Linthicum house is seniors' group home

September 22, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

The white Dutch colonial high on a hill in Linthicum is a mere 70 years old. Its inhabitants have been around much longer.

They are Joe Anthoney, a former professional football player who is 78, and Nannie DuVall who is 90. Helen DuVall, no relation, can't quite recall her age but says, "it's way up there." George M. Wentz is 92. He does the gardening.

When Mr. Wentz moved to a nursing home six years ago, his health began to deteriorate. His grandson, also named George, began looking for a group home, but couldn't find one in Anne Arundel County. And what he found elsewhere wasn't suitable.

So he created one himself from the old house on Chestnut Road.

"I wasn't looking to go into this business," said Mr. Wentz, a former attorney with the Federal Trade Commission. "I was looking for a place for Grandpa."

In 1987, when he heard of a new county zoning ordinance allowing group homes in residential areas, the Severna Park native began looking to buy a large house.

As luck would have it, he stumbled onto the home on Chestnut Road where the former owner had built an addition in the 1960s that included a large living room and master bedroom on the first floor and bedrooms for each of his six children on the second.

Mr. Wentz remodeled the attic into living quarters for himself and his wife, Rebecca. He divided one of the bedrooms, made it through a lengthy approval process and started Manor Care Systems Inc.

Now, if not for the stairway chairlift and the occasional walker, Chestnut Manor, Anne Arundel County's first senior citizen group home, might be mistaken for an historic inn.

It has a black-and-white tiled foyer, a well-stocked library, a formal dining room with a long table and crystal chandelier, a fireplace in the living room, moldings and a collection of wing chairs.

Mr. Wentz is planning two more group homes, Colonial Manor in Annapolis and Severn Manor in Arnold. He is negotiating to buy the Arnold home.

Group homes have become an increasingly popular option for frail seniors who need assistance but not permanent medical care. There are now 115 licensed group homes in Maryland, including 14 in Anne Arundel County.

Jean Kraus, 89, has lived at Chestnut Manor for eight months.

"It's like your own home," she said. "You can do what you want. The people are so congenial and everyone tries to help one another. I really dreaded going to a nursing home because I was able to get around and take care of my needs. I don't need constant medical treatment."

On a typical day, residents meet for breakfast in the dining room at 8:30. Some return to their private rooms, where most have an easy chair and a TV. After lunch, some take walks, play cards or garden. Planned activities include bingo three times a week, a trip to the hair dresser every Friday and occasional church choir concerts.

Room and board, personal care, cleaning and laundry services cost $1,850 a month. The home offers no medical care, so families are responsible for scheduling doctors' appointments and arranging transportation.

One day last week, eight of the nine residents gathered around the dining room table for lunch. The younger Mr. Wentz sat at one end, his grandfather at the other.

As they ate bean soup and sandwiches, the younger Mr. Wentz joked with one resident: "Helen is the first person I've ever seen who eats jelly on liverwurst." Then he gently coaxed another to eat her lunch: "Nannie, what are you going to eat? You have to eat something."

The talk turned from the home's upcoming family crab feast, to Cal Ripken's $30 million contract to the Redskin's Mark Rypien to the younger Mr. Wentz's dog, who was at the vet getting shaved.

"Are you ready for your dessert, Miss Helen? Peaches, pears or ice cream?" asked Leona Weisberg, a nursing assistant, who with staff member Joanna McIntyre handles cooking, cleaning, and the residents' personal care.

Such homes are a welcome alternative for seniors, who often end up in nursing homes by default though they still are fairly healthy and able, Ms. Weisberg said. The group home can take only ambulatory, mentally alert people.

"They have their own rooms and their own privacy," Ms. Weisberg said. "They all seem so contented. It's a homey atmosphere."

The elder Mr. Wentz, known at the home as Grandpa, said he moved into Chestnut Manor because he knew his grandson could use some help. He rakes the lawn and tends to the vegetable garden.

"This is a group of lovely, older people," he said. "We get along well and make room for each other in every direction."

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