Living Independent: Still Digging It

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Any kid will tell you, there’s no better fun than digging in the dirt. Ask retirees Dottie and Zeeg deWilde, and they’ll probably tell you the same thing. The couple met decades ago working in the horticulture business, and their life together has blossomed ever since.

With $20 in his pocket and a degree in hand, Zeeger deWilde traveled from his Dutch homeland to Quebec City in search of the American Dream. With his talents in demand, he quickly found work there, including a stint at shaping the Expo 67, a centennial world fair event in Montreal.

One day while thumbing through Reader’s Digest, he was struck by an article about a new planned community being developed by Rouse Corporation. Zeeg picked up the phone, and soon after, endured an intense three-day interview that changed his life. He landed a fabulous job in a growing industry, moved to Maryland and met the girl of his dreams, who he eventually married.

Zeeg and Dottie met while working together in the property maintenance division of the planned community. Zeeg oversaw the maintenance of its town center and public places, while Dottie managed the logistics. They were soon married and after several years embarked on another great adventure- opening their own property management company.

“We started with nothing, with only one large customer,” remembers Zeeg. “By the end of our run, 35 years later, we had a fleet of 22 trucks.”

During this time the couple bought a weed-choked, 27-acre farm in Westminster, to which they tended in their spare time.

“This is when our work life changed from 9 to 5 to 24/7,” Dottie recounts with amazement. After years of devotion, they had transformed the property into a showcase: a restored home, greenhouses and finely cultivated native landscapes. Greenway Gardens became the area’s first arboretum, and was eventually sold to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

When the deWilde’s decided it was time to retire, they easily chose Methodist Manor House, a continuing care retirement community in Seaford, Delaware. Family ties brought them to Sussex, and a desire to be close to both the ocean and the bay held strong appeal.

“I can put my toes in either water in less than an hour,” Dottie boasts of the community’s location, which is just along the banks of the Nanticoke River between the Atlantic beaches and the Chesapeake Bay.

Manor House’s convenient location made it easy for Zeeg to commute to his three volunteer jobs at various Eastern Shore nature refuges. And while the couple said the amenities of the community pay off daily, they believe that the true worth of their move is calculated in a larger way.

“When we think of our unpredictable future, we feel confident we’ll have the support and guidance we need right here at Manor House,” said Dottie. “It’s a sense of security we feel every day.”

Dozens of charming cottages ring the riverside community, and the Towne Center offers the luxury of convenience, with a Country Store, boutique, bank and library clustered under one roof. The deWilde’s also enjoy the Wesley Wellness Center, with its indoor pool, fitness and wellness programming that help keep their mind and bodies strong.

The pair of green thumbs has found a good home at Manor House, too. Zeeg enthusiastically designed butterfly gardens in the health center courtyard, drawing plans with his even hand, re-cultivating the beds with fresh soil, then planting bushes and bulbs. And Dottie volunteers her time keeping the community rose garden in shape.

The couple brings the same attention to beauty to their spacious cottage corner, transplanting treasured perennials from Greenway, and installing a multitude of bird feeders and landscape treasures, each with a story to tell. Dottie jokes that her typical pose is bent over, and weeding. For this couple, digging in the dirt will just never lose appeal.

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