Mary Dana talks about her decision to move to a retirement community

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It was more and more a struggle just to keep things going. First of all, I had a house that had two stories and it was a chore to get to the other story where I wasn’t living… Plus the fact that in a winter like the one we’re experiencing now, you have to contract with somebody to get the snow off the roof and you have to contract with somebody to plow the driveway and sidewalk and that’s another chore and then in the summertime you have all of that grass to keep up with… All of those little things added up, it just got to be more and more of a struggle. And of course I was calling my family all of this time and they were calling me wanting to know if I was safe.

Mary Dana Interview, February 2014

J: Jill

M: Mary

Interview starts at 5:33

J: Good morning!

M: This is Jill?

J: Yes, it is.

M: This is Mary Dana.

J: Hi, how are you?

M: Just fine, thank you. I understand that we’re going to conduct an interview on the telephone.

J: Yes, if that would be good for you I would love to ask you a few questions. I’m here with my coworker, her name is Ines and we are trying to get information about the process people go through when they are really, you know, starting to think about, “Should I move to a retirement community and how do I do what’s right for me and my family?”

M: Well, I can certainly answer your questions.

J: Oh beautiful, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. Now, when did you move to the community?

M: In November my boxes arrived and I came back here two or three days in a row to get them straightened out and here I am.

J: Beautiful, and before that? Where were you?

M: Before that I was living in my house which was a two-story house in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

J: Oh, ok. Oh, you had a little bit of a move then. Do you have family there in the area?

M: Yes, I have a son that’s twenty minutes away.

J: Oh, that’s nice, that’s really nice. Oh, that’s terrific, now what, you know kind of tell me a little bit, if you could, about the process for you. Were you thinking, “Boy, I’m tired of these stairs” or what was motivating you on the positive and the negative side to think it might be time for a move?

M: Ok, well, in the first place I have one leg, because I lost a leg in an automobile accident in 2004.

J: Oh, ok, I’m sorry to hear that.

M: Well, it was a series of things. I guess I got out in time this summer, I mean this season, because the folks in Wisconsin tell me it’s the worst winter they’ve had in fifty years.

J: Oh my goodness your timing was good. Good timing.

M: It was more and more a struggle just to keep things going. First of all, I had a house that had two stories and it was a chore to get to the other story where I wasn’t living. And secondly, you have to go out into the elements to get to a car if someone is going to pick you up and you’re going to go shopping with somebody and all of these things just became a chore. Plus the fact that in a winter like the one we’re experiencing now, you have to contract with somebody to get the snow off the roof and you have to contract with somebody to plow the driveway and sidewalk and that’s another chore and then in the summertime you have all of that grass to keep up with. I had a boy help me that was really good and he’s capable of assisting anybody that wants to hire him to do so in the yard, but there’s the leftover things like the grass. Now, I had the most beautiful garden in Cedarburg, everyone said so. I have pictures on the walls of my condominium, my apartment here to prove it. All of those little things added up, it just got to be more and more of a struggle. And of course I was calling my family all of this time and they were calling me wanting to know if I was safe.

J: Right.

M: I visited Connecticut one time when my son first moved here and I liked it ok, but then I got serious about the thing and my son got serious about the thing and this last summer, I went to four, I think four places of this nature but I didn’t think any of them held a candle to this place.

J: Oh, nice!

M: So I looked here at an apartment and I didn’t like it at all. It was very small and he showed me this apartment which is a one-bedroom apartment with kitchen and a dining room area and it’s just everything that I wanted.

J: Oh, that’s wonderful.

M: So I came back and I looked at it again and I said “I’ll take it.” And it never entered my mind to be sorry I was leaving Wisconsin. I have lots and lots of friends there and I’m going to visit there and they’re going to visit here.

J: Beautiful, they will get to see a new place and you’ll get to be home in the summer, not in the winter, back in Wisconsin.

M: I do have a southern accent of a kind. I was born in South Carolina so they say that I came here from Wisconsin by way of South Carolina. Or Wisconsin by way of, that stimulates some interesting conversation.

