Ashburn, Virginia--Living alone in her house for seven years following the death of her husband, Marge Van Lierde scheduled a visit to Ashby Ponds, an Erickson Living-managed community in Ashburn, Va., a trip that not only changed her life, but the lives of many others.
Making the decision to move to the community in late 2018, Marge immediately opened her doors to prospective residents and began sharing the joy she felt, as a member of the Ashby Ponds community, with everyone she knew.
"I'm thrilled with my decision to move to Ashby Ponds," she says. "And I'm struck by the ripples that have resulted. My whole experience—from the smoothest move I've ever made to meeting new people, to sharing my experience with others—has been absolutely wonderful."
Making her own decision
"When my husband died, I thought I would stay in our house and hire people to take care of the house and the yard," she says. "I enjoyed doing the yardwork and kept it up for several years. But I eventually needed knee replacement surgery. For several weeks, I couldn't drive. I had a lot of quiet time to think and realized that, although my inability to drive was temporary, it would be a reality someday. I didn't want to be alone."
Writing the column "Senior Moments" for the Our Lady of Good Counsel Church bulletin for 21 years, Marge was familiar with many retirement communities in the area.
"One thing I learned from my visits is that size matters," she says. "For instance, I visited a friend at a very small, lovely community. She explained to me how she eats with the same people every night and that they are like her family. That left me thinking, 'where would I fit into all of this? It was just too small for me.'"
That's when Marge made the decision to visit Ashby Ponds.
"On my first visit, I liked what I saw, enjoyed lunch, and saw a few apartment homes," she says. "So, I decided to visit again, this time for an Open House. That trip made all the difference. It was so helpful to see a variety of homes, all furnished."
Marge chose a popular two-bedroom, two-bathroom floor plan and moved to Ashby Ponds in October 2018.
"I chose the Madison. I love the study, the French doors, the balcony," she says. "I'm most proud that I did all of this on my own. Everyone at Ashby Ponds, residents and staff, are warm and inviting. The best thing I did after I moved in was to go to dinner by myself. Each night, I was seated with new people and enjoyed wonderful conversations. Dining together is a wonderful way to appreciate the diversity of the people who live here. This community is a treasure chest. Remarkably, each night at dinner, I found something in common with someone I didn't know before sitting down at the table. It's such a gift to know that you are not alone, that you are not a stranger."
Finding her joy
Shortly after her move, Marge began organizing monthly birthday dinner celebrations for those living on her floor at Birch Point.
"I didn't know anyone on the floor when I moved in," she says. "And now, we are like family. A new friend and I also deliver birthday cards to people throughout our building. We put the cards outside their door, on their ledge, the night before so it's one of the first things they see on their birthday."
Marge also joined a book club with a fun twist. "We each read a biography but keep the title a secret from the other members," she says. "Then, as a group, we play 20 questions for each book. It's been a great way to meet people and it's so much fun."
Sharing her happiness
In addition to diving into community life at Ashby Ponds, Marge happily shares her contentment with others.
"Since my move, a lot of people I know are curious as to what my life is like now," she says. "Friends often come to visit and to see my apartment home. In fact, I invited a couple from my church to brunch just one week after my move. They really liked what they saw but were taking their time getting ready to move. Then, shortly after visitors were allowed back to Ashby Ponds following the quarantine, they visited me again. The pandemic really made them start thinking about a more immediate move. I'm happy to report that they moved this August."
So far, 28 people from Marge's church have moved to Ashby Ponds.
"We laughingly call Ashby Ponds, 'Our Lady of Good Counsel West,'" she says. "I'm not responsible for all these moves, but I love helping and sharing my experience with as many people as possible."
Even in the midst of COVID-19, Marge continued to share her joy.
"I've always been so happy and grateful to live here," she says. "But that became even more evident during the pandemic. I couldn't help but think, 'How would I be dealing with this if I were still in my house?' Before my move, my neighborhood had been changing. There were fewer and fewer people I could rely on. I would have been so isolated. But instead, I was impressed by the creativity and optimism of the staff who brought joy into our lives at every turn, working hard to keep our spirits up. And when you are feeling happy, it's easy for others to see that in you."
Written by Kelly Shue
About Ashby Ponds: Ashby Ponds, one of 20 continuing care retirement communities developed and managed by Erickson Living®, is situated on a scenic 132-acre campus in Ashburn, Virginia. The not-for-profit community of more than 1,650 residents and 550 employees is governed by its own board of directors, affiliated with National Senior Campuses, Inc., who provide independent financial and operational oversight of Ashby Ponds. Additional information can be found at AshbyPonds.com.