Tag Archives: senior living

Meet James

It isn’t often that a Resident Spotlight can also serve as a Behind the Music, but when it comes to telling the story of Oakmont Rochester Independent resident James, you can’t have one without the other. Music has always been a part of his life, and whether it was using his piano skills to entertain Canadian Troops during the war, or forming a band with other residents at the age of 91, one thing is for certain: for James, the beat always goes on.

Born on the east side of Detroit in the mid-1920s, James’ courtship and marriage to his wife Gloria plays like a story from a classic song. Both graduates of Denby High School, and even dating a few times during those formative four years, the couple wouldn’t marry until later in life. “We knew each other at Denby, and then we went our separate ways,” he said of his future wife. “She married and I married, and after 30 years, my wife died and she got divorced. We had stayed in touch all those years, and now we’ve been married for 38 or 39 years.”

Before marrying his first wife and going to college, James served his country by enlisting in the Navy Air Force. “Incidentally, I really got interested [in the Navy Air Force] because of the movies,” he said. “I used to watch all of those movies with John Wayne and the flying and all of that. You know, I was 16 or 17 years old, and I thought ‘oh boy, that’s what I want to get into!’”

A Master of Metallurgical Engineering

After his service, James graduated from Wayne State with a Masters’ Degree in Metallurgical Engineering, which led him to a career working for many major manufacturers including some of the Big Three. After retiring, James and Gloria, now in their early 90s, decided they wanted to downsize and be comfortable – prompting them to move into Oakmont Rochester Independent in the spring of 2017. It was here during the course of normal dinner conversation that James realized he was surrounded by like-minded musicians – and that his musical career might just get a second act.

“We have a table of five that, since we got here in April, we sit with the same five people: my wife, myself, and three other fellas,” James said. “We found out early on that one fella plays the drums, one plays the guitar, and I play the piano.” An instant kinship was born.

Getting the Band Together

Not only did the three men have their musicianship in common, they also had some similar performing experiences when they were younger – not to mention a similar taste in music. After comparing their shared histories, they decided to get together for a jam session, and have since made plans to continue practicing at least once a month. Their planned repertoire includes Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and whatever other pieces of sheet music James has laying around in his collection.

When not practicing with the band or sharing a meal with his wife Gloria, you can most likely find James at the piano, leading a Happy Birthday singalong for residents who are celebrating In his short time at Oakmont Rochester Independent, he has become the resident Maestro – taking requests from neighbors and providing the perfect accompaniment for every new memory made.

Oakmont Sponsors Compassion Walk; Helps Raise Thousands for Senior Services in Bloomfield Township


On Saturday, September 23rd, Oakmont Rochester Independent Living, and Oakmont Rochester Assisted Living were proud to serve as presenting sponsors for the 1st Annual Bloomfield Township Active Compassion 5k Walk.  Participants of all ages and abilities participated in this family-friendly walk around the Bloomfield Township campus, with all proceeds going to benefit Senior Services in and around the Township.

With more than 100 participants and thousands of dollars raised, the inaugural event proved to be a big success. The money raised will go to benefit both Bloomfield Township’s Meals on Wheels program, which provides hot, nutritious meals and safety checks for those in need, as well as the Friendship Club, which provides essential adult daycare services to those suffering from dementia and memory loss.

For more information about the great work being done for seniors in Bloomfield Township, click here.

Oakmont residents enjoy Belle Isle picnic

For many, coming to Belle Isle on a sunny June day brought back memories of coming to the fabled island park.

But for everyone, the Oakmont Picnic was a good opportunity for residents of all eight Oakmont communities to come together for a great time.

Rosemary of Oakmont Rochester recalled coming to Belle Isle as a youngster.

“I think I was 5 years old. I was chaperoning my aunt. My grandmother wouldn’t let her out of the house without someone with her,” she joked. “I remember my mother saying she learned how to drive here. So I love the history of the island. I love the history of Detroit.

“This used to be called Hog Island when the Native Americans were here.  At one time, it used to have one of the largest orchid exhibits in Detroit. It was very beautiful. It’s great to see it come alive again.”

Belle Isle: Buses, burgers and BBQ fun

Buses brought all the residents to the pavilion near the Aquarium and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. There, everyone gathered for a catered cookout with hot dogs, burgers and a plethora of other goodies you’d find at a great summer picnic.

“I’m really enjoying it,” said Huey, from Oakmont Parkway. “It’s a very nice day for this. And, it doesn’t cost any more to come here, so it’s a really good deal. I think it’s great.”

Aside from the food, there was plenty of entertainment provided by Jeffery Cavataio. He’s a familiar face to Oakmont residents, as he often performs at several of the properties. He kept the crowd of well over 100 residents entertained, performing hits from the 1950s and 60s, as well as a few current musical standards.


Not only did he have the residents up and dancing, but he also performed a number with a pair of Oakmont activity directors – Charlotte Collins from Rochester and Marie Rumbley from Northville.

“I love coming out and performing with our friends,” Jeff said. “This day is a lot of fun.”


