Staying together: How senior communities are helping couples remain close as they age
Walter and Lola Bohnen of Prospect Heights have been married nearly 55 years, but their connection goes back further than that.
Both are natives of Germany and each of their grandfathers came to this country -- separately -- in 1923, though the couple themselves would not make the trip for another 40 years.
They married in 1964 and have been nearly inseparable ever since.
Raising their three children in Mount Prospect, Walter found his cabinetmaking and remodeling skills were in big demand in the North and Northwest suburbs, while Lola did some modeling during the early years of their marriage.
Yet, like many couples, they needed some assistance as they grew older -- Walter is 83 and Lola, 78. With the help of their children, they settled in Aspired Living in Prospect Heights, which opened last year and offers traditional and assisted living apartments as well as a memory care unit.
The Prospect Heights residence is one of Pathway to Living's 32 senior living communities throughout the Midwest. Others include Alexian Village in Elk Grove Village, Victory Centre in Bartlett, Azpira Place in Lake Zurich, Aspired Living in La Grange, Oak Hill Supported Living in Round Lake Beach, Victory Centre in Vernon Hills and Aspired Living in Westmont.
While they moved into an apartment together, Walter now has his own room in the memory care unit, and Lola lives in assisted living. Yet, with the assistance of staff members at Aspired, they are together every day.
"I visit him every day," Lola says. "We watch a show together or take a nap."
They also take advantage of the facility's many activities together. Last week, they worked with their second grade "buddies" from Betsy Ross Elementary School in Prospect Heights to decorate valentines.
"We never celebrated Valentine's Day growing up in Germany," Lola says. "It's nice to have it now."
The couple takes art classes together and they enjoy the music and happy hours on Friday nights. On Valentine's Day itself, they expect to attend Aspired's wine, cheese and chocolate tasting happy hour.
It's all part of the vibrancy and mission at Aspired, where the hallways are filled with bright and upbeat paintings. Game boards are spread across tables in their community rooms, while the garden room -- which overlooks raised beds that Walter helped build -- sparkles in the sunshine.
Walter and Lola seem to be thriving in their respective living arrangements, and they're not alone.
"Couples have different needs and often at different times," says Maria Oliva, chief operating officer for Pathway to Living. "We try to offer as many flexible options and alternatives as possible to help them choose the right home for them."
Megan McInerney, community life coordinator at Aspired in Prospect Heights, says she sees more and more couples like Walter and Lola who have different health situations that sometimes impact their living arrangements.
"We do whatever we can," McInerney says, "to keep couples together."
Walter and Lola are good ambassadors, she adds.
"If she doesn't come -- and bring him something," McInerney adds, "he lets people know."