J: Nice! Seems like the Watermark has people from all different places. Of all of our communities I think maybe you might have one of the most, you know, people who have come from all over, kind of find themselves there at The Water mark at 3030 Park. It’s close to a lot of neat places and close to a lot of places on the east coast. It’s very handy.

M: My son is already talking to me about what opera we’re going to see in New York next.

J: Oh, that’s beautiful. Oh, that’s wonderful. I love to hear that.

M: We have lots of opportunities here. I didn’t realize when I moved here just how extensive they were. But never a day goes by that we don’t have something of interest, either a documentary or an in-person group or it just goes on and on.

J: Oh, that’s great. Yeah, it’s a good way, you can be as busy as you want to be so to speak, you know, you don’t have to do it all but you could if you wanted to and that’s just about perfect because this is the time you’re supposed to think about the fun side of life and let other people deal with that snow.

M: Right.

J: Yeah, what did your son think about when you first started to think about moving. Was he supportive, did he think it was a good idea?

M: He was the one that started it.

J: Oh, no kidding! Good for him.

M: And he came with me to see the places. He liked this one, I liked this one too. And he’s come and hung up my pictures and everything like that.

J: That’s great. Oh, I bet he’s so happy to have you closer.

M: He is very happy.

J: Oh, that’s wonderful. So you said you started by looking at a few places. That was smart. You really know what’s out there and what your options were. Did he find those places maybe on the internet or did you guys?

M: My daughter-in-law searched and found them.

J: Ok.

M: She searched the internet, she searched newspaper articles, she searched everywhere and so I didn’t really have to search.

J: Nice, that’s great and you know that they did their due diligence and it sounds like they really did an extensive search.

M: They did.

J: That’s wonderful. Now, you told me a lot about how your process went, what you did and didn’t like about your house. It sounds like you’re quite the gardener.

M: I am. I got my Master’s degree in horticulture at the University of Wisconsin.

J: Oh, you did? Wow.

M: And I taught at Milwaukee Technical College until 1994. Oh yes, and I married my major professor from Wisconsin. My husband was chairman of the Department of Horticulture.

J: You’re kidding. Well, you had some shared interests there didn’t you, my goodness, no wonder your garden was so beautiful with all that education behind it. Do you have any of the programs there at The Watermark that you partake in or that you enjoy?

M: Well, I’m thinking about teaching a class but I told Tracy that I would think about it. I like flowers of course and the grounds are spectacular. All kinds of cultivars and that appealed to me too. Most places did not have extensive exteriors.

J: Oh really?

M: Yeah.

J: Well that feels good to come home to that. It’s your environment and all parts of it should be as beautiful as possible.

M: Well, you know, a friend of mine said last night that, she has been here since September I believe, and she said “when I think of home I think of this place, this is my home.” And I feel that way too, when I think of home, I think of this place and I don’t have to worry about the furnace or the lighting or anything else. By the way, we are without hot water today. They’re replacing a valve, it popped. Lack of water, so there was lots of scooting around last night to take showers I’m sure.

J: But at least you know somebody else was in charge and didn’t have to make those phone calls.

M: I didn’t have to make those phone calls.

J: That’s beautiful. And then your son didn’t have to worry about it either.

M: That’s right, that’s right.

J: That saves more time for planning your next opera trip.

M: Uh huh, right.

J: Any other classes that you’ve taken or did you go to any club meetings or do the exercise programs?

M: Well, I went to the bridge club meeting but I felt that my bridge playing lacked a certain something “je ne sais quoi” so I’m going to take some lessons from wait a minute, the group comes here and I suppose they rent the dining room every Wednesday.

J: Nice.

M: And I happened to bump into the woman that’s in charge of that and I told her about my interest in bridge so she’s going to give me some lessons.

J: Perfect, well, that’s fun.

M: The other thing that really interests me is a choral group because I have sung all my life.

J: Oh, really?

