Betty and Loretta’s Story

“This just seems right,” Betty Keely remembers the feeling that overcame both her and her life partner, Loretta Bergen, when touring St. John’s Meadows. Both of their minds were set at ease after a personal hardship brought them to Rochester.

The untimely death of Betty’s brother, Chris brought the couple to Rochester so that they and Chris’s widow could all mutually support each other in the future. The transition ultimately led to Betty and Loretta presently enjoying their new apartment at Chestnut Court.

The pair met in Long Island, NY where they both worked in elementary education. When constant change in the system weighed on them, they left the industry in 1976. Betty and Loretta turned their focus to business and bought the first Subway restaurant franchise in New Hampshire. They settled in small towns in New Hampshire and Vermont over the next 40 years.  Moving on from their Subway restaurant, they switched to helping developmentally disabled adults: Betty teaching them skills and Loretta providing case management. Focusing back to children, they made another change to own and operate a day care— once again showcasing their experience and desire to help younger children. Their last business endeavor was an outlet shoe store that closed in 2002 and the pair retired in 2004. “Once we retired, it was now what are we going to do with our time?” Loretta says smiling while thinking back to the first few months after retirement.

Retirement, however, did not slow this dynamic duo down! They bought an RV and traveled around the United States for months relishing in their free time. Quickly into their retirement, friends brought up the topic of co-housing communities and nudged Betty and Loretta in that direction. After doing some research on the concept, Betty and Loretta moved to Elderspirit Community in Virginia in 2007. Betty and Loretta soon found themselves participating in all aspects of the community.

Elderspirit Community is founded on the principles of mutual support and neighborly encouragement. The residents who live in the community are the ones running it: making meals, doing maintenance, and encouraging their fellow residents. In 2015 the community celebrated with Betty and Loretta as they traveled back to Vermont to marry. The couple enjoyed 12 years in the community before they started to think towards the future of aging and finding a community more suitable to their long-term needs.

“We were looking for a community that we could be involved in, not just sit around in our apartment,” says Loretta. “We also wanted a place that was open to new ideas we could propose- that was important,” The couple also kept in mind some of the more standard concerns of aging: mobility, long-term placements, and assistance. “We loved that St. John’s is a non-for-profit and a continuum of care. Bill Thomas’ philosophy was something we agree with and really like the Green House Homes model.” Loretta and Betty reflect together on the factors that contributed to choosing St. John’s Meadows. “And of course we had to bring Angel,” says Loretta as she smiles at their 17-year old dog sitting on the couch between them.

After moving into St. John’s, Betty and Loretta both jumped into Connections Committee and volunteering at the front desk. Betty particularly loves music and is grateful for the variety of music programming offered at St. John’s Meadows. She also mentions, “The downtime I have to relax in our apartment has given me ample time to organize music on my iPod, go to the library for more, and download new songs.”

Betty and Loretta’s unique past living experience in co-housing has given them fresh ideas to recommend at St. John’s Meadows. “We want to get to know our neighbors better and find out the little ways we can all help and support each other,” says Betty. Since moving in a few months ago they have helped coordinate some neighborhood gatherings and even a couple of birthday parties for their hallway.

“We have always assimilated into the community we live in,” says Loretta, and that is certainly true of their new life at St. John’s Meadows. Today, after 58 years together, the couple chooses to use their experiences to bring innovative ideas to improve life for their neighbors. People move into independent living communities from all walks of life and we are thankful that Betty, Loretta, and Angel chose our community to share their ideas and immerse themselves into the community.