By Alexander Germanis
Nestled in the southeast corner of Bloomington, there exists a small town all its own. Behind a landscaped entrance on Lincoln Street is the 40-acre campus of a continuing-care retirement community called Westminster Village.
Although the concept of a retirement community is not a new one, as you set foot on the grounds of Westminster Village, the stereotypes established by those retirement communities of the past start to crumble. Barb Nathan, Executive Director of the village, points out, “[Should you feel inclined to leave without truly investigating every corner], you would miss 99 percent of what Westminster is.” The more you get to know Westminster Village, the more stereotypes shatter, and more expectations will be exceeded.
“A Little Bit of Everything”
Westminster Village began its life in 1979, as Bloomington leaders were searching for a way to provide a continuing-care retirement community. At the same time, a Presbytery out of Indiana who had been establishing facilities of that sort, made their way to Central Illinois. Barb explains, “The two interests came together and Westminster was born; [and later] became a standalone organization, which it is to this day.”
Home to 350 people, Barb notes, “The average age of the residents is 84. But,” she amends, “84 doesn’t look like what many of us thought 84 looked like. You think you’re going to walk into a place and find a bunch of old people leading very simple and very predictable lives, and it’s so far from that. 84 is not what it used to be. This is an incredibly vibrant and busy group.”
Referred to as a “gathering place,” the social center at Westminster doubles as the community’s concert hall, playing host not only to weekly musical events from Bloomington/Normal, but to the residents, as well. “We have a resident who has learned the cello since he retired, and he has performed,” Barb shares. “Why would you stop?”
“We have residents here who are still working,” Barb points out. “From managing a large agricultural business to teaching at the grade school.” Moving into Westminster does not signify the end of living. “It’s just a different time of life,” she insists.
“There’s a bible study group—a group of residents runs that,” she continues. “A poetry group for people who write it or people who love it; short story groups; an art class run by a resident who is a very accomplished artist. A woman holds a book club every week.” Coffee groups are also held, during which, “they bring in speakers on a number of interesting topics. You never know what’s going to happen here at Westminster. There’s a little bit of everything.”
“There’s a men’s choir that practices once a week and performs numerous times throughout the year. Bloomington/Normal is such a wonderful place and has so many resources as a part of it. And we see those same things here at Westminster,” Barb says.
About 40 retired faculty and staff of Illinois State University, as well as a whole community of Wesleyan alums and former faculty, make up another demographic of Bloomington/Normal represented at Westminster. Their interests, naturally, still lie with their former stomping grounds, so college games are streamed on big screen televisions for the residents. When experiencing it in person is desired, “we started taking the bus to Illinois Wesleyan basketball games this past year,” Barb says, “because we have a lot of people that have attended those games for decades.”
“These are incredible people who have lived incredible lives,” she says, “and now continue to.”
Bringing Peace of Mind
Although Westminster Village is a place where hundreds of individuals continually strive to live life to its fullest, Barb issues a sober reminder that it “isn’t a resort.” Real life continues unabated at Westminster and, “life isn’t always easy. [It] includes the good and the bad, and everything in between.”
She continues: “I always say to residents, ‘It’s not for the weak.’ Things do happen: physical challenges or issues of loss. Loss happens all the time for this population. It may be a spouse, it may be a friend.” But, Barb assures, part of what Westminster does as a staff and community is to help people with those issues and to provide support.
Feelings of loss are not restricted to those whose loved ones have passed on. The initial transition to Westminster is often not an easy one. “It is gut-wrenching to give up [your] home. A sense of loss comes with that,” Barb sympathizes. “This is a major change in people’s lives. While people are glad when they move into Westminster, when you’re sitting on the other side of that, it’s hard to see.”
Even though providing the support of individuals and a community is a definite asset for many, most people do not come to Westminster solely for that reason. They come, “to add to their quality of life,” Barb says. “That can mean the wellness services the community has, or the social experiences.” There are opportunities to give back to the community through volunteering services, “and facilitations for growth, for education. All of that builds upon each other. When you look at brain health—[it’s] facilitated not only by what we learn, but by what we’re doing physically and what we’re eating, etc.”
Nevertheless, access to those experiences and services is not something one can gain without a plan. As with Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant, preparation and forethought can not only provide a comfortable transition to the years ahead, but they bring peace of mind as well.
As Barb states, “All it takes is a single instance in your life, and you need to make a change. The reality is, there is a long waiting list here and there are waiting lists at other places. You may not get to the place you want if you don’t have a plan. Check out places,” she pleads. “You can go on waiting lists when you’re 55 years old and can save the date for a small amount of refundable money. It is creating a plan for yourself. It’s kind of an insurance policy.”
“A Little City”
In order to support its 350 residents, the infrastructure of Westminster was established to be like a “little city.” “We have a little grocery store, a card shop, and a library,” Barb states. “We’re also a dining service; we provide three meals a day here.”
With a 40-acre campus and all the facilities contained therein, a great deal of upkeep is required. For this purpose, Westminster employs a staff of 200 dedicated and extremely hard-working individuals.
For instance, in the wellness center, two exercise physiologists are consistently booked with appointments. Tending to 240 of the 350 residents on a weekly basis, they develop exercise plans specifically tailored for each individual.
“Of course, not everybody at this age is able to live without incidents,” Barb says. “As a result, sometimes you need more therapeutic intervention. We partner with Advanced Rehab and have on-site physical, occupational, and speech therapy.”
The Westminster Village staff also provides transportation services for their residents, takes care of the grounds, and generally “takes some of the hassle factor away,” Barb says. “You also get your linens done regularly; you get your place cleaned. They take care of the little details of life, so you can enjoy life.”
Cooking is one of those details of life, and for that, “We added a chef who has made all kinds of changes; with meals, as well as catering,” Barb points out. Voted in the top two at the last Chefs for PATH event, the new kitchen head and staff make dining at Westminster “like going out to eat every night.”
“You just don’t expect the depth of what’s here in the services and the employees,” she continues. “We try to give people the means that they need to live their lives as they want to live. We try to make life easier for people. We need to be the community they want us to be.”
In order to provide that community, of course, the staff “works very hard. But it’s a joy to do it,” Barb insists.
Speaking from her own experience, she has always enjoyed serving others. Since her career beginnings as a nursing assistant, through nursing school, and then her tenure at the Community Cancer Center, Barb has always been “a geriatric nurse at heart,” she says. “So I give thanks every day when I walk into this place. And the people we get to spend time with, the employees here, are incredible. In the words of one of our residents, ’The best thing about Westminster is the people that work here.’’”
Westminster Village offers a continuum of care, including independent living, licensed assisted living, and skilled nursing care. For more information, please contact Lacey Ritchart, Director of Marketing, Westminster Village, at 309-663-6474, or email@example.com.
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