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I write blogs for Glenmeadow, a life plan community—or retirement community—in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. I enjoyed interviewing Estelle Gross’ daughter Donalyn and learning about her mother—an adventurer of the highest order and a woman after my own heart. This posted in early March on the Glenmeadow site. Meet Estelle!

Estelle Gross often had the urge to take on a new challenge, and she acted on each and every one.

A nurse, and, later, a school teacher by vocation, Estelle is also a pianist, a painter, and a sculptor. She was an established equestrian, boarded a Thoroughbred named Pasha, and worked with children who wanted to learn how to ride. 

And oh, Estelle and her late husband, Harold Gross, MD, also flew planes everywhere from Cuba to China. Estelle even had a commercial pilot’s license and was a member of The Ninety-Niners, an organization of national women pilots. She fondly remembers that 9674 Delta was her plane.

Now, at 94, Estelle is a resident who regales our employees with her sarcastic sense of humor and sharp wit. “God bless the staff,” jokes Estelle’s daughter, Donalyn Gross of Longmeadow. “They love her.”

Indeed, Estelle has become a crucial part of our Glenmeadow family since she moved here four years ago, when health concerns made it difficult for her to live independently. A friend who taught with Estelle lived here with us, and Estelle came to visit her and give us a close look as a place she might like to live.

She met with several staff members and residents, and although hesitant, Estelle agreed to make the move from her home in Longmeadow.

“My mom was a little nervous at first, but the assisted living wing is wonderful,” Donalyn says. “The staff sat her down at a table with all these new people, and she was able to make friends right away. Being at Glenmeadow has also been beneficial for her health because Dr. May Awkal visits the patients in assisted living individually. Mom doesn’t have to go anywhere.”

Aside from chatting with residents and staff, Estelle loves our activities best. She also appreciates the food from our dining room, playing Bingo, and attending musical performances. When she’s by herself, she’s watching the news to stay informed about current events.

Especially exciting for Estelle was the visit she and other residents took with staff last year to a therapeutic riding stable in East Longmeadow. “Staff knew my mom was a rider, so they asked me if it would be alright if they arranged for her to go riding,” Donalyn recalls. “It was a secret until they arrived, but she was thrilled to be back on a horse again. Then they took her out to lunch after, which I thought was really above and beyond.”

Riding was a big part of Estelle’s life in the 1960s, when she trained horses and taught children to ride at Shallowbrook Equestrian Center in Somers, Connecticut. When riding independently, with her Thoroughbred named Pasha, Estelle was mostly interested in jumping.

“She was brave,” Donalyn says of her mother. “I used to take riding lessons, too, but I was never as brave as she was.”

Estelle applied her natural bravery to her interest in flying as well. In the 1950s, she and Harold took lessons at the Northampton airport to earn their licenses. “They purchased their own plane so we could travel,” Donalyn remembers, noting she flew often with her parents. 

Estelle and Harold met in the Springfield apartment building where Estelle’s family lived. “I knew him all my life,” Estelle says. “When I was attending Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, there was a dance, and I needed a partner, so I asked him to come. We got married soon after that.”

The couple joined the Springfield Museums, were members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and worked under Democratic politicians, in addition to their careers in the medical field and later, for Estelle, education. But despite working hard, they also knew how to appreciate life, with Estelle enjoying flowers and taking walks in the woods.

“It was a running joke because in the summer, she’d always wind up with some kind of rash because she touched everything,” Donalyn says.

Estelle and Donalyn have always had a close relationship, which has only been enhanced since Estelle’s move to Glenmeadow. Donalyn visits two or three times a week—including Thursday afternoons to play Bingo—and she calls every day if she can’t visit.

“A lot of the time when I do call, she’ll be busy, or she’ll be with a neighbor,” Donalyn says. “It’s reassuring to know that she has friends, and she’s safe. She’s definitely happy at Glenmeadow.”

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