Much has been written about the importance of family. Princess Diana called family the “most important thing in the world.” And, Mother Teresa famously said, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” Familial love has been a part of Bethany Lutheran Village since its inception, beginning with the families and congregations who helped raise the funds to found Bethany in 1946. The family of Marilyn and Gene Weaver are among those who have been connected to Bethany since its start.
As a young lady, Marilyn attended one of the churches that helped to support Bethany Village. At the time, pastors from the area’s Lutheran congregations would take turns preaching at Bethany. Marilyn’s pastor asked her to accompany him as a pianist during his monthly visit. As Marilyn grew older she continued to volunteer, styling hair in Bethany’s beauty shop. Later, her husband Gene became a volunteer bus driver for the village. Their early volunteer efforts formed a relationship that would bring nine members of Gene and Marilyn’s family to Bethany Village.
Gene’s father was the first of their family to live at Bethany, after he suffered a stroke in 1989. The Weavers’ daughter, Ann Warner, had arrived in 1984 to begin work as a Bethany’s music therapist – she has since been promoted to Manager of Volunteer Services. A few years later, Gene and Marilyn told Ann that they would like to move to Bethany themselves.
“At the time I told them, ‘you had better get your names on the list,” recalls Ann. “It was a lengthy process to get a spot here.”
They made up their mind when maintaining the country home they had built together became more of a burden.
“We realized, after seeing my parents get older, ‘this isn’t going to go on forever,’” explains Gene. “We were familiar with Bethany and we liked it, so we moved here and have enjoyed it ever since.”
Gene’s mother arrived next and was followed by four other family members. Over the years they have enjoyed family dinners, after-work visits from Ann and even Thanksgiving celebrations at Bethany.
“It just feels natural having family around,” explains Marilyn.
Because Gene and Marilyn chose to move to Bethany at the young age of 67, they have had time to make plenty of friends outside of the family as well. Gene talks about a group of workout buddies from the fitness center. Marilyn has fond memories of water aerobics at the local seniors’ center. Both are eager to tell stories of the friends they made as volunteers and then carried over into retirement.
Marilyn sees their decision to move to Bethany at a young age as choice to embrace all that Bethany offers while they are able to enjoy it. To Ann, her parents’ choice was a gift. They have given her peace of mind, the knowledge that they are well taken care of and the opportunity to visit them as often as she likes. Of course, it has also created some interesting situations. Gene laughs as he remembers volunteering as a bus driver when his daughter was serving as Bethany’s activity director.
“I liked to joke that she was my boss,” remembers Gene.
Overall, however, Gene and Marilyn say their love for Bethany has less to do with proximity to their family and more to do with the quality retirement Bethany Village provides. They see their mailman, the grounds workers and their friendly neighbors as often as they see their family, and those relationships and experiences are the backbone of a vibrant and enjoyable retirement experience.
“In a way,” reflects Gene, “I don’t think we ever realized the significance of having family here, because we are all family.”