Sunday, April 21st, 2019

Willow Creek Gracious Retirement Living Story


Couple find joy and meaning after a change of direction

by Marianne Chalk

Valerie and Glenn Campbell love their lives as managers of Willow Creek.

Valerie and Glenn Campbell love their lives as managers of Willow Creek.

Life can change for the better at any time. Just ask Glenn and Valerie Campbell, the managers of Willow Creek, a Hawthorn Senior Living community in Chesapeake.

Until seven and a half years ago, their life had been on a predictable trajectory. Glenn had a background in manufacturing and owned a landscaping company, while Valerie had worked for many years as an office manager. Then in 2010, Valerie was laid off.

“As I began searching for a new job, I decided that I did not want another office job,” Valerie recalls. “I wanted a job that was a challenge—one that would be a new adventure.

Valerie’s job search led her to Chesterfield Heights, a retirement community in Richmond, where the position of resident manager seemed to fit the bill perfectly. However, there was one major catch: taking the job would require Glenn selling his business and joining her as the community’s managing partner.

Mark Twain once wrote,
“The two most important days in your life
are the day you are born
and the day you find out why.”

If Glenn entertained any second thoughts about such a change of direction at that point in his life, Valerie certainly did not. “Glenn is a talker,” Valerie notes. “He has always gravitated toward children and the elderly. He talks with everyone and makes them feel comfortable.”

Glenn admits that he has always enjoyed conversing with others, even strangers. “I love people,” he confirms. “I love hearing their stories and getting to know them.” Additionally, the couple had a history of helping neighbors in need. Their combined talents, personalities and interests seemed to be perfect for this transition. “In considering this move, we had some fear of failure, and there was some initial concern about being responsible for so many people,” Glenn reveals. In 2011, after thoughtful consideration and prayer, the couple decided to became the managers at Chesterfield. “Every fear melted away when we began interacting with the residents,” Glenn reminisces. “We started to have fun.”

In 2016, looking for a change of scenery, and being fond of the Hampton Roads area, Glenn and Valerie made another monumental move, becoming the managers at Willow Creek. “It was a brand-new community and we were to open it,” Glenn explains.

“Everything that previously occurred in our lives led us to that moment,” Valerie adds. “All of our strengths, people skills, customer service experience and business competency prepared us for the job.”

Two assistant managers provide support for Valerie and Glenn—who are on-call 24 hours a day. An extensive team—including a full-time chef, kitchen crew, servers, housekeepers, maintenance crew, activity coordinator and bus driver—are on hand to provide the many services available at Willow Creek.

“Every employee plays an important role and makes a difference,” Glenn notes. “We want the residents and their families to know that they can count on us. Our goal is to provide a safe, comfortable and welcoming environment. Our top priority is to make people feel at home here.”

“Our greatest joy is in our relationships with the residents,” Valerie reveals. “We know everyone so well that we’ve developed a sensitivity to their needs and concerns. We are all a family.” As in all families, relationships grow through time spent together, conversation and fun-filled activities. The couple’s office door is always open, and the affectionate relationship that they have with the residents was evident on Glenn’s recent birthday: throughout the day, a steady stream of residents popped into the office to lavish him with birthday wishes.

Helping new residents transition to the community is one of Glenn and Valerie’s most important duties. “Emotionally, people come here from many different places,” Glenn explains. “Some of have lost their spouse. Some are leaving the independence of their homes for the first time. It can be very difficult. Our job is to make them feel at ease; to engage them in activities, and help them connect with others. We encourage those who are struggling to give themselves ninety days to adjust to the change.”

“This is a generation that is fiercely independent,” Glenn continues. “Sixty-four to ninety-eight is the age range at Willow Creek, with the average age being eighty-four. They may have 80-year-old bodies, but they have 40-year-old minds. We work to help each resident’s family understand what their loved one is feeling, and to help each resident enjoy where they currently are in their life.”

Willow Creek’s continual lineup of activities and events brings excitement and variety to the daily life of the residents. One of Valerie and Glenn’s fondest memories is participation in the City of Chesapeake Christmas parade. “We decorated the outside of our bus and filled it with residents,” Valerie recalls. “It was such fun for everyone! Hawthorn Senior Living also sponsors a gingerbread house contest between its facilities. The entries were very elaborate, and we won first prize last year!”

“Our greatest joy
is in our relationships
with the residents.
We know everyone so well
that we’ve developed a sensitivity
to their needs and concerns.
We are all a family. ”

—Valerie Campbell

While the couple says the residents make Willow Creek a special place, the residents themselves have a somewhat different opinion. “It’s Valerie and Glenn who make Willow Creek so wonderful,” Dick Reynolds, charter member, declares.

“Although flattered and grateful, it’s not about us,” Valerie responds. “We enjoy fussing over everyone who lives here! Birthdays are especially important.”

Traveling from Richmond, Valerie and Glenn’s son, daughter and five grandchildren are welcomed visitors. They also socialize with residents and enjoy meals in the dining room. “Our family really savors time spent at Willow Creek,” Valerie says.

Mark Twain once wrote, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Valerie and Glenn have found the why.

“This is not a job,” Glenn offers thoughtfully. “This is about positively impacting the lives of others who may feel they are in a very fragile place because of their age.” For Glenn and Valerie, their work is a ministry of caring and love—a joyful and meaningful way to spend their days.

Willow Creek

516 Great Bridge Blvd
Chesapeake, VA 23320