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A few generations ago, elderly folks faced a grim choice: stay at home, even as physical chores become overwhelming, or check into a nursing home.

That was before retirement centers like Silverado Orchards came along, offering elders the opportunity to maintain an independent lifestyle while leaving the cooking, cleaning and yard work to someone else.

Silverado Orchards, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last week, was one of the first facilities of its kind in the Napa Valley. It offers 95 apartments for ages 55 and over where individuals or couples can enjoy three meals a day, good company, entertainment and excursions.

It was a dream of the late Alan Baldwin to start his own family-oriented business, his wife Sharon and son Kerry recalled last week. At the time, retirement centers represented a new concept.

“Back then you were either in your house or in a convalescent home,” Kerry Baldwin said. “There was nothing in between.”

The “in between” idea caught on quickly, with many future residents reserving their own apartments before Silverado Orchards opened on Nov. 1, 1978. Alan Baldwin established a second facility, the 103-unit Valley Orchards, in Petaluma in 1983.

Some residents who come in expecting something closer to a nursing home are relieved by the cheery atmosphere and “end up wishing they would have come a long time ago,” Sharon Baldwin said.

Orville Hammer, a retired executive for the Gold Bond Stamp Company, moved to Silverado Orchards from Angwin six years ago after his daughter told him she didn’t want him driving up and down the hill anymore.

“I love the service, the people, the facilities, the location – everything there is to love,” Hammer said after returning from a walk through Meily Park. “I eat here three times a day. The meals are on time and the food is good. And now I’ve got friends who come from all over the world.”

Activities, food and good company

“Without having to cook and take care of houses and yards, a lot of people come here and blossom,” Kerry Baldwin said.

Some residents who’d lost their spouses have fallen in love and married fellow residents. Silverado Orchards has hosted a few of their weddings, and on one memorable occasion two residents eloped in Calistoga.

Alan Baldwin, who died in 2015, always had a passion for the “living history” of the residents themselves, and Kerry Baldwin has continued in that spirit with occasional “Meet Your Neighbor” Q&A sessions where residents can talk about their lives.

There have been war veterans, business executives, switchboard operators, and a retired undercover FBI agent who infiltrated the U.S. Communist Party during the Cold War and insisted he knew where Jimmy Hoffa was buried (he died without revealing the location).

Other entertainment has included everything from bingo to live country music to a fellow who used to tap dance on “The Lawrence Welk Show.” Residents can catch rides to shop in St. Helena and Napa, go to doctors’ appointments, and enjoy regular excursions – a trip to San Francisco via the Vallejo ferry was a popular one.

For 40 years, come floods, fires and power outages, Silverado Orchards has served up three meals a day, never missing a single one. The Baldwins credit a devoted and long-tenured kitchen staff.

“I love everything here – the owners, the residents, the place,” said Teresa Hernandez, who’s been working in the kitchen for 34 years. Her favorite dish to cook is beef stroganoff.

‘A full spectrum of people’

Resident Dorothy Richards is a retired English teacher from Pacific Union College Prep, where her students included a young Kerry Baldwin. She moved to Silverado Orchards from Angwin three years ago after it became too difficult to take care of her three-bedroom mobile home.

The Baldwin family shares her Seventh-day Adventist faith. Although Silverado Orchards isn’t an Adventist institution and serves people from a variety of religions, Richards liked the prospect of spending time with the retirement center’s Adventist residents, many of them friends and acquaintances from her Angwin days.

“I like the people here, and Kerry being in charge was a big draw,” she said.

“We have a full spectrum of people in 95 apartments, but at the heart of it they’re all just a little bit older versions of each of us,” Kerry Baldwin said. “I so enjoy talking to them and finding out who they are.”

“It’s a great solution to loneliness,” Sharon Baldwin added. “It really is.”

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.