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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Part 4:  ‘Heart-Wrenching ’ Move to Darien

(Editor’s note: WestportNow’s special series on seniors and housing today focuses on longtime Westporters who moved to Darien in search of housing to meet their needs.)

By James Lomuscio

Richard Leonard, 85, moved with his parents to Westport in 1946. He was just 15 but commuted daily on the 6:30 a.m. train to New York, so he could finish up at St. John’s Prep in Astoria, Queens. Image
Dick and Paula Leonard at their new home in Darien. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for

Paula Leonard moved with her parents to Westport in 1952, graduating from Staples High School that year.

It wasn’t long before the two met and began dating.

In 1957, after four years as a Navy pilot during the Korean Conflict, he and Paula married, settling into their first home on Lone Pine Lane, then Ludlowe Road and eventually Orchard Lane.

They raised five children in town, and all attended the Westport Public Schools. Two of their children Rick Leonard and Anne Hardy still live in town.

The school system was integral to the Leonards’ lives. So too was community involvement. He taught English at Staples for 37 years, and for 20 years served as president of the Westport Education Association. He also sat on various ad hoc town committees, and the Westport Historical Commission.

Paula Leonard served several years on Westport’s PTA Council, and for nearly 20 years was chairwoman of the Senior Services Commission, helping to plan and build the Westport Center for Senior Activites.

In January, due to increased age, disabilities and the need for assisted living, Richard Leonard said they made a painful decision—to leave Westport. They sold their home to their son Rick and his wife Amy and moved to Atria Darien, an assisted living community.

“We moved here because there were no (assisted living) opportunities in Westport,” he said. “We have limited income. They say you could go to a condo, but there would be no socialization, and you’d have to cook your own meals.

“I needed a place where I could socialize, and nurses would be there if you needed them,” he added. “This is a small place, about 100 people.”

At Atria, he said he often sees former Westporter Marjorie Beinfield, who recently turned 90.

“Her late husband Mal, Doc Beinfield, was one of the best surgeons going, and for 50 years he never missed sitting in the bleachers at a Staples High School home football game,” he recalled.

Beinfield, too, says she misses her hometown, the friends she made, the Levitt Pavilion and Longshore.

“I miss Westport,” she said.

According to its website, Atria Darien, located close to the downtown and train station, “is home to writers, teachers, engineers, artists, and more, and each person contributes to our family atmosphere and collective desire to explore the world around us.”

The facility touts itself as “based on a social model, not a skilled nursing model.” Image
Atria Darien touts itself as “based on a social model, not a skilled nursing model.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

“Almost 60 percent of our residents are independent or only require medication reminders,” it states. “…Our residents enjoy more than 200 monthly opportunities for staying active, including daily cocktail hours, multi-tiered fitness programs and interactive cultural discussions,” the website says.

At Atria, Richard Leonard says all of their meals, activities and services are paid for, making life easier. But it comes with a hefty price tag, what Leonard described as a “moderate to expensive” monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

“I was lucky enough or smart enough years ago to buy a long-term care policy, which pays a portion of the expenses,” he said. “I did it because age creeps up on you.”

Like many others, Richard Leonard said he had hoped Westport would have moved ahead with its planned, 135-unit, 60 percent affordable, senior housing complex on the 22-acre, town-owned Baron’s South property.

Though the facility had been planned for seven years and was the subject of numerous town meetings and approvals, it came to an end with a Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission 4 to 1 with 1 abstention vote in March, designating all of Baron’s South open space. A majority of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) voted to overturn the P&Z but failed in attaining the needed super majority.

“It came as such a surprise,” Richard Leonard said. “It was a terrible decision.”

“Nearly every town has at least one (assisted living) facility for its seniors,” he said in a letter to the RTM. “Danbury, Ridgefield and Bridgeport each have one. Trumbull, Norwalk, Stamford, Newtown and Greenwich each have two. And Darien has three. Westport has none and seems not to want one regardless of desires or needs, which is why we have ended up at Atria in Darien.

“Darien may be a nice town, but clearly it is not Westport for us,” he added. “Particularly for Paula, though also for me, it was heart-wrenching to leave Westport, a place to which we gave so much and from which we received so much.”
Next: Senior Housing Needs, Plans and Logjams

For previous parts of this series, click here.


Posted 08/20/15 at 05:00 AM  Permalink


Comment Policy

The message is clear and telling: Some towns want their seniors and others don’t. Period.

Posted by Jean Marie Wiesen on August 21, 2015 at 11:14 AM | #