Finding a Voice In Senior Living

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A lifelong introvert discovers the joys of community.

When Russell Replogle was 12, he convinced his parents to let him move into the garage apartment of the family’s home in San Marino, California. He liked living on his own so much that he went on doing it for the next six decades, never straying too far from the Pasadena area. Replogle was a bit of an introvert, but he was no hermit: He enjoyed a career as a designer and contractor for home remodels, and was dedicated to producing stage events as a volunteer. But he had always been most comfortable working, living and dining on his own.

When he moved in 2010 to Royal Oaks, a HumanGood senior living community in Bradbury, California, he suddenly found himself surrounded by people around the clock. It was a challenge, but one he was ready to meet.

For many people, idle chit-chat is a natural occurrence. For Replogle, who had spent so much time on his own, small talk didn’t come easily. “I very quickly learned that you’re supposed to speak to people when you pass them in the hallway or dining room,” says Replogle. “I was completely unused to that.” Soon, however, he was chatting with his neighbors, sharing a table at three meals a day, even joining group activities. And he was enjoying it.

No one was more surprised than he was. “I’ve had a lifelong speech problem—not a stutter, but a blockage—so for me to introduce myself to anyone was absolute agony,” he says. But soon after moving into Royal Oaks, his speech impediment vanished. Replogle credits its disappearance to daily social interaction in a comfortable environment. “It’s not like talking to clients,” says the man whose social life had, until this move, mostly revolved around his work. “It’s talking to friends.”

Senior Living: A Mix of Socializing and Downtime

For a natural introvert, having the option to recharge in private makes all the difference, and plenty of alone time whenever he wants it plays a factor in his appreciation of the community. “You can go into your apartment and shut the door. You can be alone as much as you want. Or you can just walk out and see people.” And while he does close his door sometimes, in fact, he has found, “It’s nice to feel like you’re not totally alone.”

Royal Oaks Activities Director Janice Masters, who also identifies as an introvert, says that drawing out people requires tapping into their individuality. “I knew from the sales director who worked with him on his move that Russell helped coordinate music and art festivals for the cities of Pasadena, Sierra Madre and Ojai, but it sure didn’t seem to fit with his shy demeanor here,” she says. Still, she tapped into his expertise, asking him to help produce a country fair for the community (which the next year grew into the Harvest & Arts Festival). At their first planning meeting, he was “quiet and observant, only giving input when asked about something specific,” Masters says. But his suggestions proved fruitful, and he began pitching in on more events, as well as instigating his own—including a weekly bocce ball game.

Masters noted a shift in Replogle’s stride as well as his speech, and found that once he felt his unique talents appreciated, he opened up and shared more of himself. He worked on the redesign of the Acorn Room gift shop, and joined the committee that is advising on the redesign of Royal Oaks’ main building. An avid art enthusiast with a large collection of his own, he staged exhibits of fellow residents’ artwork.

He has become a well-known community member and was featured in the Oak Leaves newsletter in an article by resident Nancy Porteous. “Russell is a very special man,” says Porteous.

He also is a man who likes to keep his hands and mind engaged with creative projects. And, these days, he’s a man who enjoys sharing meals and chatting up friends and neighbors.

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