Her Biggest Fan: A Continuing Care Community Story

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With a breathtaking view of the Chesapeake Bay behind her, Joan Epstein sits at her window paging through Kathie Lee Gifford’s latest book. There is no question Joan is Kathie’s biggest fan, but it is actually quite the opposite, for Joan is her mother and the inspiring woman she has thanked in her book and throughout her other various achievements.

Having raised three brilliant and caring children, Joan has certainly led a fascinating life and it is only getting better at her current home, BayWoods of Annapolis, a Continuing Care Retirement Community nestled along the Chesapeake.

“It’s been wonderful here and I feel truly fortunate,” she said.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Joan came to Washington D.C. at the age of two and eventually met her husband Aaron Epstein while working at the Office of Naval Research. Through his career, they were stationed in various locations, including Paris where Kathie was born.

The couple raised Kathie, their son David, and youngest daughter Michelle (Michie) in Bowie, Md., where they lived for 30 years. While Aaron served as a Chief Petty Officer, Joan took pride in tending to her home and stayed active through her community and by becoming a speaker for Christian Women Clubs and churches.

“I found all kinds of creativity in my own life,” she said. “I traveled around Canada for these wonderful opportunities to express myself and share what I believed in and cared about.”

Over the years, her children’s own creativity and talents emerged. Especially evident was Joan’s gift as a Soprano which had passed onto her daughters. From skits Kathie would put on with the help of her siblings to Michie’s early natural vocal abilities, Joan had already known her children were destined for great things with their unique qualities and most importantly, their kindness towards others.

“We always encouraged them to be active and involved,” said Joan. “It was an interesting life with such bright children who were good children. They had a very balanced life because we raised them to care about their neighbors.”

Today, this upbringing is certainly evident as David is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, Kathie is a known author and entertainer, and Michie, who has sung backup for Kathie, has followed in her mother’s footsteps as a homemaker.

It is also evident in the concern of Aaron and Joan’s children that their parents settled at a home where they could maintain their active lifestyles and receive the utmost care later in life. There was no question that the Epsteins wanted to find a community located in the heart of Annapolis, and with the help of their son-in-law, Craig Mader of Craig Mader Insurance, the couple learned about BayWoods.

“It was still being built at the time, but my daughter and I came to look at a model,” said Joan. “It was five years later that we would be able to move in.”

One of the aspects that had appealed to Joan was the assisted living care the community could offer for any potential future health needs. What it has offered her, however, has been so much more. Unfortunately in 2002, just a few months prior to their move, Joan’s husband of over 53 years passed away.

“I can’t say enough good things about BayWoods as someone who didn’t think she was going to live here after her husband died, but it was part of the healing for me,” she said. “You could either be alone or be surrounded by people, and here there is a wonderful group of people.”

Surrounded by supportive individuals and taking advantage of a variety of activities, Joan could not be happier at BayWoods and in her apartment which she has decorated beautifully. Through the community’s unique Cooperative Ownership Program, Joan and her fellow residents have all been offered an equity position and the benefits associated with home ownership.

From the potential to collectively own the land to covered garage parking, there are many ways in which this pet-friendly community feels like a tight-knit neighborhood with additional perks.

“It’s a very nice community and there are only about 200 of us, so we get to know each other pretty well,” she said. “The people here are loving and really there for you.”

Of course, with her creativity and core values, Joan has contributed to this environment as she teaches a Bible Study with about 20 women. Their goal is to arrange for a non-denominational Sunday service for those in the community that are unable to attend local churches. She also often visits the assisted living unit, The Arbor at BayWoods, where she enjoys lunch and a stroll through the grounds with different residents. Offering a full continuum of care from assisted living and dementia care to hospice and comprehensive care, The Arbor ensures its residents receive the assistance they need.

There is never a dull moment for individuals at BayWoods due to its extensive array of amenities. With a fitness center, heated indoor swimming pool, putting green, Billiards room, cocktail lounge, fishing and crabbing pier and more, there are endless opportunities to mingle and stay active. Although there is a great deal available onsite, Joan and her peers cannot help but also take advantage of the community’s location in scenic Annapolis.

“I’m a small town person so I get out and enjoy Annapolis a lot,” she said. “It’s just charming and we’re so fortunate to have everything here.”

Along with this quaint area, residents also have the opportunity to take daytrips to nearby cities such as Washington D.C. and Baltimore. For Joan, the flexibility and freedom to spend her days as she pleases has been tremendous since it is not always easy to see her family with a daughter constantly on the go. With Michie nearby, Joan is happy to see her quite often and feels fortunate when she is able to see her other two children together in New York.

“I’m kind of spoiled,” she said with a smile. “I will get driven up to the city to visit Kathie as well as David and his family.”

As Joan enjoys her vacations and visits, she feels blessed to be returning to a fabulous home. With a spacious apartment complete with a spectacular view of the Chesapeake Bay and a fully equipped kitchen, anything Joan could need from a bank to convenience store is practically right outside of her door.

“I have a funny joke where I say ‘I need to get off this cruise ship!'” she said with a laugh. “I feel like I’m on one because I’m entertained, I’m fed, and I sometimes need to come up for air. I can’t keep up with everything and I say that in a good way.”

From raising her three children, one being a well-known celebrity, to ‘smooth sailing’ at the perfect home, one may infer as to Joan’s secret to success. For this humble individual, however, it seems it is all about family and meaningful relationships.

“I sit in disbelief with my children,” she said. “It’s a very rewarding life to raise human beings that go back into the world and don’t take but rather give.”

As she glances at the collection of family portraits adorning her apartment that includes her six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, she sees her most important accomplishments. As she sees the everyday smiles of her fellow residents and staff at BayWoods of Annapolis, however, she can see all that lies in store for her future.

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