The story below is from our September/October 2015 issue. For the DIGITALLY ENHANCED VERSION, download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
Well, homemakers and historians, probation officers and preachers. Not to mention winners of the French Legion of Honor and trackers of World War II enemy subs.
“Absolutely not, no way!” growled my dear departed husband when I first suggested moving into a retirement community. Eight years later the growler was happily playing jazz piano in the lobby of Brandon Oaks for a growing circle of friends and loving every minute of it.
I’ve found that people wind up here for various reasons, and there’s no such thing as a “typical” resident of a retirement community. Some individuals opt to stay out of communal living, certainly their privilege. Those who’ve chosen to move here are an eclectic bunch with many different life histories. What they mainly have in common is the friendships they’ve made. I’d like you to meet a few of them.
Dr. Theresa Chun
Dr. Theresa Chun was born in Korea, where she graduated from college and medical school before moving to the U.S. in 1956 “because of a young person’s curiosity.” She was trained in pediatrics and hematology at the University Hospitals of Cleveland and the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and as a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
After working in New York and Canada, she joined the Canadian Department of Indian Health Services as chief of pediatrics at Miller Bay Indian Hospital in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. She was the only pediatrician within a 500-mile radius, flying by seaplane to hold field clinics on the reservation, which is accessible only by boat or seaplane. “It was truly frontier medicine: challenging, interesting, and most rewarding,” says Dr. Chun.
After retirement, Dr. Chun moved to Virginia and has lived in Brandon Oaks for three years. An Episcopalian, she also attends Roanoke’s Korean Baptist Church. She’s made friends here and in the community and has been known to share Korean food with both.
He’s a big, athletic-looking fellow. You’d never take Bob Werner for a musician, but he is, and then some. Born and raised in Hamburg, New York, near Buffalo, Werner started playing the French horn in the eighth grade and went on to a distinguished career in music. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a doctorate in music education at Northwestern University.
Werner worked with a band-training unit at Fort Knox during his service in the Army, was director of Instrumental Music at Evanston High School, and Director of the Contemporary Music Project at the Ford Foundation. There’s more: Director of the School of Music and Dean of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona, and Dean of the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He was also president of national and international professional organizations.
When Werner and his wife Sharon moved to Brandon Oaks in 2008, he joined the popular men’s singing group, The Balladeers, and now is the group’s director. He’s also been president of the community’s Residents’ Council and vice president of its Educators Club. Asked why he likes it here, he says simply: “The people. The camaraderie. We moved around a lot, unlike those who were born and grew up here, and we’ve found it easy to get to know people.”
“When I grew up, jobs for women were limited,” says Shirley Dyer, a native of Washington D.C. “Just nurse, teacher or secretary.” She chose the latter, graduating from the Washington School for Secretaries.
Dyer worked on “Embassy Row” as executive secretary to the press attaché of the Republic of Indonesia embassy. She later went to the Pentagon and spent nearly 30 years in various challenging jobs, including working for 17 different Army generals. Her work involved Army research and development; during her tenure, the Abrams tank and the Humvee were developed.
“I remember tense days during the Vietnam War,” says Dyer, “with protestors, bomb threats and blood thrown on the steps of the building.”
After retirement, she and her husband moved to Roanoke. Friends at Brandon Oaks convinced her to move here about five years ago. She’s been secretary of the Residents’ Council, enjoys the diversity of the population here and goes on many overnight trips.
Scion of the popular Davidson’s men’s store, Sig Davidson started work at the store at the age of 10 and worked here in various capacities after being discharged from the Army in World War II. A graduate of Roanoke College, he served for years on the college’s board of trustees and is the recipient of an honorary doctor of humane letters. Davidson has a history of community service, including being president of Literacy Volunteers of the Roanoke Valley (now Blue Ridge Literacy) and a longtime board member of Center in the Square after civic leaders launched Center to clean up the market area in the late 1970s.
These days, at age 93, you can find him most Wednesdays manning the information desk at Center in the Square. “I mostly answer questions from visitors who want to know where to park, where to eat, and other attractions we have,” says Davidson. Recently a group from Iceland came in seeking information, “which gives you an idea of what we handle.” He’s also on the Steering Committee for Center’s current fundraising drive.
A Brandon Oaks resident since 2004, he’s still involved in Roanoke with friends and family—his 98-year-old sister is also a resident—but says of his retirement home, “I’m delighted to be here. At 93, I’ve had a good life. I’m the luckiest guy on the planet.”
“I’ve never worked—I’ve always loved everything I’m doing,” says Shirley Moore with a straight face. Then you discover she’s been a nurse, a musician, a dancer and an artist, not necessarily in that order.
Moore was born in Lynchburg but lived in California and Florida before returning to Roanoke. She earned a B.A. in music from American University in Washington D.C., majoring in voice and piano, and later got a B.S. in nursing from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. She was a nurse at Roanoke Memorial Hospital and head nurse at South Roanoke Nursing Home.
While in D.C. she danced with the Washington Ballet and was a soloist with the Washington Cathedral Choir. Then she taught music at Roanoke College and gave piano lessons until the age of 80. Art lessons helped develop those talents, and she says she sold enough paintings to buy a Steinway piano. Happily at Brandon Oaks since 2013, she says, “I can do as much or as little as I want, and when I socialize, I have the best company anyone could wish for.”
Among the many residents at Brandon Oaks, we have educators and equestrians, homemakers and historians, probation officers and preachers. Our residents include three winners of the French Legion of Honor, a woman who flew small planes and hunted enemy subs during World War II, volunteer firefighters and ambulance drivers. What links them is socialization—friends down the hall or across the courtyard. Medical evidence suggests that people who socialize live longer, healthier lives. It’s the friendship, the camaraderie, that makes believers of us all. Even of growlers.