Comfortable, Enjoyable Living During the Golden Years

Retirement is the start of a whole new journey. Check out these exceptional local retirement centers, where residents find out how wonderful life can be, with maintenance-free living, plenty of independence and all the amenities they could wish for.

According to Peter Laslett, theorist and founder of the University of the Third Age in the United Kingdom, the third chapter of life begins after age 60. Many Baby Boomers are already experiencing it. Laslett refers to the last stage of the journey as the “Fourth Age,” when one becomes settled and lives out the remaining Golden Years in peace and resolution. At least that’s the hope – that one has earned this reward for having come to this point in the journey.
At the crossroads of the Third and Fourth Age, one faces the question of how and where to live out these years, to make them as golden as possible. Sometimes, this question is answered by the person experiencing this crossroads. Other times, a loved one, perhaps a son or daughter, steps in to make the decision. Regardless of who makes the choice, there are more good options today than ever before. Here are a few.

The homey interior of Highview in the Woodlands is filled with antiques donated by residents.

Highview in the Woodlands

1000 Falcon Point Place, Rockton, Ill.
(815) 624-6700,

Barb Hanson, 86, made her own choice about where she would spend her older years. Born and raised in Rockton, she already knew about Highview in the Woodlands, which has been part of the community for 106 years. It was near the home she had known all her life. It was the right choice for her.
Highview’s lobby and common areas are graced with antiques that have been donated by residents. A beautiful, intricate wooden table is delicately oiled with a toothbrush on a regular basis. There’s nothing institutional about its appearance, and its cleanliness is apparent in the pleasant scent as you enter.
“This has been a very good experience for me,” says Hanson. “I love the people here and I’m very happy at Highview.”
Highview in the Woodlands is a licensed assisted living residence comprised of apartments. Some residents live independently, while others require nursing care. The Alzheimer’s unit includes shelter care licensed, private rooms with nursing support and uses a unique technique based on the Montessori method, which includes colorful, interactive and practical life activity areas for enhancing memory. Highview also has a Snoezelen room, inspired by a Dutch concept of providing a multi-sensory experience that creates a soothing, calming reaction in the residents with Alzheimer’s disease, for the purpose of reducing agitation. The room incorporates light, scents and sounds to trigger memories and maintain a connection with reality.

Carol Cox

The variety of living arrangements allows residents to stay at Highview and to not move again.
“We’ve had couples come in where one had Alzheimer’s disease and the other was still capable of independent living,” says Carol Cox, CEO of Highview Retirement Home Association. “The convenience of offering both allowed them to be able to visit each other easily, without worrying about getting a ride or having to drive.”
Hanson enjoys the many amenities and conveniences Highview has to offer. “We have exercise class every morning, Communion is administered during services, movies are shown with popcorn, bingo is played and sometimes singers come in to entertain us,” she says. “The meals are fine, too – we have a new additional offering of salad available every noon, a choice that I like.”
Barb Hanson

What stands out most to Hanson is the exemplary staff at Highview. She finds them to be responsive when she needs nursing care and doctor visits, and they even helped her to resolve an insurance issue. “They do anything I ask,” she says. “They’re wonderful! I don’t know how they put up with all they do.”
Gayle Haab, whose mother Jo Shedd, 86, lives at Highview in the Woodlands, has had a similar experience. Haab helped select where her mother would live, and they chose Highview because of its location, which was easy for her and her brothers.
“I toured the facility and was struck by how extremely clean it was,” says Haab. “The apartments are spacious, and the staff is very friendly and accommodating – my mother loves the staff.”
Haab’s parents lived in the same farmhouse for 60 years. She knew that moving would be a huge change, but felt it was necessary to be near medical care and other services.
“I cannot say enough about the care and compassion the staff at Highview showed my parents during the transition, and to my mother when my father passed away,” says Haab. “My mother now enjoys the conveniences of having a salon right there for her, and social activities, which are great, because she is so outgoing and needs social interaction.”
Peterson Meadows residents keep fit by “sword-fighting” with the class aerobics instructor. (Tom Clabough photo)

Peterson Meadows

6401 Newburg Road, Rockford, Ill.
(815) 229-0390,

When Marlys Jarvinen, 84, moved back to the Rockford area last winter, she and her family wanted to find a retirement home that offered a sense of community, independent living, and access to additional care when needed. Before the Rockford native had left for Arizona nearly 20 years ago, she often visited friends at Peterson Meadows. Her choice to relocate there was an easy one.
Now eight months into her stay, the active senior loves the community and the conveniences available – not to mention the privacy she has when she wants it.

