Category Archives: Livonia Spotlight

Resident Spotlight: Meet Rosemarie

The strength of America comes from families like Rosemarie’s. Through three generations intertwined by hard work and military service, she’s become the matriarch of a family made up of six children, plenty of grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren (and counting). Though she never saw herself living in a senior community, she now calls Oakmont Livonia her “home away from home;” a place where she feels safe, comfortable, and happy. But the road there had some interesting twists and turns – and it all starts in Dearborn.

Born in Dearborn; Educated in Canada

Born in Dearborn in the days before World War Two, Rosemarie and her brother enjoyed what would be considered a relatively normal childhood until the war broke out. With four uncles already serving in the war, Rosemarie’s dad was called into service as a military police officer. Her mother, like the famed Rosie the Riveter, went to work in the automotive factories in Detroit.

With her whole family fully invested in the war effort, her mother and father thought her best chance at a great education was north of the border. So Rosemarie boarded a train to Canada, where she enrolled in a boarding school several hours north of Toronto in North Bay.

Though it was a definite change of pace from what she was used to Stateside, Rosemarie enjoyed the experience of living and learning at school. “It was very good, very nice,” she said of the school. “I really enjoyed my time there.”

The Boy with the Strange Last Name

When she turned 15, Rosemarie returned to the States and begged her mother to attend Fordson High School in Dearborn because, as she says, “it looked like a castle.” She enrolled, and it was at Fordson that she first noticed the boy with the strange last name on the roster for her high school football team.

“When I saw that name, I thought ‘oh, I feel so sorry for the poor girl that marries him and gets that name,’” she said, laughing.  But destiny was not to be avoided; a chance meeting with the strange-named boy during her stint as hallway monitor eventually led to a lifelong romance that would last through 65 years of marriage – and yes, she ended up taking his last name as her own.

Soon after the young couple was married, Rosemarie’s husband was called into the armed forces, serving in the Army during the Korean War. The family moved to Kansas where they lived on a military base, and though he had orders to soon ship out overseas, the war ended just before he was due to leave. Discharged from the military, the family moved back to Michigan where they bought a house in Dearborn Heights and he went to work as a printer for the Big Three.

Grown Kids and Good Grades

While her husband returned to work after his service, Rosemarie stayed at home and raised their six children. “I was lucky enough to be able to stay home,” she said of the time. “And I didn’t go back to work until my husband became a little sick, and then I went back to nursing school.”

At the age of 39 and with some of the kids grown, Rosemarie went back to school and graduated with a degree in nursing. She quickly found work during the day at a doctor’s office while her husband still worked nights. The family thrived during this time, and the rest of her children grew up and pursued interests of their own. Some studied to become teachers; some followed in their father’s steps and joined the service. No matter what they chose to do, they all made Rosemarie proud – and gave her plenty of grandchildren.  Having such a large family has filled her life with an unending joy and happiness.

When her husband illness worsened after more than 60 years of marriage, Rosemarie and her children knew it was time for a change. They found Oakmont Livonia, and with the encouragement of her children, soon moved into a one-bedroom apartment. “I’m so glad we did,” she said. “Everybody’s so pleasant; it’s so neat and clean. My children say ‘Mom, this is the best place’ and I agree with them.”

Meet Rita

If there is any single resident who embodies the warm, friendly, and outgoing nature of Oakmont Livonia’s community, Rita might be a perfect choice. A natural people-person, and conversationalist with a caring heart, she effortlessly makes new friends and lights up every single room she enters. Her amazing story of family-focused living and passionate volunteering begins many miles away in the U.P.

From the U.P. to Detroit

Though she’s been a Michigander all of her life, Rita grew up just about as far away as you can get from her current home in Livonia: the city of Ishpeming in the state’s Upper Peninsula. When asked to describe life growing up in the U.P., Rita had one simple answer: “Cold.”

But like a true Yooper, She didn’t mind the frigid temperatures. “It was cold, but I didn’t mind it. You know, in a small town, you walk to school – there were no buses. I can’t ever remember there being a snow day – every day was a snow day.”

When she was 15, her family moved down to Detroit so her father could run a new business he bought in the city: an ice cream store. It was working here and helping her father that led Rita to eventually meeting the man she would marry. “The business my dad bought was an ice cream store and my husband loved ice cream – so that’s how I met him,” she said, laughing. “All through high school, I had to make banana splits and sundaes, and I hated it, but I did it.”

A Move to Garden City

Though her husband was home on leave from the Air Force when they first met, they didn’t lose touch, and soon married just a year after Rita graduated from Visitation Catholic High School in Detroit. The pair started their life living above the ice cream store, and thanks to a loan from Rita’s dad, they were able to buy a house in Garden City.

“I can still remember it was like $300 down and you could buy a house. So I went to my dad and said ‘can I get $300? We got the money from him and moved out to Garden City with our two-year-old and our 10-day-old newborn.”