A perfect day to enjoy, explore Belle Isle

Some of the residents took advantage of the bright sun and cool breeze by participating in various activities. Jan, from Oakmont Manor, tried her hand and bocce ball and a golf putting game. A longtime golfer, Jan laughed at her efforts of chipping out of the long grass.

“I was a golfer once,” Jan joked. “It’s been a couple of years. This is a fun day. We’ve never done this before, where all the Oakmont buildings came together for a big picnic. It’s lots of fun. We came here last year, a picnic with Oakmont Manor. But now it’s much bigger.

“It was nice to see how Belle Isle has changed over the years. A lot of people who came here, who grew up in the Detroit area, were telling us how you used to have to take a tunnel under the road (East Jefferson) to get here.”

Ted and Mary had the look of a couple of lovebirds, walking around the park together. They have been married for 60 years and resided in Warren before moving to Oakmont Manor.

They found a sunny bench and reflected on memories.

“It’s been many years since we’ve been here, but we used to come every once in a while,” Mary said. “This is a nice change of pace. We’re having fun.”

“It’s good to be out in the fresh air,” Ted added.

Mary and Ted enjoy staying active, so they enjoyed much about getting to Belle Isle.

“I like the exercise classes,” Mary said. “We have them three times a week and I love going. And Ted likes to play cards and golf. So we stay busy.”

Oakmont residents vividly recall memories of visits to Belle Isle

It’s no wonder our residents are so excited about the upcoming Oakmont Senior Communities annual picnic on June 27 at Belle Isle. After all, when they think of Belle Isle, it takes them back many years to some great memories.

“I lived a block away from the Franklin Settlement House in Detroit and they would provide a station wagon,” said Clara, an Oakmont Manor resident. “Every Friday night in the summer, my friends and family went in the station wagon to Belle Isle. We would visit the aquarium and the conservatory to go swimming, then my mom would bring out the tuna salad and make us all sandwiches.

“I sometimes went with the girls from work and rented bikes and rode around the island. I went on dates there and one particular date we went ‘parking’ with some other couples.” Clara also recalled her father and uncles taking them on horse and buggy rides on the island, as well as trips to the zoo on the island.

“That is why these trips every year with Oakmont to Belle Isle are so special to me,” Clara said.

Forrest (Oakmont Livonia) also has fond memories from visiting Belle Isle.

“One trip that sticks in my mind is my whole family and I went to Belle Isle for the day,” he said. “We visited the ‘kiddie park,’ where they had farm animals you could feed and pet. My daughter, Heather, was feeding one of the goats and it tried to eat her dress! We still laugh about it to this day.”

Memories, including humorous ones, of Belle Isle

“On graduation night of high school, I drove my car up the stairs and around the fountain, we left before the police came!” said Larry from Oakmont Sterling Assisted.

“I was sitting in the rocks by the pond and a young man across the water threw a rock and it hit me right in my forehead,” joked Marion from Oakmont Northville. Claire, another Northville resident, remembered, “We took our exchange student from Brazil to the races and he jumped the fence!”

Yvonne (Oakmont Sterling) remembers going to Belle Isle as a teenager with her dog, Toughy Tony. Her dog enjoyed being on the ice while everyone was ice skating. She also enjoyed the concession stands, with sweet treats and a chance to warm up.

A married couple from Oakmont Rochester Independent, Jim and Gloria, also shared some great Belle Isle memories.

“We went all the time. We belonged to the Detroit Yacht Club and went ice skating on the lagoons. There used to be ice cream stands all around the island…they had the best ice cream cones.”

“As was our family tradition every summer, we took a day trip to Belle Isle,” said Rita of Oakmont Livonia. “We would visit the aquarium, conservatory and ride on the pony rides.”

Geno (Oakmont Parkway) had some great memories from high school. “In 1950, our senior prom, we went to the Belle Isle fountain,” he said. “We all tuned into CKLW on our car radio and danced the night away.”

It sounded great in letters – and was great in person, too

The first time Christel (Oakmont Manor) heard of Belle Isle, she was several thousand miles away. Her boyfriend (who later became her husband) left Germany for the United States in 1956. She recently came across a letter from 1957, in which her boyfriend described – in great detail – the beauty of the island and how much he enjoyed visiting Belle Isle.

“Christel immigrated to the U.S. in November of 1957 and she married her husband in December,” said Janet Hays, Activity Director for Oakmont Manor. “When she went to Belle Isle for the first time, she felt like she already knew it because of the letters from her beau.”

Al of Oakmont Livonia made visiting Belle Isle a pretty regular practice back in the day. “In 1958, I used to go out to Belle Isle to go swimming and attend live concerts, such as the Detroit Symphony,” he said.

Visiting Belle Isle was also a regular thrill for Diana of Oakmont Livonia.

“We would always pack a beach bag and take it to school with us so we could go to Belle Isle right after school,” she said. “We would swim, canoe and, of course, sunbathe. It was so much fun.”

There were some specific occasions, too, that were good for some to visit Belle Isle.

“I used to like to go to Belle Isle at Christmastime and see all the pretty poinsettias and the displays,” said Barbara from Oakmont Rochester Assisted.

Memories of summer picnics from days gone by

“I enjoyed picnics with my family,” said Helen. A fellow Rochester Assisted resident, Ada, recalled she “used to enjoy going to Belle Isle for church picnics.”

