Retired Clergy Flock to Grove Community
Paul and Rowena Markham live in a small cottage that abuts a wooded area in east Pasadena and features a view of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The Markhams paid only renovation costs for the cottage when they moved in three years ago and it is theirs for as long as they live. But their children will not inherit it.
When the Markhams die, their cottage will revert to Monte Vista Grove, a 15-acre retirement community for retired Presbyterian clergy and their spouses.
That does not bother the Markhams, who are among a handful of residents who are the second generation to retire at Monte Vista Grove. Markham’s parents moved to the grove in 1957.
‘Tender Loving Care’
“We used to visit my parents, and the tender loving care given them thrilled me,” said Markham, 69, who was a minister in Michigan for 41 years before he retired.
Monte Vista’s 178 residents live in existing cottages or a nursing facility or have built their own cottages. The grove has become so popular that 100 families are on a waiting list. There is room for only three or four more new cottages, said Robert Latta, the grove’s executive director.
The Markhams wanted to move to a Presbyterian retirement community because the gregarious couple said they wanted a congenial environment with lots of built-in friends and activities. They chose Monte Vista Grove because of the weather, location and the pleasant experiences his parents had there.
“Even though I thought this was a neat place, we looked all over the Middle West before we decided,” Markham said. “But this was so much better in location, weather and wonderful people than other Presbyterian retirement communities we looked at.”
The Markhams decided upon extensive renovations for their one-bedroom cottage, which was the first one built at the facility in 1925. The community only requires that dwellings be maintained in good repair.
Markham said most of the retired ministers at the grove are still active in the church. Some have part-time ministerial jobs, others take interim jobs when a church is waiting for a new minister.
“We sing in the choir and there is a string quartet and two bell groups,” he said. He had just returned from a breakfast meeting of the local Kiwanis Club and was getting ready to fold and distribute the grove’s monthly newsletter.
“Even the older people travel and still drive cars,” he said. “We have a lot of
Monte Vista Grove was established in 1924, when the Presbyterian Synod of California bought the property for $60,000. In those days, Presbyterian churches traditionally provided living quarters for their pastors, many of whom retired with only small pensions and no equity in a home.
To meet their housing needs, Monte Vista Grove’s founders started building one-story cottages. Most are duplexes, with each dwelling averaging about 1,300 square feet.
Until 1958, most of the cottages at Monte Vista Grove, one of the few facilities of its kind in the western United States, were built with donations from churches and individuals.
But as more retired ministers became able to afford to build, a donor program, under which they could construct their own home on grove property, was instituted.
Expanded in 1973
The donor program was expanded in 1973 to include renovation of the older cottages, partly in an effort to keep the property from deteriorating. As a cottage was vacated, a family that wanted to renovate could move into it. There are now 38 duplex or triplex cottages providing living quarters for 101 families.
Most people spend about $30,000 to renovate a cottage or $100,000 to build one, said Latta. There are no restrictions on size or design, but trustees must approve all plans, ensuring that the architecture within the grove is compatible.
The grove retains title on the cottages, but residents receive a written guarantee that they can occupy their cottage until they either die or cannot care for themselves, said administrator Sandy Atkins. If residents are temporarily disabled, their cottages are held for them, she said.
Atkins said the facility, which operates on a $1.5-million annual budget, is open to any retired Presbyterian minister or missionary or spouse, 80 years of age or younger.
No Fees Required
Residents pay no fees other than building or renovation costs. If the retiree cannot afford it, costs are absorbed by donations. Retirees cover all of their expenses, including utilities and food. And those who can afford to are expected to contribute to the grove’s operating budget and property improvements.
The average age of residents is 79, about five years younger than the average in most retirement homes, said Atkins.
Some people who live at the grove need special services, such as those provided in a 12-unit assisted-care center built in 1954. They live in their own apartments but take meals from a central dining room, which is available to all residents.
The facility also has 40-bed health center built in 1968 to provide skilled nursing care and several small studio units.
Most of the residents prefer the privacy afforded by the cottages.
Marie Evans moved into Monte Vista Grove 10 years ago with her husband, Louis, who had been minister of Hollywood Presbyterian Church. The Evanses had lived at Leisure World in Laguna Hills for several years but decided to move to the grove to be near their children.
Built Own Cottage
Rather than renovate, they decided to build their own cottage.
“When we first looked, houses were waiting for people instead of people looking for houses, as they are now,” said Marie Evans, now a 91-year-old widow.
“The houses didn’t look inviting to us.”
Evans still drives herself to church every Sunday in La Canada Flintridge, where her son-in-law is a minister.
‘Nothing Is Compulsory’
Unlike the Markhams, Evans is not active in the grove community. She spends much of her time with three of her children.
“People don’t infringe on my time and nothing is compulsory,” she said. “You don’t have to participate and you don’t have to eat in the dining room.
“People leave each other alone unless you need help and then they are willing. It is an ideal situation for me.
“The way this is set up, this is my own home and I can have overnight guests and do what I want. Most of us feel it is wonderful to be here.”
Couples who want to build must wait until another couple with similar plans is found, since the facility is running out of land and only duplexes may be constructed.
“Usually we have five or six cottages that become available each year,” Latta said. But last year there was no turnover and the waiting list is growing.
Meanwhile, a campaign is under way to raise $3.5 million for a chapel and multipurpose building and provide an endowment for maintenance of existing buildings.
The grove trustees, who represent the Presbyterian Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, will have to decide whether to expand the facility or start construction of multistory, multiple-family dwellings.
“We could buy adjacent property, but that is expensive,” said Latta. “Or we could construct two- or three-story buildings, but then we would have to put in elevators.”
That would defeat the intention of the founders, who constructed cottages so residents would have the privacy of their own homes rather than live in a communal setting.
The decision is of particular concern to Rowena Markham. The last buildable space on the 15 acres happens to be the woods behind her garden.