Extraordinary Talents and Long-time Loves

There is a special quality in the welcome one receives when stepping through the threshold of Gene Heide and Celia Catlett’s home in the West Garden. Gene and Celia offer kind greetings, but there is a warmth emanating from the polished natural wood surfaces and lovingly tended plants found throughout their home that captures the imagination.  Here lives an exceptionally grounded couple and I looked forward to our chat.

Truth be told, I had been told Gene did some wood working before I met him, but I was not expecting the museum quality of wood carving that he and Celia shared with me that rainy afternoon.  I soon learned that this rare talent emerged very early in his life and it’s a charming story.

It started with his father’s cigars.  In those days, during the Depression, the paper rings on cigars could be collected and returned for premium gift, like trading stamps, remember those? Gene and his older brother were eyeing the pearl-handled pocket knife, so their father set up the challenge.  The pocket knife would go to the boy with the best grades.

Gene, who earned a PhD and spent his life in academia, was the better student with all A’s. He claims it was because he didn’t get into trouble like his brother who got only one B.  Armed with the tiny knife, which was still sizable for a 6-year old boy, he carved toys like swords for roughhousing with his friends.

Most children try things, play for a while and move on to the next, but working the wood with his knife was a long-lasting love for Gene.  When Celia handed me two small busts carved from dark wood, one clearly of Abraham Lincoln, the other of Jesus, I was stunned when she said Gene carved them when he was only 12.   His little hands brought out stunning detail and symmetry in the faces.  This was not child’s work!

Of course he didn’t stop there and went on to make at least two housefuls of furniture.  The coffee table at my feet with the striking grain and smoothly polished finish was his artwork, as was the desk by the window with the artfully “rough hewn” edge.  In their foyer, a handsome cherry grandfather clock stands sentinel, reminding Gene of the cherry tree which was cut down to make way for a university construction project under his watch.  He’s happy he was able to cure the wood and put it to good use.

While Gene had been a wood-carving university administrator, Celia was an English professor with an interest in children’s literature.  Gene’s hand-made bookcases held her collection of great literature and fairy tales. And somewhere on those shelves was certainly a copy of her own book, Nonsense Literature for Children: Aesop to Seuss.

Gene and Celia met while both were working at Eastern Connecticut State University.  Gene’s wife, Betty, was the Assistant Vice President  of Student Affairs and worked closely with Celia who was the Director of Writing. Betty faced down Alzheimer’s and eventually passed away.   It was sometime after a reception honoring her career at the university that Gene and Celia got together as  couple.

They share this history and many interests with a peaceful ease.  They’ve had some adventures together, too, and both point to their trips to Jamaica as real highlights.  On two separate occasions, Celia’s work took her to a program training teachers in Jamaica. Living there in Lucea, near Montego Bay, their eyes were opened to reality of poverty on the island.  Teaching in rundown facilities at night despite rolling electricity outages, they came to admire the teachers themselves who faced these circumstances on a daily basis.

As they’ve settled into life at Plymouth Harbor, the moved in less than a year ago, they have kept living life as they always have. Celia volunteers as a tutor at Booker Elementary School and this year will be spending a whole day there and across the street at the North Sarasota Public Library.

They love the surroundings at Plymouth Harbor and take advantage of them by swimming and walking as often as possible.  Celia keeps her heirloom 1947 Grumman canoe on hand to ply the waters of Sarasota Bay with Gene or one of her daughters when they visit.  And Gene can be found down in the wood working shop, fixing furniture for his neighbors or doing what he does best, making something extraordinary.

Jean, born in Stretford near Manchester, England, and Brian, born in Sale, Cheshire, England, first arrived in the United States in 1957, Brian to earn an M.S. in physical organic chemistry at the University of Minnesota.  They then returned to England where Brian earned his Ph.D. at the University of Leicester.  In 1963 they were again in the U.S. with, as Brian put it, “two suitcases and six job interviews,” and from then on, as they both say, they lived the American dream.

Brian worked for many years in research and development and corporate management, serving as senior vice-president at several companies.  His focus was on petroleum, plastics, and air separation.  He developed patented products, such as anti-corrosion chemicals for oil wells and fire retardants.  Well aware of the tension between research and development and marketing, he emphasized innovation within his companies and through professional associations.  Later in his career, he served on a number of corporate boards and on public television and YMCA boards.

In 1994 he received an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Salford (England) and culminated his career as president of the American Chemical Society.

Jean earned her degree at Burleigh College in Manchester and worked as an executive secretary in Minneapolis and Leicester.  Over the years she volunteered at schools and hospitals and served on boards for a hospital and the YWCA, while raising three daughters, who have all had successful professional careers and have given Brian and Jean four grandchildren.