Mary, from Oakmont Northville, remembers: “We would picnic with my three boys. The basket contained ham sandwiches, potato salad, and pickles. We would try to find the shadiest spot.”

Picnics were among the many activities recalled by Jean of Oakmont Rochester Independent.

“We (family and friends) went a lot,” Jean said. “We had picnics and went ice skating. There was a beautiful zoo, conservatory and aquarium. We had pony rides and weenie roasts at night. It was a great place for teen-age parties…we danced around the Scott Fountain.”

“My favorite memories are having picnics with my family,” said Lynn from Oakmont Sterling Assisted. “I also used to be a photographer for weddings and shot some weddings on Belle Isle. Everyone always used to barbecue ribs and it smelled so good.”

Family picnics were also a memorable experience for Pat at Oakmont Parkway.

“I remember how much the kids would love the horse and buggy rides,” she said. “Also, we would go canoeing every summer and Ice skating in the winter. At sunset, we would sit by the shoreline and watch the freighters go by.” Rita, a Northville resident, also remembered how canoeing was “my favorite thing to do.”

Pinching pennies and a real trek to get to Belle Isle

When times were lean for Gloria (Oakmont Parkway) and her husband, Belle Isle was an affordable adventure.

“Frank and I would go canoeing at Belle Isle when we were first married because we couldn’t afford much back then,” she said. “It was quite romantic, too.”

Just getting to the island was worth the effort for a couple of Parkway residents.

“We didn’t have a car,” recalled Marge, “so we would have to walk several miles to get to Belle Isle so we could go ice skating.”

Ann also had to work to get to the island.

“Back in 1940, we used to get up in the morning and take the street car to the boulevard bus to get to Belle Isle,” she said. “My brother had a job taking care of the horses there. We would spend our summers and our winters there when we were kids. I have so many fond memories on Belle Isle.”

Hazel from Parkway looked back on her early visits to the island.

“Before my husband and I were married, we would go to the Belle Isle Zoo for a date,” she said.

Plenty of fun activities from which to choose

There were more good memories. Here are a few from Northville residents:

“I loved to ride the horses,” Ara said. Jerry enjoyed a different activity – “I played tennis and golf.” And Barb recalled, “I’d go to watch the fountain shoot up.”

A pair of Sterling residents also remember a wide range of activities. Teedie recalled when she was 19, she enjoyed going canoeing on the island, which also offered plenty of trails for walking. She also enjoyed visiting the nature center. Betty (who recalled it being a big gathering place for fellow east-siders) remembered Belle Isle being a great place for her large extended family to gather for family reunions each summer. That’s where the family had a competitive baseball game. She also remembers ice skating, hiking and swimming on the island.

It was a family occasion for Syd and John: “We took our kids there, they loved the aquarium and the fireworks.”

Several Rochester Independent residents recalled what brought them to Belle Isle: “I use to picnic with my family and play in the water,” Pat said. From Art: “My family visited the zoo many times.” And Grace remembered, “When I was in high school I went to concerts and ice skating.”

“I used to take my wife and daughter to the island to sightsee and look at all the beautiful flowers,” said John from Sterling Assisted.

At 982 acres in size, the 2.5-mile-long Belle Isle is the largest island park in the United States. It was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (who also designed Central Park in New York City). The island, which had been operated by the City of Detroit for many years, now falls under the direction of the State of Michigan and has been designated as a state park since 2014.

‘Whiskey’ voted as service dog to be donated to a Michigan veteran

The results are in, and Whiskey – a 2-year-old German Shepherd – has been voted by our residents, staff members, families and friends as the medical service dog to be paired with a deserving Michigan veteran by Veterans Day 2017.

Thanks to everyone’s contributions, we are on our way to our goal of $22,000 needed to make this happen. This covers the cost of training through Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, in addition to lifetime professional follow-up care and the cost of transporting him to his new home in Michigan. Approximately $17,000 has been raised thus far through our eight Oakmont Communities.

Whiskey was chosen for this program after being the top vote-getter among 10 service dogs. Oakmont’s involvement honors all veterans residing at our communities.

What makes Whiskey unique is his special PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) training, which helps him to provide non-aggressive protection. He can even recognize nightmares taking place with the person he is protecting. Often, those dealing with PTSD have a very difficult time sleeping; thus, he can help provide most restful sleep. Whiskey can be described as an extremely friendly dog whose trainers love him.

Guardian Angels is a non-profit organization established to raise and train medical service dogs. The dogs are donated with the goal of providing relief, assistance, independence and dignity to those in need of their special skills.

Many soldiers return home facing unique and difficult challenges including PTSD, traumatic brain injury and mobility issues. By unleashing the power of a medical service dog into their lives, we will help a veteran regain some of their comfort and independence.

It has been proven the presence of these medical service dogs helps veterans successfully cope with such challenges as suicide, chemical and alcohol dependence, higher divorce rates and general health issues associated with a sedentary or withdrawn lifestyle.

For more info about Guardian Angels, go to www.MedicalServiceDogs.org or call (352) 425-1981.