In Their Own Words

Real Stories from Heritage Community

“The Artisan at Heritage Community fit our health needs and our downsizing needs”

Lynne and Richard Miller have been enjoying their home at Heritage Community of Kalamazoo for the last two and a half years. Prior to residing at The Artisan (formerly Wyndham), Heritage Community’s existing independent living residences, the Millers lived in a lovely rural area just north of Kalamazoo. Both are retired servants of their community: Richard is a former high school teacher and Lynne’s career was in social work. He is a Michigan State University graduate, and although she too went to Michigan State, Lynne earned her degree from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.  

Not long before their move, the Millers had been researching Life Plan Communities (formerly known as Continuing Care Retirement Communities). “At the time, we were looking into apartments and downsizing,” recalls Richard. Then, the catalyst for their move came in the fall of 2016, when Lynne was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The couple realized they needed to move to a residence that would meet their evolving lifestyle and healthcare needs.  

The Artisan at Heritage Community fit our health needs and our downsizing needs,” Richard says. The apartment layout was just the right size for the couple. In addition, the Heritage Community campus provides all levels of care in one location, allowing a seamless move from one care level to another if that need should arise in the future. So, in March 2017, they decided to call The Artisan home. 

 “The best thing about independent living at Heritage Community of Kalamazoo is that you can be as independent and as private—or as social—as you want to be,” shares Richard. As residents of The Artisan, the Millers find that it is easy to maintain their friendships, go to ballgames, travel, or even stay home to read and watch television. The community comfortably supports their pace of living and lifestyle, whatever that pace may be.   

Since moving to Heritage Community of Kalamazoo, Richard reflects on how their lives have improved and the true value of this special Life Plan Community. Richard says, “I have peace of mind, being free of daily worries and activities around the house. Things are better now for Lynne—things are more routine, and it’s a smaller space, which is less confusing.”   

“We get up early, lazing about for a couple of hours, drinking coffee outside on our balcony,” explains Richard. Then the couple spends the day together: shopping, running errands, having lunch, and visiting with friends. But if there is a day when Lynne prefers to stay home, Richard feels thankful that, with a simple phone call, a member of the home care staff can be arranged to come and keep Lynne company while he’s out.  

“We really enjoy that there are a lot of great scheduled activities for residents and we’ve met a lot of very nice people in the community.” The Millers also enjoy the dining choices at The Artisan. “Although I make a great grilled cheese sandwich, we are thrilled with the bistro and formal dining rooms—the menus have tremendous choices.”  

The Millers’ residence at The Artisan is on the same floor as the exercise and wellness room with treadmills, for whenever the mood strikes to exercise. “And, the library is just one floor up—perfect for anytime we need a reading fix,” says Richard. 

Overall, Richard describes Heritage Community as a wonderfully maintained campus with acres of forested land and nice areas for walking. In addition to the friendly residents and staff, Richard says, “We have seen the different levels of care at the campus, and they are all nice.” 

Reflecting on their own choice to move to Heritage Community, Richard shares his thoughts with future residents considering such a move. “Circumstances play a role in life,” he says. “While downsizing is critical, moving into a residential community is just another way of living.” Contemplating what they’ve gained with their new lifestyle, Richard resolves, “We have not lost anything that we liked to do. We are both happy here. It really was not a big transition.” 

“Financially, they are strong, and you want to know that what you are investing in for your future will be around for the long term.” 

As a resident of Heritage Community’s The Artisan (formerly Wyndham), Don Kneepkens is still enjoying an independent life at nearly 87 years of age.  

Looking to downsize into a comfortable new home, Don chose a Life Plan Community—specifically, Heritage Community of Kalamazoo. “Heritage is a nonprofit, which is very important to me,” he says. “Financially, they are strong, and you want to know that what you are investing in for your future will be around for the long term. The facilities and staff are very welcoming, and you feel good here.” 

For the last two years, Don has been on the Heritage Community Board of Directors serving as the Resident Board Member. In that role, he submits input from other residents, including important questions and concerns. As both a board member and a resident, he has a special and valuable perspective to offer.  

“In my mind, Heritage Community is very well run,” he says. “Management has remained stable. It has virtually not changed in three-and-a-half years, and that says a lot.” 

“When we stepped onto the campus of Heritage Community and when saw the pictures of Ridge Creek, we got a feeling that ‘this is right.”

For Ron and Cindy Stonerock, the decision to move to Ridge Creek signals the start of a new chapter with more freedom and more friends, while at the same time, staying close to family, their beloved Kalamazoo, and an organization they’ve known and trusted for more than 25 years.  

Ron started his career in the corporate world before going to work for a number of years for the U.S. Social Security Administration. His career took a turn when he went into education, serving for years as a fifth-grade teacher, before taking a teaching position at Western, where he worked with student teachers as they navigated the classroom during their final year of school.    

