More Than a House — A Family: At Lebanon’s Rogers House, Residents Build a Community
Rogers House residents Jackie Fedchenko, left, and Pearl Corrigan waltz on the front porch of Rogers House to music playing across the street at the Lebanon Farmers Market in Lebanon, N.H., on July 11, 2013. Both Fedchenko and Corrigan attend dance classes throughout the week and go dancing at weekend music nights. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Logan Goodhue, right, hands a glass of water to his father Ricky Goodhue while Gerry Goodhue finishes her supper at their apartment in Rogers House in Lebanon, N.H. on May 24, 2013. Logan lives with his parents, acting as a caretaker for them when he isn't working at Price Chopper. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Bernard Rogers, left, and Jacqueline Digby walk through Colburn Park in Lebanon, N.H., on their way back to Rogers House after grocery shopping on August 2, 2013. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Residents Jackie Fedchenko, left, and Dan Griswold lead a monthly house meeting at Rogers House in Lebanon, N.H., on April 9, 2013. Residents have a chance to discuss and vote on issues that come up during the month, such as allowing pets, welcoming new members, or how much money to spend in their house fund. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Darlene Fitzherbert, of Ascutney, Vt., gives Rogers House resident Tom Willette a haircut in the basement hair salon at Rogers House in January. The salon offers men’s and women’s haircuts and perms once a month to residents. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension teacher Lisa Ford points out the differences between breads to Jeannette Chamberlain, left, and Florence Winter during a nutrition class in the common room at Rogers House. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Dan Griswold grills burgers and hot dogs while his girlfriend, Judy Griffith, watches before a Rogers House potluck in Lebanon, N.H., on May 28, 2013. Griswold, who helps residents by checking in on them and giving them rides, also grills food for the monthly potlucks. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
In the Rogers House lobby, Grace Keane signs the card for Ricky Goodhue, who was in the hospital on August 2, 2013. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Rogers House resident Judy Griffith kisses Hedy Anderegg goodbye while visiting her at Hanover Terrace in Hanover, N.H., on July 8, 2013. Griffith and fellow Rogers House resident Dan Griswold visited their friend, who also lives at Rogers House, after she suffered a fall at her apartment. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Madelyn Taylor, 90, at Rogers House in Lebanon, N.H., on July 25, 2013. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Grace Keane, 81, at Rogers House in Lebanon, N.H., on July 25, 2013.(Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Logan Goodhue, 38, at Rogers House in Lebanon, N.H., on July 25, 2013.(Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — Rita Clark’s five grandchildren and f our great-grandchildren may live too far away to visit very often — her daughter is in Texas, and her son is in California — but thanks in part to her friends at Rogers House, she’s not alone.
A Haverhill native, Clark’s family moved to Hanover in 1951, and later to Lebanon, where she graduated from high school. Her husband served in the military and they moved often, eventually making their way to California. When they divorced, Clark returned to the Upper Valley, where she helped her siblings care for their ailing parents and worked for a radiologist in Lebanon. After retiring, she needed a place to call home, and Rogers House suited her fixed income.
During her 15 years in the building, she’s developed close relationships with her neighbors. A past president of Rogers House Resident Association, she now takes a fellow resident who is “not well” shopping and to doctor’s appointments. “I guess I’m just a friendly person who finds family in my friends,” she said.
It’s a familiar story for the seniors and disabled people over age 55 who live in the four-story brick building. Often recently widowed, divorced or retired, people such as Clark move to Rogers House for practical reasons — they need a more manageable, affordable place, or access to public transportation. The building is across the road from the Lebanon green, with its lively farmers market, free music and shaded benches. It’s around the corner from the Upper Valley Senior Center and close to the post office, library, grocery store and several restaurants.
But more than just a convenient living situation, new Rogers House residents discover a small village — a family, even.
Ricky and Gerry Goodhue and their son Logan moved to Rogers House after Ricky’s cerebral palsy began causing him trouble.