Though the family continued to thrive, things weren’t always so rosy on the financial front. But, Rita’s husband was an extremely hard worker, and sometimes worked three jobs just to keep the family afloat. “My husband had grown up hungry and cold, so he always said his children would never go hungry or cold,” Rita said. “He’d bring home the paycheck and he’d say ‘first food.’ There had to be food on the table.”

Though she spent most of her time as a full-time mother to her children, Rita soon got the itch to do something more and entered back into the workforce. “When the kids got older, I was itching to get out and do something, so I would get jobs at places like St. Mary’s Hospital or Annapolis Hospital – but I would only work on weekends when he was home to watch the kids, because, who could afford a babysitter?” she said, laughing.

A Tireless Volunteer

When her youngest child entered school, Rita took on a more permanent job at Hudson’s – a company she’d work for for the next 38 years – retiring just 10 years ago at the age of 73. But retirement didn’t stop her from getting out and doing something new. “I used to always say, ‘someday when I retire, I’m going to be a volunteer at Garden City Hospital’ – so that’s what I did.”

Her volunteering days didn’t end there. Now, as a resident of Oakmont Livonia for the past 18 months, Rita volunteers her time at the community store – checking in with neighbors, staff, and anyone looking to have a friendly conversation. “I just love talking to people,” she says.

An avid reader and people person, Rita has found life at Oakmont Livonia an unexpected and ongoing pleasure. “I’m very happy here,” Rita said. “There’s a lot of things to do, and once I got well, I jumped right into living here with both feet. I just love it.”

Meet Forrest

With more than 16 million Americans serving in the armed forces during World War Two, many stories exist of the heroic efforts of soldiers and sailors, marines and pilots who bravely put themselves in harm’s way to help further the cause of freedom. And with those stories come tales of service and sacrifice that you don’t often hear – of specialized united and covert missions. Forrest’s story is one of those, and his work serving in the Army Air Force helped ensure an allied victory in the second war to end all wars.

Born in Detroit in the fall of 1919, Forrest, a resident of Oakmont Livonia, spent his early childhood just blocks from where he lives now. In the early 1920s, his father purchased an acre of land in a subdividing community known as Livonia and built a house for his young family. It was here Forrest and his parents would live until a job transfer took them down south to the Magnolia State.

“I was around 16 or 17, a junior in high school, when my dad got transferred from here to Jackson, Mississippi,” Forrest said. I graduated high school in 1938 and then went to Mississippi State College for two-and-a-half years until the war came along. In 1941 in November, just before Pearl Harbor, I enlisted in the Army Air Force – the Army and Air Force were together at that time.”

Eyes on the Skies

After enlisted, Forrest was sent to Weather Observer School, where he and the men and his unit learned to read the skies. This work took him all over the country, from Texas to Illinois, eventually landing him back in Grand Rapids for a short time before heading down south to the Caribbean, and eventually, Natal, Brazil.

While the job of observing and predicting the weather is now commonplace on nightly newscasts, in the 1940s, it was a progressive and evolving science – and one that the Army was determined to master. Forrest and the men of the 4th Weather were charged with forecasting the weather across the Atlantic Ocean and over to North Africa – a major front in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern theater of the war.
Armed with this essential information, the Army Airforce was able to safely schedule and fly bombers down from America to a base in Natal, and eventually across the ocean to land in Africa – a task paramount to stopping the allied powers and winning the war. “A lot of people don’t know that’s how they got the bombers over there,” said Forrest. “Most people have never even thought of it.”

“I Know Them, and They Know Me.”

After serving in the Army more than four years, Forrest left in January of 1946, and ended up back Livonia working for Evans Products in Material Control – but his heart was still in the skies. “I made one great big mistake after [the war] and didn’t stay with the weather,” he said, chuckling. “Everyone, I guess, makes one great big mistake in their life, and that was mine.”

Soon after returning to Livonia, Forrest married his wife of many years, Margaret, and along with his own two children, raised two stepchildren as his own. “She had two children and I raised them as mine,” he said, slightly choking up. “And they still call me ‘Dad.’ And I know them, and they know me.” And just like Dad, his children, Heather and Forrest, haven’t ventured too far either, living close by in Garden City and Livonia.

Though he’ll soon turn 98, Forrest is still passionate about making others smile, telling a joke, and his favorite sport: golf. If you walk into Oakmont Livonia and see a group of seniors laughing and smiling, chances are, Forrest is the reason why.

Meet Helen

Working for the Department of Social Services, Helen was on the front lines of seeing the best and the worst Detroit had to offer.

The best? Helen will readily admit working as a civil servant that she was part of a great environment that promoted the empowerment of women and minorities.