M: Really, yes. I mean seriously, and we are forming a choral group and she, Tracy, I don’t know the man’s name, it’s a Russian name I think but anyway, it’s someone in the community who is retired but who has had extensive experience in this kind of thing and he’s going to coach us.

J: Oh, that’s fantastic.

M: We have about fifteen members now; we’ll probably get some more if we get a little more experienced in what we’re doing.

J: Wow, well, that’s stupendous. I can’t wait to hear. I hope they’ll take some videos and we can watch them here in Tucson.

M: Oh, yes.

J: Wouldn’t that be nice?

M: That would be nice. And let’s see, knitting, I resolved when I moved here that I was going to knit some very fancy sweaters, some Irish sweaters and so forth so I’ve been to the knitting group, well, as it turns out they are making little hats and little gloves for little people and we still distribute through the churches and so forth but I have discovered that my fingers don’t move as well as they used to so I’m about to give up on the idea of making, what do you call them?

J: Cable knit? Sweaters? I think you call it cable knit.

M: Well, I don’t know but I’ve about given up on that idea and I’m about settled down to doing hats and gloves for them to give away.

J: Well, it’s still knitting at least, right?

M: Still, for somebody else.

J: You can still sit there and have some fun, hang out with people who are having a good time. That’s really nice that they give their time to make such nice donations too.

M: It is. I think hundreds of pairs went out last year.

J: Oh, my gosh, well, that’s really generous, wonderful.

M: This is a resource; a lot of people like to knit and can do something for somebody else as well.

J: That’s true, at the same time.

M: One thing I enjoy more than anything else is meal time, dinner in particular, because there is such a wide variety of people here, that it’s just who do you sit with? It’s always a clamor to who you’re going to sit with.

J: That’s terrific. Yeah, you have lots of choices and interesting people and oh I love to hear that.

M: Well, you have a place there in Arizona?

J: We do, our very first Watermark community ever was built in Tucson in 1987 and that’s what got them all started and our office here where we work supporting all the communities, we’re right across the street from that community, we even have meetings over there and they come over here sometimes. We go back and forth and it really keeps us, you know, keeps us close to what’s important and it really works out well. It’s kind of unusual for a company to be headquartered in Tucson but we sure are.

M: Oh, that’s terrific. We had a town hall meeting here yesterday and Ed Roman conducted it. He is very good, he says that he hasn’t been here that long but he is certainly entertaining all kinds of thoughts and up-scaling things and I don’t know what all’s going on.

J: Oh, wonderful. I like Ed too. That’s great, those town hall meetings are important because like you said it’s home and everybody needs to be on the same page working together to make sure that what people want is taking place and everybody should feel a shared goal there because it’s home. It’s important.

M: Everybody feels that way.

J: Oh, that’s great.

M: There are a certain number of people here that gripe and moan and complain and you’ll find that anywhere. If you throw down a hundred people you will get a few that will complain about everything. Ed was saying that there have been a couple of occasions where they have been showing people around and one of the residents has come up with a complaint. Now, of all the inappropriate times for a complaint. Gosh!

J: Yeah, that is kind of surprising thing but I guess it does take all kinds, doesn’t it?

M: It does take all kinds. Of course, I’m particularly fond of Ann; she was my introduction to this place.

J: Oh, ok, sure, I like Ann too. She’s great. Do you have any friends who, maybe even back in Wisconsin who you ever offer any advice or how they can get started or what to do if you think you might be considering a move?

M: Well, actually they have a place there very much like this, about ten miles from where I lived. I don’t know where their headquarters is but I went to visit the place and it is very much like this of course that would appeal to people from that area.

J: Sure.

M: But I don’t know anybody that is thinking of going out of state.

J: Well, even if they were going to stay in Wisconsin because honestly we are very interested in the process, even if, say, The Watermark isn’t the ideal place, you know, a lot of people want to be way out there in the country in the middle of nowhere or maybe like they want to be out of sight in Connecticut even. In general what would you tell folks who just think “well, maybe I ought to think about it” any general advice for folks who might be considering retirement communities.

