Dale Rothering says he is glad to be spending his golden years in a place that affords him the perfect amount of independence: enough that he can go on trips to the store or through the autumn countryside, but not so much that he is responsible for doing the dishes.
Rothering, 92, moved to Senior Living at Watkins four years ago, settling into a pleasant cycle of morning workouts, evening card games and staff-cooked meals. Watkins provides him nearly all the comforts of home, he said, without any of the work.
“I love this place,” said Rothering, a retired farmer and punch press operator. “I didn’t know anyone when I got here, but it didn’t take long for me to make friends. This place has the best, most friendliest people.”
The rising life expectancy in the United States is extending some seniors’ lives beyond the point they can live safely and comfortably in their homes. Assisted living communities are intended to help seniors meet their desire to be active, while freeing them from housework and personal burdens like monitoring their medication.
Senior Living at Watkins is home to 60 or so seniors, and occupies the stately brick mansion on Wabasha Street that was built by Winona’s Watkins family in 1924. Winona Health purchased the estate in 2001, renovating some of the rooms into apartments and adjoining the home to a separate, four-story apartment building.
“We’re good for people who don’t like to be alone,” said Cheryl Krage, director of assisted living at Winona Health. “We have a strong sense of community. Sometimes a resident will even find an old neighbor or somebody they used to know.”
As he said, Rothering has no trouble making friends. He is impish and quick to smile, easily excited by the idea of a community field trip to a hobby farm.
Rothering lived with his wife until she passed away eight years ago. Then he moved in with his brother, and lived with him until he passed away four years ago.
He started looking at homes immediately after, and it did not take long for him to decide on Watkins and to settle in here.
He said he loves that there is live music twice a week, that residents can take van rides to see the burning fall colors, that games of Sheepshead break out among residents who call one another “neighbor.”
Before he got here, Rothering said, “I’d be reading the paper and see something interesting, and there would be nobody to tell it to.
“I like it here,” he said.
Helen Blue is one of Rothering’s regular adversaries in Sheepshead. When she was young, she held too many jobs to count, including time as a dispatcher at a sheriff’s office. She moved to Watkins about four-and-a-half years ago after her husband passed away.
Blue, 87, quit driving a couple years ago, and of the material things in life, her car is what she misses the most. She drove an Oldsmobile.
“I like jigsaw puzzles,” said Blue, who puts one together every few days. “And I like that they handle my medication. That’s something I’d rather not deal with.”
Everyone who lives at Watkins has left at least a piece of their old lives behind them. They miss their families or their friends or certain aspects of their independence.
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Some develop health problems that are more easily treated by a 24-hour staff like the one at Watkins.
Winona Health also runs Adith Miller and Roger Metz manors, for seniors who have dementia, as well as Lake Winona Manor, a long-term care facility.
Krage said it is up to seniors and their families to decide when a home might be the best option.
Some seniors might take some time to adjust, she said, but the staff at Watkins in particular is skilled at helping newcomers. They’ll introduce these seniors to other residents, and find them a friendly table for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“There are so many opportunities to be a part of our community,” Krage said. “If there’s a place they used to like, we’ll take them to dinner there. We’ll take them to their favorite places.”
The thing about assisted living communities: People are always coming and going.
A woman who regularly sat with Rothering and Blue during meal time recently passed away.
“You hate to see people go,” Blue said. “She ate at our table. We’ve been missing her.”
“We’ve lost a few this month,” Rothering said.
Rothering says he feels as good as he could hope to feel.
And at 87, Blue says she’s “just a kid.”
If anything, they say, it is their minds and their memories that are starting to slip a little. Watkins residents might not do so well with remembering, but they are quite good at looking forward.
Helen has a birthday next month, she said, which means cake.
And Rothering is looking forward to a campfire with his neighbors, he said, now that it’s fall.
“S’mores,” he said.