Virginia, 83, is playing Scrabble with Campbell (Cam) Sibbers, 78, her constant companion at The Orchards Retirement Residence in Vineland

Virginia, 83, is playing Scrabble with Campbell (Cam) Sibbers, 78, her constant companion at The Orchards Retirement Residence in Vineland

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Cam and Virginia, who met at The Orchards, have no plans to marry, but have found the sort of companionship in each other that generally comes with a long-term marriage. Call them lovebirds if you like. With residents of retirement homes active and often widowed, partnering up with someone is not uncommon, according to one residence administrator.

Across the room, Eugene Moreau, 89, tells how he and Helen Schott, 70, sitting beside him, have all their meals at a table for two in the dining room.

“We spend a lot of time together,” says Helen, a widow who had a stroke 27 years ago. “We have rooms next to each other.”

Cam says life was miserable after his wife died and he was on his own. He went to a seniors’ seminar, learned about The Orchards and was especially taken by the club attached to the residence and where now he swims regularly. “It’s pretty good,” he says in his rich Scottish brogue.

“And you met me!” Virginia reminds him. “We’ve been on several Caribbean cruises together. But now we’ve decided just to go on day trips because being here is just like being at a little hotel. “

Unlike Helen and Eugene, they don’t share a table. “I see enough of him without eating with him,” says Virginia, a widow. “I’ve got three other men at the table to argue with,” says Cam with relish.

Nearby, Eugene, also a widower, says of his friendship with Helen: “A lot of people think we’re a married couple.”

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in the case of Irene Wright and Fred Forrest, it can also change your life forever.

Some months ago, Irene and Fred, residents at Central Park Lodge (Queens Drive), had agreed to take part in some photo sessions. The shoot was going smoothly-very smoothly. For one picture, recalls Fred, a retired banker, “Irene was to stand behind me and put her hand on my shoulder. Her other hand was on my back. It seemed very pleasant.”

Irene, a lay minister, laughs. “I just thought he was a very nice man. “That was the start. Now Irene and Frank, both 86, have named a date to get married in June at Irene’s church, St. Philip’s Anglican, in Etobicoke.

Irene, a former teacher and widowed, has lived at Central Park Lodge for four years and tends the flower gardens in summer, but Fred and his wife, Hilda, arrived two years ago. They were assigned to Irene’s table in the dining room. “The fates were with us,” said Irene. Irene and Hilda were good friends, but Hilda died after almost a year. “It was like sitting in a dark room,” said Fred, adding: “Then it was like Irene came in and lifted the cheque blinds. Time is not on our side, but we have a whole new life.”

Annual date night. Seventy-five mostly over 75-year-olds from Grandwood Park and Trafalgar Terrace retirement homes in London, Ontario partnered with 75 undergraduate medical and dentistry students from the University of Western Ontario.

Last year’s inaugural Intergenerational Spring Gala “was a student initiative to combine a community presence with the gala night, and raise awareness about seniors through social interaction,” says Dr. Michael Borriem, who chairs the geriatric medicine division at the university.

“The banquet was an over-the-top success last year,” says Tanis Siddique, the seniors’ co-ordinator at the retirement homes. “Last year, residents talked about it for weeks afterward, and the anticipation for today has been building for weeks.”

Long before dessert arrived at the tables, the ice had been broken, with heads leaning together in two-way conversations, and decibels of laughter competing with background music.

There was glamour. Hard to say who was the fairest belle of the ball. Who knew Beth MacLaughlin, 84, would explode out of her frail poise once on the dance floor, blue ball gown swirling, long pink scarf flowing.

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Ramzy Abdel-Galil, a medical student and a second lieutenant in the Canadian Air Force, set many eyes twinkling in his blue uniform. “I had to get special permission to wear it tonight,” he says, adding that he thought nostalgic seniors might appreciate seeing it. Mission accomplished.

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