Kendal residents pen book about life at a continuing care retirement community
● By Steven Hoffman
One evening last year, Peggy and Allan Brick were enjoying a pleasant conversation over dinner with Bob and Betty Warner. The conversation turned to how moving into Kendal at Longwood, a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) near Longwood Gardens, had been a wise choice for both couples.
“We were sharing stories of aging friends who, in spite of their unpredictable futures, seemed not to understand the independence and security they could have living in a Continuing Care Retirement Community,” Peggy Brick wrote in the introduction to “Experiences: Life in a Continuing Care Retirement Community.”
The idea for the book grew out of that conversation between the Bricks and the Warners. They realized that there wasn’t a book that would tell senior citizens about the benefits of a continuing care retirement community like Kendal. Forty years ago, a group of Quakers recognized the need for a new way of living as people age. They envisioned a community where people could first live independently in cottages, but then transition into an assisted-living facility where they could receive the care that they needed on the same campus. Kendal at Longwood is the result of that vision.
The Bricks knew that the best people to tell the story were the Kendal residents themselves, so they sent out a request for stories.
Those stories, which offer personal glimpses into daily life at Kendal, were collected in a 168-page book of 54 different stories penned by 45 residents of Kendal at Longwood.
“They describe the safety, predictability and joy of living with others in a community that guarantees care throughout life,” explained Peggy, a 12-year resident of the community, who co-edited the book with her husband, Allan.
The book is comprised of stories, essays, and poetry that, when taken together, reveal how life at Kendal allows the residents’ golden years to be truly golden.
Bill Van Wie and his wife, Gail, who moved from upstate New York into Kendal five years ago, wrote about hosting their grandchildren at Kendal, and seeing the kids meet their friends, enjoy the library, the indoor pool, indoor games, and the campus of Kendal. The children had so much fun that they never even made it to local attractions, as they had planned. Their fourteen-year-old grandson concluded his visit by saying, “Grandpa, I won’t mind getting old.”
At Kendal, it’s common for residents to say that they don’t mind getting old because they enjoy the camaraderie and activities at Kendal so much.
“We moved here and our social interaction went through the roof. It was like a freshman year in college,” explained Van Wie.
The book is divided into six sections: “Why Kendal?”; “From Past to Present”; “Our Outdoors”; “Favorite Places”; Creative Lives”; “It Happened Right Here!”; and “Our Caring Community.” Each section illustrates a different facet of daily life at Kendal.
The book has many highlights, like Marilyn Van Savage’s thought-provoking essay on growing old titled “It Takes a Lot of Courage.” She wrote about how living at Kendal affects her attitude in a positive way: “The beauty of this place takes my breath away and makes me realize something: this is one of the happiest times of my life.”
Lark Worth, who helped form ACT in Faith of Greater West Chester to help residents who were struggling after the Great Recession, wrote about how she and her husband, Fernando, reached the decision to move to Kendal. Worth was very pleased that she was able to have raised beds in the community garden at Kendal, and many of the gardeners donate food to ACT in Faith.
Bob and Betty Warner wrote about how delighted they were that Kendal had a chorus, just one of the many ways that people feel a sense of belonging.
In the essay, “Kendal’s Animal Kingdom,” Gabrielle Griswold wrote about the animals that abound at Kendal. There are many dogs and cats, of course, but residents can also see deer, foxes, and rabbits on the grounds. In Kendal’s accredited arboretum, Griswold wrote, “Our gorgeous trees are home to numerous wild birds: colorful cardinals, bluebirds, goldfinches, hummingbirds, and so many others…”
Annie Hazard wrote about The Gateway Shop, one of her favorite spots at Kendal, and the work that she does there.
In an essay titled “The Weaving Room,” Gabrielle Kimmel wrote about learning how to weave at Kendal, and the important role that the other residents played in the experience. She concluded her essay by writing: “So here is the question: Will I ever turn out a unique and beautiful tapestry? I hope so. I hope to be weaving for many years. But, pondering the word “tapestry,” I am struck by the comparison with the people at Kendal. What a beautiful, diverse, funny, hope-filled, generous-minded and interesting group of people are surrounding me in this adventure of living at Kendal. Even if I never produce that piece of fabric, the tapestry is here all around me.”
