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Theres Always More to the Story: Legacies Project 2017

By: Commonwealth Senior Living / 23 May 2017
Theres Always More to the Story: Legacies Project 2017

In the Legacies Project, a joint effort between WTJU, the University of Virginia's radio station, and Commonwealth Senior Living, we capture the stories of our residents. As the University of Virginia celebrates its bicentennial, we think of the school as part of Thomas Jefferson's legacy and take time to reflect on what legacies our residents will leave. We asked them about defining moments in their lives, what moments were most impactful, what they enjoyed the most, and what they'd like their legacy to be. These are big questions which are sometimes very hard to answer. How do you boil down your whole life, everything you are into a short recording? Here's what our residents had to say: 

Bessie Hudnall

Mrs. Bessie Hudnall, like so many of our residents, grew up on a farm in Virginia. She shared a story from when she was a girl on the farm. At 98 years old, Mrs. Hudnall had quite a journey from farming to owning a grocery store with her husband in Brooklyn. Take a look at the beautiful article by the Free Lance Star about Bessie and her husband, William here. They were happily married for 79 years. 

Sadly, Mr. Hudnall passed away not long after this article was printed, but his legacy will not be forgotten. Bessie tells stories of him often. The community remembers him as the first African American commissioner for the Potomac River Fisheries and the first African American to sit on the Board of Supervisors in Northumberland County.

Bette Brown

"Don't sweat the small stuff." That's the advice Bette Brown would like to give the next generation. Miss Brown was a teacher at H.M. Pearson Elementary in Faquier County, Virginia for 33 years. Over all those years, she said there are kids from each class that she'll always remember. Some of them are connected to her on Facebook now. Times have really changed since she got her first computer at the school in the late 70s. But she enjoyed learning and staying up on new technology as the years have gone by. She enjoys time on her computer each day and still teaches a bit. Our residents enjoy her exercise classes each morning. Miss Brown hopes to get back to driving so she can do some volunteering at the local grade school in the future.

Bill Wyatt

"That's the girl for me!" Mr. Bill Wyatt says the night he saw his wife for the first time was a moment he has never forgotten. Knowing she was the girl for him may be the only of his prophesies that came true, he told us with a chuckle. After 70 years, she's still his bride and he's still quite taken with her.

Burlyn Rogers

"It gave me a chance to express myself, but I didn't have to talk to anybody to do it." That's why Burlyn Rogers loved about building airplanes. The first plane he worked on was a B47, a medium sized bomber jet. He tells us that sitting down to a piece of paper and creating a machine is something like magic. It was heaven to him. At 97, he has quite a few stories to tell from building planes to rubbing elbows with people like Elizabeth Taylor.

Burt Barnes

Many of our residents' legacies include serving their country and their pictures hang on our Wall of Valor in each community. We include a star above their door number as a reminder of their service, and perhaps, most importantly, we listen to their stories and share them.  

Burt Barnes spent nearly 30 years traveling the world in the Air Force, but there's one very short trip that he remembers most clearly. Mr. Barnes is one of the many residents who keep us laughing at Commonwealth Senior Living at Hampton.

Don Gilbert

At 88, Mr. Don Gilbert is our resident gardener at Commonwealth Senior Living at Farnham. You'll see him picking vegetables and tending to his crops every day. He says it keeps him young. 

Don is not the only resident at our community who enjoys the garden. His produce is used in our kitchen to create delicious meals for our residents every day. It ties in perfectly with our farm-to-table dining. With 85% of our produce coming from Virginia farmers, we're proud to enjoy local food at Farnham and all of our communities each day.

Eva Coates Hagood

She was a labor and delivery nurse for 41 years, and she felt it was her calling.

Frank Stallard

Growing up in the 1930s was not an easy time. Frank Stallard remembers being placed in foster care after his family could no longer care for him, but he carries no bitterness about it. "I'm philosophical about it," he says. "It's just the way it was." 

There's a palpable strength and determination we see in our residents, this group who Tom Brokaw famously coined the Greatest Generation. We cherish their stories and are honored to pass them along.

Gunter Buhrdorf

Many of our residents began their lives in other countries. They came here to start a new life or to flee from war-torn countries. Gunter is one of those residents. He was born and raised in Germany during WWII. The war began when he was 14 years old. As he says, "and my youth went out the window!" He had the opportunity to befriend another WWII veteran at Commonwealth Senior Living at Christiansburg several years ago. The story of their friendship ended up making the cover of the Washington Post. It's not every day you meet a soldier from the opposing side of a war you fought in 70 odd years before.

