Resident Stories

We are blessed to be caring for and supporting the greatest generation of American pioneers and heroes. Please enjoy the resident stories we have below and then reach out to us to schedule a personal tour of our award-winning community.

Dick Schindler - The Five-Minute Rule

Dick Schindler lived and worked around the world before settling in at Aston Gardens at Sun City Center, but he’s got one hard and fast rule that he lives by in retirement: The 5-Minute Rule.

“No one is allowed to discuss any body part for more than five minutes,” Schindler explains with his wry sense of humor. “A lot of what makes this place so good is that if you’re social, you’ll run into people with interesting backgrounds. They can talk about things other than their age and their ailments. That’s where the 5-Minute Rule was born.”

Schindler himself was born in Buffalo, New York, but never stayed put in one place for too long, moving on to Chicago, New York City, Phoenix, Jamaica, and then six years in Siberia.

Yep, Siberia.

What took him on such a strange,winding trip? Food, and his passion for connecting people with quality, low-priced offerings through the building of supermarkets. He spent a considerable chunk of time as president of Gristedes Supermarkets in New York City; if you have ever lived on the East Side of Manhattan, chances are you’ve been in one of his former stores a time or two.

By the late 1980s, Schindler and his wife bought a penthouse condominium in Clearwater, Florida. “We had golf on one side and the bay on the other, and was I ever bored,” he recalled. As fate would have it, the grocery business wasn’t done with him yet.

“I was approached by a couple of business people asking if I could go to Russia and improve the food system,” Schindler says. “There was a joint venture put forward by the Russian and US governments, who both put up a lot of money. I stayed in Russia from 1989 to 1996.”

In other words, Schindler was in the country for some of its most defining moments of the last century - the introduction of perestroika and glasnost by Mikhail Gorbachev, followed by the dissolution of the USSR.

He didn’t head to Moscow to start the supermarket, but rather the naval port of Vladivostok. Home to the Russians’ Pacific Fleet, it was closed to all foreigners during the reign of the Soviet Union, making Schindler one of the first Americans that many in the city had ever seen in real life. Plus the frigid conditions - the average high temperature in January is 17 degrees, made it clear to Schindler that he wasn’t in Florida any more.

After six years in Russia showing its residents that they didn’t have to go to one store for vegetables, another for fish, and a third for eggs, Schindler returned to Clearwater, while his older brother moved to Sun City Center, living in a private home. The two talked frequently, and when Schindler’s wife passed away last spring, his brother suggested it was time for another move.

“I didn’t want to be in Clearwater any more, it was very emotional,” Schindler recalls. “In October of 2016, a unit became available and I took the furniture I wanted, and told the Salvation Army to come pick up everything else.”

Schindler, who will turn 89 in April 2017, admits the transition was difficult at first, but the ability to connect with others has been one of his favorite things about his new residence.

“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve run into a number of people here who have interesting backgrounds and have been all around the world,” he says. “I met a lady who spent the last 20 years living on a boat; another resident is an ex-college professor, and a lady my age was a pilot for 20 years and flew in the Powder Puff Derby (a transcontinental race for female pilots) during the 1950s. We get together for breakfast and dinner and never run out of things to talk about.”

Not only is Schindler surrounded by friends at Aston Gardens, but by his family as well. His older brother has lived in Sun City Center for years, and his sister and her husband moved to Aston Gardens in January of 2017. His younger brother is currently on the waiting list for the property.

“To have three of my siblings all in one place after all this time is truly remarkable,” Schindler says. “I never would have dreamed it would be this good at this age.”

 

Sandy Gautreau - Don't Mess With a Prison Guard

When Sandy Gautreau meets someone new and wants to get their attention, she’ll start off a story with the off-putting phrase, “When I was in prison …”

“It startles the crap out of them,” the 66-year-old resident of Aston Gardens at Sun City Center says with a cackle. The joke’s on them, you see. Gautreau worked in the New Jersey Department of Corrections before retiring to Florida five years ago.

Originally from Massachusetts, Gautreau moved to New Jersey with her husband, who retired from the Air Force and got a job with the Department of Corrections.

“He was always telling me that I would enjoy it and I should take the test to see if I  qualified,” Gautreau recalls. “Once I was there, I kind of liked it, enough to stay for 20 years.”

The New Jersey Department of Corrections houses nearly 19,000 inmates on a daily basis, and Gautreau’s career there really took off when she was promoted to the role of Corrections Sergeant - which placed her in charge of inmate safety and security, as well as running of programs designed to give inmates positive uses of their time.

“I had taken a lot of psychology courses in college and it seemed to fit, especially when I became a sergeant,” she says. “There were a lot of mentally disturbed people in there that I felt I had the tools to help in some ways. The job definitely had its moments.”

Gautreau had to retire earlier than she had hoped from the Department of Corrections when she developed adult onset Muscular Dystrophy. Having been divorced for some time, she found caring for herself suddenly a struggle and the bitter New Jersey winters not helping out either.

“When you’re my age, there aren’t a lot of options about where you can go to get help. The management from Aston Gardens called me and said they had a spot for me.”

So Gautreau packed her bags and her cat and took the 1,200-mile drive from New Jersey to Sun City (Sophie the Cat meowed anxiously the entire trip, Gautreau reports), and found it a remarkably happier, less painful way of living.

“It’s been much easier because I was coming from a place where there were no resources; it was cold and snowy there all the time, while here it’s nothing but sunshine and no curbs on the streets.”

An apartment dweller for most of her life, Gautreau had no trouble transitioning to her new living quarters.

“It’s just me and Sophie, so I chose one of the smallest apartments they had,” she says. “I did get a full kitchen though because I’ve rediscovered a love of cooking since I got here.”

That was five years ago, and now at age 66, Gautreau is still one of the youngest residents at Aston Gardens. But neither those five years nor the power chair she now uses to get around in have slowed her down in the least.

“I love to take trips,” she says. “When I got here I wasn’t very familiar with this section of Florida, but now it’s like taking a lot of little vacations. We go to all sorts of art museums, restaurants, all sorts of places.”

Being one of the younger residents hasn’t kept Gatreau from making friends on both sides of the age spectrum, either.

“When I want to hang out with the younger crowd, I attend church services,” she says. “We have buses with lifts on them for my chair, and they take me to services, and wherever else I need to go.”

When she’s more interested in hanging out with her fellow residents, Gautreau says the number of activities and companions is nearly limitless.

“I’ve found that age is a very relative thing,” she says. “One of my best friends is almost 95 years old, and she is the most lively person I know. We go out to dinner on Thursdays, we go to the movies, and if you don’t want to leave the area, there’s Bunco, and Bingo, and card games every night.”

With a friendly staff always able to assist, Gautreau spends a lot less time worrying about her physical condition, and a lot more time having fun with her friends.

“I swim, I exercise, I could really just go on and on about all the fun things I get to do here,” she says.

Isn’t that what retirement should be all about?