Brian’s work took the family to various states, but they finally settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  For the last 25 years they have also lived part-time on Longboat Key.  Upon moving to Plymouth Harbor, they became full-time Florida residents.

Between professional and volunteer involvement, Jean and Brian have led busy lives.  It has not, however, been all work and no play.  They have traveled around the world, with their children when possible.  They both enjoy golf, bridge, and reading.

If you have not yet met Jean and Brian, I hope you have a chance to do so soon.

 Six months ago, there stood a lonely overgrown patch  in the west gardens that once was a place of joy for former resident Mary “Tilley” Bessemer.  In its heyday, more than eight years ago, Tilley could be found following the lazy wanderings of butterflies among their favorite blossoms in this lovingly tended garden designed just for them.  

When Nichole Peal first saw the garden last winter, the faded trellis was obscured by weeds and the birdbath filled with rotting leaves.  The potential that she soon saw in this butterfly garden was not far from the memory of Tilley’s former sanctuary and it emerged as the perfect project to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award.  The Gold Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve.  

“I had just finished my Harvest Award where I had learned about butterfly gardens on a visit to the Florida Native Plant Nursery in Myakka,” says Nichole, referring to another prestigious Girl Scout Senior award.  “There are so many elaborate rules for butterfly gardens like the number of plants and which ones are for the butterflies to eat and which are for laying their eggs.”

Nichole, now a senior at the Sarasota Military Academy, dedicated her spare time February through August to the planning and creation of “Tilley’s Butterfly Garden,” dedicated to the memory of Mary “Tilley” Bessemer.  Recruiting the assistance of fellow Girl Scouts and the expertise of local butterfly aficionados, Nichole sees this as an ongoing effort to maintain the garden and ensure that it remains a long-standing source of solace for Plymouth Harbor residents and guests. 

When the sun and the weather are just right, it’s easy to imagine the peace to be found in a well-appointed butterfly garden.  Sarasota abounds with these delightful gardens filled largely with native plants and the 170 species of butterflies that find their homes here at one time of the year or other (that’s nearly a quarter of 740 species found world-wide!).

“Butterflies are deep and powerful representations of life,” shared Plymouth Harbor CEO Harry Hobson. “They symbolize different things for different people:  endurance, change, hope, and life.”

It’s fascinating that face-to-face encounters with this most delicate and resilient creature, the tiny butterfly, can have such a dramatic effect on people.

The butterfly evokes an experience of calm, peace, and comfort. Research at medical centers has found that patients who visited or viewed a healing garden took less pain medication and overall had shorter stays than patients who did not. The greatest benefits are found by those living with illness, disabilities, or suffering from a loss.  The wellness aspects of a therapeutic butterfly garden are multifaceted.

Senator Bob Johnson, a former member of the Plymouth Harbor Board of Directors and the attorney managing Mary “Tilley” Bessemer’s estate, understands the affection with which she cared for this garden in the years before her passing in 2006. 

“Tilley loved her butterflies,” said Senator Johnson who met Tilley when she married his long-time neighbor. Widowed in later life, she had reunited with her high school sweetheart and found love anew.  They moved into a new home at Plymouth Harbor where they enjoyed many years together.  “Tilley was unassuming and down to earth. Even as her vision worsened, she could see those butterflies,” he added.  “She would be very proud, and probably astonished, by this garden dedication.”

A celebration and dedication of the newly refreshed butterfly garden  on Tuesday, September 10 at 11:00  recognizes and appreciates Mary “Tilley” Bessemer and Nichole Peal for their past and present contributions.

“Our very special butterfly garden will serve as a symbol of peace and serenity for all who visit,” added Harry, “and a life-affirming tribute to Tilley, whose zest for life continues to grace us.”   

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun and find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches today, tomorrow and beyond.

~Irish Blessing

 By Lee Yousri

When portraying an individual, it is fitting to place that person center stage.  This is most appropriate in the case of our new friend, George Salley, who joined the Plymouth Harbor community in December, 2012.

From South Carolina to New York to Florida; this represents his life’s journey, with a few of the usual detours.  Born into a farming family, he developed a closeness and love of the land which led to his first degree at Clemson University, a BS in Agronomy.  According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, this is “a branch of agriculture dealing with field-crop rotation and soil management.”

After a Navy stint in the early fifties, which afforded him world-wide travel, he was inspired to go a step further in his chosen field by earning a degree in Landscape Architecture.  We enter a somewhat related field but now we’ve added people.  A landscape architect is concerned with “the arrangement of land for human use and enjoyment.”  Again I quote Mr. Webster.

