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Aging gracefully

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Articles - February 2014
Thursday, January 23, 2014


Start by getting a master’s in gerontology. Byrd moved to Boulder to attend Naropa University, a Buddhist-inspired school, graduated in 2001 and held several positions in the field before being brought on at Rose Villa.

Rose Villa’s origin story is a tale of two facilities. The retirement community was founded in 1960 by a splinter group from the board of Willamette View, a facility next door. Unlike Willamette View, which expanded upward into a high-rise, Rose Villa spread outward into a 22-acre campus of attached “cottages” with easy access to the outdoors. That layout puts the continuing-care retirement community in a “small minority” of such facilities and gives it a particular character.

“Not being in a big box makes a huge difference,” Byrd observes of the approximately 200-resident community. “It attracts different kinds of people” — independent, outdoorsy types — “and it influences how people who live here interact” — they’re neighborly but not nosy.

When Byrd arrived, the organization was in need of a shot in the arm. She was the first head of the retirement community not to be designated by his predecessor (gendered pronoun intended — she was also the first woman CEO). The board was disengaged, meeting only quarterly. 

“It was an old-fashioned, top-down, very patriarchal setup,” she says.

Byrd brought Rose Villa into the Information Age and sought to boost morale among staff by being omnipresent on campus. Byrd has also given Rose Villa’s residents’ council an unusually large role in decision making. 

In 2009 a lesbian couple living at Rose Villa told her that the marketing director of another retirement community had advised them to move in as sisters or roommates. Byrd had her staff go through training in issues specific to gay seniors and made Rose Villa’s outreach to the LGBT community more vociferous. “We are loud and clear: The door is wide open.”

Having plucked the low-hanging fruit, Byrd is now working on an estimated $35 million redevelopment that will maximize green space while preserving residents’ privacy by replacing a swath of Rose Villa’s aging attached cottages with efficiently clustered “pocket neighborhoods.” It will also expand the “village center” with new amenities and apartments. As of December 2013, the planned new units, which will increase Rose Villa’s occupancy to about 300, were already three-fifths presold. (Byrd hopes the project will be just the first phase in a larger-scale redevelopment that may include new health centers, a child-daycare center and a hospice.) 

Such changes, Byrd points out, merely manifest Rose Villa’s autonomous, nature-loving spirit.  “I want the outside of Rose Villa to be as amazing as the inside,” she says.

Today’s baby boomers want to be active participants in their community, and continuing-care providers must adopt a more collaborative and respectful management style in order to adapt. Byrd’s understanding of aging and time spent in a community with a long established independent streak position her in the vanguard.

“It’s easier to manage residents, but I want to work with them,” Byrd says. “My ultimate objective is to destroy the stereotypes of aging and restore elders to a rightful place of strength and wisdom.”  


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