WEST LIBERTY – It started over 40 years ago with a bake sale in West Liberty that brought in a whopping $2,322, almost enough money to buy a brand new 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle, without the drop-top and 454-ci, four-barrel engine options.
But that $2,322 went a different direction. It was planted as seed money that eventually ballooned to $1.5 million, which was then used to transform a picturesque knoll noted for its peonies into a brand new neighborhood just north of West Liberty, one we today know as the Green Hills Community. 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Green Hills, but it was the bake sale conducted several years prior that broke the ice in leading the community to break ground.
Green Hills has been celebrating the 40-year milestone over the past several months, so the residents cooked up the idea to have another bake sale, a “mega” one, to honor the first one held over four decades ago. To gear up for the sale, community residents and the Green Hills staff pulled out the oven mitts and baked enough goodies to fill nine full-length cafeteria tables in the Community Room.
The bake sale was slated for Sept. 16 from 1 to 5 p.m., but it didn’t last even half of the four hours allotted. At 2:15 p.m., all that remained of what was a mountain of baked goods were a half-dozen cupcakes and four Block “O” cookies. At 2:30, the staff was scrambling to get out some pies for sale, but it was all over but the tasting by then, leaving Director of Advancement Nita Wilkinson in a state of amused astonishment.
“This was incredible,” Wilkinson said while gazing over a sea of empty tables in the Community Room. “I thought that this bake sale might do well … but this,” she said with a grin and a gesture toward the nearly vacant room. “This is just amazing.”
The residents and visitors lucky enough to get to the sale early knew a good thing when they smelled it. Food Network aficionados might admire a chef who can make a Napoleon out of hemlock and an old boot, but try a pecan pie or loaf of banana nut bread baked by someone who has been working on the recipe since the Truman administration. Green Hills 1, Food Network 0.
Kitchen Band revival
Two days after the bake sale, the Green Hills Kitchen Band got together for one of its frequent performances in the very same Community Room. The Kitchen Band was revived following a several-year hiatus on the suggestion of Phyllis Coye, who introduced the Sept. 18 program and plays triangle in the band. The membership in the band has swollen from five at its inception this past December to around 20 members today. In her introduction, Coye mentioned that all of the band members were between the ages of 80 and 90, which elicited at least one harrumph from the woodwind section. She went on to express her gratitude to her friends and neighbors who participate in the Kitchen Band, and to the audience members who come for the shows.
“It’s beyond just entertaining,” Coye said just prior to taking a seat and picking up her triangle. “It’s great therapy.”
Included in the ensemble were washboards, a cheese grater, a frying pan, rolling pins, spoons – both wooden and metal – and other oddments, including the two things that no self-respecting kitchen band could go without, a broomstick-and-washtub one-string bass and a jug player keeping rhythm.
Both the bake sale and Kitchen Band are indicative of how Green Hills (and similar institutions) are changing the perception of what “retirement communities” actually are and what they actually do. Green Hills has residents who are largely self-sufficient and take advantage of the small apartments that continue to spring up all over the campus. It also has residents who can no longer take care of themselves; they being robbed of this ability by a thief known as Alzheimer’s.
Jean Kerns has been residing at Green Hills for about a decade. Because of her infirmities, she is confined to a special wheelchair and needs assistance with even her most basic needs, yet she was present for both the bake sale and the Kitchen Band concert. On both occasions she was beautifully groomed (she likes glitter in her ‘do), smartly dressed, well accessorized, and sharp as a tack. She good-naturedly chided her daughter Linda Hilliker, who dropped by for the bake sale, for trying to sneak a cupcake past her inspection and made a reporter promise to list her official age in the newspaper as 39 a la Jack Benny. Done.
While the Kitchen Band has a median age of about 85 (a number disputed by the woodwinds), the audience spanned the outer reaches of both ends of the Bell Curve, including a score or so of preschoolers, all of whom seemed to know the words to “On Top of Spaghetti,” as did their grand and great-grandparents who were singing or playing along.
It was the reaction – or the non-reaction, if you will – of the kids mingling with people decades older than themselves that put smiles on the faces of Wilkinson and Administrator Stephanie DeWees as they watched the band from the back row. The kids paid little attention to those residents who are confined or use special medical equipment. Wheelchairs and oxygen tanks held no fascination with them, but the Green Hills Kitchen Band laying it down with washboards and frying pans did. DeWees said that is exactly the kind of atmosphere that the Green Hills Community strives to provide.
“We love it when everybody comes by,” DeWees said. “Especially the kids. They always have a good time and see that there’s nothing to be scared of here.”
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.