George’s first job was with a firm in Fort Lauderdale working on the master plan for Longboat Key.  Following this he was recruited by another architectural firm which was planning the New York City World’s Fair of 1963.

His move to New York resulted in his residing all over Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights where he bought a near derelict brownstone in the Landmark Preservation area and converted it into four two-bedroom apartments.  His tenants were mostly young couples just out of college and newly married.  He very much enjoyed his role as landlord.

Of course, his professional life continued.  Among the many prestigious projects in which he participated were the Sculpture Gardens at the Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Paley Park, all in New York City; the Hirschhorn Museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C., and the Johnson Presidential Library in Texas. 

By this time he was living six months in New York, six months in Sarasota.  And he was pursuing his hobbies of gardening, travel, music, walking, and reading (the New York Times and the New Yorker are a “must”).

His last job was with the New York City Housing Authority.  While this dealt with lodging for the underprivileged, he also moonlighted in special projects for the wealthy, thus affirming his diverse talents. 

Art, history, theatre, branches of life both practical and artistic are all represented here.  Truly an admirable repertoire!  George deserves his place center stage.

We welcome him to Plymouth Harbor!

 Who among us doesn’t immediately think about the aching knees, fatigue, or extra pounds when asked “How healthy are you?”  Probing further, “What’s your plan for wellness?” may prompt answers like “fewer calories and more exercise!”  But maybe you are among those who have already learned to stay away from “deficit thinking” and your plan takes into account all the strengths that you do have in the multiple facets of wellness. If yes, then you are already on the same page with leading of Whole Wellness advocate, Jan Montague.

Residents and staff of Plymouth Harbor spent time in person with Jan Montague during her July 10-11 visit.  She’s a dynamo of information and inspiration and she is an internationally recognized expert in wellness in the Third Age.

We learned from Jan that whole-person wellness is multi-dimensional, positive health leading to a satisfactory quality of life and a sense of well-being. This pertains to individuals and an organization or community as a whole.  It’s different from the typical “what’s wrong so we can fix it” or deficit approach to wellness.  Jan talked about a wellness lifestyle perspective that includes self-responsibility, optimism, resilience, positive social support and a consistent can-do attitude.

As Plymouth Harbor follows its mission to complete an expanded Wellness Center by Spring 2014, it’s important to note that, like Whole-Person Wellness, it will not simply be a new class, program, or facilities, but a whole philosophy and approach to maximize strengths and focus on what joyful qualities we all want in our lives.  Jan summarizes this approach as “focusing less on what we don’t want and more of what we want.”

“Life is a constant journey for balance to stay well and staying well is really an inside out endeavor,” shared Jan. Emphasizing that negativity is dangerous, she also urged residents and staff to be careful with the words they use when describing their health as words tend to be self-fulfilling. We get what we focus on. Rather than saying, “I’m a fat, aging, achy person,” she suggested, “I am strong and managing my age and health with grace.” 

There are six dimensions considered for whole-person wellness:

Emotional – moods, self-esteem, optimism, self-efficacy, gratitude, humor
Vocational – feeling useful and needed, participate in lifetime interests, learning new skills
Intellectual – feeling mentally stimulated, learning and interacting, memory
Physical – exercise, nutrition, positive lifestyle habits, safety consciousness and health screening
Spiritual –meaning and purpose, values, devotional rituals, prayer, meditation
Social –relationship with others, welcoming and respectful interactions, social connections and mutual support

“Wellness Coordinator Chris Valuck led the effort to bring Jan Montague here to inspire a broader cultural shift to view everything we do here at Plymouth Harbor through this all-encompassing lens of wellness,” said Tena Wilson.

One reflection of this culture change will be seen in the launch of “Voyages” a refreshed, wellness–centric monthly newsletter which will take the place of the Harbor Light starting with the September issue.  Jan Montague may have returned to her home in California and busy schedule of teaching and training, but her influence will be felt for years to come.

Elizabeth and James Murphy joined the Plymouth Harbor community in March, 2013.

By Isabel Pedersen

A college graduation does not seem an obvious place for a middle-aged man to meet the love of his life but that is what happened when Jim Murphy first saw “Elizabeth.”  Her son and his daughter were graduating from Miami University in Ohio.  The night before graduation, all families celebrated and exchanged introductions.  The lasting one was the relationship that began that night.

The odds of their meeting any other way seem slim.  Lee grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota.  After graduating from Centenary College in New Jersey, she returned to St. Paul where she raised three sons, became a Junior League member, but was busiest as the owner and buyer of a specialty store.  For 15 years, she traveled on buying trips to England, Ireland, Iceland, and in America.