M: Well, my main thrust so far is I say to people in all of this weather I did not have to go outside one time when I didn’t want to.

J: Nice.

M: That appeals to a lot of people.

J: It definitely means that your daily life is different; you know it’s just, so much stress is related to the weather. I’m from Ohio myself and so you know I know what my mom goes through and what we all went through back then, of course we don’t have that kind of weather in Tucson but it really it cuts you off from your life, winter does.

M: Now, I didn’t express that thought but that was one of the things that motivated me. All that snow I was cut off from my friends. My friends were wonderful, if I called up and said I’ve got to have a prescription; they’d go get it for me. But this gets very old. I don’t think you ought to expect people to do that sort of thing on a regular basis.

J: Well, that’s thoughtful of you and it is true, you know, everybody’s got stuff going on and everybody’s kids have things going on. Your kids will want to do it more than anybody but yours were too far away back then.

M: They’re not too far away now.

J: Nope, they’re not and now you’re going to the opera instead of the prescription line.

M: Well put.

J: Do you have, actually did I see here in my notes here that you have a cat?

M: Oh, yes, I have a cat. The cat has me rather.

J: So, how did your cat do with the move?

M: Well, she was very unnerved. She flew on an airplane under our seat and that was a little jarring and then I stayed with my son and his wife for a week off and on while I unpacked here and she had to be locked in a room because they have three dogs.

J: Oh no!

M: She heard the dogs scrambling and wanting to get in the room and she wanted to get out of the room so by the time we got here she was thoroughly traumatized. It took her a couple weeks to settle down, now she considers this home too.

J: Oh, beautiful. Go ahead.

M: She likes looking out the window and I have her condominium, I call it, you know she gets up there and she looks out the window.

J: Oh, isn’t that great.

M: there are a number of people here that have cats I can get to babysit if I want to go somewhere and I, in turn, would be glad to babysit their cat if they wanted to go somewhere.

J: That’s wonderful and nobody has to get in the car to go to anybody else’s house, you just walk down the corridor.

M: Right.

J: That’s great. That’s beautiful.

M: I got the apartment that’s farthest away from the elevator.

J: You did? So, you can get your natural exercise in?

M: So I can get my exercise in.

J: Well, there’s, you know, a lot of people do that as a strategy, they think you know well if I’m not going to go do this or that at least I’ll get myself from here to there every time I go down for a bagel or go down for a dinner or a bridge club or whatnot. That’s pretty smart.

M: Well, let me tell you about my favorite activity here.

J: Oh, yeah.

M: Volleyball in the pool.

J: Oh, really? How fun.

M: Oh, it is really fun. Every Friday afternoon and after we finish in the pool we eat ice cream, they bring us ice cream.

J: Oh, you do? That’s great, how fun. Oh I want to see some pictures of that. I’m going to tell Tracy to send me a picture.

M: Well, by all means get pictures and by all means encourage Tracy about the business of our singing group.

J: Yeah, that I really am intrigued by too. That’s truly the story of Watermark; you know that’s how life happens. You guys had the inspiration, you wanted to sing and well, why not? Let’s put it together and make it happen, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.

M: Right.

J: That’s beautiful. Well, I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed our conversation. I really really appreciate your time and I’m so glad you’re at The Watermark.

M: Well, listen if there’s ever anything that I could do for you let me know.

J: You know, I sure will, I sure will.

M: I have made some very good friends here.

J: Oh, that’s so wonderful and you know you really haven’t been there very long at all.

M: No, I haven’t.

J: Not really, you know, in the scheme of things. I’m glad it just all worked out so well.

M: I am too and if you want to ask me any other questions feel free.

J: I sure will, I will give you a ring if I think of something even a couple, three, four weeks from now I will sure do that.

M: Ok.

J: Thank you so much and have a great rest of your day.

M: Thank you, bye-bye.

Interview ends 29:23

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