The Renaissance: Where Life Is Just Beginning

The retirement facility in Due West that is now known as The Renaissance operated under two other names and owners before Gary and Marilyn Gilmer bought it in 2013. The former business was closing due to financial difficulties, and the residents had been given until May to move out. As that date grew closer, there were seven residents left. One of them, Joanna Kennedy, had been a high school teacher of the Gilmores at Dixie High School in Due West, and she wrote to them asking for help.

After hearing from Mrs. Kennedy, they thought they would come up and give some advice—but they ended up buying the place and renaming it the Renaissance. They hired Susan Jackson, who has 35 years of experience in senior care, as VP and Director of Sales and Marketing. But Jackson and the Gilmores’ son Brian, who is VP of Facility Operations, Maintenance, and Grounds, are also part owners in the business, not just employees.

Jackson says that business model means that she and other team members can make decisions and adjustments relatively easily, unlike some of the corporate settings she had worked in before where decisions are made at a higher level, by people who may have never met the residents.

“From the standpoint of someone who has been in the business for so long, it’s been really nice to not have to go through that chain of command if you have a resident who has a specific need,” Jackson says.
“We can just address it.”

Jackson and her husband live in one of the patio homes, paying rent along with the residents, and she likes being available to the residents (whom she calls “my seniors”). “I know I might eventually have to kick myself out,” she says, once they get closer to reaching full capacity. Currently, 41 of the 53 independent living cottages and apartments are filled, and in the assisted living facilities, they stay close to capacity, with only 5 of 42 available beds currently unoccupied.

Affordability is a big draw to the Renaissance—there is no buy-in that requires residents to have a large sum of money up front. The independent living homes range from around $1200 to around $1700 a month, and that includes three meals a day, weekly housekeeping, a medic alert bracelet, activities, and local transportation.

Erskine College, across the street, allows residents to go to all events on campus for free, and even attend classes at no charge. Performing arts students come over and practice before a performance for the residents, and the women’s tennis team has an adopt-a-grandparent program, which has led to lasting relationships even after the students graduate, Jackson says.

One of the most unique opportunities for the residents is the Senior Wish program, Jackson’s pet project. “It gives them a chance to fulfill a bucket list item, but it’s been a bucket list item of mine to be able to do this,” she says.

She asks all of the residents when they move in: What is the one thing that you always wanted to do but never had the opportunity to do? Or one thing you’ve done that you really want to do again? And then, she starts calling businesses and other people who can help her to make those wishes come true, once every two or three months. She’s taken an 88-year-old World War II veteran sky-diving, sent another one on a hot-air balloon ride with his daughter, and recreated a championship football game for a former coach whose wish was to coach another championship football game.

The very first senior wish involved some creativity and out-of-the-box thinking: a 102-year-old woman’s wish was to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. She had hiked a portion of it in her younger years and always wished she could have done the whole thing. Jackson contacted Nan Resinger, the oldest woman to complete the through hike, and brought her presentation, her tent, and her backpack to the Renaissance. And then, to add to the experience, Jackson and other staff members took her, right after her 103rd birthday, to Helen, GA, where she passed out water and granola bars to hikers.

“Some aren’t as elaborate as these,” Jackson says, “but it doesn’t make them any less special. They’ve all been extremely successful. I overheard one of the residents talking to another one saying, ‘Don’t tell Susan you want to go to the moon, because she might just make it happen.’”

Photos courtesy of the Renaissance, LLC, Retirement Community.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.

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