By Emily Williams
When Betty Kesmodel joined Independent Presbyterian Church’s first board for what would become Kirkwood by the River in 1976, she pictured herself one day moving in. Her husband wasn’t as sure.
“When I joined the board, I always thought I would be moving in one day,” she said. That day came in 2010.
Kesmodel, a former Mountain Brook resident, has been a member of Independent Presbyterian Church since 1947. Her late husband, Dr. Karl Kesmodel, was a radiologist at St. Vincent’s for 35 years, including as chief of radiology and chief of medical staff.
Through IPC, Kesmodel was able to connect with the community.
“I worked a lot with the Fresh Air Farm,” she said. “We used to go and get the cabins ready for the kids, then we would go back and pick them up and transport them to camp. It was really a lot of fun.”
Kesmodel recalls that discussions about providing a residential facility for seniors began in the early 1950s.
“The idea started with Eugene Ireland,” she said. “There were a lot of widows in our congregation who we thought would benefit from a nursing home.”
The Ireland Fund began generating money from then on. Housing and care for the elderly became a top priority not only for IPC but also for Presbyterian congregations throughout the country.
“When Kirkwood was started, there were only a couple of lower level options for seniors – such as the Episcopal Place,” she said. “Then there was Fairhaven.”
In its beginnings, the then-nonprofit facility, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, was created to provide a new kind of retirement community for adults. Kesmodel noted that they wanted to build a facility that was suitable for all levels of retirement, not just those who have limited finances or require around-the-clock care.
“We wanted something with levels that was walkable,” she said.
Kesmodel said she was consistently “awed by the experts” who sat with her on the board.
“Our original board of 15 didn’t have anyone who was knowledgeable about long-term care, but they were each experts in their fields. I was not an expert, but I was able to take on the role of secretary,” she said, laughing.
Looking back on her decision to back the formation of Kirkwood, Kesmodel realizes just how important long-term care has been for her.
“I will be 98 this summer,” she said. There is a natural slowing down that occurs with age, but she remains active through the community’s programming.
“We have amazing programming,” she said, noting the music classes, bowling, dance, games and other activities.
“The storyteller Dolores Hydock comes once a month, and we also get political speakers,” she noted. “Every three months we get a group that includes John Archibald and Mike Murphy, and they just discuss different topics.”
Her experiences have equipped her with a solid piece of advice: don’t wait to make the transition into a retirement community.
“I wish people would move in earlier,” she said. “It is easy to make lots of new friends. It all just helps to keep your mind alert, which is so important.”