.
"All the people we met were so kind and encouraging about selling our house. They started praying right away," said Marilyn, 73. "We were so impressed."
Rent in il Villaggio ranges from $445 to $790 per month, said resident care manager Scott Mosher. All 232 units in duplexes around the 100-acre neighborhood feature the same floor plan: two bedrooms, one bathroom with a kitchen, living room and dining room.
The apartments are basic, the epitome of no-frills living, with the right amount of comfort one would crave after a long life on the mission field.
The community is surprisingly laden with amenities. There are two pools (one heated) and two hot tubs, a shuffleboard court, a fitness center, a dining room/auditorium, laundry facilities, a thrift shop, library and a resident-run hair salon.
Il Villaggio, formerly Bradenton Missionary Village, was the vision of Anthony Rossi, founder of Bradenton-based Tropicana.
"He had a concern for people who were coming off the field who really didn't have much financially," Mosher said.
The neighborhood, a nonprofit organization, was built in the late 1970s and initially residents were not required to pay rent. The community has a staff of 10 paid employees.
To live here, residents must have a record of service, agree with the neighborhood's doctrinal statement of faith and be active members of an evangelical Christian church of their choice.
"Rossi didn't want a church on the premises because he wanted the residents to be out in the community," Mosher said, adding most recent residents are Baptists and Nazarenes.
Carolyn Solomon, a member of First Brethren Church in Sarasota, has lived in the community since 1995 after serving as a missionary in Colombia.
"The peace is the best thing, the tranquility," she said. "It's just a joy to live here."
Solomon, 76, directs the choir, which practices every Thursday and performs for all residents once a month. When she's not watching her two grandchildren, Solomon volunteers in the leasing office answering phones, making copies and readying keys for new residents.
People here genuinely care for one another, said leasing manager Simonetta Loi. There is a special room with a set of "inner-neighborhood" mailboxes where residents can leave notes, cards or gifts for each other without having to mail them. There is also a board for prayer requests.
"Pete will be having a surgery for cancer tumor removal from his left thigh at the end of June," the board read Tuesday afternoon.
Another said: "Jane will be going for some testing on Friday, June 23. She asked if you could keep her in your prayers."
Solomon, who regularly updates the prayer board, says God's timing is always perfect. Her husband passed five years after they moved to the neighborhood -- a place they loved together.
"At least we got here and had several years here," she said. "I'm very thankful to be able to live here."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.