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.

Suzanne Svartz - If you know the story of Anne Frank, that’s the life we knew

 

When she was a little girl, Suzanne Svartz learned firsthand what it meant to have a place where you felt safe and people who cared about you.

Born in Belgium, Suzanne was just three years old on May 10, 1940, when Germany attacked her country. The fighting lasted only 18 days. Belgium surrendered, and the Nazis were in charge for the next 4-1/2 years.

But Suzanne and her family weren’t just Belgian, they were also Jewish, and by 1942, the Nazis had begun sending Belgian Jews to the camps, the ones that no one ever came back from.

“I was one of the lucky ones, I didn’t go to the camps,” Svartz, now 78 and a two-year resident of The Conservatory at North Austin in Austin, TX, says. “If you know the story of Anne Frank, that’s the life we knew. We had to live in attics for 26 months. We had very good people who helped us and gave us false names and false papers.” As a holocaust survivor, Suzanne owes her freedom in part to a remarkable group of nuns that assisted her and her family during this difficult time.

Svartz went to a Catholic school by day and her family stayed in the attics of friends by night, frequently moving lest they put anyone else in more danger than was absolutely necessary. The family kept its apartment in Belgium throughout the war, and their landlady would escort Nazi soldiers into its empty attic when they came looking for the missing Jewish family.

Every day before she left for school, her parents and the people they were staying with would quiz Svartz on what her false name was, what her parents’ false names were, and what their invented occupations were. Her parents, like all Belgian adults, were routinely stopped in the streets, and always had to present papers and answer a litany of questions about who they were.

By the time the Nazis were defeated and Belgium liberated, the Germans had murdered or executed nearly 41,000 Belgians, more than half of them Jews.

Fast-forward nearly 70 years, and Svartz again found herself in a situation where she was craving the feeling of a safe place to call home and people to help her get through a difficult time.

In 2013, Svartz’s husband of 53 years passed away, leaving her alone in their home in New Jersey. Svartz’s son, an Austin resident, asked his mother to come live closer to he and his family.

“I had visited my son for about a week in Texas after he moved from California,” Svartz says. “He lives about 10 minutes away and I see him about once a week, but I know there’s somebody there to count on. He does everything he can for me.”

Proximity to family and things to do is one of the biggest draws about living at The Conservatory at North Austin. Centrally located in the Lone Star State, it’s just 7 miles from Round Rock, 21 miles from Austin, and an hour from New Braunfels and 1-1/2 hours from San Antonio.

Svartz is open about the sadness she feels daily for the loss of her husband. She came to America in the late 1950s for a vacation, and wound up staying for the rest of her life because of him.

“I came to the US when I was 20 years old. I was a young girl and wanted to have an adventure,” she recalls. “My mother had two sisters here, so I was going to stay with them, then go back to Belgium after two years. I was out with friends at a restaurant and they introduced me to my husband. We got married and lived in Brooklyn until our kids were born, then we moved to New Jersey.”

Svartz now has four grandchildren to dote on, and a new crop of friends to spend time with enjoying the Conservatory’s numerous activities and recreational events.

“I miss my husband, it’s hard having nobody here when I come home, but most of the people here are in the same boat,” Svartz says. “I like going to dinner with my friends here, and the Conservatory schedules games and events, and there’s always something going on. We have concerts, we play games, and just yesterday, we had Discover History, which comes once a month with a professor who give talks.”

History is one of Svartz’s favorite subjects. Not surprising, considering how much of it she’s lived.

 

Don & Linda Joy - Flying in combat

For a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force, there aren’t many things more exciting than learning that you’re taking a new aircraft into a combat zone to help turn the tide back in your country’s favor.

That’s what Don Joy learned when he trained on the F-105 Thunderbird at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas.

“I flew the F-105 in Vietnam for one year. I flew 133 combat missions dropping bombs and shooting missiles,” Joy says. “The last portion was in the airborne command control center, we called it the Navy Triple C.”

For a wife and mother, there aren’t many thing less exciting than hearing that your husband is taking a new aircraft into a combat zone.

“We had three children when he left for Vietnam,” wife Linda Joy says. “A six-year-old, a four-year-old, and a four-month old. It wasn’t easy, let’s put it that way.”

Life wasn’t always easy for the Joys, as the United States Air Force bounced them from place to place. Born at opposite ends of Kansas, the pair met at Kansas State University. Don was two years older and got a math degree. He graduated, was commissioned into the Air Force, and the couple married all in the span of a week.

The two were relocated to Williams Air Force Base in Arizona, then to McConnell in Kansas. After Vietnam, the world’s political scene kept changing and the Joys were part of that change, with Don assigned overseas in Germany, spending two years in Wiesbaden and another two in Kaiserslautern. They returned to the US and got their first taste of life in Texas with a four-year stint at Bergstrom Air Force base in Austin.

By the time they were back in Germany, the kids were all school-aged, making for an interesting situation.

“We were stationed with a British garrison in Germany near Dusseldorf,” Linda remembers. “The two oldest kids had to go to Accent, an international school located in Holland while our youngest was in a British school. It was a very interesting four years; we were there on a NATO assignment.”

By marrying Don the week he graduated, Linda was unable to use her incomplete business degree. When they came back to the US for good, she went back to school to learn Human Services, took a couple of internships, and went into the workforce the same year Don retired from the Air Force. His last station was in Austin, and the Joys decided to put down roots.

“We stayed in the same home in Austin for 18 years, and decided it was time to build our dream home,” Linda Joy remembers. “We moved to LBJ Lake and built our home and lived for 14 years. After all of our grandchildren had grown up on the lake, we decided it was time to let go of some of that work. We sold our home furnished and moved here.”

The best part of the Joys’ moving story is that they weren’t even considering the Conservatory at North Austin even though they had a family member working there.

