A Growing Partnership at a Retirement Community
A Fresh Start for One Retiree Equals Fresh Ingredients for Many
By Christy Brudin
As every gardener knows, you do not simply watch a garden grow. You weed, water, work and repeat. Gardens do not grow; diligent and dedicated gardeners raise them.
Edith Sherr is one such gardener. A resident of North Oaks retirement community in Pikesville, Md., Edith at first seems like an unlikely gardener.
She was born in New York City and lived in apartments her entire life. As a New York City teacher, she often grew flowers on the windowsills of her classrooms. Edith’s budding green thumb never got much exercise beyond those flowerpots. And then she moved to North Oaks.
“I didn’t know a weed from a plant,” said Edith. “I came here, and now I have a real garden.” One of North Oaks’ staff members taught Edith the gardening ropes. “She showed me what to pull and what to grow, and now I have a nice crop,” she said.
Edith’s gardening is more than a hobby. Her crop ensures that the community’s executive chef has fresh seasonal ingredients on hand and that her fellow residents continue to enjoy first-class dining. “I grow more herbs than anything else, and I give it all to the kitchen,” said Edith, who recited her list of crops. “Basil, Dill, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Cilantro, the Mint never stops growing, and Parsley of several kinds, whatever they ask for, really.”
For Executive Chef Nathan Finney, Edith’s herbs offer convenience and inspiration. “You have fresh herbs that just appear every day for more than half the year,” he said. “It’s really nice to have those for our menus. We do specials every day, so we can utilize them.”
The proof of Edith and Nathan’s successful partnership is often found on the plate. “It’s a thrill to go out in the morning and snip off the herbs and then see them on the plate or taste them in the dish in the evening,” said Edith.
But it is not just Edith who is thrilled. North Oaks’ residents regularly rave about their dining experience, largely because it is truly a partnership. Edith explained, “The dining here is, in a word, ‘super-great.’ There is resident input. They hear what we want, and they listen.”
This sense of partnership between the residents and staff extends beyond the dining room, permeating all of North Oaks’ programs and amenities. “The staff tries to keep us involved. They want to know what it is we would like to do,” said Edith. “We have a policy here at North Oaks of choices. Choices, Choices!”
For Edith, that means choosing to do senior aerobics and balance classes, to go walking in the nearby neighborhood with friends, to attend lectures and concerts, and to participate in the active resident association. Edith is currently the president of the association, but she noted that she was actively involved in the organization even before she was elected, as are many of her fellow residents. “Many of us don’t just live here; we are involved. We do. We care. We’ve built a new life,” she said.
Of course, building a new life comes with challenges, Edith admitted. “I miss New York City. I always will. But this is where I belong now,” she said. Edith and her husband, Martin, had lived in their New York City apartment for 39 years when they made the decision to move to Maryland to be closer to their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren.
The couple started talking about moving after experiencing several illnesses and seeing firsthand the burden that was being placed on their daughter. “Our daughter, Barbara, was back and forth every time we got sick. She had a husband and a job and three children of her own, and we thought that was unfair to her,” Edith said.
When the decision was made to move, their daughter began to look at communities near her home. When she found North Oaks, a life care community, she knew her parents would like it.
“We wanted the security of knowing we would receive care for life even if our needs changed and that our fees would be comparable to our independent living rates. We also appreciated the fact that all services, health care, rehabilitative therapy and skilled nursing care were right here on the premises,” Edith added.
After a visit to the community, Edith and Martin were excited to move. Edith recalled, “I went into the studio and a group of people were having coffee, and they were so friendly and welcoming. I thought, ‘I’d like to be with these people.’”
That was six years ago, and Edith has never looked back. “I think anybody who has children who live faraway should move to be closer to the children,” she said. “It’s very hard for grown children to do what I call long distance worrying.”
Not only is her daughter no longer worrying, but she is also participating in the community life at North Oaks. A writing professor at a nearby college, she now teaches a course for the residents. The students write memoirs and creative pieces, and the course has become one of the most popular at the community.
While the Sherrs initially moved to be closer to their daughter, they quickly discovered the many additional benefits of living in an active community. Martin became involved in painting and sculpture classes. A lifelong engineer, he found a new passion in sculpture, Edith said.
In addition to taking up gardening and participating in a wide array of activities, Edith also began making new friends. When Martin passed away four years ago, those friends became an essential part of her support system. Edith never felt alone, she said, because she had friends right in her building. “They reached out—literally; they took my hand and walked to dinner with me,” she remembered.
That sense of community spirit is one of many reasons Edith is glad she made the move when she did. “Too many people wait to move until they have to,” she said. “If people wait until they are older, feebler, weaker in mind or body, they don’t adjust as well. They don’t build new friendships.”
By moving early, Edith has been able to make her own decisions, to enjoy the amenities of her new community, and to benefit from the support of new friends. She has truly become a part of the North Oaks community.
Much like gardens, communities like North Oaks do not grow spontaneously. Active individuals like Edith Sherr work hard to build them. Together, these individuals create a space where friendships, partnerships and gardens can all flourish.
“Instead of just moving to a place to spend your last days, move in when you can build a second life for yourself,” concluded Edith. Edith’s second life promises to be as rich and rewarding as her first—with a few delicious additions fresh from her garden.