Stillwater cohousing community allows older residents control, support in their lives

The Oakcreek cohousing community in Stillwater is the first of its kind in Oklahoma. For retirees 55 years and older, Oakcreek focuses on community sharing and activity to improve daily life.
by Adam Kemp Published: September 15, 2013

“You meet, sit around and chat, watch the OSU games, have movie night. It's almost like being back in your freshman year of college.”

While she wasn't able to find a solution for her dad, Darlington said she is happy to have such a place for her golden years.

“Trying to be by yourself in a great big house just doesn't work, it's too isolating,” Darlington said. “I had a nice house, great yard but every year I was hiring out more stuff because I couldn't take care of it.

“My house owned me.”

Her house, complete with garden, pool and deck, was once something Darlington considered her “Heaven.”

But after downsizing, or “right sizing,” as the Oakcreek residents call it, to a 1,200-square-foot home in Stillwater, Darlington feels like she has all the space she needs.

“It was such a relief to leave it,” she said. “There was not one minute that I have regretted not being there. You think, ‘Oh the kids are going to want this and that,' but when the time came, nobody wanted any of it. When the time came they were happy to take it to Goodwill.”

Making the switch

Janet Flynn and her husband, Robert, both in their 60s, are moving to Oakcreek from their downtown Tulsa loft.

Flynn said that sometimes when she wakes up and sees the beautiful views from her 15th{+-}floor balcony, she can hardly imagine living anywhere else. But she feels like it's the right time to make a switch.

“We've been happy here, but we knew that if we didn't follow our hearts to go to the cohousing in Stillwater then we would be unhappy, even in a beautiful place like this,” she said. “We were not ready for a place that had the health care or 24-hour nursing, we still want to live an active lifestyle.”

On Labor Day, the Flynns had their first dinner at Oakcreek. Janet Flynn was struck by the fascinating conversation everyone had and all the great life experiences most shared.

She says she felt very welcomed and is eagerly waiting to move in now.

“Many are current or former OSU faculty members and are well-traveled and caring people,” she said. “This will be a big, big change, but I've learned that mind must serve the heart. I know that there will be challenges, but I know we are ready. We will grow in ways that we wouldn't if we stayed here.”

The youngest person at Oakcreek is 60 and the oldest is 87. Stewart said the community works together to make sure those with health needs are met.

Each resident has a care partner with whom they share medical history. It's up to the care partner to relay relevant information back to the group so they can fulfill the needs of that person.

Dorothy Putnam, 87, is known around Oakcreek for being able to make the best pecan bars around.

Putnam is experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, which has her friends in the community reacting.

“We take turns going on walks with her and taking her swimming and really just talking with her,” she said. “She moved from a 40-acre ranch down around Wellston and didn't know a soul here before she got here, but she just purrs. She loves it here.”

The community goes through care meetings every month or so to discuss how they can better care for each other. They've learned CPR training and how to care for someone with Alzheimer's.

Stewart and Darlington both said the next topic they'll need to broach is dealing with death.

“We haven't lost anyone since we've been out here,” Stewart said. “But one of these days I know we will find someone, and then what do we do? It's going to be like a very big family going through it together. We will all grieve, but we will have each other to carry the grief load.”

Darlington said she hopes to live the rest of her days at Oakcreek.

“I hope this is the place I die,” she said. “From the beginning I've said that I want you to carry me out of here feet first.

“I'll hire someone down the road for my personal care when things get bad, but until then I know my neighbors will be here for me.”

by Adam Kemp
Enterprise Reporter
Adam Kemp is an enterprise reporter and videographer for the Oklahoman and Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State...
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