“My balance is not that great,” and he fell several times in their old place, said Ricky Goodhue, a retired bookkeeper who now uses a wheelchair to get around.
The Goodhues moved to Rogers House almost five years ago. It didn’t take long to get to know their neighbors.
“We’ve met everybody in the building,” Gerry said.
“Everybody” includes 57 people, divided roughly equally between men and women. Like all of the properties owned and managed by the Lebanon Housing Authority, including two other sites for seniors, Rogers House has a waiting list.
The apartments are designated “independent living,” which means residents simply rent apartments. They are responsible for meeting their own needs, such as medical care and meals. Still, they are looked after.
Courtesy of the resident association, newcomers receive a welcome packet and a gift card to a nearby grocery store. Residents check in on neighbors they haven’t seen in a while, said resident Dan Griswold. And many of those who still drive, including Griswold, give rides to those who need them.
“I’m always taking someone to the hospital,” he said.
The housing authority will also check in on residents at a family member’s request, and it provides a beeper and alarms residents can use to contact the Lebanon Fire Department in case of an emergency, said Ditha DeSimone, the housing authority’s executive director. “They are very protected at Rogers House.”
The apartments, including studios, one-bedrooms and one two-bedroom place, are income-based. To be eligible, a single person can earn up to $38,850 and a couple can make up to $44,400 a year. The rent, roughly 30 percent of household income, rises and falls as residents’ circumstances change. If someone retires and her income drops, so does the rent.
“It’s a safety net,” DeSimone said.
And with an aging population in the region, there’s a growing need for such a safety net.
In 2010, 26 percent of the region’s households were headed by a person age 65 or older, according to a report by the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission. The commission expects that number could climb to 48 percent by 2030.
Rent-assisted housing has been “a particularly important resource” for local seniors, the commission said in the report released last year.
As of 2010, the area’s 926 such senior units represented 43 percent of apartments occupied by renters age 65 and older.
Keeping Things Going
‘For the People Inside’
Rogers House receives donations from the nonprofit Willing Hands, which provides food that might otherwise be discarded to needy people across the Upper Valley. The food, mostly produce, is placed on a table in the basement where residents can help themselves.
They bring apples, grapefruit and potatoes, “all these nice things,” said Betty Abbott, who was attending a nutrition class in the common room.
Other items “are a little on the exotic side for us, like artichoke or eggplant … and celeriac, an ugly looking turnip,” Abbott said, evoking a laugh from the other workshop-goers.
“Okra,” she added, chuckling at the thought of the popular southern vegetable. “Sometimes we get okra. We’re Yankees, you know.”
To bridge the gap, the resident association set up a cooking workshop that focused on some of the unusual vegetables and fruits, she said. It also organizes foot care and blood pressure clinics and regular visits from a hairdresser.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development encourages residents to create the associations, but they don’t always stick. The resident association at Maple Manor, a senior apartment complex in West Lebanon, folded more than two years ago.
“People just didn’t participate,” DeSimone said.
Ricky Goodhue, 69, recently became president of Rogers House Resident Association.
“I didn’t want to lose the association, so I said, ‘Somebody’s got to do it,’ ” Goodhue said. As president, he plans to “keep things going for the people inside, try to keep them busy. … We try to do a lot.”
And they do. Birthday parties, movie nights, bingo, holiday carolers and visits with Dartmouth College students are among the dozens of events they organize every year.
The Goodhue family lives in the former hotel’s only two-bedroom apartment. “We really like it,” Ricky Goodhue said. “It’s quiet down here.”
But their home, once the hotel caretaker’s quarters, sometimes takes on water, which the housing authority takes care of quickly, he said.
Rogers House, part of Colburn Park Historic District, was built in 1911. As with most historic buildings, maintenance is a challenge.
