Fort Worth Senior Living

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.

Ben Hodges - I was the nose gunner on a B-24 bomber

 
 

Born in Mississippi in the 1920s, 92-year-old Ben Hodges grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, but when he graduated high school there was really only one option to pursue ... his country had been brutally attacked months earlier at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.

Between 1941-1945, 11.5 million American men were drafted into the United States Armed Forces to answer the call to face down the greatest threat the world had ever seen. Hodges was one of those men, eventually being stationed in Italy.

"I was the nose gunner on a B-24 bomber," Hodges, now a resident of Discovery's Conservatory at Keller Town Center in Texas. "We were stationed in Italy, but we were bombing all across Europe during the war. We had some pretty tough times, but I did make it back. The pilot I went over there with didn't make it back."

For the uninitiated, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator remains to this day the most-produced American military aircraft ever. Striking from Italy, the US rained hellfire down on the Allies' enemies with .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns in addition to the aircraft's payload of 1,000-pound Azon guided bombs.

But for all of the harrowing escapes that Hodges and his fellow soldiers endured; for all the times he thought he might never get back to the ground safely, much less back to his home in Tennessee, he realized much later on what true fear was when his beloved wife began the fight of her life against cancer.

"My wife was sick for about two years before I moved down here. She had cancer and she had back problems," Hodges remembers with distinct emotional clarity. "When she passed, I lived by myself for about 1-1/2 years. I didn't like that. I can't cook and all that, and I really stopped enjoying my life."

Hodges had lived in Memphis for more than 50 years. After he got out of the service following the culmination of World War II, he had gone to college at Mississippi State University, graduated, and worked briefly for a firm that built trailers before finding a home with Memphis' municipal natural gas company.

Working with natural gas in his hometown became Hodges' career, and he and his wife raised two children - a son and a daughter - as life carried on.

With no family left in Tennessee, Hodges finally began listening to his daughter, a resident of nearby Southlake, Texas, when she initiated talks with him about moving to the Lone Star State, specifically to the Conservatory at Keller Town Center.

It was pretty much a big adjustment, you're scaling way down.  It's a lot different, but it's not bad because you have a lot of people and great food," Hodges, who is about to celebrate his one-year anniversary as a resident, says.  "There's people from just about every state in the Union, so there's lots of friends and people you can talk to, and there's always something to do."

"I love that I don't have any major bills to worry about and I always have a place to eat. I used to play golf all the time in Memphis, and I'm planning on getting back out there when the weather cools off."

At age 92, Hodges is one of the only links enthusiasts around with a legitimate chance to shoot his age on any given 18 holes.

Family and freedom have always been mainstays in Hodges' life, and he's pleased to be able to enjoy both of them while calling Keller home.

"My daughter lives about two miles from where I live and I can go see her anytime I want," Hodges says. "You can do anything you want to just like at your home, go out, even get a job if you want, although that's not something I'm currently in the market for!"

Hodges doesn't let his advancing age have the slightest effect on how he lives his life. He uses the Conservatory's robust exercise area on a near-daily basis and heads for the gaming rooms when he needs to liven things up.

"A lot of people play cards, and I play a little bit, but my game is pool. I've made a good friend here from South Dakota, and we play pool a lot. It's a great way to relax and talk to other people, get to know them and learn about their lives."

And perhaps best of all for a man who thought his life had ended the day his wife passed away, there's the feeling of home and family, with his children, and two granddaughters - both students at Texas A&M University - able to visit any time they like. 

James and Betty Mason - Three-quarters of a century later

When you’ve been married just shy of three-quarters of a century, you tend to know each other pretty well and come pretty darn close to reading each other’s minds.

So it was that James and Betty Mason knew when it was time to move away from their Dallas residence and to the Conservatory at Keller Town Center.

“Our son and daughter live in Keller and we lived in Dallas which is 55 miles away,” James Mason says. “They said they wanted us over here so they could watch over us.”

It’s never easy for an adult to be told by his or her own child that it’s time to be taken care of, but that’s what happens every day at retirement homes across the country.

