New Year 2017 Newsletter: At Highland Green…It’s Time
By Will Honan on Sunday, December 18th, 2016
A Look Back at 2016
An epic journey, a magazine writer and a rock and roll band exemplify active living
2016 was another sensational year at Highland Green. It capped a four year period in which nearly 200 people opted to start their next life adventures here. Construction of custom homes rolls on throughout this winter and well into the future as active adults from around the nation commit to living in the Northeast’s premier 55+ Lifestyle community.
We begin 2017 with a fresh look and a new logo. Created in-house by our marketing team, it is simpler and cleaner. Its more modern feel demonstrates that we are continually evolving as Baby Boomers and generations beyond absorb our message. Three cattail shoots are a nod to our natural setting. The simple “HG” reflects how most residents and friends refer to the community, and helps eliminate any brand confusion.
HG is a national destination because of the unique propositions it offers. It is not a regular neighborhood or a simple condominium development or a traditional retirement community. But it has key features of each that result in matchless appeal and broad demographics. HG’s local ownership, location, lower-maintenance living through cooperative ownership, custom built homes, and unprecedented incorporation of conservation and nature are well-documented.
The most important proposition of all may be HG’s ready-built sense of community, friendship and wellness fostered by living nearby others who have diverse backgrounds, but who also share threads of commonality. This is why again and again the HG story is best told through accounts of its people in this publication, on the HG Lifestyle Blog on our website, and through personal interactions between new friends and current HG residents.
An Epic Journey
On the cusp of Spring 2016 Highland Green resident Rob Potvin passed up a chance to work on a multi-million dollar job to embark on a journey of “five million steps.” On March 15, Rob departed Springer Mountain, Georgia to solo hike the entire Appalachian Trail. His plan was to finish at the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine in September, having trekked alone for about 2160 miles through 14 states.
Prior to landing here in 2006, Rob and his wife Kathy traveled America in an Airstream trailer for four years while searching for a permanent home. They had eventually narrowed their search to Santa Fe, New Mexico and HG.
Rob is no stranger to U.S. geography. His career as a construction manager brought him around the country as he supervised the building of manufacturing plants. It’s been a great job, but came with a price. “I was a workaholic and became enormously stressed,” says Rob. A result was his first of eight heart bypasses at age 42.
Since moving to Highland Green ten years ago, he has continued this work in between kayaking, hiking, and camping trips with Kathy, making beer at his house, and other hobbies. In 2015 he spent a year overseeing a project in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In the beginning of 2016 Rob was approached to help manage the construction of a new facility on the U.S. west coast that would have been among the biggest assignments of his career. He passed.
“I’ve always wanted to thru-hike the whole Appalachian Trail and figured that at 67 years old it was a perfect time for me,” says Rob.
Rob completed his hike in seven months and seven days, including a major change in plans. Having made it to Duncannon, Pennsylvania in the summer, he opted to “flip-flop,” a common route for Appalachian through-hikers, and drive back to Maine. He climbed Mt. Katahdin, and then trekked back to Duncannon, completing the entire trail on October 22.
On the climb of Katahdin he was accompanied by Kathy and several more HG residents. For the others it was a very strenuous ascent. “I was in such good shape by then that I practically floated up the mountain,” says Rob.
During his excursion, he lost about 35 pounds of body weight in total, but estimates that he gained about ten pounds of muscle in his legs. Says Rob: “It was much harder than I thought. It was very physically challenging and mentally it was extremely difficult. For the first four months I thought of quitting every single day.” He cites a particular stretch early on when it rained for 29 straight days. But Kathy would drive to meet him at certain trail-crossings along the way, help him re-supply, and offer moral support. “I could have never done it without her,” he says.
By the last two months of his expedition Rob became “obsessed with finishing.” He partially attributes his ability to do so with living here. The 230-acre Cathance River Nature Preserve at HG and its five miles of trails, plus the miles of safe sidewalks in the community, were perfect for trying out gear and practicing hiking. “Plus the ‘hands off’ maintenance here at HG allowed us to pursue this dream without worry,” he says. “And I knew that I could be away and the community and management at HG would help Kathy should anything come up.”
Rob’s journey was not without its perils. He had a serious fall about once a week. In August he broke his tailbone. Three weeks from finishing he bent his hand back so far that he snapped a finger and split the skin all the way across his palm.
But overall his health greatly improved. “I did not get one cold or any blisters the entire time,” he says, “And on a follow up visit to my cardiologist, he cut my medications.”
Along the nearly 2,200 mile trail Rob says that the White Mountains above the tree line in New Hampshire provided the most spectacular scenery. Maine featured the hardest stretch by far, “from the New Hampshire border to Monson.”
Meeting people in their teens, twenties and thirties along the way who were all “respectful and nice” changed his outlook on today’s youth. And interacting with people from all over the world, “a narrow and diverse slice of humanity,” provided unique camaraderie. Says Rob: “On the trail, living is difficult, but life is easy.”
