Retired teacher discusses life in a retirement residence

A wartime educator

For Jean Gordon, 99, teaching runs deep in her family. Growing up on a farm in Thornhill, Ontario, she explains that a career in education seemed the natural path to take since her mother and two siblings were already teachers. In 1939—the same year that Canada declared war on Germany—she began her more than 40-year-long career at a rural school in Dufferin County, where she taught 12 students of varying grades in a one-classroom schoolhouse. After marrying her husband, Joe, 97, she began teaching at a school in his hometown of Simcoe, where she recalls making $600 a year, and later in schools in West Gwillimbury and Bradford. “Teaching was a wholesome experience for me,” Jean says. “I have many fond memories of my students.” Jean still looks forward to former pupils approaching her when she’s out shopping or at church events. “Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out who they are, they’ve changed so much!”

Jean and JoeAt a crossroads

Jean reminisces that she not only enjoyed a fulfilling teaching career, but a fulfilling home life with Joe and their two children, Donald and David. Following the Second World War, her husband transitioned from a solider trained on the front lines to civilian life as a farmer, working on Jean’s family’s farm, where they first met. They still laugh together today when they recall a yellow romper Jean came home to the farm wearing one day after a physical education class. “It was awful!” Joe grins.

It would be many years later, when the couple was entering their late 90s, that they would have to contemplate leaving the family home. “I was in the hospital with a broken hip,” Jean begins. “Joe and I knew we needed to find a place where I could convalesce, so he and my son Donald began researching retirement homes in Kitchener, as there weren’t any in our area.” When Donald went for a tour of Chartwell Westmount Retirement Residence, he felt he had found the right place for his mom, as the suite he chose had a view that faced into the back of a schoolyard. Moving into the residence on a trial-stay basis in order to recuperate, it wasn’t long until the couple decided to make the retirement community their permanent home. “Besides receiving the rehab I needed, Joe and I knew we needed more help with daily living,” Jean explains. “It wasn’t a hard decision after we experienced what it was like to live here. We actually live closer to my son now, and he and his wife join us for Sunday dinners here.”

Adjusting to a new chapter in life

Though it isn’t uncommon for many individuals to need three to six months to feel completely at home in a new living environment, Jean admits that she and Joe adjusted very quickly. “It’s a nice place to live, and the meals are right up our alley,” she says. “We’ve made a lot of friends here. It’s not difficult; you’re bound to find someone with a similar background.” Jean adds that the biggest thing they missed after the move was going to their church, which they no longer live close to, as she had been an organist there for more than 60 years. They now attend church services at their retirement residence. “We enjoy a lot of the social activities and some of the exercise classes. Joe particularly likes playing cards with everyone.”

Comfortably settled into their new home, the couple looks forward to celebrating Jean’s 100th birthday at the residence in October, with all the fanfare deserving of such an inspiring centenarian.