Author: Debbie Szpanka | Photographer: Photography by Anne
You better be alert when you sit down with this group of ladies who live at Indigo Pines. Collectively, the friendship quadrant has more than 350 years of life experience, and the volley of witty, sarcastic and touching comments comes faster than a person a fraction of their ages can keep up. In the end, all you can do is surrender, smile and hope you have this kind of fun when you are 90, 89, 78 or even 99 years of age, as these women are.
It’s inspiring, it’s funny, and it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to just sit around with your good friends all day and laugh through the years. The friends, all widowed, are like sisters, throwing loving darts at each other and always ending up in a pile of smiles and giggles.
Virginia Bennett is the picture of a Southern, Kentucky woman: attractive, fiery sense of humor and a fierce defender of Kentucky football. She is also a woman in love—with Spain’s prize professional tennis player, Rafael Nadal.
She keeps referring to people who pass by as her “drinking buddies.” When pressed about her drink of choice, she almost howls as she laughs and says, “Muscle milk, right now; I love drinking muscle milk.”
During an hour-long conversation, her cell phone rings nearly 10 times. “I’m ignoring these calls; they are all asking for money,” she laughs again and explains she is one of nine children and her late husband is one of 13 in their Catholic families. “I’m only answering if it’s Nadal.”
Her friend, Audrey Oates asks, “Yeah, what if it is him? What would you do with him?”
Bennett shoots back, “I would look at him—just look at him. I’m not dead yet.”
And so it goes. Every day, the ladies are together eating, playing cards and even drinking muscle milk.
When you ask a serious question between conversations that could make sitcom writers rich, they are passionate about life and where they live.
“This place makes you young,” said Oates, 89. She moved into Indigo Pines about a decade ago with her husband whom she lovingly refers to as “Kevin from Heaven.” He has since passed and, according to Oates, this independent community has been a “godsend.” Her friends make the time pass so quickly, and she couldn’t ask for better friends than the ones she has in her group. “We help each other,” Oates said, adding that one of her group, Millie Macgeachie will celebrate her 100th birthday in October.
“The Lord kept her here for us,” Oates said. “I believe her secret is that she can do most everything herself, and she keeps shaking her finger at people.”
When Bennett first walked into Indigo Pines, it was literally an “eye-opener,” she said.
“There is always a lot of light; the community areas are bright, and it just felt like home, especially with all the happy faces.” It is “as close to heaven as I am going to get,” she added, mainly because of the staff. “From the housekeepers to the managers, we are treated as someone special.”
One long-term employee, Sherri Lanunziata, is like a local celebrity among the Indigo Pines residents. Her spicy Italian personality and glamorous look keeps the residents’ social and activity schedule hopping.
“There’s no one like her,” Oates said. “If you are bored, that’s your choice. Sherris is always looking for fun activities for us to do, and she makes sure everyone feels like he or she is included.”
Another concept that Indigo Pines uses to ensure that the community is a well-oiled machine is employing married couples as managers who live on the property. “This is the residents’ home, and we have to make sure it runs properly,” Jennifer Friedman, community sales leader, explained. “Since the managers live here, they eat the same food, walk the same halls and become a part of the community. The managers act as a gatekeeper of quality—if they aren’t happy with a detail, they are the first to correct it since it is their community, too.”
Mike and Christina Lazaro have been working at Indigo Pines for nearly a year, and they love the experience. Together, the couple brings skill sets in restaurant management, home healthcare and pharmaceuticals. “It’s like having 100 grandparents,” Christina said.
The diverse population of Indigo Pines has residents hailing from nearly half of the country’s states, most from the South, Northeast and Midwest, according to Christina. “What was a wonderful surprise was how our residents are so welcoming of each other’s differences, whether that’s in age, gender, disabilities or so on. It has really touched my heart how the residents look after each other,” she said.
The concept behind the independent communities owned by Holiday Retirement is eliminating or greatly reducing daily pressures so the residents can enjoy their retirement years, Friedman explained. “When you have low stress, a lot of social support, and a wide range of choices of activities for your mind, body and spirit, you have a high quality of life,” she said. “That is our goal every day for every resident.”
Activities offered at Indigo Pines range from seven dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, creative, social and vocational. In addition, it’s a pet-friendly community.
One unique perk of living at Indigo Pines is that its residents can travel and stay in a guest suite at any of the more than 300 other communities owned by Holiday Retirement throughout the United States and Canada.
“The residents love that they can travel to many states and stay at a community that feels like home,” Mike said.
“Mike and I love working here; it’s feels like you are taking care of your own family,” Christina added.
Oates feels that special family-like treatment. “This is the place for me,” she said.
For a tour, or to find out more information about Indigo Pines, call Jennifer at 843.342.3228.