“We were looking for a smaller house, not a retirement center,” Linda Joy recalls. “Our daughter was working as the events director here and she said, ‘Do you want to see where I work? Maybe take a tour?’ and so we came up here and looked around and looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my, maybe we could try this.’”

With the option to try living for at the Conservatory for three months before putting down money for a full year, the Joys gave it a shot. That was in 2013, and they’ve been living there ever since.

With Don just 76 and Linda 74, they are on the younger side of the age spectrum at the Conservatory, and they act that way.

“We both sing in the chorus, we both play pickleball, and Don is our famous Bingo caller,” Linda Joy says. “I do a lot of exercise classes and yoga, and Don does a lot of walking and lifting weights and general types of exercise.”

Clay Wilkins (and wife, Marion) - I flew 131 missions over Vietnam and every single one of them was at night

Don’t be surprised if you catch Clay Wilkins enjoying the sunshine most days outside or around the Conservatory at North Austin in Austin; he’s had enough darkness to last a lifetime.

A native of Colorado City out in West Texas, Wilkins had it in his mind to be a pilot from the time he was about 10 years old. He joined the Air Force in 1950 and went into pilot training, and before you knew it he was in Vietnam.

“I flew 131 missions over Vietnam and every single one of them was at night,” the 85-year-old says. “I was flying an F-4 at the time and it was absolutely black, no lights on the ground. We were a nighttime interdiction and harassment squadron. It was a hell of a flying experience.”

Wilkins’ jet was officially known as the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II that topped out at a speed of Mach 2.2 and could carry 18,000 pounds of air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and bombs.

Dropping bombs in a pitch-black nighttime of a foreign country was a long way from the ranch life Wilkins had known in his youth. He wound up testing and flying fighter craft for 20 years and when he returned stateside it was with high honors as a member of a special squadron that supported the President, his cabinet, and members of Congress.

“Lyndon Johnson was president then, but I never flew him, and I was thankful I didn’t have to, there were stories about him that made me not want to know him that well.,” Wilkins said.

Apparently Johnson had a knack for insisting people enter the bathroom with him when he went to relieve himself, so as to not interrupt the flow of the conversation.

Wilkins did love his time in the air with other politicians, however.

“I flew with members of the cabinet and members of Congress, and it was a wonderful experience,” he said. “These were light jet transports, not those big numbers, just 10-12 seats. It was a delightful time for me.”

After flying for so many years, Wilkins began passing on his knowledge to others while working for the Texas State Technical College in Waco.

“We set up a pilot education program; a four-year program where when these guys got out they had a commercial license and several hundred hours in the cockpit. Every single one of them had a job waiting for them when they got through with our school.”

While it might seem like Wilkins was hardly ever on the ground during his early years, he did step out of the cockpit enough to marry his wife Marion, 83, and have a pair of children. His daughter caught the flying bug from her father and ended up moving to Alaska as an air traffic controller, and married a retired naval officer.

When Clay and Marion retired, they initially moved to a different retirement community, but a disturbing trend had them looking elsewhere in a hurry.

“We lived at a place just up the road, but every year they were going up in price 3-5% on the rent,” Wilkins said. “Our retirement fund couldn’t handle that on annual basis, so we found this place and we’re very happy with it.”

Moises “Moy” Carrasco - Feeding all

When Moises “Moy” Carrasco made a decision on the place to spend his golden years, he went with his gut...literally.

“Oh, I was very careful and meticulous about making sure I spent my last years at a nice place,” he said. “I went to 15 different places and I ate meals at every one of them to decide.”

The best turned out to be at the The Conservatory at North Austin, about an hour from where he was born and raised.

Food has been a big part of Carrasco’s life, his family owned a restaurant in San Antonio. “I was expected to get into the family business but I didn’t really want to at the time,” he said.

It was a controversial decision to say the least. By the time Carrasco had graduated high school, San Antonio’s population had grown 132% in 20 years. It would grown another 34% in the next 20 years.

Instead, he went to a number of different universities to study the craft of food and restaurant management and got into food services and then learned how to sell equipment to restaurants and hotels; that being the only part of the business he didn’t have a mastery of.

“I had fed university students in Menlo Park, California, in New Orleans, and in Wisconsin, and then I came back to Texas,” Carrasco recalls. “I ended up working for El Chico and set up a franchise program there, and opened up 35 new units.”

He was so successful that a company in Dallas had him do the same thing for its restaurant chain. That caught the eye of a far bigger boss, President Richard Nixon.

When he wasn’t making secret recordings or updating his list of enemies, Nixon passed a White House executive order to help people get into the franchise business, specifically women and minorities, two groups that had traditionally struggled to become business owners. Now Carrasco was working as a mentor and creating programs to get people into the franchise model.

“I spent 15 years working for the Department of Commerce, and then I changed careers again to the only other thing that the Department of Commerce is in charge of - the Census Bureau,” Carrasco said. “Once I got in, I realized it was a franchise operation, too; the largest in the country! I went to Seattle as a regional director and then to Los Angeles my last five years. My last year was 2002 and I was i charge of 89,000 temporary workers.”

Carrasco flew all over the country for his government job, but when the events of September 11, 2001, occurred, his wife told him that the time was right to step away from the work.

The pair spent more than a decade living privately in retirement before making the decision to move to a retirement community. His wife’s condition deteriorated rapidly, but Carrasco has found plenty of silver linings since then.

“My wife passed away last year. I was going to bring her here because she was not in good shape, but instead I ended up in a bachelor apartment,” he says. “But it’s close to where I have to go for dialysis, maybe three miles away, and better I have high school friends from San Antonio (Class of 1960) who I’ve reconnected with. We still get together, it’s like coming back home.”