By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – In many ways, Milly Parish thinks of The Plains at Parish Homestead as the old house.
“I was really inspired by the song ‘This Old House,’” she said. “The song is about someone reminiscing about the old homestead, which has been abandoned.”
But her homestead was not abandoned. For the last decade, civic leader Gordon B. Roberts’ dream has been a home to retirees.
“I had a dream that my family’s farm would be someplace for seniors to live,” she said. “I knew Gordie from the First United Methodist Church, so I invited him to my house to tell him my dream. He said he was going to make it happen, and that this was going to be his last project.
“He did, and it was.”
Roberts, a 1940 OHS graduate who flew bomber missions in China during World War II, was a Hartwick College graduate and Alumni Association trustee, served as the director of the Catskill Symphony Orchestra, Fox Hospital Board, Junior Chamber of Commerce and other civic and service organizations.
He founded the Gordon B. Roberts Insurance Agency in 1947.
Roberts soon recruited developer Patrick Tobin of Rochester, president of Living Communities LLC, and began courting friends who might be interested in living there.
“He would gather together some of the older ladies and take them to lunch at the Holiday Inn,” said Berni Nonenmacher, who, with her husband Bob, was of the first residents at the Plains. “He would ask them about what they wanted in a senior living facility.”
“Gordie and I were classmates,” said Mary Erbe, who’s also lived at the Plains from the start. “He thought this was something Oneonta really needed, and he worked very hard to get it moving.”
Roberts organized bus tours to some of Tobin’s Rochester projects, and spoke at the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, trying to get support.
“We picked out our apartment on a piece of paper!” said Nonenmacher. “But we would drive by periodically and see how it was coming along.”
Parish held one of the golden shovels at the groundbreaking on Nov. 12, 2007, and June 24, 2010, Erbe and five other residents moved into the main building.
“Bernie lived right on top of me when I first moved in!” said Erbe. “I had the first floor apartment, she had the second floor.”
She later moved to the second floor, after the air-conditioning unit was placed outside her window. “It drove me up the wall!” she said. “But now I have a balcony in the shade. I like to sit out there, and I can leave the door open in the evening, get a cool breeze.”
Roberts and his wife Alyce had a patio home on Roberts’ Way, which was completed in 2008. “Every time we saw him, we would thank him for what he did,” said Nonenmacher.
Alyce died in May 2010; he died that December.
The Plains remains popular, said Executive Director Trudy Claudy, because residents can transition to more advanced care without having to transfer facilities.
“We have people who live in the residential homes or the apartments for a few years who then need a little more help, so they can move to the next level of care,” she said. “But they don’t have to leave the community.”
Though not a skilled nursing facility like Fox Nursing Home or Cooperstown Centers, The Plains does offer services, ranging from helping with bathing and dressing to a memory care unit for patients with dementia. It is the only such facility within an hour’s drive, said Claudy.
“A lot of seniors are tired of taking care of their lawns and housekeeping or preparing their own meals, but they still want their independence,” she said.
For Erbe, an Oneonta native, and Nonenmacher, Edmeston, being able to stay local was a draw, but it’s not just for regional residents.
“Much to my surprise, we have people from Florida who come up to live here,” said Parish. “They’re parents of people who come to work at the college, and they want to be here. It’s not just locals.”