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Blazing a New Trail

October 25, 2016


John and Donna Bailey have been married for 55 years by John’s estimate. “It’s hard to keep track sometimes,” he joked. The two met in Maryland, when John was working as a commissioned officer in the United States Public Health Service. John, 27 at the time and Donna, 19, quickly hit it off, and were married only five weeks after meeting. What’s more, the pair wed while his parents were visiting from Seattle for John’s birthday. That was the motivation, besides he joked, “I like instant gratification.”

They spent most of John’s USPHS career in Maryland. After John retired from the service at age 50, he and Donna had several businesses in Southern Maryland. They owned and managed a sailboat charter fleet out of Solomons, MD and a marine assistance towing and salvage company, also on Chesapeake Bay. As if that was not enough, they built several pre-cut cedar log style homes.

Fast-forward to January of 2009. Donna was growing concerned about John being on roofs and climbing sailboat masts at age 75. She introduced the idea of moving into a senior living community, specifically, a Continuing Care Retirement Community. They sold their charter boats and towing firm and researched retirement communities.

John was born in Seattle and left when he graduated from the University of Washington as a civil engineer. “When our daughter and her family moved from Phoenix, AZ to Oregon we decided the Pacific North West should be our destination,” said John. “We would be only five hours from our daughter and close to our son and family in Sammamish. When you get older, you think about your children more often. That’s what’s important.”

Beginning their search on the internet, John and Donna had access to all the information they needed.

“I’m an engineer,” said John. “So, to narrow down our search, I did what’s called a Decision Analysis Technique.” This is an analysis system he learned in the USPHS. They did a critical analysis and selected four to visit. One of the important criteria was the type of CCRC. They preferred a Type A. Emerald Heights made it into the top four. As part of the final selection, they made a trip to visit his sister in Seattle and visited and stayed in a guest apartment at each of the four top picks.

“We were able to try the food and feel out the personality of the communities,” said John. The Bailey’s had the opportunity to have dinner with two resident couples at Emerald Heights – something that is a standard for potential residents. Once their trip was over, the Bailey’s decided that Emerald Heights was the place for them. With the 38 acre campus including the surrounding private forest with a mile long Nature Trail, the Bailey’s felt like they were moving into a forest. “When I started college, I majored in forestry prior to changing to civil engineering. I could even remember many of the scientific names of these huge trees after 54 years after the dendrology courses I struggled through” John said.

Not quite seven years ago, the Bailey’s celebrated the end of the year by making a major life move of 3000 miles; just two days ahead of Emerald Heights’ big, traditional New Year’s Eve party. Although barely settled into their apartment, they joined the rest of the community to welcome in 2010. “We didn’t stay long, though,” John explained. “We went back to our apartment to watch the ball drop in Times Square on east coast time. It’s our tradition.”

Once the Bailey’s moved in, John joined the residents Building and Grounds Committee, which originally built the Nature Trail and maintains it. John would hike the Nature Trail nearly every day. However, it had a missing segment. It was not a continuous loop that wrapped around the entire community. “After mentioning it to one of the guys on the team, he said he was more than willing to help me fix the trail,” said John.

From there, John began cutting down branches and other foliage to make way for the new path. Using Google navigation app on his smartphone, John could see an aerial view of Emerald Heights 38 acres and leave a track as he walked. From that he made the map you see below. However, once the trail was officially complete, John knew the work would not end there. “The trail is worked on every day,” said John. “We all go out there and rake leaves and replace the gravel as necessary.” For John, the trail is more than just a trail, it’s great exercise, a tranquil escape and a point of pride for he and his fellow residents.