Childhood sweethearts who met and were married on the east side of Dallas when James was 19 and Betty was 18, the Masons are lifetime Texans. Just how long is the stretch of time since they said their “I do’s?” It was July of 1942 when they tied the knot. Franklin Delanor Roosevelt was in the White House, Anne Frank and her family first went into hiding above her father’s office at a Amsterdam warehouse; and the Ford family welcomed a baby boy named Harrison who would grow up to play Jack Ryan, Indiana Jones, and Han Solo.

Their marriage has lasted through 14 Presidents, 19 Summer Olympics, and all 17,950 and counting episodes of “Meet the Press” - the longest-running TV show in United States history.

James went to work for Southwestern Bell and spent 40 years doing various administrative and engineering jobs.  The company is one of the only things that actually predates the Masons, dating back to the early 1880s.

Back when he was helping expand Southwestern Bell’s network across the nation, 55 miles’ distance seemed trivial, but when you’re 94 and your health isn’t what it used to be, that distance can be monumental, even more so when driving it either way means going through Dallas-Fort Worth’s never-ending rush-hour traffic.

While Keller is still part of the Metroplex, it’s tucked away north of Fort Worth and west of Dallas, avoiding the traffic nightmares of both. Like the rest of the Discovery Senior LIving facilities dotting the US, Keller offered the Masons its 90-day guarantee that if they weren’t completely satisfied, they would get their community fee refunded and not be held to the terms of their lease.

That was a perfect incentive to retirement community neophytes like the Masons, who were slow to warm up to the change.

“We’ve been here right about a year,” James says. “We’re beginning to like the place pretty well. We had to get rid of a lot things that were important to us that we didn’t have room for in the apartment, so that was tough. But we’ve met a lot of people and we’re starting to do some of the activities here, especially the exercises.”

Now one year on the other side of their transition to the Conservatory, James has some sound advice for anyone in their previous position of not knowing whether to stay in their home or make the move to a retirement community. It doesn’t take computer software or statistics, just good old common sense.

“You get a spiral notebook and drew a line right down the middle of it,” James explains. “You define the left as ‘for’ and the right as ‘against’ and you head round your house listing the pros and cons of a move. Weigh them out and then decide which one you think will benefit you the most down the road. Do what’s best for you and yours.”

Jerrel Isbell - Spoiling the Child

He might be nearly 85 years old, but Jerrell Isbell has a very specific, very important job that he’s been working on.

“I am in the process of completely spoiling my great-grandson,” he says with as close to a straight face as he can manage. “He’ll be 3 in May and I think I’ll have him completely spoiled by then; nobody can stand him but me.”

This job has a considerably better upside and a lot less stress than what Isbell did before retirement. He spent 40 years working for the Department of Public Safety as a state trooper.

Isbell was born in Hockley County, out in the Texas panhandle one square away from New Mexico. Hockley County is an area of 909 square miles with a population of 22,000 people. A bit different from his current home in Keller, where twice is many people occupy just 18 square miles.

In the 1930s, Isbell’s father was a cowboy, but his profession went extinct when President Roosevelt passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, forcing farmers to sell excess livestock, namely cows and pigs, to the government. All of the “excess” were then killed and buried, forcing Isbell’s family to move twice as his father looked for work.

Isbell graduated high school in Wolfforth, near Lubbock, and was drafted into the Army and sent to the Korean War. When he returned, he headed for Austin to join the DPS as a highway patrolman, and was assigned to El Paso.

It might have seemed like the middle of nowhere to some - located all the way out on Interstate 10, a 9-hour drive from Dallas and 10-½ hours from Houston - but it quickly became home for Isbell and his wife, who lived there for 40 years.

Being in law enforcement had its ups and downs, and plenty of crazy stories that are unfit for print in this publication. But Isbell said he kept one lesson in his pocket the whole time, and it’s one he wishes law officers today would be more aware of.

“I learned early in life that when you’re dealing with people in the public, you’ll  meet a lot of nice people and meet a lot of people who are just taking up space,” Isbell said. “We want to remember the nice ones and forget the others, otherwise you’ll adopt the attitude that it’s the world against us. That’s why we have a lot of policemen today who shouldn’t be policemen. They think it’s them against everyone else.”

