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Free lunches help seniors make informed decisions

Mon., Sept. 16, 2013, midnight

Rockwood Retirement Communities is adding a new living space to its 90-acre South Hill campus. The Summit is an 11 story-building scheduled to be finished by summer 2015.

Rockwood has held informational lunches about The Summit project for more than two years. Here’s what happened at an Aug. 22 luncheon:

At 11:30 a.m., the 15 guests arrived and signed in. They’d heard about the luncheon through direct mail invitations, magazine and newspaper ads, and Rockwood’s newsletter and website.

Everyone was given a nametag and assigned a table. The tables in the room were decorated with flowers, linens and good china.

Throughout the room were artistic renderings of what The Summit will look like when completed, and how it connects to the rest of the Rockwood South Hill campus.

Rockwood’s president and CEO, Alan Curryer, mingled with the guests before opening up the formal presentation. He explained that Rockwood, a nonprofit community, has been in existence for 53 years, and has changed with the changes in senior living, though it has never wavered from its “continuum of care” model. Residents often begin living in independent housing, then go to assisted living, then skilled nursing for their final days.

In her presentation, Eowyn Sallis, director of marketing, focused on how The Summit reflects some changes in retirement lifestyle that will likely appeal to boomers.

“It’s really going to change,” Sallis said.

Spacier units, for instance, between 900-2,200 square feet, that include full kitchens. The Summit will offer concierge services and the top floor of the building will have a sky-view lounge, perfect for happy hour.

One of the biggest changes?

Residents won’t sit down at set times for meals two to three times a day in a communal dining room. Instead, they will have prepaid “meal cards” and can use them anyway they please, similar to modern college meal plans.

Maybe they’ll eat a traditional meal in the dining room one night and then the next day, buy lattes for five friends in a Rockwood espresso café.

While the presentation went forward, lunch was served: a bountiful salmon salad, fresh-baked rolls and sponge-cake with fresh fruit, compliments of the kitchen of Yannick Droogmans, a classically trained French chef. His crew prepares 800 meals a day at Rockwood.

The presentation was short, less than 30 minutes, and Sallis did not open it up to questions.

Later, she explained that “we sort of stopped doing that, because we would get one person who asked 10 questions and people were sitting there caught in that,” she said.

Sallis and other staffers, however, remained afterward to answer individuals’ questions.

Rick and Jeanne Bagnall saw a magazine ad about the free lunch and presentation. They own a condo in Coeur d’Alene and a snowbird dwelling in Mesquite, Nev.

They are in their 60s, retired, and happy with their living situations, but “we’re always looking for the next chapter,” Rick said.

Jeanne said: “You have to be constantly aware of the next thing. If my husband dies, where will I live? If I die, where will he live?”

The Bagnalls were not ready to commit to The Summit, nor was there any pressure for them to do so.

“I think the majority of our audience are starting their explorations,” Sallis said. “We see ourselves as a resource. We believe Rockwood is the best community out there, but we might not be the best community for everyone. We stay up to date on what else is out there, so if Rockwood doesn’t suit them, we can make suggestions. Rockwood has always enjoyed high occupancy, so it’s not something where if we don’t get that sale that day, how are we going to pay the bills? We are very solid financially.”

Rockwood has held about 35 luncheons so far. It’s the major way people learn about The Summit. How successful has it been?

The Summit is more than 75 percent sold out; the top six floors are all spoken for.

Sallis said Rockwood knows that not everyone who lunches on them will eventually move to Rockwood, and that’s OK.

“My personal opinion is the more the merrier. Hopefully, they’ll tell a friend, ‘I had this wonderful lunch.’ ”

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