By Nancy Arsenault
A Village within a village. That’s how residents of Meeting House at Stow spoke of their special neck of the woods at the senior living facility’s 10th anniversary celebration last week.
Meeting House was the town’s first 55+ community, in the first Assisted Living overlay district. A decade later, many of the residents, past and present, came out to celebrate what they believe to be an ideal living environment.
“We’re 55 and over, with no maximum,” joked Meeting House self-proclaimed spokesperson, Daisy Dearborn, age 85. Her neighbors reside in 60 apartment condo units at Meeting House and 15 townhomes at the adjacent Faxon Farm.
There is a community gathering room, a well-stocked library, and a shaded outdoor patio overlooking manicured grounds. Hidden on a wooded lot set back from Great Road, this enclave of seniors are active, well versed in town affairs, and according to many, grateful to have found such a place to spend their later years.
“Living at Meeting House has felt like home since the very beginning when Richard and I moved in just over two years ago and we were greeted with such open friendliness from everyone,” said Frances Conant, formerly of Lincoln. With ten years behind them, there are several residents who have called Meeting House home since day one. Dorothy and Anthony Martinelli were the first residents to move in, followed later that same day by Doris Downing. “I moved in at 11:45am on the very first day,” she said, still remembering the events of the day very clearly.
For Doris, Meeting House was an unexpected answer to an urgent need. “I lived in Lincoln and the land my house was on was taken for Minuteman National Park. I had to be out by a certain date and I didn’t know where I would go. And then I found Meeting House. It was a Godsend,” she said.
While many have come from surrounding towns to settle at Meeting House, it also draws long-time Stow residents. Former Stow schoolteacher Nancy Kyle calls Meeting House home, as does the facility’s newest resident, Virginia Benjamin. “I lived on Packard Road for 60 years and I never knew this many neighbors,” said Benjamin. Other Stow residents who have moved and kept their zip code are Dick and Dalia Salmon, Gerry and Joanne Horne, Beverly Benoit, Maureen Jameson, Kathleen Cumming and Janet Marshall. There is even a Stow “star”- 98-year-old Ernest Goldman, Pianist/Accompanist Emeritus and co-founder of the Sounds of Stow Chorus.
Dick Salmon, who continues to work as a structural engineering consultant, had moved from Stow after high school, but returned to spend his retirement years here. Living at Meeting House, he has been able to rekindle friendships with people he knew in elementary school.
According to Dearborn, many of the residents, despite having arrived in Stow from other communities, are active on town boards and committees, particularly the Council on Aging. Daisy takes it upon herself to keep the residents informed about the issues, to get them to ask probing questions, and most of all, “I get them to come to Town Meeting and vote,” she said emphatically.
As for the early vote for approval of the district creation in the late 1990s, Daisy said, “I remember standing up at Town Meeting in support of this, but I never had any intention of moving in.” Then one day at their Hiley Brook Road home, her husband Newell said that he was done shoveling snow and mowing the lawn. “I told him I wouldn’t leave Stow if I had to pitch a tent in the woods. So that was it. We were off to Meeting House,” she said.
Daisy wasn’t shy about saying that it took some time for those from outside Stow and the Stow natives to come together. “I remember people being afraid of the woods. They thought that bad people would be coming out of the woods and into the units,” she said with a laugh. “I told them to start walking on the paths in Red Acre Woodland with me and they wouldn’t be afraid anymore.”
While enjoying a barbecue cooked by several of the men of Meeting House, the residents were eager to tell why life there is so special. Two octogenarian sisters from Maynard, one a lifelong single woman and the other married for decades, found they could both live in harmony at Meeting House, within their own units, just as they had lived nearby in Maynard. Sitting together at the table, Virginia Terrazzino and Theresa Mertz joked about calling each other to meet halfway in the hall to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar.
Others extol the virtues of living in a place where they do not have to get in the car and drive to get the basic staples. Many walk to Shaw’s and the Post Office on a regular basis. There is even door to door delivery of the daily newspaper, a service created by a group who call themselves the Newspaper Boys, residents that arise early to sit in the lobby and visit while awaiting the bulk delivery of papers.
Newton Wesley, a resident for 9 years, has served on the condo association Board of Trustees for seven years, during a time when things were not so rosy for the residents. There were reoccurring problems with the septic system and negotiations back and forth with the developer that made things stressful for people looking to enjoy their golden years, without the worry of property maintenance.
Today, those problems are behind them and the residents co-op association is keeping things running smoothly. “This has become what everyone had hoped it would be,” said Wesley. “As the facility and the residents have become older, it has become even more of a family.