Meanwhile, Jim grew up in Darien, Connecticut.  His father’s printing business near Philadelphia was sold when his father died quite young.  Jim stayed in the area to attend West Chester University, graduating in 1951.  While attending the University of Pennsylvania, he taught Journalism while going to night school. 

After graduation, Jim was selected into the Naval V-5 program which sent him to Georgia Tech.  His life work has been the interconnected world of mortgage banking, real estate development, and construction.  From laborer to president, Jim enjoyed and profited from exposure on local, state, and national levels while living in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.  His lifelong commitment to charitable causes has involved working with the poor, which he continues to do to this day.

When Lee arrived in Florida, her northern roots and family ties to a nature center and an arboretum brought a new sense of appreciation for Mother Nature.  She spent 16 years in Founders Garden Club.  It was fitting that the Murphys were married at Spanish Point in Osprey.  They resided at The Oaks where Jim continued his custom home building business.After 20 years, the Murphys moved to Kenaya in the Burns Court District before coming to Plymouth Harbor. 

Together these two have 13 grandchildren.  It is not surprising that they have been mentoring young people in Sarasota County schools for years in the Take Stock in Children program. Please welcome this interesting couple to Plymouth Harbor. 

LeadingAge Florida, an affiliate of the national professional organization for the senior housing industry, honored Harry Hobson as their 2013 “Executive of the Year” at the annual conference held in Orlando, Florida, July 14-18, 2013. The announcement was a complete surprise to Harry who was enjoying his coffee surrounded by colleagues and Plymouth Harbor staff during the awards luncheon on Wednesday, July 17 at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando.He was listening to the description of the individual to be named Executive of the Year. Only when certifications in Ohio emerged at the end did he look up to say, “Uh-oh, this is embarrassing.”  He went on to accept the award at the podium and graciously thank his industry colleagues.

Unbeknownst to Harry, the senior staff at Plymouth Harbor had collaborated on the nomination that resulted in this recognition of his exceptional leadership and management style as well as specific accomplishments of the past year.  Among those accomplishments is the establishment of The Plymouth Harbor Foundation, which garnered charitable contributions of $760,000 in the first year to support life at Plymouth Harbor.  His team also fully implemented Electronic Medical Records in the Skilled Nursing and Short Term Rehabilitation Center. And during this year, the design and capital campaign for a newly renovated and expanded Wellness Center at Plymouth Harbor is underway and the conceptual planning of a new assisted living facility which will also serve memory support residents. 

These accomplishments all occurred during a financially secure year of high occupancy rates while achieving a 5-Star rating for the skilled nursing facility with U.S. News & World Report and the Governor’s Gold Seal Award for Excellence in Long-Term Care.


Harry thanks his wife, Nancy. They truly work as a team.

Harry has served as CEO of Plymouth Trustee of Plymouth Harbor since 2004.  From the beginning, he employed his transparent, communicative, and participatory style of leadership to pull together teams that would work together for the good of the whole.  The result of his early leadership were a new structurally sound electrical and plumbing system, an economic stabilization program led by employees that resulted in no layoffs and a balanced budget, and a satisfied resident population, as evidenced by Holleran resident satisfaction surveys. 

After hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Harry’s leadership skills revealed themselves among his senior housing peers when he recognized that those in our industry in and around Sarasota could and should pull together during these catastrophic disasters.  He reached out to five peer organizations in the area to form a consortium that would work together in a supportive nature during any impending emergency. The consortium continues today.  The executives from all member organizations meet on a regular basis to share best practices, so that every provider of services to seniors in our area has the most recent and comprehensive information possible to deliver the best of care to those we serve. 

With a career in both hospital and retirement community administration, he holds advanced degrees in Business Management and Healthcare Administration, and has completed gerontological studies at George Washington University.  He is also a licensed Nursing Home Administrator in Ohio and Florida. 

Harry is an educator as well and has held adjunct faculty and lecturer positions in the Fisher College of Business and College of Public Health at The Ohio State University where he taught Executive Leadership and Long Term Care Policy, respectively. He has served two terms as a member of the House of Delegates of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging and was elected to the Virginia Association of Homes and Services for the Aging Board of Directors.  He served as Chairman of the Health Services Agency’s Certificate of Need Review Board for hospitals and nursing homes in Ohio.  He currently serves on Governor Scott’s Continuing Care Advisory Council in Florida. 

