Flying High in a Senior Living Community

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Senior Enjoys RetirementChildren are always asked what they want to be when they grow up, but at the age of 7, Barbara Williams had in fact discovered her true life passion.  It was during a parade in her hometown of Detroit, Mich., where everyone was celebrating Charles Lindbergh’s first trip across the Atlantic.


“My family was there watching and I told my father, ‘I want to be the first woman to do that,'” she said.


Although Amelia Earhart ultimately paved the way for female pilots as the first woman to cross the Atlantic, Barbara never strayed from accomplishing her lifetime goals. Today, she happily shares her stories and memorabilia with the friends she has made at Paul Spring Retirement Community located in Alexandria, Va.


After spending her early childhood in Detroit, Barbara primarily grew up in Chicago, Ill. and eventually attended college in Minnesota.  It was there she met Jim, her future husband. 


The road to getting married was not an easy one for the two.  Jim had been drafted the summer before the war and was only supposed to be gone a year, but his plans were halted by the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Barbara was also still in school, but when Jim had gone to Officer Candidate School and could afford to be married, she talked to her professors on how to finish her credits.  It was during his first leave as an officer when the two finally wed.


Meanwhile Barbara had been taking flying courses through college before the war.  Having earned her wings, she tried to pursue her dream after the war, but was not accepted because she was a married woman.  “I’ve never outgrown the dislike for that,” she said.


As a result, she started to rent planes, despite the expenses, until the couple had their three children.  While she took them out flying on occasion, the family moved a great deal across the country through Jim’s job and eventually ended up living in Washington, D.C.


Following his retirement, the couple decided to travel to different parts of the world.  “We went in the Peace Corps for two years and were in the Philippines which was wonderful,” said Barbara.  “We worked for the Farmer’s Core and learned the Ilocano language.”


With their home at the time located in Lynchburg, Va., the couple knew they wanted to make a transition and live near one of their sons in the D.C. Metro area.  In 2003, they researched different senior housing options, and knew Paul Spring was the best place for them to settle for their future years.


“It was small and private and that is what we wanted,” said Barbara.


The Williams immediately found a sense of camaraderie at the community, especially Jim, despite his declining health.  “He would go downstairs to dinner and he would just sit in the chair and people would talk to him,” said Barbara.  “Everyone liked him, it was amazing.”


The couple had spent over two years at Paul Spring before Jim passed away. “People here were very kind,” she said.  “I couldn’t tell you how many people would meet me in the hall and just give me a hug.”


In addition to the support system she found at the community, she has taken advantage of the numerous activities and amenities Paul Spring has to offer.  From Wii bowling and yoga to weekly movie nights and socials, there is always something going on for Barbara and her peers.  Among her favorite activities, however, is Bingo.    “It’s fun because anyone can pick it up in a hurry and you get to know people,” she said.


Aside from the many friends she has made while participating in activities and socializing at dinner, Barbara said it is also the staff that highly contributes to the community’s welcoming and caring atmosphere. “The help here is wonderful and the staff just makes it a warm environment,” she said. 


This help ranges in a variety of services such as housekeeping, laundry, transportation, daily meal plans, emergency call systems and professional management and maintenance services.  Those in assisted living receive personal care services from assistance with activities of daily living to being escorted to and from meals and in-house activities. Although Paul Spring offers residential and assisted living, individuals also have the unique option of customizing their daily care, including nursing assistance, based on their particular needs. 


With the peace of mind knowing healthcare and an accommodating staff are available, Barbara, who is also the secretary of the Resident Council, continues to enjoy the luxuries of her home that is conveniently located to the offerings of Old Town Alexandria.  No matter where the day takes her, however, she loves coming back to her apartment which is adorned with documents detailing her flying days as one of ‘Macalester’s Ladybirds.’ 


Especially important to her are the newspaper clippings Jim had framed for her one Christmas.  “He was one of the first I took up in the air when we were still in college.  He always accepted it,” she said.


Today, she can happily say that she has found a similar sense of support and a feeling of family at Paul Spring, a place she has proudly recommended to other friends considering a transition in their lives.


“The people here are just friendly,” she said.  “You smile, and they smile back.”



SourceBook publisher, Steve Gurney conducted the interview with Barbara Williams in her apartment at Paul Spring.  Steve has very close ties to Paul Spring and its residents.  The community was the first stop on his journey to better understand the transition that the readers of the publication he founded make.  At age 43, Steve lived as a resident and documented his insights and thoughts at  He says, “Although I had visited over 500 senior communities in my 20-year career when I moved to Paul Spring, I realized how much I had missed by not trying to experience these settings through the eyes of the residence.  These communities are the best neighborhoods I have ever lived in, where neighbors truly care about and care for each other.”


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