Published: May 10, 2023
Kendal is home to more than 300 men and women in their 60s and well beyond. They come from near (Oberlin and Cleveland) and far (Hawaii, Canada and elsewhere). The residents share many common values, such as sustainability and lifelong learning, and many have ties to Oberlin College. But each resident has his or her own unique story, and throughout the year we’ll be sharing some of their stories with you.Right now Coloradan Tom Riis is juggling two big-size plates: The Oberlin College alum is co-chair of his 50th Reunion to be celebrated in a couple of weeks and in August he returns to Oberlin with a moving van.
“My decision to move to Kendal at Oberlin this coming summer (rather than waiting until a later time) was finally easy to make. Kendal’s wide-ranging programs, diverse housing options, beautiful natural setting, and excellent health care provisions had attracted my attention long ago. But what truly sealed the deal at this moment is the dynamism of the community as a whole,” Tom said.
Why Tom choose Oberlin College
Tom grew up in upstate New York and when it came time for college he wanted a school rich in liberal arts and music – he was a cellist – and far enough from home, but not too far.
“Oberlin College was the only college I applied to,” he says.
His four years at Oberlin as a music major was everything he had hoped for, as well as profound experiences he never imagined. During the national turmoil following the Ohio National Guard fatal shooting of four students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, at the end of his first year, Tom and other Obie musicians traveled by bus to Washington D.C. to perform Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor at the National Cathedral.
“After only two or three days of intensive rehearsal under the direction of then dean Robert Fountain—and very little sleep—it was a huge musical and emotional experience,” Tom recalls.
Tom was on the planning committee for the Class of ’73’s 25th Reunion and moderated a gathering at Fairchild Chapel in which alums, family and friends sang and shared stories on that turbulent time. For the 50th reunion memorial gathering, the singing will be informal but still emotional and reflective, with time to read poems and listen to a recording of portions of the 1970 concert. “It’s something that no one in our class can forget,” Tom says.
Besides reunions, over the years Tom has returned to Oberlin for meetings as an alumni-elected member of the Board of Trustees. He often would stop by Kendal to say hi to people he knew, especially Betty James, a friend’s mother. In 2018 he retired as Professor of Music at the University of Colorado Boulder and started taking a look at his retirement options.
Why he choose Kendal at Oberlin
Along with the positives listed above, Tom has more reasons for choosing Kendal. He is still a working academician and wants to be close to a college library and museum. Along with the cello, Tom plays the viola da gamba and piano and sings. He knows there are lots of musical opportunities, both at Oberlin College and Kendal.
“The only negative for me is that Oberlin is a really small town but now I can explore the Greater Cleveland area, which I didn’t have time for when I was a student,” he says, adding that the move will bring him closer to family still in the Northeast.
Also Tom is gay and feels confident from what he has seen and heard that Kendal is a welcoming community to all.
“There are retirement communities and then there is Kendal. I think the spirit of Kendal is great,” he says.
Right now he’s busy selling his home in Colorado and downsizing, as he gets ready to visit Oberlin May 19 for the reunion weekend. “I’ll be spreading the word that at 72 it’s time to make retirement decisions while you can,” he says.
A Guide to Oberlin, Ohio Dining, Shopping, and Attractions
In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.
About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.