Home Profile: Breathing life into senior living

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Mark Raabe in the den of his Goodwin House apartment. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)
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By Missy Schrott | [email protected]

In a bright one-bedroom apartment with an open floorplan on the upper levels of Goodwin House, Mark Raabe exemplifies that moving to a senior living facility doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style and personal touch.

Raabe moved into Goodwin House on June 6 this year after spending 42 years in Beverley Hills and, before that, 15 years in Parkfairfax. Raabe decided to move out of the three-bedroom Beverley Hills home when Jean, his wife of 61 years, died of lung cancer in early 2017.

Mark Raabe’s living room in Goodwin House. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Choosing Goodwin House as his next home wasn’t a hard decision for Raabe; Goodwin House had been Jean’s in-home hospice care provider, and Raabe already knew former neighbors who had moved to the senior living facility.

“I had no real interest [in] looking anywhere else,” Raabe said. “When I came over here on open house days when prospective residents could look, it seemed like a place that would be a nice place to live.”

Raabe joined the Goodwin House waiting list in March 2017. Two years later, a new floor plan the facility was offering fit his criteria.

The view from the front door of Raabe’s apartment. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

“When I came here, I was looking for something like a two-bedroom and a den, probably, and I was on the list for quite a while and it didn’t materialize,” Raabe said. “So eventually they showed me this, which is a one bedroom. It had been a two-bedroom with two full baths, and it changed into a one-bedroom, one-and-a-half baths. … When I came into this one, I just really had a good feel for it.”

Raabe’s apartment features an open layout with spacious rooms. The front door opens to a small entry area, which leads straight back to an open dining area and screened-in balcony.

To the right of the entry is a den with couches and a large entertainment center, which bleeds into the main living room with another seating area. Directly across from the living room, past the screened-in balcony, is a contained, yet open, kitchen space with a breakfast nook.

To the left of the entry is a hallway, lined with storage, that leads past the half bath to the bedroom and full bathroom.

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“You can go from one end to the other pretty quickly, but it doesn’t feel small to me because it feels open,” Raabe said. “There’s great sight lines in a small space … and there’s a lot of light. I think the quality of the work in here is just really good.”

The apartment features an open kitchen with a breakfast nook. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Raabe filled the apartment with furniture, art and memories from his old home. Some pieces are sentimental, while others are more practical.

“It was really important for me to get my table in because I think the best of times occur around a table,” Raabe said. “… I wanted to bring that huge oak coffee table which came out of a place out in Blue Ridge just because you can’t damage it and it’s great to have to work on.”

The tasteful setup wasn’t possible, however, without a lot of work. Moving from a three-bedroom house filled with 42 years’ worth of stuff to a one-bedroom apartment took a lot of downsizing.

The spacious bedroom has views of the Washington Cathedral. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

“The downsizing process, I cannot adequately describe because while I was married to the absolute most wonderful person in the world for 61 years … she was hesitant to throw things away,” Raabe said with a fond smile. “She ordered every magazine that was possible. We had like 40 years of Gourmet magazine in the basement and 25 years of Bon Appétit in boxes. She had 27 boxes, different sizes, in the storage room in the basement with fabric.”

Raabe’s mantra while moving was to give away as much as possible, rather than trying to sell things. He gave the boxes of fabric to a relative in Maryland who makes quilts for nonprofits. He donated books to an Alexandria Library book sale. He gave the grand piano to the new buyer of his home.

Once Raabe had decluttered on his own and with the help of his three nieces, he decided to use TAD Relocation, an organization that works closely with Goodwin House to help seniors with downsizing and relocation.

“They get the layout of the apartment you’re going to, they come in your house and go through the things. You tell them what you’re going to take and then they figure out if it’s going to fit, and then you can also hire them to pack and to unpack,” Raabe said.

A leather-bound pig Mark and Jean Raabe bought at a shop in Old Town. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Despite having to downsize, Raabe was able to bring most of his favorite pieces to the new apartment, including various rugs, couches and a foot-stool-sized decorative pig.

“There was a shop in Old Town. … We bought [the pig] there years ago,” Raabe said. “We have some stories about it. It was just important. So when I said that to them, to the movers, my gosh, I think they wrapped it in bubble wrap.”

Raabe recreated certain bits of home in the new space, from photo arrangements to furniture clusters.