The oldest of the Lebanon Housing Authority stock, the building was recently repainted inside. In addition to keeping it up-to-date, the housing authority, which pays the heat and electric bills, is always looking at ways to make it more efficient, DeSimone said.
“It’s a tricky building and has some air leaks,” she said. “We’re doing our best to seal things.”
But funding is tight, so the housing authority searches out grants and carefully prioritizes how to spend the money the federal housing department provides for capital improvements.
“In the last two years it has really been shrinking,” DeSimone said.
The basement common room is a popular spot for potlucks and other gatherings. The Wood ’n’ Hens band, which plays at Rogers House once a month, draws a good crowd.
Just before Christmas, about 20 residents and visitors gathered around three long folding tables pushed end to end. They snacked on homemade oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies, and one woman knitted. The banjo and harmonica players sported Santa hats, and the residents, many having come from a holiday lunch at the senior center, were dressed up.
When the singer Nancy Wood broke into I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You), the audience sang along. Griswold and fellow resident Pearl Corrigan got up to dance, and everyone clapped.
For all the fun residents share, there’s also a gravity to Rogers House. For most, it is the last place they will live independently. At an association meeting last spring, Griswold announced that a resident had moved to a short-term care facility and was awaiting a place at a nursing home. Her room would be opened up and anyone who needed furniture was invited to take it.
“She will not be returning to Rogers House,” a resident added.
At the same meeting, Abbott, who is Griswold’s sister, offered to make a sympathy card for a musician whose mother had recently died. Making posters and greeting cards for important occasions is one of the many roles the outgoing former teacher has taken on. Others find their niche as organizers.
Griswold, a widower who retired from maintenance work at the Hanover Inn, moved to Rogers House about six years ago. Since then, he’s made new friends and served as president of the resident association. He still plays a big role in bringing people together for cookouts and other events.
“It’s helped me in a lot of ways,” he said.
Others, like Tom Arsenault, prefer a more casual approach to socializing. On Monday, Arsenault was in his regular spot, the sidewalk in front of Rogers House, in the cherry red scooter he uses to get around. The black wire basket in the front was empty but for a pack of Marlboro Gold 100s. American and POW-MIA flags hung from the back of the scooter.
That evening, he was waiting for a band to start playing on the green and “watching the weather,” Arsenault said with a laugh.
A retired Army percussionist, he’s quick to compare notes on new recordings and old jazz favorites.
Most days find a group of residents gathered inside the lobby or on the porch visiting or talking with passersby.
The chance to socialize is no small thing, especially for seniors. For overall well-being, said Caroline Moore, of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center, it ranks right up there with physical activity.
“Socializing improves people’s mental health,” said Moore, the center’s program leader. “It’s been shown to boost the immune system and encourages people to be active and move around.” And it helps address what she says is the No. 1 problem facing older people.
“Loneliness and isolation is probably the biggest issue that I have seen,” said Moore, who’s been with the center for five years.
As people age, they lose the built-in structure and social connections they had through their young children. They may be grieving the death of a friend or spouse, or find themselves isolated after losing the ability to drive. And retiring has its own challenges.
“Losing their career or the thing in life that kept them busy on a day-to-day basis often makes people feel like they are not … making a contribution to the world,” she said. “That can make people feel sad or depressed.”
Often, they don’t realize what the problem was until after it’s addressed. Seniors often contact her about “a more practical concern,” such as information about a health condition, she said. “What is it that this person truly needs, more often than not, is human contact.”
Maybe they start going to congregate meals at a senior center, join a support group or make friends through a class, she said. “That’s often when they say to us, ‘I never realized how lonely or depressed I was.’ ”
It’s wonderful when people can live in a community setting, with accessibility to neighbors and friends, activities and public transportation, she said, “a place like Rogers House can provide.”
Editor’s note: For more information about senior housing issues, visit the New Hampshire Housing website, www.nhhfa.org, or the Central Vermont Council on Aging, www.cvcoa.org. Aimee Caruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3210.