Living Senior: Waltzing Her Way Home

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resident enjoys active life at menno havenWhen Frances Farmer recounts the tale, it sounds like something out of an old Hollywood memoir.

Fred Astaire was watching a room full of young, debonair couples dance elegantly throughout the room, but only one woman caught his eye. The actor turned to his friend, who was also observing the star-studded crowd.

“You’re lucky if you find a natural,” he said, pointing to one woman. “She is a natural.”

After being told of the comments made by Astaire, arguably the greatest dancer of the 20th century, you’d think the woman in discussion would have immediately pursued a lifelong career in dancing or a similar profession. Not Frances – she took the scenic route to finding her passion for ballroom dancing.

“Looking back, I have no idea why I didn’t take it up right then and there,” she said, laughing. “Fred Astaire’s praises aside, I guess I was just too busy enjoying myself.”

The glamorous eighty-something, whose enchanting stories could fill up several memoirs, has lived a sophisticated and eventful life. Would you expect anything less from one of Grace Kelly’s former next-door neighbors?

She may have gotten a late start, but Frances has more than made up for lost time since she re-discovered her talent for dancing at age 64. She is widely recognized in the ballroom dancing circuit, and has won many accolades for her talents in waltzing, the American tango, and numerous Latin dances.

“Before I meet my creator, I knew I had to find my talent,” Frances said.

Before she became immersed in the alluring New York City lifestyle, she was well-known in her own rite in her hometown of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Her grandfather founded a preparatory school and several other mainstays in the history-rich town, and her family was very prominent as a result.

As a young adult who wanted to find herself, she packed her bags for New York City after graduating from Wilson College in Chambersburg. Frances enrolled in business training courses, and was hired by the CIA to undertake a variety of assignments.

“One time I had to go retrieve a speech from the Soviets before it was given, so my boss could draft an immediate rebuttal,” recalled Frances. “Women are really ideal for the CIA; they are naturals at finding things around the home, so they are ideal at finding things all over the world.”

After a back injury put her out of commission, Frances was transferred to the U.S. Virgin Islands to begin walking and swimming rehabilitation exercises. A few years later, she went back to visit her Alma Mater in Chambersburg to receive a distinguished alumni award. According to Frances, that visit changed her life.

“I was at the award banquet, which also happened to coincide with my 78th birthday,” she said. “I was surrounded by my old friends from town, the lights were dimmed, candles ablaze, and I just was overwhelmed by this feeling of gratitude and purpose.”

According to those gathered, Frances turned a pale color, and ask to be seated. When a friend asked her if she wanted a glass of water, she replied, “No, but get me a phone book so I can get in contact with people at Menno Haven. God just spoke to me and told me I’m supposed to retire here, in my old hometown.”

Within that week, she became a resident at Menno Haven, a continuing care retirement community with three campuses in Chambersburg. Frances moved into a cottage, but the community also offers villas, apartments, assisted living, nursing and Northgate Apartments for active adults.

“All my life, I never thought I’d retire at Menno Haven,” she said. “But, 57 years later, I’ve really come full circle.”

Frances originally entered Menno Haven with the intent of living in the Northgate Apartments, which offers flexible service packages, maintenance-free and spacious apartments and ample social opportunities for younger retirees. However, she saw another cottage during a tour that she absolutely fell in love with, and knew she wanted to make it her home.

“I love to rearrange the furniture in here, and it’s very roomy,” said Frances from her brightly-colored living room. “It’s a very homey house.”

Activities for getting involved abound at Menno Haven, and from the very first weekend she said she felt at home. Popular activities include musical entertainment, exercise classes, cooking, gardening, chapel services and coffee socials. The community is less than two hours from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, which allows for day travel opportunities.

“Age is all in your head,” Frances said. “I was a far older person when I was younger than I am now, taking part in all these activities.”

Frances also found another surprise at Menno Haven- fellow residents who were old classmates from her former elementary school in Chambersburg. She met a few of them for coffee, and they talked of memories from their old schoolyard.

“Menno Haven has just integrated me right back into my little community,” she said. “I have found my way back home.”

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