Germantown: Diverse Backgrounds Create a Home at Senior Living Community
The residents of Wesley Enhanced Living at Stapeley on the corner of Greene Street and West Washington Lane came to the facility for its resources but found a home when they arrived. Each senior brings his or her unique experiences to the building, but all are characterized by a driven lifestyle that shaped the culture at Stapeley.
Lee Pollock, 83, has been a Philadelphia resident all of her life. She lived in Olney, Germantown and Chestnut Hill before moving to Stapeley seven years ago.
Pollock was the first woman admitted to Wharton’s accounting school at the University of Pennsylvania. She was nearly 30 at the time. “They decided to let us in, but we were only allowed to come to night school or summer school. We weren’t allowed in the regular classes,” said Pollock. “So, I went in the evenings after work and then I took some time off in the summer and went to summer school.”
She recalled her instructor addressing the class as gentlemen, and struggling to break the habit. “All of the sudden he’d remember there was more than just gentlemen there,” said Pollock.
Bernard Kirshbaum, 88, is fairly new to Stapeley. He moved there from Bala Cynwyd less than two years ago, after his wife died. Kirshbaum now uses oxygen and requires the mobile assistance of a wheelchair, but as a former chief of dermatology at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, he still contributes to the medical world. He is currently researching the benefits of using ozone to treat diseases such as AIDS and certain cancers. Kirshbaum said that he believes the world has plenty of room for improvement and people ought to “work hard to elevate life on this earth.”
Estelle Kameika, 85, still bakes bread from scratch. Russian Nesting Dolls line the shelves of her handmade bookshelf. Her family emigrated from Russia and she said she remembers going to Russian school to learn the language as a young girl. “We belonged to the Russian Church at Fifth and Fairmount,” said Kameika.
Wayne Higley, 85, came to Stapeley seven years ago when his wife moved into the personal care unit. Higley pursued his dreams from a very young age. He knew he wanted to see the world beyond his small hometown outside Cleveland, Ohio, so he graduated high school a semester early to get started in college. “I was the valedictorian, but I did not go to the graduation because I was not interested,” said Higley. He later found the rich cultural experience he had searched for when he moved with his wife and two daughters to Algeria. For more than two years, they spent time directing a relief program.
His motivated spirit lives on at Stapeley. Higley, who always kept a greenhouse prior to Stapeley, said he admires the facility’s outdoor garden.
“Just recently a company planted pansies that bloom all winter, so I went down and dug some up,” said Higley with a laugh and a gesture at the small garden blooming in his room.
June Krebs, 83, brought her passion for activism to Stapeley. For the last five years she ran a club called News and Views where members read and discussed the news of the day. She wanted to keep people aware of what is going on outside of Stapeley. Krebs said she is discontinuing her project because she does not believe members are putting enough pressure on their elected officials to support social change.
Krebs said she drove with some friends to see the March on Washington when she was young. “It was nice being with people who would agree with me,” said Krebs. “It gave some hope for the future.”
Life in Krebs’ hometown of Mount Airy changed over time. “When I grew up in the neighborhood, all the doors were open,” said Krebs. She said that children freely entered their neighbors’ homes to get lunch and say hello, but now said she believes people are too afraid of being robbed to do that.
Barbara Dietrich has only been at Stapeley for two years, but she has already become the president of the Stapeley Residents Association. She and her husband moved in after hearing a good review from their former neighbors who came to the facility a couple of years before them.
Leading public groups is nothing new for Dietrich. She was once an officer in the Philadelphia League of Women Voters. Dietrich said she is surprised at how far women have come. “As a married woman I had some privileges that single women did not, but it was still in a married state,” said Dietrich. “If I got a credit card it was Mrs. Karl F. Dietrich, my husband’s name.” She said she remembered the same being true of home mortgages and car purchases.
Potpourri, the facility’s independent newsletter helps connect the diverse group of residents at Stapeley. Its pages are filled with activity announcements, new resident profiles and committee meeting dates.
Pollock has overseen production of the bimonthly newsletter for the past six years. She admitted she made some good friendships at Stapeley but never realized it would be the place where she found love.
Three years ago she married Sylvain Van Gobes. He often joined Pollock for dinner after visiting his former wife in the Personal Care Unit. After his wife died, he continued to visit Pollock and their friendship developed. “It was really weird the way he asked me, not a big romance or anything,” said Pollock. “When he was visiting one evening, he said something about getting married and I said ‘well what kind of a question is that?’”
Residents are not immune to the realities of living in a community comprised solely of the elderly. “There was always somebody fading away,” said Higley of his several years at Stapeley. “And that’s a quality that’s kind of hard to get used to all the time. You’re not used to dealing with people disappearing, but they do.
“A lot of people that have been in independent living move to personal care at some point in time,” said Dietrich. That is also why she stresses the importance of the newsletter’s role of connecting residents living in different areas of the building. Reading profiles of new residents allow others to comfortably approach them in the dining hall. “Get to know your neighbors because they are gifts to you,” said Dietrich.
Meals Bring Seniors Together at Stapeley
Barbara Dietrich, a resident at Wesley Enhanced Living, provided a look into the caring community at Stapeley.