Marlys Jarvinen

“I like the community very much,” says Jarvinen. “You can have your privacy if you want it. You can be with people all day long if you want to. I’ve gotten acquainted with many people. I’m a card player, and I play with three groups.”
Jarvinen, like her fellow residents, wanted her independence and the freedom to care for herself, but also wanted to know that additional services were available if needed. She found that peace of mind at Peterson Meadows. As part of the Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, Peterson Meadows enjoys a network of care that’s available when a resident’s health requires more attention.
“Peterson Meadows is a Continuing Care Retirement Community,” says Chriss Guenzler, director of marketing. “Should a person’s needs change, access to other Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, such as Intouch Home Care Services, Legacy Corps and P.A. Peterson Center for Health, for short-term rehab or long-term care, are available.”
Meanwhile, residents enjoy a variety of independent apartments inside the main complex, or one of several duplex units outlying the center’s 34 acres. Those meadow homes offer full amenities and include services for home maintenance and upkeep; everything from snow removal and lawn care to window washing and house painting is taken care of.
Residents in the meadow homes and the main complex may choose to participate in a variety of social, recreational, physical and spiritual programs. Fine dining is available nightly, and the Meadow Mart Café offers a la carte options for breakfast and lunch.
Chriss Guenzler

There’s also an activity bus, available for trips to doctors’ offices, grocery stores and shopping along East State Street or at CherryVale Mall, just minutes away.
Transportation service was one factor that attracted Jarvinen to Peterson Meadows, she says, and she often takes the bus to appointments and social excursions. Jarvinen knows many of the original residents who, for 16 years, have called this place home.
“Our residents choose Peterson Meadows as their home because it focuses on their individual wants and needs, thus creating a greater opportunity to enjoy their retirement,” says Guenzler.
When the center celebrated its 15th anniversary last year, nearly 20 percent of the residents had been there since its opening. Residents can find the independence they seek with the conveniences of a retirement community. For residents’ families, that attention makes a big difference.
“Maintaining an older adult’s independence, giving them the opportunity to thrive, to enjoy life, I think is key,” says Guenzler. “Every resident that chooses Peterson Meadows believes it caters to their particular needs and wants for their retirement years. We’re intent on them being happy here, providing for them a lifestyle that is enjoyable as well as secure and safe. The biggest thing is peace of mind for their families.”
A cocktail party at Siena of Brendenwood, in Rockford, Ill.

Siena on Brendenwood

4444 Brendenwood Road, Rockford, Ill.
(815) 399-6167,

Siena on Brendenwood offers an active, independent lifestyle for its residents. While some obtain skilled nursing and home health care when needed, the focus here is on the opportunity to age in place with the availability of a wellness team and Siena staff.
The comprehensive wellness team consists of a registered nurse, home health care aides, an audiologist, a reflexologist and physical and occupational therapists. The team also includes a manicurist, pedicurist, yoga instructor, chair exercise instructors and the Siena Steppers Weekly Walking Team for active seniors.
“What’s unique about our community is our people – both residents and staff,” says Vinni Farrell, marketing director for Siena on Brendenwood. “Just walk through the door and the feeling of family is pervasive. It’s as if you are in your own home.”
The faith-based community provides all the amentities that most residents have had in their previous homes, and then some. The six floor plans of the 105 apartments offer several choices for spacious living and include full kitchens and in-suite washers and dryers. Courtyard apartments have balconies or patios overlooking the beautifully-manicured area where various social events take place. Fine dining, housekeeping and 24-hour security add to the independence and worry-free environment.

Vinni Farrell (Tom Clabough photo)

“We host several themed social events and opportunities to mingle and get to know neighbors,” says Farrell. “The pizza parties are popular, as are the courtyard cocktails – those are a riot and the residents love them.”
Recreational areas abound. Residents make use of the game room, the computer and creative arts center, the convenience store and the beauty and barber shops.
Stephen Hirsch, the facility operations director, has been at Siena for 16 years, and several members of his staff have been there nearly as long. “It’s the longevity of much of our staff that makes life easier,” he says. “Because they’ve been here so long, they know what to do. They know the residents and are able to respond in a way that is appropriate to the situation.”
Hirsch says he loves his job, and enjoys the challenges and opportunities of working with older adults. “The wealth of knowledge in the stories you hear each day is amazing,” he says. “It’s exciting to hear about things that happened to these individuals 50 or 60 years ago.”
The holidays are special at Siena. The staff decorates for Christmas early and turns on 250,000 to 400,000 lights the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Residents can also customize their living spaces for holidays, and for their personal taste.Residents can paint the walls and install custom carpet to make their home more comfortable and enjoyable.
Hirsch says every bit of time spent at Siena counts. “I have not met one person who didn’t say, ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’” he says. “Even shy people come out of their shells and are quickly sharing stories and finding things in common with other residents.”
Residents at Fairview Christian Retirement Center, in Rockford, Ill., enjoy a classic cars show.

Fairhaven Christian Retirement Center

3470 N. Alpine Road, Rockford, Ill.
(815) 877-1441,

Tom Bleed, CEO of Fairhaven Christian Retirement Center, believes so strongly in what Fairhaven has to offer, that he plans on becoming the third generation of his family to live there. In 1976, Bleed’s grandmother moved in.
“As happens with many seniors who find themselves isolated and questioning how to live out the rest of their lives, my grandmother wondered whether she really had the will to live,” says Bleed. “Once my parents moved her into Fairhaven, it was her surroundings that motivated her to live.”
Bleed’s grandmother spent her time involved in many activities and even had a successful little business of knitting slippers and selling them. She lived to the remarkable age of 107.

