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Social interactions at Cedar Crest

There’s something for everyone

Created date

January 22nd, 2015
Phyllis Hassard and Jim Gallagher met at Cedar Crest, where they struck up a relationship. They enjoy traveling, entertainment, and socializing.
Phyllis Hassard and Jim Gallagher met at Cedar Cre

It’s no secret that social interaction is good for mental health, especially as we age. Numerous research studies have shown that older adults with the highest levels of social activity have significantly higher cognitive function than those who are least socially active.

The Rush Memory and Aging Project terms social interaction and activities “life space.” 

According to the project’s website: “Life space is the extent to which we move through our environments as we carry out our daily lives—from home to garden to restaurants to workplace and beyond.” 

The project’s investigators have found that constricted life space is associated with decreased cognitive functions. They recommend that people—particularly older adults—get out as much as possible and enjoy the world around them.

When Dr. Jim Gallagher moved to Crest eight years ago from West Orange, N.J., he wasn’t focused on finding new opportunities for social interaction, “but it’s definitely been a plus,” he says.

He had moved for the medical safety net Cedar Crest provides with its on-site medical center and continuing care neighborhood, available should he need it. But what he found was a lively community full of opportunities to participate with peers.

Keeping the pace

“I’ve always been fairly active,” Jim says. “Cedar Crest has been a great place to continue the pace I’ve been going at my whole life.”

An academic with a doctorate in social sciences, Jim teaches courses for Cedar Crest’s Institute for Learning in Retirement, among other activities. For the past seven years, he’s taught one course on reading Shakespeare plays, and he recently added a virtual course provided by Harvard: “Justice—what is the right thing to do?”

“Each week we see an actual lecture by Dr. [Michael] Sandel. It’s the most popular course at Harvard, and it’s very popular here as well. It’s so popular we had a waiting list so I’m offering it again next semester,” Jim says. 

He also founded and leads an African hand-drumming group. “It’s very therapeutic as well as a lot of fun,” he says.

Off campus, he’s on the board of Covenant Health, a consultant for an organization called Girls Surviving, and manages a family foundation with his four daughters. 

Each week, Jim tells the joke of the week for Cedar Crest’s in-house TV station. “I like to look at the brighter side of life. With all the aches and pains that come with aging, we have to be deliberate about how life is good to us,” he says.

Life is particularly good at Cedar Crest, he says, thanks to the myriad opportunities to stay active and social and avoid isolation. “Our monthly catalogue of events has something for everybody, from knitting an afghan to debating about current events. Plus we have many opportunities to socialize with people,” Jim says.

Finding love and companionship

A couple of years after moving to Cedar Crest, Jim discovered another surprise: he found love again. He and Phyllis Hassard have been a couple for the past five or six years, he says, providing companionship to each other and traveling a lot, too. 

“She’s a great organizer, so she organizes groups for us to have dinner with every night, and I organize our entertainment and on and off-campus activities,” Jim says. “It’s very comfortable and rewarding to have a buddy, a companion.”

Jim and Phyllis travel frequently and have visited Italy and Alaska. “It’s great not to be alone or worried about who you’re going to go to the movies with next Saturday night,” Jim says.  

Christa Tromblay and Ken Quinn also found love at Cedar Crest. 

Known around the community as “Mutt and Jeff,” the pair met last March at a meeting for one of Cedar Crests 180 clubs: the Bergen Club. “It’s funny; neither of us was supposed to be there,” Christa says. 

Regardless, she says, “We had a wonderful conversation and from there, the roller coaster started!”

A widow of 30 years, Christa says she never thought she’d find love again. “It took me a while to accept it, and now I think, ‘What was my problem?’” she quips. “It was my oldest daughter who said, ‘Go for it!’” 

So she did.  

Since then, she and Ken have enjoyed traveling, crossword puzzles, science fiction movies, and even finishing each other’s sentences. “We have very much the same taste, which is a nice surprise,” Christa says. 

Most of all, they have enjoyed getting involved in many of Cedar Crest’s activities. Having lived at the community for seven years, Christa is already involved in “everything,” she says. So she got Ken, a newcomer who just celebrated his first year at Cedar Crest, involved too. 

They visit with friends, go to New York City, celebrated New Year’s Eve, and belong to clubs. 

They also take breaks from their on-campus commitments to travel. They visited Cape May in December and took a Caribbean cruise on the Quantum of the Sea in February. This fall, they’ll visit Christa’s oldest of six daughters in California.  

“It’s a nice feeling, having someone. We’re very comfortable with each other,” Christa says, continuing: “It’s more than just comfort; we’re really falling in love with each other.”

Christa and Ken agree that moving to Cedar Crest was the best decision they’ve ever made.