A Perfect Arrangement–Kensington Park Senior Living
By Christy Brudin
Sherry and Susie Johnston spend their days picking flowers and sorting blooms to make flower arrangements perfect for every occasion. As they choose the flowers, they think about color, scale and balance: just like their father taught them.
As the owners and operators of Suburban Florist in Bethesda, Md., the sisters are carrying on a family legacy that began when their father, Hugh, and their mother, Janet, opened the shop more than 56 years ago. While building a business that has become a community institution, the couple also raised four children.
Today, Hugh Johnston is immensely proud of both the business and the family that he built. Now a resident at Kensington Park Senior Living in Kensington, Md., he is able to relax and enjoy his well-earned retirement.
Hugh and Janet both came from families with long histories in the area. “We’re practically original settlers of Bethesda,” Sherry said with a smile.
Hugh’s family owned The Sycamore Store, a historic grocery store on MacArthur Boulevard, where he worked as a young man delivering groceries. Janet’s family owned a nearby farm. Hugh regularly brought groceries to the farm, and the two young people developed a romance.
After marrying, Hugh and Janet moved to Norfolk, Va., when he joined the military. Once Hugh completed his service, the couple moved back to their beloved hometown and opened Suburban Florist. Both in their early twenties at the time, the young couple launched a business that grew into a legacy.
“We were really raised in the business,” Sherry noted. “My sister was in the playpen in the front window, and we were all there all the time as little kids. Now, my kids come in after school every day, so it’s really come full circle.”
Despite competition from national chains, as well as Internet-based retailers, Suburban Florist has managed to thrive largely based on a simple business philosophy: a deep dedication to customer service and community connections.
“When my sister and I took over the shop, it started getting bigger and bigger, and we really had to consider where we wanted to go with this,” Sherry recalled. “We ultimately decided that we loved it the way it was. We decided to keep it as a Mom and Pop shop. Sure, it has grown, but it still has the feel of a Mom and Pop shop.”
With a business so deeply rooted in the community, it is no surprise that Hugh was hesitant to move from his long-time home after his wife passed away. “After our mom died, Dad didn’t want to talk about moving. He was adamant that he wanted to stay in the house, but he was very lonely,” Sherry said.
Following a visit to his daughter Debbie, who lived in Florida at the time, Hugh finally decided that he did not want to return to his big, empty house. Sherry and Susie began looking for a retirement community immediately. Within a week, they had helped move their father to a nearby independent living community.
“He lived in an independent community for a couple of years, but he started to experience a lot of falls and other issues related to his Parkinson’s disease,” Sherry recalled. “After one fall, he laid on the floor all night before he was discovered because he didn’t have his call button. We knew then that we needed more care for him.”
While Hugh was in the hospital recovering from his fall, Sherry and Susie once again began looking for communities, but this time they wanted a community that offered assisted living and memory care, as well as independent living. “I think we looked at more than 30 places in Montgomery County, and we finally came to Kensington Park based on the recommendation of a neighbor who is in the senior living industry,” said Sherry.
Since moving to Kensington Park, Hugh and his family have enjoyed the benefits of comprehensive care and first-rate amenities. Sherry noted, “It is such a relief for all of us that we can now come and visit Dad and enjoy the time we have with him, instead of always checking up to make sure he is cared for and worrying about him.”
For Hugh, the move has given him the ability to participate in a variety of activities. From yoga to memory games to music programs, Kensington Park offers residents stimulating activities to enhance their physical and mental capacities. “Before the move we were seeing a gradual, but steady, decline in my father’s condition. Now we are seeing a huge improvement, and that just makes us so happy,” said Sherry.
Many of the programs that have helped Hugh were put in place by Kensington Park’s new management team, led by Director Tanya Walker. “We have really seen the care improve since this new team came in,” noted Sherry. “They have made so many wonderful changes; they make sure that they have activities for the residents from the time they wake up until they go to sleep. They are really engaged with the residents.”
Kensington Park’s residents also benefit from the amenities and lifestyle offered in the surrounding city of Kensington. The community regularly hosts activities and events open to the public, encouraging interaction between residents and their intergenerational neighbors. Thanks to these efforts, the community and its residents have become an integral part of the charming town.
As the Johnston family knows, making the perfect flower arrangement is not as easy as it looks. From a simple arrangement to a large spread, every flower is picked and placed with careful thought. After moving their father to Kensington Park, the family discovered that the same holds true for senior living: finding the perfect living arrangement takes time, research and maybe even a couple of tries. However, when you find the right place to call home, the result is beautiful.