Peggy said that she sees the book as a thoughtful response to the national trend of having geriatric professionals advocate that seniors should age in place—to remain in their homes and in their own community for as long as they can. Peggy said that it’s important that people be armed with all the facts about continuing care retirement communities, and the benefits that they can offer instead of working under the assumption that it’s always better to age in place.
“There is so much that I want to share and so much that people need to know,” Peggy explained. “Fundamental to the decision to age in a new place by moving to a continuing care community is the acknowledgment that as one grows older we are likely to experience declining capabilities. Both staff and fellow residents honor the worth of each individual here throughout that journey. This means that residents living in the Health Center are not segregated but, in so far as possible, are integrated into the community for meals, events and creative activities with those living independently.”
Kendal is populated by a diverse group of people, including many retired teachers, doctors, lawyers, professors, or other professionals. There are a total of about 400 residents at Kendal: 300 in the independent living cottages, 50 in personal care, and 50 more in skilled nursing.
The Van Wies made numerous visits to Kendal before they made the decision that this was where they wanted to live.
“Kendal was held up to us as the one with no boundaries between independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing,” Van Wie explained.
That is an important consideration for many couples who will have different health care needs as they age.
“Here,” said Van Wie, “if one of us needs more care, we can get it right here.”
Residents say that the Kendal community is one large family, and the people who are independent work frequently to help those residents who need some assistance.
“The people in all three areas share facilities, and many residents in independent living assist with programs in the assisted living and skilled nursing areas,” explained Van Wie.
The staff plays an important part in the residents’ overall satisfaction. Kendal residents said that the people who work there are like extended members of the family. The residents believe that the excellent care that they receive not only makes for a happier life, it also makes for a longer life.
The opportunities to remain active are very important to the residents. Kendal residents can enjoy pottery, woodworking, writing classes, and activities in the fitness and aquatic centers.
There are no fewer than 100 different committees that residents can join to organize their activities.
“We do not depend on staff for our activities,” Peggy explained. “We have more than 100 committees and we do it all ourselves. We decide. The key is that there is a role for everybody. Everybody contributes in some way.”
Joan Stemmler and her husband, Edward, were introduced to the Kendal community when they would visit their close friends, Ed and Libby Rose. What they saw during the visits convinced the Stemmlers that this was the place for them when they wanted to move into a continuing care retirement community. The Stemmlers moved to Kendal in 2013.
Joan Stemmler said that when she moved in, she knew that she wanted to join a trail group that helps the staff maintain the seven miles of wood trails, clearing downed trees and keeping the trails free of encroaching vegetation. A trail team member also leads weekly walks through the woods or on the campus, rain or shine.
“In time,” Stemmler wrote in her “The Thrill of the Trail Team,” essay, “I began to meet the folks who turned out to be my naturalist teachers about these Pennsylvania woods…The pleasures of this extensive trail system, unique in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, are many. For the trail team, getting out in the woods with like-minded people and working in the open air is a joy and a rewarding way to contribute to our community.”
Stemmler said that she was helped in writing her piece by a memoir writing class taught by Allan Brick. Brick's classes are very popular among residents.
Van Wie said that he majored in English and, after taking two of Allan Brick’s classes, he never had a professor who presented the material in as exciting a way.
Kendal residents not only want others to know about the quality of life that can be enjoyed at a continuing care retirement community, they want other retirement communities to learn from the methods that are used by Kendal.
“One of the things that we can do is model what is really important in caring for people,” Peggy said.
While acknowledging that remaining in one’s home may be the only option open to many as they age, Peggy said, “The idea that independence is best preserved by ‘aging in place’ is a myth. The idealized old place will not remain the same: neighbors move away, friends die, grass grows and roofs leak. Inevitably, personal limitations, particularly the inability to drive, leave the older person increasingly isolated and dependent on others for the basics of life.”
Peggy is glad that “Experiences: Life at a Continuing Care Retirement Community” shares the story about Kendal residents, and the experiences that they are having. There have already been conversations about compiling a second book.
As Stemmler explained, “There’s so much more that needs to be told.”
Proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Kendal at Longwood Reserve Fund. The book can be purchased for $12 on the Kendal Outreach website at: http://tinyurl.com/plaxpd3.