Life on the Ridge

A community of retirees, a feisty property manager and an operatic parrot

By Lois Powers

Jan Thatcher with Peggy

Jan Thatcher with Peggy

Every morning, Peggy, a 30-year-old blue-fronted Amazon parrot, sits by her window in Chestnut Ridge in Cold Spring and calls to the crows congregating in their morning ritual at the Hudson River. Within minutes the trees on Chestnut Street grow black with birds — loud, cawing birds, reminiscent of bugle-call at summer camp, only of a natural, environmental, more annoying kind — inviting those still asleep in the Cold Spring retirement community to rise and shine. After the morning reveille, those crossing Peggy’s path may hear vaguely reminiscent operatic chortles, or the first bars of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” from the talented parrot living in Chestnut Ridge.

Life in the ample one-bedroom apartment complex is good, attested Jerry Solomon, a recent Chestnut Ridge but longtime Cold Spring resident and owner of the local antique shop Solomon’s Mines on Main Street, as well as for Jan Thacher, a 40-year Cold Spring resident and former member of the Special Board for the Comprehensive Plan, who rescued Peggy from a Hopewell Junction shelter a few years ago. Both men express gratitude for their government-subsidized apartments, without which they would be forced to leave Cold Spring, a common sentiment among residents.

Jerry Solomon

Jerry Solomon

The retirement community of 63 one-bedroom apartments was built in 1978 by developer Al Kaplin “to provide decent and safe housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities,” as determined by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). During the early days, Dan Dunning was hired as property manager for Chestnut Ridge but soon took the reins as owner. Recently, when asked whether the senior complex might be sold in the future, relinquishing its Section 8 government-subsidized status, Dunning said, “It is our plan not to change Chestnut Ridge in any way, and we will continue to serve the community based on income criteria HUD gives us.” Chestnut Ridge is suitable for independent-living seniors 62 and older with maximum incomes of $29,050 for a single person and $33,200 for couples.

Most residents drive, but a van sponsored by Philipstown’s Recreation Department is available to take shoppers to Wal-Mart and Shop-Rite twice a month. With full kitchens in their apartments, most eat in but sometimes plan outings to restaurants, movies, local theater productions and town meetings. Indoor activities are limited and usually develop spontaneously among a few friends. A monthly meeting takes place in the community room to discuss entertainment ideas or matters of import to residents, ranging in age from 41 to 100 years old.

Chestnut Ridge

Chestnut Ridge

The neighborly “we take care of each other” attitude is commonly mentioned when speaking to any of the residents. “I love every minute of living here,” said Joan Villetto, a 30-year Philipstown resident living in Chestnut Ridge for the last 13 years. “Everything’s taken care of for us here; they even clean off our cars in winter!”

Vinny Travis, property manager and fix-it man for the complex, spoke of a friendly neighborhood atmosphere with only a few “complainers.” He said with an impish smile, “I give everybody a hard time, but I love it here!” His father, the previous property manager, Pierre, takes folks to the doctors and helps with vacationers’ mail and pets, whenever needed.

Calling it a “neighborhood,” Charlie Merando, cousin of Philipstown’s Town Clerk Tina Merando, lives across the street from Chestnut Ridge and enjoys joining his neighbors for summer lawn parties and cookouts, deflecting the occasional but good-natured jibe of being called “carpetbagger” since, though living in Cold Spring his entire life, he was actually born in Beacon Hospital.

Suki Mawson with Daisy

Suki Mawson with Daisy

The Chestnut Ridge apartments are available to those with disabilities, as well. Newcomer Suki Mawson, 41, is the youngest member of the community, having become disabled in a head-on collision on Route 9 when in high school at Haldane. “It’s nice being with older people who don’t have the dramas others are going through,” she said. “It’s comforting to have such neighbors. We all look out for each other.”

Living in the subsidized complex is providing Suki an opportunity for a new life. Daisy, her year-and-a-half-old pug puppy, has to be walked several times a day, and Suki is finding new strength and a commitment to complete recovery, thanks to Daisy, she said. Suki’s goal is first to get herself to the Cold Spring train station and then back to work one day soon.

The apartments’ location is ideal for Philipstown seniors, who can walk to Foodtown, Drug World, the post office and two banks, with the Putnam History Museum right across the street. Yes, all agree, life is good on the Ridge.

Diane Chipman, co-executive director of the Putnam Housing Corporation (PCHC), a HUD-certified Housing Counseling Agency, reported there are three other senior-housing apartment complexes in Carmel and one in Mahopac under the PCHC umbrella. For more information, call 845-225-8493. Also, there are two privately owned senior-housing complexes in Carmel and another in Brewster for seniors with higher incomes. Call 845-256-8630 for details.

Photos by L. Powers


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