Welcome, grandkids. Programs, events at retirement communities create memories

Welcome, grandkids. Programs, events at retirement communities create memories - Chicago Tribune


If you think age-restricted retirement communities don’t go out of their way to welcome grandchildren then you haven’t met Jay Tunney, Roy Uddman, or Bob and Jeanne Haller.

They all live at local retirement communities that encourage family visits, and even offer special programs just for grandchildren.

Let’s start with the Hallers. The couple lives at the Moorings of Arlington Heights, a retirement community in the northwest suburb. With 10 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, the Hallers, over the years, have had four generations attend the community’s annual Halloween party.

The party draws about 70 costumed kids and 100 adults — some of them dress up too. The kids enjoy a magic show and trick-or-treat down a long hallway with residents handing out candy. After the party, the Hallers spread a tablecloth on the lobby floor for their grandkids, serving pizza, coke and cookies.

The Halloween party at the Moorings has become a kind of Haller family tradition. But as Bob notes, “It’s not just our family. A lot of residents bring their families.”

Retirement communities want grandkids to visit. Young people bring in a lively dose of excitement. Visits also foster family connections, vital to everyone’s well-being.

Many retirement communities have playgrounds and swimming pools where grandkids are welcome. Some rules may apply, however, usually specifying when grandkids can use the amenities. Grandparents are also typically requested to accompany their grandchildren in common areas.

Besides providing places to play, communities host planned events for grandchildren. Sun City Huntley, the active adult community, has a Grandma, Grandpa & Me Club. It holds weekly events over the summer.


The Villages, in Florida — reported to be the world’s largest retirement community with more than 100,000 residents — holds a summer camp for residents and their grandkids to enjoy together. Some of the 80 activities include swimming, fishing, games and crafting.

Special places, events
Westminster Place, a retirement community in Evanston, hosts a special event on Grandparents Day in September. For the last three years, it’s been a pet-a-palooza — a fun-filled day with pet parades, hot dogs, special pet tricks, raffles, and booths for animal adoption agencies and dog washers. Open to the public, last year’s event drew about 250 people.

The community plans to change it up a bit this year by holding a block party. Though the planning isn’t finalized yet, the day will feature a cook out, petting zoo, pony rides and other attractions.

“We’re a very family friendly community,” says Nancy Ichinose, director of community programs at Westminster Place. “It’s normal to have kids around, and it helps bring back a lot of good memories.”

Roy Uddman created some new memories last December when his granddaughter used a suite at the retirement community where he lives to get ready for her wedding. Uddman lives at Smith Village in the Beverly neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. The bride and bridesmaids had a guest room at Smith Village all to themselves where they had their hair and makeup done, and got dressed for the wedding, which was held at a nearby church. The wedding party also took photos at Smith Village, which was all decked out for Christmas.

“The whole staff bent over backwards to make it perfect for the girls,” says Uddman. “I could not thank them enough.”

Smith Village also holds events for grandchildren throughout the year. A family fun day in August draws about 200 to 300 people for carnival-style food, raffles, games, a petting zoo and other activities. A pet parade in July is another favorite. “Events are important for the children and the residents,” says Meghan Leonard, director of life enrichment at Smith Village. “Having children in our community brings joy and laughter to everyone’s faces.”

The Merion, a retirement community in Evanston, holds a fall festival with pumpkin painting, a bounce house and carnival games. And for the last two years, the Merion has hosted visits with Santa for the wider Evanston community after the tree-lighting ceremony downtown. Kids visiting Santa at the Merion get popcorn, hot pretzels, and hot cocoa.

Everyday life
Besides the special events, communities strive to include grandkids in everyday life. Jay Tunney lives with his wife Kelly at The Clare, a retirement high-rise community in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

The Tunney’s babysit their two young grandchildren, ages two and four, several days a week at their apartment home at The Clare.

“We have a lot of fun here,” says Jay. The couple keeps their apartment well stocked with toys for the kids, who also like to explore the building, with their grandparents, of course.

They visit the fitness center and indoor pool. “They love the elevator,” says Jay. The kids like to stroll around the ninth-floor terrace, just outside the community’s bistro which was recently expanded. “We enjoy that in the summer,” he adds. The whole family often convenes for Sunday brunch at the Grafton, the community’s fine-dining venue. “The kids are treated marvelously by the staff and other residents,” says Jay.

The other residents are perhaps the best part. They have fond memories of their own kids, and grandkids. They love to see the Tunney’s grandchildren and talk to them. The kids like it too. “They have so many aunties and uncles in the building,” says Jay.