James Crumbley

Overcoming fear is something we all must do at different points in our lives, but in some situation, that fear is palpable. James Crumbley joined the Navy as WWII was starting. He had never been out to sea until that point. He was assigned to find submarines and the idea of torpedoes really frightened him. It didn't help that the threat was so real. After all, the area surrounding the Outer Banks, North Carolina was nicknamed "Torpedo Alley" during the war for all the attacks on allied shipping vessels. Nonetheless, Mr. Crumbley was able to overcome that fear and serve four years with the Navy.

Jean Warren

"Just a little country girl going all the way to Africa all by myself." That's how Jean Warren explained why she thought people were worried about her going to Nairobi, Kenya at the age of 88. But by her estimation, she couldn't think of any reason not to go. Her husband had passed away and one of her sons worked there as a missionary. She wanted to be with him and said, "If God's going to take care of me, what do I have to be afraid of?" 

Ms. Warren's gumption and faith is a great example of the kind of legacy so many of us hope to leave. Our life experiences aren't always limited to our beautiful state, and these adventures away truly shape who we are and the way we impact the people we meet.

Johanna Van Dyke

We've heard advice for happy marriages, having adventures, and funny stories too. Johanna Van Dyke shared stories with us about her eccentric grandfather.

Johnny Colville

Growing tobacco has been part of the story of Virginia since colonists settled there in the 1600s. Many of our residents have experience working on tobacco farms. Mr. Colville talks about planting tobacco, walking barefoot through the fields, and the coolness of the barn. Those memories are conjured up like he was there just yesterday.

Juanita Melton

She recalls growing up in a simpler time. In 1930, the population of Bland County would have been about 6,000 people. You'd have to use your imagination to keep yourself entertained, and it sounds like Ms. Melton did just that. We are grateful for every one of Ms. Melton's stories.

Loreighn Stewart

"I want to be remembered as a happy person," said Ms. Stewart as she giggled into the microphone. And really, what a wonderful and simple wish that is! It's hard not to smile when listening to her talk about teaching Sunday school. Her happiness is contagious.

Mervin Franklin

You can just picture the smile on Mervin's face as he describes the day he met his wife, Shirley. He was 85 and wasn't looking for love. He had spent a good part of his life in the Marine Corps and had lots of adventures, but he thought all of that was over. It wasn't until he saw Shirley for the first time that he changed his mind. He'd told us he knew he was going to marry her before he even knew her name. 

While the kindling of these relationships don't happen every day, we've been happy to celebrate several romances in our communities. It's a joy to see people finding love, and it's one of the constants that remain no matter what else may change.

Reverend Rowland

"This gnawing on my soul would come and go for years." Reverend Rowland, well-known, retired minister, shared what it felt like to be working in science and be compelled to the religious life. He experienced what so many of us do at some point in our careers. The question comes up, does what we do have meaning? It this what we were meant to do? Reverend Rowland had a successful career with Bristol Meyers, but it was not fulfilling him. Ultimately, the call to serve God led him to ministry.  

We believe having a sense of purpose is critical not only in your work life, but also in the golden years of life. Reverend Rowland can be found leading bible study each week in our community for a group of residents who thoroughly enjoy participating.

Ronald Craft

"You give a little. You take a little." Anyone who has been in a relationship for any great length of time might tell you relationships aren't easy. Building a life with another person can have its challenges, and the national statistics of divorce rates don't paint a different picture. Maybe that's why we celebrate those individuals who are able to be successful in their marriages to such a high degree. Perhaps these couples have a secret to share on how they are able to enjoy each other so much after 72 years.  

At 97, Ronald Craft says the key to being married that long is kindness. He says after all these years, he and his wife still think of each other's happiness all the time. He says he'd marry her again if he had the chance, and she told him she'd marry him again too. So this advice of give and take and a long, happy marriage is the legacy he'd like to leave the next generation.

Ruth Sisson

She reflected back on a memory of her first year at Radford University. What was her one regret? Well, she wished she had the chance to dance at a sorority party. There was a time when it was fairly common for mothers to make dresses and pajamas out of feed bags.  

Until these bags were made out of paper in the 1960s, these cotton bags could be turned into all kinds of useful household items by the engineering mothers of the time. Take a look at this great mention of the history of feedbags as clothing here.

Learning the stories of our residents and joining them in the journey is what gets us up in the morning. We listen, we love, we care, we serve. It's not just what we say, it's what we do. Every day. Learn more about our residents and their stories here. 


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