Hunter and Dash
Hunter Howe from Augusta, Maine recently made the decision to move to HG by purchasing an already built resale home. By doing so Hunter, in his own words, “took a significant step toward a happier life,” and “has not been this excited about something for a long time.” His unique viewpoint and his comprehensive process offer valuable insight into many of the nuances of the community.
As the author of the regular From the Porch column in the ubiquitous Maine Seniors Magazine, Hunter has been exposed to the messages of many traditional retirement communities. Upon finding HG he discovered something completely different.
“It became clear immediately that Highland Green is relatively younger and has more vitality,” says Hunter.
“And I liked the fact that it has spread out neighborhoods, enclosed with trees, with real custom-built single family homes and not just a conglomeration of plain cottages surrounding a large assisted living facility. It truly is a 55+ Community.”
Having previously moved to Florida then realizing that the Sunshine State was not a good fit for him, Hunter returned to Maine three years ago and bought a home in a regular neighborhood. As a result, he became less socially engaged than preferable. About to turn an active 70, he realized that he wanted to be in a place that offered him peace of mind through lower-maintenance living and greater protection of value. He also sought the security and camaraderie of having neighbors to whom he could relate, but also the ability to maintain his privacy.
“I’m very friendly but not an automatic joiner,” says Hunter. “So it’s nice to know that there are friends nearby if I need them. And resident organized activities are available, but with no pressure to join in.” During his exploratory visits he had the opportunity to meet several current HG residents.
“Everyone had smiles on their faces and their hands out,” he says.
Another very important factor was the experiences of Hunter’s beloved Chihuahua named Dash. “I’m really glad that dogs are allowed at HG but that they are not penned up and barking in backyards, and that people are respectful and pick up after them,” he says.
Dash became a fixture in the HG Marketing and Operations office during his visits. At one point, Hunter commented that he had been diligently searching for a dog-sitter in his current area to no avail. HG Marketing Team member Amber Grant made a quick phone call to resident Ruth Ann Specht, who provides dog walking and sitting services for neighbors. On the way out the door of her home to work at the Topsham Public Library, Ruth Ann “dashed” to the office and an instant connection was made.
“It’s the little things that can tell you everything about a place.”
Besides being a writer, Hunter was previously in the military, worked in human resources for Gillette, and was an investment advisor for Merrill Lynch.
He has a very keen sense of detail and is process oriented. He appreciates the fact that HG has a permanent Management staff that is part of the community.
Amber’s attention and patience in guiding him through his process was very thorough. She connected him with residents, involved the entire marketing and operational staff, a financial consultant, a banker, an insurance professional, and many others.
“These decisions need to be well thought out,” says Hunter. “Details, facts, and figures all have to make sense. When I was with Merrill Lynch, it was not as if clients did not want to invest. Sometimes they just did not understand the process, or did not want to bother with paperwork. The HG staff is very knowledgeable, earnest and has patience. The information is transparent. All of my needs were met and I never felt rushed or pressured by anyone. It is much easier here.”
Hunter wrote to Amber, in part: “You’ve been superb to work with. I love your low key, thoughtful approach. You come across as sincere and caring. You’re a kind person. I’ve made a new friend!” The community has also found a friend in Hunter.
Off Their Rockers
It’s easy for HG residents to find others with whom to share hobbies and interests through friendships and dynamic resident organized activities in the community and elsewhere. Educational, volunteer, hiking, walking, social, and dining experiences only scratch the surface of the happenings amongst HG folks.
All-resident rock band “Off Their Rockers” (OTR) formed in 2016. They practiced for six months and made a stellar debut at the 2016 “Highland Green’s Got Talent” variety show in October, which also featured poets, singers, a storyteller, and a stand-up comic.
Just three years ago the members of OTR did not know each other either because they had not yet connected or had not yet moved to HG. They are a diverse group from around the country and their growing set list features numbers from early rock and roll through the new millennium.
Bob “the Beat”
Bob “the Beat” Allen is the “co-leader” of OTR and holds down the rhythm section on drums. When he moved to HG in 2013 he maintained his law office in Oakland, California. “Mild mannered attorney by day, rock and roller at night,” says Bob’s wife Pat who is involved in many community activities. She organizes a dining group that meets at the Wild Duck Restaurant and Pub at HG, which is currently being renovated to double in size.
Barbara “Songbird” Combs
The other “co-leader” of OTR is lead singer Barbara “Songbird” Combs who relocated to HG in 2014 from Grand Forks, North Dakota. A former Education School Dean, Barb met her husband Jerry at a community theater. Jerry is a nutrition scientist who is about to publish the fifth volume of his renowned textbook about the chemistry of vitamins.
Carol “’Do-Re-Mi” Davis is a backing vocalist. “This is my first experience singing with a rock and roll band, and it’s so much fun to be making music with new friends at HG,” says Carol. “When we all descend on Bob’s basement to rehearse every week, I feel as if I’m living in a neighborhood that’s full of kids who want to do fun, creative and interesting things together.” Carol moved to HG from Simsbury, Connecticut with her husband Dick in 2015. “It’s the neighborhood I always wanted while growing up but never had,” she says.