Meanwhile, Cindy worked for 26 years at The Upjohn Company, serving most of those years in the home care division, Upjohn Healthcare Services. After that, she owned and operated her own business creating a nationwide publication for home care aides. Cindy recalls fondly how, in one issue during the mid ‘90s, she featured in her publication as “aides of the month” two aides from Hawthorn Landing (formerly Directors Hall), one of the assisted living residences at Heritage Community. “Wanda and Betty were sisters, and they were the dearest ladies,” says Cindy. The sisters had cared for Cindy’s mom while she was a resident at Hawthorn Landing, and ten years later, Wanda cared for Ron’s mom when she was a resident. (Sadly, Betty had passed away by that point.) “They were so wonderful to our moms,” says Cindy, “that I decided, as the editor of the publication, to feature them.”  

Ron and Cindy are both retired now, affording them more time to do the things they love and be with the people they love. Ron’s pastimes are “golf, golf, and golf,” he says. In addition to his weekly round with a group of friends at Olde Mill Golf, he gets out on the course as often as he can manage it (or, as he jokes, as often as Cindy will let him). He, along with Cindy, also enjoys a good game of bridge. 

When she and Ron aren’t pairing up for bridge, Cindy may be found catching up on her reading for book club or setting up board games to play with the family. Between them, the couple has three remaining children (Cindy’s oldest daughter passed away in 2004), seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren—with a fifth on the way—all living in the Kalamazoo area. And for Cindy, enjoying time with family tops her list of hobbies. 

That’s why, when it comes to securing their future, Ron and Cindy want to make sure they do their own planning, so their kids won’t have to. “For me, choosing to move to a Life Plan Community like Heritage is a gift to our children,” says Cindy. “They won’t have to make those decisions for us.” In addition to consideration for their kids, there are also lifestyle preferences guiding their interest in community living. “We are getting to that point where we feel like things around here take a little more effort than we want to invest,” says Cindy. “It will be nice not to have to do everything ourselves, and I’m especially looking forward to not having to cook dinner!”  

Ron’s interest in community life is similar to Cindy’s. Plus, he considers downsizing a bonus. “Having lived in one place for 30-some-odd years, we’ve gathered so much junk,” he laughs, “and we’re not going to bring that with us when we move. That’s why I want to move—so we can get rid of it!” Ron acknowledges that, with less stuff and more help, life will be physically easier in a Life Plan Community than it is now.  

With a list of criteria in mind, Ron and Cindy began their search for a community years ago. When they came across Ridge Creek, they had a good feeling. “When we stepped onto the campus of Heritage Community and when saw the pictures of Ridge Creek, we got a feeling that ‘this is right,’” says Cindy. Of course, they had both had a positive experience with Heritage in the past when their moms lived at Hawthorn Landing. Plus, they are drawn to Ridge Creek because of its cozy neighborhood size with a total of just 60 residences, large floor plans, and brand-new construction. “We’re convinced after looking at the floor plans and renderings of the residences that Ridge Creek is the best option for us,” says Cindy. As far as campus amenities and services are concerned, they have their sights set on the beautiful grounds, multiple dining venues, robust calendar of social activities, the fitness center, and the continuum of care that is available.   

Besides their attraction to the up-market residences and amenities, the Stonerocks are eager to broaden their circle of friends. “We’ll miss our neighbors here, but we will have new neighbors when we move, and we’re looking forward to that,” says Cindy. “The people we’ve met at Heritage so far, as well as all the gathering’s we’ve attended, we’ve really enjoyed. It’s been excellent.”  

“Choosing Ridge Creek has been a totally analytical and logical decision.”   

For Dr. Diane Hamilton, life is a careful study. Throughout her early career in nursing, her lifelong odyssey through academia, and her methodical due diligence in planning for her own future, she has been guided by her curious and analytical nature.        

It will come as no surprise, when she isn’t busy gardening or caregiving, that Diane’s other current interests are academic. She spends some time editing books for others and reviewing research studies for scholarly journals, and she spends a lot of time reading. “I read about intellectual history—that is, the history of ideas,” says Diane. “For example, I’m interested in ideas in medicine and nursing, such as the history of pain, the history of diseases, and how they came into being and what that means. A disease does not exist till we agree it exists,” she explains. “Most diseases are cast aside in the beginning as people’s imaginations or as a hoax. Then when we agree that a disease exists, we research it.”  

Diane has a particular interest in the history of pandemics. For a year, she traveled across the country looking at the archives of the Spanish Flu of 1918. “I’m interested in the current pandemic because it mimics the pandemic of 1918,” she says. “What people think and perceive and how that comes about is of interest to me.” Describing some of the parallels, she explains how “thought collectives”—groups of people who think a certain way—think the way they do based on their exposure and prior conditioning. “In 1918, just like today, there were people who thought it wasn’t real, people who wouldn’t wear masks, and people who did not close the schools. In 1918, people were shamed for having the disease. The idea of shame is during a pandemic is consistent. Today, people are shamed for wearing or not wearing masks. And the ideas of systems being overwhelmed and people resisting known interventions are also consistent,” she explains. “When reality is not uplifting, people—Americans in particular—can have an aversion to reality. It’s easier to deny it.” Of course, what was different in 1918, Diane points out, is that the dead were stacked in the streets, making harsh realities more difficult to deny then than today. All that considered, she points out, “Heritage Community is doing a really good job containing cases and protecting its residents.”  

