Artist’s Silver Anniversary in a Continuing Care Community

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elder woman in CCRC paintingMrs. Ruth E. Dodge has been an artist, art studio manager, and author-and that is only since retiring. A living refutation of the prominent myth that seniors seek only relaxation, Mrs. Dodge has spent the last 25 years of retirement honing her many talents and exploring new interests and inspirations.

“I loved to paint even before I was sent to Kindergarten,” says Mrs. Dodge, who quickly advanced beyond her finger-painting peers. As a budding artist, her first job was painting children’s portraits. Later, Mrs. Dodge became an art restorer. She apprenticed herself to a talented, local restorer to learn the intricate trade. Over the next 20 years, she worked on a series of invaluable artworks-literally bringing them back to life. Of her work, she says, “It was incredibly rewarding to do my best work and receive compliments for it, since I really shared a love for the art.”

During a visit with friends in California, Ruth and her husband, Bob, began to consider retiring. Their friend was a resident at an Episcopal-directed community in Pacific Grove. The community was a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) offering lifelong care with a comprehensive continuum of services. At the time, CCRCs were a relatively new concept, but such communities have since proliferated. The Dodges liked the community so much that they began searching for one closer to home. They visited communities in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland before making a final choice.

When the couple learned of a nearby community, they were excited by the prospect. Fairhaven, a CCRC in Sykesville, MD, had recently broken ground. After several of their friends made plans to move, the Dodges made their choice. Mrs. Dodge recalls, “When we moved into Fairhaven on June 17, 1980, the community center was nothing but steel girders, but we had our first dinner in the dining room on November 1st.”

The early days at Fairhaven proved to be formative for the community atmosphere that endures today. New residents, including the Dodges, immediately pitched in to help the community get off and running. “My husband was busy cataloging the furniture as it arrived. Meanwhile, I was ordering tables and chairs and other necessities,” says Mrs. Dodge, who continues, “We immediately enjoyed all the people, who were all so willing to help.” Fairhaven’s programs grew rapidly-thanks in no small part to Ms. Dodge and other motivated residents.

Ruth, with all her experience in the art community, and Bob, a former architect and artist, were instrumental in the development of the art program. When Mr. Dodge passed away, Ruth was asked to take over the program. One of her first projects was to organize a major event in honor of Fairhaven’s 10th Anniversary. She remembers, “I decided we needed a really big splash for the Anniversary, something that would reach out to the greater community.”

Mrs. Dodge got her splash with a juried art show. Entries came from galleries and professional artists throughout the area. Professional judges were enlisted to review the submissions. Fairhaven provided monetary prizes for the winners, and Mrs. Dodge made a contribution in her husband’s name. Residents and community members enjoyed the art show, which continues to be a biennial Fairhaven tradition.

Beyond providing exposure to local artists, Mrs. Dodge helped her fellow residents explore their own talents. She kept the community art studio open seven days a week for 17 years. After years of service, Mrs. Dodge decided to give up her position with the art program in order to devote herself to writing.

As an author, Mrs. Dodge has completed a self-published exploration of the Gospel of John, entitled God’s Gift. Of her book, she says, “To advertise and self-publish it was very difficult and expensive, but it has paid off with wonderful success and really great praise for the work.” The fact that she undertook such an expansive work in her 80s is incredible to her admirers, but Mrs. Dodge is far from finished. She is currently working on several new pieces and has given up other pursuits in order to “focus on articles that have been on the shelf for years,” she notes.

When she is not writing, Mrs. Dodge is visiting with residents at the Fairhaven Health Center. Reading, chatting, and offering encouragement are all part of her volunteer work there. She is also a lay Eucharistic Minister, who takes communion to individuals who request it. She concludes, “Right now, my focus is really on talking and visiting with people and writing. Those are my passions.”

Her interests and her passions have changed dramatically over the past 25 years, but Mrs. Dodge’s home has always been Fairhaven. “I have been living in the same cottage since we moved in 1980. I’m the only one who has stayed in their original cottage,” she says.

While her location has remained the same, the greater community has changed dramatically to fit the “changing interests of the residents,” explains Mrs. Dodge. These changes have brought more programs and amenities, as well as more cottages and apartments.

The most recent additions among these new facilities are the Courtyard Apartments, two new buildings including 100 luxury apartments and underground resident parking. The addition was recently completed, and residents began moving into their new homes on August 1st.

Reflecting on her 25 years of residency, Mrs. Dodge notes that the most rewarding aspect of life at Fairhaven has been “getting to know the many wonderful, friendly, and interesting people that have moved here over the years and continue to move here now.” A motivated and intellectual resident base has led to a wide variety of programs.

Mindy Brandt, the Marketing Director for EMA, notes, “Fairhaven does not have outside volunteers or an activity director. The residents are so motivated that we don’t need them. There are so many residents here-just like Mrs. Dodge-who are talented, intelligent, and really involved.”

The residents are now focused on celebrating the community’s 25th anniversary. A year-long series of anniversary events began in June with History Day. Residents completed comprehensive archives for the occasion, and Mrs. Dodge delivered a brief message about her long-time residency. An anniversary dinner will take place on December 1st to commemorate the opening day. Staff members and residents are also working on a booklet that will provide a snapshot of the community as it is today.

Everyone at Fairhaven, from long-time residents to new arrivals, is thrilled with the community’s development. “Fairhaven is 25 years old, but we have done a lot of things to remain current and change with the times. We have changed to continue providing what our residents want-in terms of cottages and apartments and amenities and services,” says Mindy.

Mrs. Dodge has seen changing options, interests, and faces at Fairhaven over the years, but the welcoming atmosphere of home has remained consistent. As she celebrates her silver anniversary in retirement with the community that she has called home for so long, Mrs. Dodge looks back fondly on her first, while anticipating her twenty-sixth. After all, anniversaries are equal parts reminiscences and possibilities. What the combination will bring only the coming year can tell.

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