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For Charlotte VanDyke the transition to a retirement community wasn’t an easy one. In fact, in the beginning, she wasn’t happy about the move at all. Today, she’ll tell you she loves her life and moving into Arbor Glen independent living community was one of the best decisions she ever made.
The Early Years
Charlotte grew up on a farm in rural Michigan with a wide selection of vegetables, apple and cherry orchards, chickens, other livestock, and horses to ride. “In retrospect, I was very fortunate to live in that setting and have that fresh food, but didn’t realize it at the time,” says Charlotte. As a young girl, she longed to live in the city so she could walk to the soda shop and movie theater with the other kids, or go trick or treating -- a tradition she missed out on being that their closest neighbor was a mile away. The grass is always greener of course, and kids at school would tell her how lucky she was to live on a farm and have horses, but with that came a lot of responsibility and less-than-glamorous chores. Charlotte says she’d tell the kids to come over and clean up after the horse and they may change their minds.
A Busy Life
Charlotte received her wish to leave the countryside when she married her husband, Jack. They made a home in Davison, Michigan, or as she describes it, “a small town where everybody knew everybody.” Neighbors included everyone from firefighters and teachers to police and mafia members.
Charlotte and Jack both worked for General Motors. Her husband was an accountant for GM, and Charlotte was a switchboard operator. She’d been slowly chipping away at her college degree since graduating from high school, paying her own way, one class at a time. That pursuit continued on top of working full time, raising a family, and volunteering as Camp Director every summer for the Community of Christ’s junior high camp, a role for which she won the International Youth Service award. Charlotte says she’d tell herself, “No matter what, I’m going to get through this college thing.”
During those busy years, Charlotte began making wreaths and flower arrangements, a hobby she still loves today. “I would get my frustrations out by putting them together,” she says. “I was only doing it to relax. It helped me settle down and calmed me.” What started as a way to unwind, unexpectedly grew into a mini business. People started noticing Charlotte’s talents, and requesting arrangements. Jack would often fill his car trunk with Charlotte’s flower baskets, and sell them out of his trunk in the parking lot before work. Employees would clear out the trunk every time. A local beauty salon also got wind of Charlotte’s creations and started hanging them in their shop. Salon clients would request to buy the beautiful bouquets and wreaths.
Charlotte worked at General Motors for 25 years, climbing the ladder from switchboard operator to administrative assistant for the Director of Security of Safety. She took an early retirement and decided to go into ministry. Charlotte took online classes, earned a theology degree, and became an ordained minister. She pastored a church for three years, a pioneer in a day when women ministers weren’t readily welcomed into churches.
Charlotte lived alone for several years. She has fibromyalgia, which comes with symptoms such as dizziness and loss of balance. One day she fell and hit her head. She remembers it was daylight when it happened, and it was dark when she woke up. Following the accident, she spent 11 weeks in the hospital, two of them in intensive care.
Charlotte would experience bad headaches and seizures as a result of the accident. Scared that she would hurt someone while driving, she gave up her brand new blue Malibu car. “I turned it in on my own,” she said. “I didn’t want to risk hurting anyone.”
My daughter sat me down and said, “Mom, if you’re not going to drive, you’re not staying in that house anymore,” says Charlotte. She told Charlotte she needed to be around people. One of Charlotte’s neighbors had moved into Arbor Glen senior living community and was happy there. Her daughter said, “If it’s good enough for Eppie, it’s good enough for you.”
A Tough Transition
Soon, Charlotte started venturing out into the community more. She began sitting at the same dinner table with the same women. “We got to talking during meals,” says Charlotte. “Once I found some people I was compatible with that helped a lot.” She would see her friends for dining and at activities, and they would visit each other and go on outings together. Now, Charlotte has a close-knit group of friends who feel like family. She loves participating in activities in the community. She’s part of the Lunch Bunch that tries a new restaurant every month and enjoys community games like bingo, horse racing, and bean bag baseball.
Charlotte reminisces of a time not long after she moved in when she saw a mother and daughter standing in the lobby of the independent living community. She read the apprehension on the mother’s face. It reminded Charlotte of herself. “I think I know how you’re feeling,” Charlotte said to the woman. “I didn’t want to come in here either. I didn’t understand their philosophy and what it was all about. I felt uprooted.” Charlotte encouraged the woman to give it a try; to stay just three days. “Once you get in here, I think you’ll like it. You’ll make friends. You’ll meet people. I felt the way you do, and now I love it,” Charlotte told the woman.
Her advice to new residents: Don't feel like you have to do all the activities. Just take part in the ones you want. Don't be afraid to ask questions. And the apprehensive woman Charlotte saw in the lobby? “She’s still here and has lots of friends,” says Charlotte. “God has always used me in strange ways. Seems like there’s always something that comes up, and I'm glad to be there to help.”