Helen Wagner moved to Kendal at Oberlin in 1993 with little thought of starting a family tradition. Widowed and living in nearby Wellington, the 86-year-old woman wanted a home where she could meet new friends, continue to be independent and play her beloved bridge.
She was able to do all three, to the delight of her two children, who now call Kendal home.
“We thought it was wonderful for her, and later for us,” Sheila Ploger said.
Added older brother Randy Wagner, “While she was still alive we started planning mentally and financially to come here – and here we are.”
A Growing Trend
While still in the minority, the number of second-generation family members living at Kendal continues to grow.
About a dozen ‘legacy” residents have lived at Kendal since it opened 23 years ago. And while just a few of these adult children lived on campus at the same time as their parents, industry experts expect to see such living arrangements increase in communities like Kendal as boomers age and longevity increases.
Steve Maag, director of residential communities for LeadingAge, told the New York Times that having parents and adult children living in close proximity, but in their own homes, and able to access services provided by a continuing care retirement community is a plus for both generations.
As for siblings, Randy and Sheila are one of six sibling pairs at Kendal, all who live in separate cottages and apartments.
“We’re close enough that it’s convenient to get together, but far enough away that it’s inconvenient for spur of the moment,” Randy said.
Randy’s Move to Kendal
Randy, a pipe organ builder in Erie, PA, was a bit apprehensive about moving to Kendal. “I’m single, I’ve lived alone all my life and here I was moving in with 300 people,” he said.
Now, a year later, Randy has found his new living arrangement to be very positive. “Kendal at Oberlin has an incredible sense of community in the best sense. Everyone is aware of everyone’s space and people are good neighbors – there when you want them to be,” the 77-year-old said.
Randy is already on the Kendal at Oberlin Residents Association Council and is AARP tax prep volunteer at the Oberlin Senior Citizen Center. Sheila is still settling in.
For Sheila, who moved to Kendal in December, the hardest adjustment was parting from friends. After retiring from Montgomery County Public Schools in the D.C. area, Sheila continued her involvement in an 1820 grist mill restoration project.
Now in her new home, she has reconnected with hometown friends in Wellington, and her mother’s Kendal friends.
“Your mother always told me what I did wrong playing bridge,” a resident fondly told Sheila.
Sheila does not share her mother’s enthusiasm for the card game, and hasn’t decided what activities and committees to join.
“A doctor at Kendal told me to get involved in something entirely new because it helps the brain,” she said.
Sheila has two children, a daughter in Brooklyn and a son in Tucson.
“My brother and I used to travel together out of the country and it was so nice because we did not have to worry about mother. Now my two kids don’t have to worry about me,” she said.
Just before Helen moved to Kendal in 1993, she fell and broke her leg. She moved into the newly opened care center, the first resident to do so. She liked to tell Sheila and Randy she “taught them everything they knew.”
Later, settled into her independent living apartment, Helen taught wheelchair aerobics and hosted weekly bridge games.
Both children visited regularly, Randy for weekends, while Sheila would stay a week at a time. Helen died in 2002, just two months shy of her 95th birthday.
Residents often ask Helen’s children how the community has changed over the years they visited.
There have been physical changes, for sure, with cottage expansion and renovation, and community space additions like the Exercise Equipment Room and Woodshop. Residents dress more casually for dinner, and the number of resident committees has grown.
But the “care and aware,” freethinking atmosphere remains, to the continued delight of Randy and Sheila.
Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.