With her own health and security in mind, Diane has made the carefully considered decision to move to a Life Plan Community. How did she arrive at this decision? “Well, I researched it,” she says. “In my studies of psychiatric and gerontological nursing, I learned a lot about the elderly. For example, people do not plan for old age. Many believe their family will pick up the slack. It was common for people to come into the ER and not have a will or even a plan. What I learned is that planning for aging is part of the developmental process. It’s one of our tasks.” And without family to help, Diane believes the details of planning are incumbent upon her. “I had long-term care insurance by the time I was in my 30s, then I systematically studied what would be the best route for me.” Believing in a wholistic approach to care and wanting to be surrounded by a community of people who are qualified to help her move through the continuum of aging services at an appropriate rate, Diane determined that a Life Plan Community was the best route. With that established, the next question became “where?”   

While she looked at many communities across various states, Diane determined it was best to stay in Kalamazoo, where she knows the stores, the people, and her way around. “At my age, it’s about balancing change elements with stable elements,” she explains. “Some elderly people move to a completely new community having to relearn everything, and their stress level goes up as they have to adapt.” Once she had settled on Kalamazoo, there were only two options offering Life Care. She settled on Ridge Creek in the end, attributing her choice to the soundness of the history and finances of Heritage Community, the authentic, “less slick and sales-oriented” marketing presentation of Ridge Creek, and the idea of a brand-new building. Like her approach to so many other questions in her life, Dianne points out, “Choosing Ridge Creek has been a totally analytical and logical decision.”  

“This has not been like moving into an apartment, it’s like moving into a neighborhood.”

 Sharon and Cyril have a tradition of beginning their mornings with breakfast out together. Since moving into The Artisan (formerly known as Wyndham), they have found Kalamazoo is filled with exquisite breakfast nooks: the Crow’s Nest with its amazing omelets, the breakfast sandwiches at Food Dance, East Egg’s different crepe creations. Breakfast is Sharon and Cyril’s time to connect with one another before they each embark on the various activities of their day.

 For Sharon, it is all about the community at The Artisan. She finds her schedule filled with experiences that interest her. She takes Tai Chi every other weekday morning, allowing the stretches to relax her while building her strength and energy for her days. On Tuesday nights, she looks forward to art class with her instructor, who helps her and her The Artisan friends develop their watercolor skills, sketching and techniques with pastels.

 During afternoons, Sharon and Cyril can walk the trail around Heritage Community campus, except on Fridays when Sharon grabs coffee with her friends and they gather together in one of the lounges at Heritage Community for laughter and conversation. There is always something to do, which suits Sharon’s bubbly personality and inquisitive mind perfectly. While she and Cyril felt torn about selling their home in Richland, she hasn’t regretted the peace of mind, kind staff and friendships that living at The Artisan has provided her.

 As for Cyril, a former OB/GYN and passionate humanitarian, quiet introspection fits him well. He enjoys the warmth of the apartment, sipping his coffee and combing the pages of the New York Times in his favorite red leather chair. An avid learner and more than casual historian, Cyril’s bookshelves are filled with biographies and essays and sprinkled with great works of fiction, from Tolstoy to Proust. With the prompt staff at The Artisan, Cyril knows he has access to premier care if he needs it—which allows him to relax and savor the joys of his days without worry.

 To close each day, the Newmans find that dinner together always reaffirms how special a place they have discovered Heritage to be. Each evening, Sharon chats away with the servers, knowing them each by name. The servers also know the Newmans—which one prefers the carrot cake to the chocolate torte, who likes the fish and who likes the prime rib. For Sharon and Cyril, this close-knit sense of community and hospitality sets Heritage apart from any other option. As Life Plan Community members, they feel secure and carefree looking to the road ahead, eager for the adventures it holds.

“Some of life’s best moments happen around a family table.”

 Pat remembers her mother’s table. During the holidays, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents gathered together and Pat’s mother would pull out all seven leaves so she could stretch that table across the dining room. Then she would unfold the long tablecloth and set each place with care, because in Pat’s family, everybody always eats together.

 Pat remembers that after the laughter and conversation of dinner passed, all of the children would play “tent” under that table, using the tablecloth to transform the beautifully carved, wooden legs into the pillars of a fortress. For Pat, that sense of community and celebration has colored the life of her family. She smiles at all the dinners and Bridge tournaments she has hosted around that special table.

 When Pat decided that she wanted some additional care and support in her life, she made the shift to Meilland Square (formerly Wyndham West). While at first she wondered about the transition, she has found the change to be sweet and smooth. People are inviting and life is filled with pleasant conversations in comfortable sitting rooms. It all speaks to the hospitality that Pat has savored each day at Heritage Community.

 Today, whether she is a part of a weekly game of Bridge or indulging with friends in scones and some Earl Grey tea, Pat sees that Heritage Community values relationships and continuing to do what you love. And the welcoming atmosphere for family at Heritage Community means Pat can easily maintain her special connection with her children. At Heritage Community, Pat knows her traditions of shared family meals, game nights with friends and warm laughter all continue — which makes this community her perfect fit.