Even in retirement, the show must go on

Television: Residents of the state's largest retirement communities credit closed-circuit cable stations with fostering a sense of connection.

February 08, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Imagine a television station that can bring you the latest community news, from books in the library to information about neighbors who are ill, and not have to worry about ratings or advertisers.

That's the kind of coverage residents at Maryland's two largest retirement communities -- Oak Crest Village in Parkville and Charlestown in Catonsville -- have at the touch of their remote controls.

Each community has its own closed-circuit station, Channel 6, staffed in part by residents. The stations offer daily news, talk shows featuring local guests, exercise tips, vintage movies, community theater and trivia quizzes that test the memories of residents.

Over the years, the residents have found the intimacy of the shows to be the glue keeping them connected as a community. Staff members estimate viewership at 80 percent in the two self-contained communities, which are home to 5,000 and include private apartments, assisted living and nursing care centers.

"I've been here nine years, and the beginnings of the TV station were rudimentary," said Faith Logan, a retired high school English teacher living at Charlestown.

As the station has developed, she said, it has become "the lifeline to all residents here. People stop you in the hall to say they've seen you on TV. It makes you feel like a celebrity," said Logan.

She appeared recently on Charlestown's morning talk show, "Charlestown Today," her gray hair perfectly coiffed. In a smart red blazer, she promoted the poetry club's next meeting, reminisced about her mother's reciting verse while ironing, and read love poems for Valentine's Day.

The station also is a crucial link for residents concerned about the health of aging neighbors.

"This is how we find out about friends in the care center, who is in the hospital," said Hallie Hjelmervik, a retired school administrator living at Charlestown.

The information, she said, "is vital. This is one of the things people look for. That and the menus."

Residents who have lived at Charlestown and Oak Crest for years have settled into the routine of watching their half-hour morning talk show, and those who appear as guests have learned to feel comfortable on the air.

Like Faith Logan, Charlestown's library chairman John Hawkins is a natural in front of the camera.

Casually answering questions from staff member Chip Hickey during a recent show, Hawkins reported that the library had expanded, and touted its "stupendous collection of large-print books."

At Oak Crest, residents test their memories on "Mind Over Matter." A question from a recent show asked viewers to name Nick and Nora Charles' dog in the "Thin Man" movies. (The answer: Asta.)

"I'd never work for a real television station," station manager Brent Hoffman said while working with two residents in their 80s who operate cameras at the Oak Crest station. "This is educational, informative and creative. And it doesn't need ratings."

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