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Kendal at Lexington: A home place that doesn’t tie you down

By Edith Waringa Kamau

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Kendal at Lexington is one of 11 retirement communities operating as affiliates of Kendal Corporation. These communities are mostly placed in towns with college campuses nearby. The beauty of the Kendal model, besides its Quaker principles, is that it draws alumni and retired professors.

Here in Lexington (actually, most of the land snuggles just outside the city limits to the southwest), Kendal has two nearby campuses: Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute.

In the 1990s, the Rev. David Cox realized that parishioners at his Episcopal church were moving away to places like Lynchburg and Charlottesville in search of retirement communities. Taken aback, Cox got the idea of helping to start a retirement home in Lexington.

He set up a committee of community members to explore the idea. Their work came to fruition when Fred Bartenstein and his wife, Isabel, donated a big brick house known as Sunnyside, circa 1800, to be part of the new community. More important, they donated 85 acres of surrounding meadows that Kendal now occupies.

Cox and his committee began conversations with Kendal Corp., a nonprofit organization based in Pennsylvania. Kendal at Lexington opened in 2000.

It is now home to more than 120 independent-living men and women. Some, like Matt Paxton III, live with their spouses. Others, like Avis Waring, a widow, live alone. The Paxtons live in one of the cottages that line the quiet curving Sycamore Lane. Waring lives in an apartment in Anderson Hall.

The residents cherish their independence as long as they can enjoy it.

The Paxtons moved to Kendal in 2008 from a large historic stone house on a shady hill nearby. Paxton’s family has been in Lexington since 1745. His grandfather Matthew W. Paxton purchased what is now known as the Lexington News-Gazette in 1890. The weekly newspaper has been edited and published by four generations of Paxtons.

Paxton and his wife, Mary Raine, have four children. There is scarcely an organization of civic importance to Lexington that he has not participated in, as president, chairman or board member: the local hospital, library, church and the Historic Lexington Foundation, among others.

Paxton says he has been able to maintain a sense of independence even as he grows older. His typical day is not very different from his typical day when he was not a Kendal resident. “Kendal wants the life of the independent living residents to be free of [Kendal’s] control as much as possible.”

Paxton is a busy man. He usually goes into Lexington three times a day on various errands. He makes trips to the grocery store, the post office, the golf club and various committee meetings. At least once a week, Paxton goes to the News-Gazette, which is currently under the leadership of his son, Matthew IV, who took over the paper when his father retired in 1994.

Kendal residents are also able to experience rich cultural activities without leaving the property. Professors from both campuses come to Kendal to give lectures. Residents themselves include retired professors who give lectures, and artists who produce fresh exhibits in the hallways.

For some Kendal residents, like Oregon-born Avis Waring, being able to experience rich cultural and intellectual diversity is a main attraction.

Waring looks back on a lifetime of accomplishment set on a global stage. She fondly remembers her earlier years when she traveled the world. “I’ve had a very interesting and varied life,” she says. “I always wanted to travel and see the world.”

She began her foreign travels in 1946. She spent three years in Japan as an assistant to an American economist. She then moved to England where she was admitted to Cambridge University to pursue a master’s degree in economics. Once married, Waring continued to travel, living in Guatemala and visiting East Asia and South America for work. She and her husband retired from the federal government and moved to Florida. Several years after his death, she moved to Lexington.

Like Paxton, Waring appreciates that the Kendal staff workers are particularly careful to preserve choice, independence and autonomy for their residents.

Moving to Kendal isn’t cheap. Initial fees for the traditional “life care” plan run from $150,000 up into the $400,000s. This guarantees three levels of care from independent, to assisted living, to skilled nursing care, as the need arises. Should a resident leave or die within 50 months, under that plan, Kendal gives back a pro-rated portion of the initial fee. Expenses also include monthly fees that range from $2,500 to $5,000.

Kendal lets residents plan their activities independently while still offering help when asked.

“I think it’s wonderful that the leaders here help out in whatever way you want them to if we can still do things by ourselves,” Waring says.

For example, Waring recently joined friends from Kendal for a concert of the Rockbridge Symphony where her daughter played bassoon. The Kendal van picked up the residents at the front door of the Anderson Center, took them to the front door of the church where the concert was held, and then brought them back to Kendal afterwards.

While Kendal has fulfilled the Rev. Cox’s dream of having an attractive retirement home for well-established locals, it also draws world travelers here as their final home.

“One of the nice things about Kendal,” Paxton says, “is that they encourage you to continue on with your lifestyle as it was before you came here.”