Is this enough evidence that Harry deserves the recognition he has received?  Perhaps, yes. But there is more.  We can’t measure the admiration, appreciation and affection that Harry inspires, but it was present in full force at a reception thrown in his honor at Plymouth Harbor the Monday after the award luncheon. Residents, staff, board members, and former board members lined up to congratulate the honoree and to sign Harry’s banner of honor. Guests enjoyed cake, punch and many stories of how Harry, and his wife Nancy, have enriched the community of Plymouth Harbor through their leadership and care.

LeadingAge Florida was established in 1963 as a Florida not-for-profit corporation, as the only statewide association representing the full continuum of care for seniors.  The organization serves nearly 400 mission-driven communities trusted with providing quality care and services.  LeadingAge Florida promotes practices that support, enable, and empower people to live fully in the Third Age.  This year’s conference marked the 50th anniversary of the organization. 

Congratulations to Sheila Strahorn, our Employee of the Month for July 2013. Sheila Strahorn July 2013 Employee of the Month

Sheila is a full time certified nursing assistant (CNA) in the Smith Care Center.  She came to Plymouth Harbor in December 2011.

Sheila received Exceeds Standard remarks in Quality of Work, Efficiency, Attitude, Relationship with People, and Attendance.  Her supervisors describe her as, “Very kind and friendly, helpful and considerate with the residents and staff.  She is supportive of the vision of Plymouth Harbor.”  “Sheila has demonstrated a very high standard of performance.”

Sheila’s nominators said of her:

Sheila is always pleasant with staff and residents.  She never gets upset and always helps others with a great attitude!  She is a good team player.  When asked to do something she never hesitates, she is always there to help any resident even when the resident is not in her section.  Sheila is very pleasant, friendly, and hard working.  She has a wonderful attitude and we know the residents are getting the best care when she is here.

Originally from Rockford, Illinois, Sheila graduated from Harlem High School and earned an Associate in Arts Degree from Rock Valley College.  Before moving to Florida she worked as a CNA at Riverbluff Nursing and at Super Nurse, LLC for 8-½ years.

Sheila and her husband Lorron and have two children: Alec (14) and Anna (16).

Please join us in congratulating Sheila for an exemplary job!


The Residents Association of Plymouth Harbor on Sarasota Bay welcomed its new officers who form the Executive Council in May.   George Peters is the President of the 2013-14 Executive Council and he is joined by Mary Allyn, Vice President; Joan Sheil, Secretary; Ellen Steele, Treasurer; and Immediate Past President Ellen Harrison.

The council also includes three Executive Associates who serve as liaisons with resident committees, colony directors, and residents as a whole. The three Council members serving as Executive Associates are Jim Griffith (committees), Bill Brackett (colonies) and Elsa Price (residents).

Three members of the Resident Association Executive Council- the president, vice president and immediate past chair- serve as members of the Plymouth Harbor Board of Trustees which guides the management of this exemplary not-for-profit continuing care retirement community.

Photo: L-R (sitting): Ellen Steele, Treasurer; Joan Sheil, Secretary; George Peters, President; Mary Allyn, Vice President; Ellen Harrison, Immediate Past President
L-R (standing): Bill Brackett, Executive Associate; Dr. Jim Griffith, Executive Associate; Elsa Price, Executive Associate

Larry Coffey, the Executive Council’s previous Immediate Past President, just concluded his three year term of service on the Plymouth Harbor Board of Trustees. Board President Tom Hopkins recognized Mr. Coffey with an engraved award for his service, dedication, and willingness to serve on the Philanthropic Advisory, Finance, and Assisted Living Facility/Memory Support Planning committees.  Photo: L-R Larry Coffey, Tom Hopkins.

The new Resident Association President, George Peters emphasizes the importance of communication as one of the key mission points of the Resident Association pertaining to life at Plymouth Harbor.  Serving as a conduit to maintain the ongoing dialogue between the residents and the administration, the Resident Association is essential to balancing the communication with the active participation of residents in nearly all facets of this lively community.

“I consider the colonies to be the hub of the operation,” says Mr. Peters. “We are intentionally putting more emphasis on resident colony input.”

Plymouth Harbor’s unique organization of resident colonies stems from the three-level atrium groupings in the iconic tower on campus.  These natural resident “neighborhoods” follow a democratic process to make decisions that pertain to their colony, such as the use of common spaces.  Each colony also elects a director and associate director to represent their interests on the board of the Residents Association.

All residents are welcome to participate on any of a variety of committees that add to the quality of life and strength of the community at Plymouth Harbor.  Those committees include Art, Building & Maintenance, Civic Affairs, Conservation, Décor, Dining Services, Finance, Gratuity, Grounds, the Harbor Light newsletter, Health, Hospitality, Housekeeping, Library, Multi-media Library, Programs, Resident Fund, Safety & Security, Spiritual Life, and Wood Shop.