In 1997, Isbell retired, and he and his wife moved to a retirement community in San Angelo. They had just celebrated 17 years there when Isbell’s wife passed on, an event he recalls with some heartbreaking humor.

“I haven’t forgiven my wife for dying on me,” Isbell says. “Every plan we made about our later years had me dying first; then she went and died first and left me with all those plans changed.”

Despite vehement protests from his daughter and granddaughter, Isbell lived alone at the community in San Angelo for another year, but when he had surgery on his carotid artery, the hospital staff wouldn’t let him go home without someone to care for him.

“I had to call my daughter from the hospital, and she said, ‘That’s it! You’re moving to the DFW metroplex!” Isbell recalls. “She said you can come down here and decide on a place or I’ll decide for you, so I thought I’d better come down and decide on a place!”

In the eight months since, Isbell has really enjoyed his new digs, with one small problem which he blames squarely on the management.

“I’m basically very happy here, but my one problem with the management is that everytime I go down to eat something, they have all of my favorite foods here and I end up making a pig of myself and having to fight against my belt buckle,” he joked.

Isbell refers to himself as someone who has tried every hobby under the sun, from stained glass to woodworking. He hasn’t let his current situation keep him from expanding his horizons.

“Now I’m into needlework,” He says. “We have a group that meets every Thursday and makes stuff that they give to nursing homes.”

He also has great access to his family.

“It was a culture shock moving to Dallas, to put it mildly, but the kids have helped a lot,” he says. “I love living here, I get to see my grandchildren 2-3 times a week, plus my great grandchild. Things are going really good."

Gerry Bortko - A Women of Adventure

Gerry Bortko knows a bit about being a stranger in a strange land. She lived in a Chicago orphanage for nine years as a child. That’s one of the reasons she opted to volunteer as an ambassador when she moved to the Conservatory at Keller Town Center some 11 years ago.

“I love meeting new people and I love telling them how good life can be here,” the 88-year-old Bortko says. “I like eating with people, I like to hear them talk and see where they are from. My proof is that I’m still living here, and I plan to be here for a long time.”

Being self-sufficient and helping others learn those skills in a new environment is one of Bortko’s calling cards. She dropped out of high school after three years to help her parents pay the mortgage on their home. Born in 1929, she grew up in one of the most economically depressed era the country has ever seen.

By age 18, she had two jobs, working in a chicken store during the day and as a dice girl at night. Preparing chickens all day long was about as glamorous as it sounds, so Bortko decided to improve her station at the operation.

“I had a friend who knew an auditor, and he taught me bookkeeping,” she says. “I became the bookkeeper for the chicken store during the day, and I became a bookkeeper all my life.”

With her personality and knack for numbers, Bortko was able to move up the food chain in Chicago, working at a hamburger and sweet shoppe as a bartender, then as the bookkeeper for a bowling alley, then for a company that made jukeboxes.

She met her husband, a career Air Force man, during that time frame at O’Hare Airfield in the years before it became an international airport. They got married and their son was born in Illinois; their daughter after a transfer to Michigan.

His next transfer was to Turkey, but with two young children, Bortko opted to stay home. A few years later, her husband retired and went to work for Kitchenaid dishwashers while Bortko stayed at home.

As they moved further into retirement, Bortko’s husband began getting ill. Her daughter lived in Keller and had noted construction of a retirement community taking place.

“I wasn’t happy moving there,” Bortko admits. “My husband at that time was already not doing too well. He was using a walker and we needed help. But my husband always made the right choices for us, and that turned out to be true once again.”

Bortko’s husband passed away just 1-½ years after they moved into the brand-new Conservatory at Keller Town Center. The couple were among the facility’s initial residents, and Bortko has been remained one of its most active.

“I love to line dance, I play all kinds of card, and I teach pinochle,” she says. “I’ve been here 10 years without my husband and I realized I didn’t like being alone. I love being around people.”