Spending retirement years together under the same roof is not something siblings envision when they're growing up. At least not two sets of sisters living in Smith Village and Smith Crossing retirement communities.
"First of all, I never dreamed I would live this long," says Elinor Broberg, 94, a resident of Smith Crossing in Orland Park. "That, indeed, was a surprise. And I didn't imagine I'd be living with my sister again. This time around, we each have our own place and we don't have to share."
Broberg and her sister, June Bere, 87, grew up at 82nd and Morgan streets in Chicago as part of the Nelson clan in a house with nine children — four boys and five girls. "The boys were upstairs in a bedroom and the girls downstairs," Broberg says.
Her sister June never envisioned this scenario either. "It never entered my mind," she says. "You don't think about getting old when you're that young."
The Shannon sisters, now Dolores Keating, 86, and Celeste Walsh, 87, grew up on the Southside of Chicago in a family of six. Today they reside in Smith Village in Beverly.
The sisters are just 15 months apart, but they were not the proverbial two peas in a pod. Asked if she could have foreseen spending her retirement with her sister, Keating says: "Absolutely not! We had a truce going as kids. It was funny — sharing the same bed and same bedroom yet we hardly spoke to one another. Celeste's hair was always perfect; I was a tomboy. We were always disagreeing. We are just really, really different."
Walsh has a similar take.
"When we were young and shared a room, we got along OK," she remembers. "She says I lived in a different world. I was outgoing and met with friends. She was more of a homebody. We passed like ships in the night. We were close but quite different."
No matter their differences or divergent paths in life, at this stage, the family bond is the tie that binds.
Bere moved to Smith Crossing first three and a half years ago when she and her husband relocated from Arizona and he was in need of skilled care after suffering a stroke. Her son who lives in Palos Park found the continuing care community for his parents. Did Bere influence her sister Elinor to join her?
"Oh, no!" she says emphatically, with a hint of you don't tell a big sister what to do in her voice. "She heard I was coming here and she thought why not join me?"
Elinor Broberg was a comfort to her sister as both women spent time with Bere's husband of 63 years, Lambert, visiting him in the skilled care unit until he passed away this past January. Broberg's husband of nearly 60 years had passed away in 1999.
The sisters have always gotten along well and that continues to this day.
"The fellowship and the fact that we have so much in common is important," says Bere. "She hears something about the family and tells me right away and vice versa. Our families come to visit with us both and that gives us more company."
Celeste Walsh lived in the Beverly neighborhood and had watched with interest the expansion and the building of the new campus at Smith Village. She decided to put a deposit down on an independent living apartment and told her sister her plans. "I called Dolores," she says. "We have a lot of the same friends and I didn't want her to hear from someone else that her sister was moving into a retirement community."
Keating was living in
"I thought when Celeste told me that it might be a good idea for me as well," says Keating. "I had lived in Beverly before I moved to Springfield and I knew people here. And I thought it would be nice for my children not to have to worry about me."
By this time both women had widowhood in common, with their husbands having died within three months of each other nine years ago. They moved into Smith Village five years ago.
"This is such a great place," says Keating. "My sister certainly has introduced me to many people whom I enjoy. It's almost like a homecoming, going full circle. We're right back together again but still holding onto our individuality."
In addition to Walsh and Keating, at Smith Village there are two other sisters and a pair of cousins sharing a familial retirement.
Kevin McGee, CEO of Smith Senior Living, understands fully why siblings come together once again in their golden years.
"I think that siblings have chosen to live at Smith Village or Smith Crossing because of the sense of community at each campus," he says. "They can also enjoy seeing their nieces and nephews when they are visiting, which gives them an opportunity to see family that they would not have had if they didn't live in the same community. The benefit, too, is that they still have their own apartment and privacy."
Those points are important to both sets of sisters.
"I would advise people to look around and make sure they are choosing the right place for them," says Broberg. "But once you do decide, it's very nice to enter that new community with a familiar face."
Walsh says that every case is different and it depends on the relationship between the siblings. "We each do our own things in many ways, but it is nice that if you want to get together to share your day, you can," she says. "But I do think you should have a pretty good relationship to begin with. Even though my sister and I are quite different, we have always gotten along pretty well."