Edenwald retirement community celebrates 30 years in Towson

Folding chairs in a laundry room are still stamped Greisenheim, which was Edenwald's name when it was founded

The longtime Edenwald retirement community had just relocated to Towson from Baltimore when Johnnie Ruth Friedman moved there the day before Thanksgiving in 1985.

"I liked the idea that it was across the street from the (Towson Town Center) mall," said Friedman, formerly of Pikesville. And she felt comfortable because a friend had moved to Edenwald at the same time. "It was a very friendly place," she said. "I was satisfied the day I moved in."

Now 97, Friedman planned to cut the cake when Edenwald celebrated its 30th birthday on Southerly Road on Tuesday, Sept. 29. She is the only original resident left.

"I'm the last pioneer," said Friedman, who goes by her middle name.

But she is not the only original member of the larger Edenwald community in Towson. Nine of Edenwald's employees came when it first relocated to Towson.

"It's like family," said Edenwald maintenance mechanic Joe Johnson, 52, of West Baltimore, who was 22 when he came to work for the newly relocated retirement center and told his mother, who got him the job, that he only planned to stay for a year.

And 18 children of former residents now are residents themselves, said Edenwald sales director Diane Stinchcomb.

"I've been here long enough to meet the next generation of (residents) here," Johnson said, adding with a laugh, "I don't feel that old."

Neither does Friedman. She remains active at Edenwald, a nonprofit, full-service Continuing Care Retirement Community, with an annual budget of $26.5 million, that offers independent and assisted living as well as long-term care and memory care.

Edenwald's 439 residents (as of last week) pay entrance fees of $76,000 to nearly $1.2 million, plus monthly fees ranging from $2,600 to $5,435, to live in one of two residence buildings, the main tower and The Terraces. As they age, residents can transition to assisted living or comprehensive care at no additional cost.

Many apartments look out over the mall or leafy Goucher College. Residents enjoy amenities, including a swimming pool, a spa, a fitness center and walking track, a dedicated sewing room and a bus for shopping trips and medical appointments.

One thing that Edenwald doesn't spend a lot of money on is advertising and promotion, said Sally Ransom Knecht, who served on Edenwald's board of directors for 25 years before moving in as a resident about two years ago.

"You won't find us doing a lot of advertising because we don't need to. Our residents are our advertisement," said Knecht, who initiated and chaired Edenwald's birthday celebration.

Residents also are generous to Edenwald's employees, contributing about $85,000 last year toward an annual employee scholarship fund. Residents also contribute thousands of dollars a year to an employee Christmas fund. Workers also get perks such as free Baltimore Orioles tickets through Edenwald's Residents Association.

Another original employee, director of housekeeping Lisa Minter said she couldn't believe her good fortune at being hired at Edenwald after she was laid off from her previous nine-year job at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

"It seemed like a nice place," said Minter, 54, of Woodbourne. "I thought, 'I could retire from here.' It's still the plan. I've become really close with the residents. I don't have grandparents. All of mine were gone. I'm right at home, still helping the elderly. I treat them like they're my grandparents."

German roots

Edenwald's roots date to 1881 in downtown Baltimore at Lombard and Penn streets, where a group of men, concerned about Baltimore's large community of German immigrants, founded The General German Aged People's Home, also known as Greisenheim, according to Knecht and an in-house booklet that she helped write about the history of Edenwald. The facility opened with 18 residents.

The original name lives on as Edenwald's parent company, The General German Aged People's Home of Baltimore, Inc., which governs the retirement community as a nonprofit entity.

In 1885, the home relocated to Baltimore and Payson streets and housed 34 residents. In 1935, it moved again, to a spacious property with rolling lawns and shade trees called Sorrento," in Baltimore's Irvington neighborhood.

And in 1974, as residents began clamoring for air-conditioning, private bathrooms and other modern amenities, plans took shape for what is now the 4.5-acre Edenwald, which translates to "Eden Forest" in German, according to the booklet.

The marketing office for Edenwald opened in October 1982 on Kenilworth Drive in Towson and within two years, 60 percent of the apartments were reserved. Nearly $35.7 million in bonds were issued for Edenwald.

Edenwald refinanced its existing debt earlier this month and has a bond rating of Triple B with a stable outlook from Fitch Ratings, said Edenwald President Sal Molite.

"We're very strong financially," Molite said, but added that although no new buildings are planned for now, Edenwald is looking to renovate "dated" areas such as its dietary area and garden court, and is starting the process of writing a new strategic plan.

"I think we've been so successful because we've changed with the times," Molite said. "We're a 30-year-old community. We have to make sure we stay fresh."

But some historical vestiges of Edenwald's earliest years remain. Folding metal chairs in the laundry room of the tower building still have the word "Greisenheim" stamped on their backs.

Edenwald's continuing history is represented by its residents, who appear to be thriving there. Knecht attributes their longevity to Edenwald as "a good, healthy living place."

But Friedman attributes her own graceful aging in place partly to "my genes."

Minter, the housekeeping supervisor, agrees with Friedman.

"They've got some good genes around here," she said. "Thy inspire me. If they can get up and around at their age, why can't I?'

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