Alexian Village Retirement Community: A True Community in Definition and Spirit

There are many meanings for the word “community.” Although there are certain aspects of community that the roughly ninety-four definitions for the word agree upon, the most prominent areas of agreement are social interaction and common ties. The source of this study, Alexian Retirement Village, meets these requirements for a community and in some cases surpasses the expected levels of common ties and social interaction.

Acorrding to their website, “Alexian Village is a full-service, continuing-care retirement community. Continuing care means that a lifetime of retirement living services are provided by Alexian Village all in one location. Residents of the Village’s independent living homes and apartments are guranteed assisted living services at Alexian Inn or Valley Residence and nursing care at the Alexian Brothers Health Care Center.”

Of course, “location” is a qualification to define “community” also. Over looking the “Tennessee Grand Canyon,” the Alexeian Retirement Village is located atop Signal Mountain. It is the owner of an historical site: the “Battle Above the Clouds” which took place during the Civil War. However unusual, none of the four- hundred residents of this forty-three acre community were born in Alexian Retirement Village and none of the future generations to live there will be. The people who live there have all come by choice to spend the later years of their lives in a community designed primarily for them. It is a retirement village which claims to “redefine quality of life” (Pamphlet).

The location is important, the site of the village played a part in the decision of some of the residents to become a part of this special community. One third of the residents surveyed said that the location of the village with its “pleasant surroundings” and “its seclusion” helped their decision to move there (Personal Communication). Others said, “the beauty of…[ the] grounds” and the “peace and quite” of the majestic site when asked for their favorite things about the village (Personal Communication). This community is based only miles from the popular city of Chattanooga, it offers both seclusion and convenience.

Location is a factor in the definition of this community, Alexian Village involves a limited number of people in a somewhat restricted space. “Since everything from banking to hairstyling, grocery-shopping to exercising is available, also health care, ” a resident calls Alexian Village a complete community, another resident adds, “there is everything here that I either need or desire.” The community also includes a Resident Dinning Hall were many of the residents can, and do, eat together although their apartments have kitchens. Every thing the community members need is right there on top of the mountain within walking distance of their homes.

Thomas Bender said,”a community is assumed to be a localized or microcosmic example of the larger society” (6), in this case this assumption is not entirely true. The average age of the residents who contributed to the survey is eighty-one years. However, I do not believe that Greenwich village would have represented the larger society either. This mountain village would not adequately represent the larger society in terms of age but it may come close to representing an international community of the aged. There are residents from at least thirty-five states in the U.S. and five countries are represented.

The villagers may have more extensive common ties than the average community. This village has a “built in” common tie. The Alexian Brothers, a congregation of Christian followers of St. Alexius who “dedicate their lives to caring for the sick, the poor, the aged, the dying and the unwanted” (Pamphlet), founded this community along with other similar communities around the world, and three of the Brothers are residents on the site of Signal Mountain. “We feel secure with the Brother’s presence” is how one of the residents put it and another said, “the thing that makes Alexian [village] really special is the Brothers.” The Alexian Village is more or less a religious community and many common ties among the residents come from this religious aspect of living. Although their local chapel is open to any denomination, one resident said “the Catholic influence of the Village appealed to me.” The common bond of religion is strong in this community and is a part of a whole set of wide-ranging, diverse interests.

The fact that the residents are all retired and have chosen this location for their retreat automatically forms a common tie and in some cases an emotional bond. If community is best defined by experience rather than place, Alexian Village is working toward the perfect community . One villager commented that “it is a wonderful place to live…the residents care about each other…the people here become your family. And most of them are wonderful people…who lend a hand when you need it.”

Thomas Bender says on page 7 of his 1978 work Community and Social Change in America that ” a community… [is] held together by shared understanding and a sense of obligation.” Many of the residents surveyed share an understanding of this sense of obligation: “…my clock repair keeps me busy, repairs are ‘paid for’ on a donation basis and the accumulations are returned in form of necessities for the good of everyone,” said one resident, “I do a job of checking [on] residents everyday, except Sunday. That is my contribution to the Village,” says another resident.

Indeed many of the residents interactive with each other and take pride in being involved with their community. One resident served on the Residents Assn. Board as welcome chairman for ten years, another is the “chairman of the Good Samaritan Committee, and still another belonged to the Activities Committee, council member of the Residents Association, Mountaintop Investment Club. The ability to be involved and interact is tremendous at the village, the opportunity is definitely there. Other residents said they were involved in a motley of clubs, community projects, and other activities ranging from symphony, opera, and the annual Christmas Bazaar to ceramics, poker, and pinochle.

The “human surround” as Kai T. Erikson puts it is appreciated in the village and apparent in a statement made by one resident when asked, ” what makes your community special?”: “The Residents themselves . The vast majority have been successful whether that be as housewives, fathers, raising a family, as entrepreneurs, investors, professionals, military, clergy. They all bring the store house of experience to the table, in dealing with each other.”

It is clearly evident that the feeling of this community is a strong mutual caring and appreciation for the diversity its residents. The people who reside on the top of this beautiful mountain carefully chose the site to spend their last precious years where they would be happy, enjoy their surroundings and be cared for. They have the time to be involved with each other, to network, and interact on a daily basis. They share many bonds, mutual feelings, and common ties or they wouldn’t be there. The Alexian Village is a complete community and it, unlike most other communities, offers aid and advantage to its members, and it is based on a subjective feeling of the parties that they belong together.

Works Consulted

Alexian Brothers. The Alexian Brithers: Reaching Out to Those in Need.
n.p. : n.d. http://www.alexianbrothers.net/www

Bender, Thomas. Community and Social Change in America. New Jersey:
Rutgers University Press, 1978.

Hillery, G. A. Jr. “Defintions of Community: Areas of Agreement.” Rural Sociology.
Volume 20 (1955): 111-123.

Resident Interviews:

Annis, Alice. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Belli, Joachim. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Biga, Edward and Barbara. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Corden, Judge Campbell. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Fairling, Betty. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Greene, Emmy Low. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Lewis, Marion. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Monroe, Bruce. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Morgan, Arvena. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

O’Dell, Pete. Phone inteview. 1 Dec. 1995.

Ray, Edmund. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Showalter, Susan. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

Stossen, Pauline. Survey interview. 25 Nov. 1995.

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