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.

Jack Watkins - Love Bloomed Late

For California native Jack Watkins, the idea of winding up in a retirement community in Florida in his golden years seemed about as likely as buying oceanfront property in Arizona.

But that train of thought was before he met Margaret Eckenrode.

Well into his 80s, Watkins was working as a caretaker while living in a retirement community in Ventura, California, his hometown.

“Margaret had called me on the phone because she was going to be in the hospital and needed someone to take care of her dog,” Watkins recalls. “I found out she really needed a lot of help once she got out. She needed her pills put out, needed to be reminded to take her pills, needed help getting to doctor appointments, just a whole lot of different things and places to go.”

The pair spent time together and in that time they found a connection that superseded that of a caregiver and his charge.

“It was the most joyful time of my life,” he said. “We found that we really enjoyed each other and being with each other.”

Then came a wrinkle in the plan. Margaret had been living in California on a temporary basis waiting for a place to open up at Aston Gardens in Florida. And that spot had finally come open at Aston Gardens at the Courtyards.

“When she decided to move back to Florida where her family was, I packed her up and she drove back with her daughter.” Her move left Watkins with a heavy heart, so he went to visit his brother in Arizona.

“I remember him saying, ‘All you talk about is Margaret, Margaret, Margaret,’” Watkins recalls. “He said, ‘I think you feel an attachment there, what are you going to do about it?’”

Watkins followed his heart and called Margaret and asked if she would be OK with him not only moving to Florida, but into the same facility.

Spoiler alert: She said yes.

Meeting Margaret turned out to be the late-game victory Watkins had been craving without realizing it.  This Stanford-educated man had worked for years in the purchasing industry, but when his son contracted AIDS he started devoting more and more time to family. WIth fear-mongering around each corner in the disease’s early timeline, Watkins’ dedication to his son was viewed as a burden, not a blessing. Acting out of what could most accurately be called a combination of corporate fear and pure cowardice, Watkins’ bosses asked him to leave the company to care for his son, and never come back.

It was close to a year later when his son finally passed on in hospice, and Watkins found the doors back into his industry had been closed off to him.

So he went back to get more education and changed industries to lead security teams at hospitals. That worked out well until an ankle injury slowed him up and he decided it was time to retire.

That led to Ventura, Margaret, Aston Gardens, and a whole new start.

“I love everyone here,” Watkins says. “There’s an openness and a kindness with every person you meet. There are smiles and a really pleasant environment.

From taking trips to Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to busying himself with the property’s robust social schedule, there’s hardly a dull moment for Watkins.

But the ravest review of his new digs came from someone whose opinion Watkins values quite high.

“My grandson came for his birthday and had dinner with us, and as he was leaving, he said, ‘Grandpa! You’ve moved into a 5-star hotel!’ I told that that yeah, it was pretty nice. That was a pretty good description.”


Margaret Eckenrode - A Study in Colors

Margaret Eckenrode’s life has been a study in colors. She’s been painting all her life, specializing in watercolors.

The first colors she knew were the greens and yellows of corn crops and the blanketing white of snowfall on the ground in her hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.

The colors changed to blue and pink for Eckenrode as she welcomed a son and a daughter to the world.

She and her husband grew tired of life in the Midwest far sooner than most, and decided to escape the Great Plains for a slice of orange, moving to Florida in their late 30s.

“My husband and I migrated from Bloomington,” Eckenrode says. “We didn’t miss Indiana at all once we were there. Indiana had about two months of nice weather a year, and the rest of the time it was raining or snowing. I absolutely loved having the sun every day.”’

Eckenrode had eight years’ experience as a teacher in Indiana and had recently completed her Master’s degree when they moved to Florida. She had a degree in music education and had completed her graduate work in elementary education. The only problem was, Florida didn’t want to pay her for eight years of experience from another state. So after seeing red for a time, Eckenrode shifted gears to real estate in the  Bradenton area. For the next two decades, her colors were largely green and white, the latter coming from the smiles she put on people’s faces when connecting them to the perfect home.

Eckenrode and her husband moved to Bradenton in 1972 when the population was hovering around 21,000. In the next 18 years, that number would more than double to 43,000, and Eckenrode was right at the heart of the real estate game.

“When I decided to go into real estate, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into,” Eckenrode remembered. “It was so wonderful to find the right people for the right family and see those big smiles come across their faces.”

Working for 40 years as a realtor in the area, Eckenrode was well versed in the Aston Gardens properties,even more so since her sister was staying in the property at Venice.

“She raved about the food, and when I visited her I always ate the Aston Burger and just loved the green awning on the windows.”

But financially and responsibly, the smarter move for Eckenrode was to head for California, near by where her son resided. There, in a facility in Ventura she met a caretaker named Jack Watkins and things got decidedly pink as the two realized they cared for each other beyond the constraints of their professional relationship.

Three years later, Margaret’s daughter found her a place at Aston Gardens at the Courtyard.

“After the time with my son, my daughter found this one,” she remembers. We always loved Aston Gardens because of the one my sister was in. My daughter called me and said, ‘Come home, Mom.’”

She did just that, and it wasn’t more than a month later that Watkins decided to join her.

Eckenrode has done plenty since, including bringing her passion for watercolors front and center to the new establishment.

“I absolutely love it here. I tell people, if you’re bored, it’s your own fault!” she says with a laugh. “I took lessons from the president of the watercolors society in California and had a group I taught there for three years. When I moved here, I talked to the management team about it and I’ve got eight in my class.”

All those new painters make a whole new spectrum of colors for Eckenrode to enjoy. And that’s what makes her the happiest.