“There’s a little round table out in the kitchen area that kind of was like [it was at] the house,” Raabe said. “In the house, it looked at the backyard, here I look out, and I can see trees, but more importantly, I can see the Washington Cathedral.”

“It was really important for
me to get my table in because I think the best of times occur around a table.” – Mark Raabe.

Artwork and trinkets throughout Raabe’s new home represent souvenirs from his travels with Jean and mementos of their philanthropic lives. Hesitant to boast about his good deeds, Raabe only shared details when asked about various posters and trophies throughout his home.

There are several large posters for string quartet performances that are adorned with the National Institutes of Health’s logo. As it turns out, Raabe helped establish the NIH’s Children’s Inn, a residential facility that allows families with seriously ill children participating in research at the NIH to stay for free. Raabe is a longtime member of the Children’s Inn’s board of trustees.

In addition, Raabe organized a concert series at the Inn with eight free concerts a year performed by a string quartet from the National Symphony Orchestra. A longtime employee of pharmaceutical company Merck, Raabe funded the concerts through Merck for 22 years.

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Also scattered throughout the apartments are posters and photos of birds, mostly eastern bluebirds. Only when prompted, Raabe shared another altruistic tale.

A wooden sculpture of an eastern bluebird. An avid bird lover, Mark Raabe has bird artwork throughout his apartment. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

In the early ‘70s, Mark and Jean bought a weekend cabin on the outskirts of Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland.

“In February 1973, … we were refinishing furniture and my wife looked out the window and she said, ‘Mark, there’s a bluebird,” Raabe said.

The couple soon learned that the eastern bluebird they spotted was rare, part of a population that was down by 90 percent and declining at that point.

“I started making phone calls and found a guy who was aware of the problem and trying to figure out how to save the species at that point,” Raabe said. “So I found this guy and he said, ‘Build a box. Put it out in an open area.’”

Raabe got permission from the National Park Service to put nesting boxes on Antietam Battlefield. After 37 years, Raabe and his wife had placed 100 boxes and fledged more than 10,000 eastern bluebirds.

“You can only tell that story because I was prompted about all the bird pictures,” Raabe said.

Raabe’s collection of stones and souvenirs from his travels above the arctic circle. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Throughout the house, Raabe has other relics from the Antietam cabin and his travels, including a hummingbird nest, stones from above the arctic circle and a 10-pounder shell likely from the Civil War.

“[The shell] was found by my neighbor who had gotten a new metal detector and it was live. It was buried a foot deep in a bank and it hadn’t gone off, so I paid a guy $50 to drill it out and deactivate it,” Raabe said.

Beyond just his apartment, Raabe has been able to bring his personal touch to the rest of Goodwin House.

Raabe has a 25-by-40-foot garden plot in Antietam where Jean used to grow vegetables. When Jean died, Raabe decided to fill the entire garden with zinnias, one of her favorite flowers, as a tribute.

In the three summers since he started planting the zinnias, Raabe has harvested and brought them back to his church in Alexandria. This past summer, he brought a car full of zinnias to Goodwin House.

Jean’s memorial zinnia garden. (Courtesy Photo)

“I looked it up and there are three [Goodwin House] flower committees, and each one’s got about 10 people on them, and so they loved getting the zinnias,” Raabe said. “There was a period there where my zinnias were all over Goodwin House, which was really nice. … I do it kind of in memory of my wife.”

Besides flower committees, Goodwin House offers a variety of services and events for its residents.

“There really are many wonderful programs,” Raabe said. “There was an interesting book review this past week that I went to and … I’ve been going to yoga. I never went to yoga before in my life.”

Raabe said he’s been enjoying being a new part of the Goodwin House community, while still remaining a part of the greater Alexandria community where he’s spent most of his life.

The den of Mark Raabe’s apartment. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

“For almost 60 years of living in Alexandria, I’ve lived in the same area,” Raabe said. “I still go to the same bank in Del Ray. I know people there. I go to the same grocery store. I go to the same laundry.”

While some may be hesitant to leave their house of 42 years, Raabe said his move to senior living has enhanced his quality of life.

“I find that even in my limited time [at Goodwin House], people do care about one another and others,” Raabe said. “They do outreach and people do things beyond here that bring their past lives into here. They continue living.”

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