Tom Bleed

“My parents were so impacted by the atmosphere and the care my grandmother received, that they chose to move into a duplex at Fairhaven 11 years ago,” says Bleed.  “We have other families of multiple generations living here, too. It’s very family-oriented – those who come to live here become part of the Fairhaven family quickly.”
Fairhaven was founded in 1968 and offers four levels of living options on its 39 acres. Duplex living is for the more independent lifestyle, and includes meals and housekeeping, as well as access to increased care. The Haven offers apartments with many amenities, including 24-hour security and limited access. The Supportive Care is a shelter care licensed facility for those who need a higher level of assistance with daily living. This area includes The Neighborhood for those who are cognitively or physically impaired. The Health Care Center offers intermediate care from licensed practical nurses and nurse’s assistants. This nursing home setting cares for those with greater physical impairments, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Life is about generations,” says Bleed. “We move through independence to more needy ages. By offering the different care levels, we’re providing a progressive system that responds to the needs of our residents. People come to take advantage of the benefits of duplex living, like snow removal, grounds keeping, and the activities available in the first stage. The progressive concept is that they know that someday, when they need it in the next stage of life, they are a priority and care will be provided here.”
Steve Hemmenway

An affiliate of the Evangelical Free Church, Fairhaven offers a non-denominational Christian atmosphere with the strong spiritual component of its Life Enrichment Program. The program includes Bible studies, crafts, games, social gatherings, outings and the Brain Train, developed to keep mental acuity high. Residents can also take part in bell choirs and vocal choirs.
“The Enrichment Program makes a big difference in the lives of our residents and even those in our community,” says Steve Hemenway, director of resident and employee services. “For example, some groups regularly read stories that are recorded onto CDs and sent to local children, which benefits both our participants and the community.”
The scenic grounds and the comfortable, home-like settings are most apparent, but behind the scenes, Fairhaven is known for its reasonable cost and for maintaining a five-star rating from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Fairhaven is one of two facilities in the area that have received the rating.
“Our excellent nursing component and the spiritual enrichment we offer make us who we are,” says Bleed. “Also, financially, we stay with our residents. We offer a co-insurance plan and we work with them when their finances can no longer handle the cost of their care.”
A couple enjoys the bright, cheerful bistro at Wesley Willows' new Town Center.

Wesley Willows

4141 N. Rockton Ave., Rockford, Ill.
(815) 654-2530

The possibility of giving up control over life choices can be a major stressor for those in the Third and Fourth Ages. The administration at Wesley Willows, a 234-acre continuing care retirement community, recognized this, and implemented the Resident-driven Program to help residents maintain some control as they move through this part of life’s journey.
“The residents are empowered and take charge, instead of management telling the residents what will be offered in the way of activities, events and amenities,” says Bill Pratt, CEO. He recalls a couple of residents coming to him with the idea of hosting a concert in the auditorium on campus. Now, eight concerts per year take place there, with some 250 people attending.
Residents created a garden space that’s used by more than 40 gardeners. The art studio offers basket weaving, woodcarving and watercolor painting – all initiated by resident feedback.

Sally Frudden

Sally Frudden, 77, came to the retirement community after her husband died, looking to make a change and find a new life. “I came here not knowing anyone, and yet it became very easy to meet people and to develop friendships,” she says. “The Resident-driven Program is wonderful. We have concerts on the first Tuesday, September through April, for only $5, and we’re even looking into travel.”
In December 2009, Wesley Willows received five-year accreditation from two prestigious organizations: Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and EAGLE, a United Methodist Association faith-based, voluntary, self-assessment and peer-review process.
Wesley Willows opened in 1966 and today offers a full spectrum of retirement living, from independent housing to nursing care. Willow Ridge Homes offer independent duplex living. Willow Suites is a 36-apartment building for those seeking independent living with the amenities of an apartment. Willows Arbor offers assisted living services to those who are able to live independently in apartments, but who could use a little help.
The Hunt Terrace provides more care than Willows Arbor, assisting in some daily living needs. Willows Health and Rehabilitation Center provides skilled nursing and includes Alzheimer’s/memory care in its Kirk’s Place, which also offers day services, stroke and surgery rehabilitation, and physical, occupational and speech therapies.
Bill Pratt

“The ongoing, cascading of services offered here provides you with care without your having to leave the community,” says Frudden. “I’ve had neighbors who have broken a hip or needed some kind of surgery. They receive care in another area of the community and come right back to their home afterward.”
The heart of Wesley Willows is the Town Center, five years in the making and based on the concept of what Boomers will look for in the future. From the upscale gift shop, bistro, salon, massage center and bank, to the aquatic center, walking track, art studio, flower & garden room and media center, one could spend hours each day taking advantage of the resources.
Frudden has joined in many of the activities offered in the Town Center. “I have discovered, as I once read, ‘It’s not the years in your life; it’s the life in your years.’ That’s true! This is a new concept in senior living. This is senior living – living and having fun!”
Now that’s a great outlook for the Third and Fourth Ages in life’s journey. ❚