People on the Move – Retirement community in $23 million makeover, Pickersgill adding auditorium, dining rooms

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By Josh Dombroskie
sun reporter
Originally published February 23, 2007

Corridors are closed off and workers in hardhats scurry about, but the folks who live at Pickersgill Retirement Community don’t seem to be bothered.

“Getting to the meeting room is a little inconvenient, but that is a temporary thing,” said Sanford Disney, a resident of the Towson retirement community. “It’s exercise, and it keeps you walking.”

Pickersgill, which describes itself as Maryland’s oldest retirement community and the second-oldest in the nation, is in the midst of an extensive renovation. The retirement home is working to raise money to help pay for the construction, which is being done in three phases and is scheduled for completion by March 2009.

“The renovations are vital,” said Ann Brooke, who is helping lead the capital campaign

Pickersgill is hoping to raise $1 million in contributions toward the $23 million project by January. A donation of $250,000 from Joe Willard and his wife, Kathy, whose mother was a resident at Pickersgill, was announced at the kickoff event for the capital campaign in January, and contributions total more than $700,000, said Donna Reid, a spokeswoman for Pickersgill.

The France-Merrick Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization, has said it will contribute $50,000 when $950,000 has been raised.

Pickersgill Retirement Community provides independent living, assisted living and nursing care. The community can now accommodate 87 people living independently and 169 in assisted living. The renovations will make room for eight more in assisted living, said Wilma Zimmerman, a member of the all-female board of directors.

Pickersgill was founded in 1802 as the Impartial Female Humane Society, a philanthropic group dedicated to helping widows and abandoned wives, said Brant Hart, the community’s executive director.

Hart said the community is named after Mary Pickersgill, the Baltimore woman who made the large American flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key to write what would become the national anthem.

Pickersgill was an early leader in helping destitute women in Baltimore and was president of the Board of Lady Managers when the Aged Women’s Home opened at West Lexington Street and Franklin Square, according to a history of the retirement community.

In the late 1950s, the home needed considerable repairs and was moved to Towson along with its counterpart, the Aged Men’s Home. It was renamed after Pickersgill in the early 1960s.

The board at Pickersgill has traditionally been made up of women, a tradition of which Pickersgill is proud.

“The dedication of these women over the years has been phenomenal, and I feel honored to follow in their footsteps,” said Zimmerman.

“There’s no reason to exclude men, but we’ve always had women, and they’ve always done a terrific job,” said Fran Saybolt, chairwoman of the renovation committee. “Since 1802, there’s been a little board of women, and they’ve kept it organized and adapted to change to make things work. We always seem to be a little bit ahead of the curve to meet the needs of the residents.”

A facelift of three dining rooms and the construction of an auditorium were recently completed in phase one of the renovations. The second phase is scheduled for completion by the end of the summer.

“The residents love this. It’s really an upbeat thing for them,” Saybolt said.

The renovations include enlarging bathrooms in the nursing care area to allow easier accommodation of wheelchairs, tearing down wings of the assisted-living section and replacing them with larger units, and building more dining areas.

“I think the renovations that are going on are a great idea,” said Mary Buzby, a resident who occasionally portrays Mary Pickersgill at events.

The renovations are the first at Pickersgill since a section of apartments was added in 1993.

“We are simply evolving to meet today’s needs and desires,” Brooke said. “People work hard all of their lives, and they should be able to retire with the most comfortable living arrangements and amenities available to them.”

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