Charlie “King of Cool”
Charlie “King of Cool” Evans came to HG in 2014 from Lee, New Hampshire. Trained in physical therapy, Charlie has made presentations for residents at the HG Community Center about joint health and rehabilitation. “Charlie has really blossomed at HG,” says his wife Carol. He joined OTR as a guitarist but has worked his way into taking lead vocals when a male voice is required.
Les “Big Bopper”
Les “Big Bopper” Borodinsky plays bass guitar. From Derwood, Maryland, the Borodinskys found a great HG home (and a strong HG internet connection) in 2012 from which Les could telecommute for his job as a nutrition scientist in Washington D.C. His vintage Gibson guitar which he has owned since the 1960’s is one of OTR’s symbols.
“Rocking Mama” Michelle Borodinsky sings backing vocals. She is a retired nurse, a founding member of the HG Community Garden, and of Green Steps, a group of interested HG residents. Green Steps’ mission is to promote environmental stewardship in the community. Their interests include the ongoing HG community composting program, helpful environmental tips and more.
“Hip and Heavenly”
“Hip and Heavenly” Charlotte Hewson (aka “Keyboard Charlie”) studied classical piano as a child. Her only interaction with music for 40 years was through camp songs as longtime Director of Camp Wohelo in Raymond, Maine. She and her husband Roger purchased at HG while maintaining their home in Harpswell, Maine for summer and for sailing. Even though Harpswell is just a few miles away, it is too isolated for certain activities, especially in the winter. HG’s location allows them to have much easier access to socializing, shopping, their volunteer groups and other services in the nearby college town of Brunswick, and in Portland. And Charlie has “re-discovered” her musical passion as the keyboardist of OTR.
Sue Loebs is the newest member of the band, fitting in seamlessly with her fiddle playing. A teacher, Sue came to HG from Columbus, Ohio in 2012 with her husband Steve. He is a Waterville, Maine native and attended Bowdoin College. The Loebs are involved in “everything HG,” including social events, boards and committees, and athletic pursuits.
OTR’s song list is extensive. A sampling of tunes from their repertoire features titles that mirror the HG spirit: Dance Tonight, Bang the Drum All Day, Good Rocking Daddy, Bring It on Home to Me, Can’t Help Falling in Love, I’m Into Something Good, Teenager in Love, It’s So Easy, Forever Young.
Caroline “Flower Child” Feely sings backing vocals in OTR. Her nickname comes from the fact that she is originally from San Francisco but she moved to HG from Oakland, Maine in 2013 with her husband Joe. He was formerly Staff Architect at Colby College. During the design and build process of the Feely’s custom HG home, Joe’s knowledge helped to develop some layout innovations that have benefitted subsequent residents in their own processes.
Highland Green Director of Marketing and Sales Will Honan is the “manager” of OTR. “I don’t really have to do much,” says Will. “I have an OTR t-shirt, I’m friends with all of the members, and get invited to rehearsals. But most importantly I get to encourage them, tell their story, and am able to help connect them with community opportunities as I see them.”
“The staff is here to market HG and to provide property management,” says Caroline, who is a clinical social worker. “But as an integral part of the community their role goes far beyond that. It shares some elements of social work by seeking to improve the quality of life for individuals by enhancing opportunities to build relationships, collaborate and impact the community environment.”
Rob Potvin’s Appalachian journey, Writer Hunter Howe’s experiences, and the formation of Off Their Rockers are just three of hundreds of stories which demonstrate the energy of HG. Residents in their late 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and above from around America have gathered here and can discover (or re-discover) passions. They can draw support and encouragement from each other to lead active lifestyles.
“Several longtime HG residents were real inspirations to me” says Rob: “Tom climbing Mt. Katahdin at 75 and continuing at nearly 90 to walk HG’s sidewalks every day rain or shine; Rolf routinely cycling 50 miles a day when in his 80’s; and Steve hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail when in his 80’s.”
Off Their Rockers lead vocalist Barb Combs thinks the band represents more than just their music. Says Barb:
“OTR is the sort of activity that HG is all about and what helps us to stay healthy and happy – as well as just damn cool.”
What’s Next in 2017
Hunter believes everything comes down to timing: “I perceive that in a traditional retirement community, people have waited until they are 78 or 80 to make a move there, whereas at HG there is a vibrancy and people of diverse ages who are not waiting for anything.”
In an upcoming piece for Maine Seniors Magazine called Life’s Book, Hunter compares each year of our lives to creating a book. He writes: “Days (sentences), turn to weeks (pages), turn to months (chapters), turn to December (book). We build our own story…successful writers strive for a satisfying ending to the story.”
One of Hunter’s favorite quotes is by author Idries Shah in his book Reflections. It reads: “Right time, right place, right people equals success…”
HG has found success with the right people and the right place. Says Hunter of HG: “It’s time!”