The worst? As a caseworker for 15 years before spending 20 years in management, she saw the inefficiency and the ineffectiveness of social programs, in addition to the problems associated to Detroit’s 1967 riot.

Helen’s duties as a caseworker took her to Herman Gardens and the Jeffries Project in Detroit, making in-home visits to determine eligibility.

“It wasn’t bad when I worked there before the 1970s,” she said. “After the riots, those were the bad times. Or, as some people call it, the rebellion. It was just awful in those days.”

The pitfalls of social work

She realized the struggles people were enduring, Because the state took a while to open new cases, she also felt the efforts of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “Great Society” push never turned out to be the fix it was presented to be.

“Look at Detroit now, the percentage of kids that can’t read or write,” Helen said. “I was going to be a teacher but then I changed my mind. I didn’t want to make paper Mache things. And I end up here and we have art class, but I love it.”

Growing up, education proved to be quite important, despite the fact her parents’ schooling stopped after the eighth grade.

“But my dad was very, very bright. He read Mark Twain, Charles Dickens. And he got my sister and me to read and we both did really well in school,” she said. Also, her sister went to college and Helen figured she could do it, too. She saved her money and after graduating Mackenzie High School in Detroit, Helen attended Wayne State University. She majored in sociology and history.

Helen is proud to point out both of her daughters attended college. One works as a physician’s assistant in New York; the other is a psychotherapist in nearby Plymouth.

A unique view of family and society

In a rather progressive family life, Helen had a pretty stable work environment while her husband was a factory worker. In fact, when he was laid off, it made more sense for him to stay home and raise Doris as a baby.

She also marched in various civil rights parade.

“I did believe in equality, long before most people, I think,” Helen said. “I’m kind of a feminist, too. I had a black woman who was a supervisor at Social Services, which was really something. The head of the department was a black man, back in the 70s. When I started in 1948, I did have a black supervisor then, a woman. And that’s really amazing. Civil service is great. I was in a very protected environment.”

After 55 years of marriage, Helen has been widowed for eight years. She admits to being a news junkie, watching CNN and MSNBC closely, as well as reading many newspapers and news magazines. Her favorite for entertainment is Turner Classic Movies “because I love old movies.”

Helen is a big fan of living at Oakmont Livonia, especially appreciating the scenery from her upstairs room.

“I have a beautiful view of the woods,” she said. “I feel like we’re up in the treetops.”

Meet Wendell

Wendell had big aspirations, being a teenager serving in the Navy during World War II in the South Pacific.

“It wasn’t a heroic two years,” he said. “I was on a converted banana boat. I signed up to be on a destroyer and got that instead. It turned out to be the best duty in the world, delivering fresh fruit to all the islands in the South Pacific.”

At the time, it wasn’t at all what he envisioned. As the Oakmont Livonia resident put it, “Oh, I cried for a year. I wanted to be on a destroyer so bad. It turned out to be, after everything’s said and done, pretty good.”

Wendell grew up around Detroit before his father had to move the family (due to a job transfer) from Royal Oak to Indiana. Eventually, they came back. It’s a good thing they did, because when he was a junior at Plymouth High School, he met a girl named Virginia in the school chorus.

Meeting his future wife Virginia

“I stood behind her and thought she was a nice-looking gal,” he said. “So I drew a heart on the inside of her raincoat, and I put my initials on it. That was the beginning.”

Eventually, after serving in the Navy, he and Virginia were married for 69 years. They lived in Plymouth and had four children while he worked for a local automotive supplier for 35 years. In that time and during his retirement, he enjoyed many sports, especially racquetball.

“I was pretty good about that,” Wendell said. “But I don’t brag about my golf.”

Five years ago, he and Virginia moved to Oakmont Livonia. Three years ago, she died of cancer. Although there are times he could feel melancholy, he looks around and realizes things could always be tougher.

“Life keeps you humble,” he said. “I never had so many lessons as I have had being here. I keep feeling sorry for myself, but I come across about someone worse off than me and I feel very humble.”

And it is true, everyone learns something with age.

“Do you ever,” he said. “You get wiser. You depend on the good Lord more and more.”

And so, even though life takes you to a banana boat instead of a battleship, and things often don’t turn out as planned, Wendell believes you have to be open to change and adjustment.

Learning to live day to day

“I just remember I took things as they came along,” he said. “I didn’t make provisions for the future, I just lived day to day. You start planning things and they go the other direction. You can’t plan too far ahead.”

What truly matters to Wendell is the family he and Virginia built.

“When I tried to figure out what I accomplished, it goes back to my family. We had a good life,” he said. “With my kids, how they turned out, I guess has to do with the way I grew up, too. My dad never smoked or drank. If he did, he did it in the barn or someplace.

“I grew up that way. I drank a little bit, and I never smoked. I tried all that when I was 18 or 19 in the Navy. I got it out of my system.”