*Correction on Nov. 11, 2016: In a previous version of this article, we attributed Greg Storms as being under employ at La Jarra Ranch as a Texas Master Naturalist. While Storms does hold this certification, he is a photographer at La Jarra Ranch, and was not hired because of his Texas Master Naturalist membership. He was working with La Jarra Ranch for over four years as a wildlife photographer before taking a TMN course and gaining membership to the volunteer organization. His TMN knowledge is a boon to the ranch’s wildlife, but Texas Master Naturalists are not “for hire” on that basis alone. RGVision Magazine takes responsibility for the confusion and apologizes for any difficulty this may have caused Storms or the Texas Master Naturalists.
Adan Peña is starting to forget things. Ricarda Peña looks after him with help from a nurse and their children, but it’s hard work caring for an individual succumbing to Alzheimer’s. The nurse goes home at night and Ricarda can’t sleep, worried about her husband’s deteriorating memory. She says she doesn’t mind the insomnia — she needs to be alert at night after Adan’s recent escape across miles of fields and brush to a ranch that is no longer there.
“What can we do?” their grown children ask themselves. The alternative to at-home care does not appeal to anyone in the family. Adan would hate to be put away in a hospital-esque nursing home, separated from the South Texas outdoors environment he grew up on. Ricarda installed double locks to prevent further night-time escapes, but the children worry about their parents’ happiness.
In South Texas, many of our seniors know no other way of life than the ranch. A newly built master planned community on the La Jarra Ranch in Raymondville, Texas, aims to provide a unique, comfortable solution for the elderly: a safe place to live where they can retain their independence, yet remain close to their loved ones and nature.
Founding A Community
La Jarra Ranch was the original homestead of Edward Burleson Raymond, a rancher, banker, and the founder of Raymondville in 1904. Upon his death, his land was passed down the family line over the years until it was purchased in 1967 by his granddaughter, Winifred, and her husband, Herman J. Wetegrove.
“Winnie” loved the ranch, and dreamed of turning it into a wildlife preserve to share with the community. As she grew older, it became apparent to her sons Joseph, Charles and Raymond Wetegrove, that she was going to need a living situation more accommodating to her limited mobility. They developed a plan to start their own retirement community right on the property. Unfortunately, Winnie, a community leader and steward of south Texan nature, died in 2015 before seeing her dream of a peaceful and tranquil environment for retirement fully realized.
In December 2016, her family honors the memory of Winifred Raymond Wetegrove with the opening of the La Jarra Ranch Assisted Living and Memory Center, Adult Day Activities Center, and the Nature and Heritage Center, which occupies the ranch headquarters at the original home of E.B. Raymond.
Find Yourself in Nature
All along the La Jarra acres, birds and butterflies make themselves at home and constantly delight your senses by fluttering here and there. Apart from the land where birdwatchers may explore their hobby, several acres have been designated as a nature sanctuary. This is in keeping with the family’s interest in stewardship.
“There are lots of things you have to do to minimize your effect on the Earth,” says Joe Wetegrove, “but we see how important it is. We try to be ecologically minded.”
The ranch is neighbored by wind farms, operates using solar power, and employs Greg Storms, a long-time wildlife photographer, who nurtures and documents the area. Several years ago, Storms furthered his knowledge of local nature by earning certification as a Texas Master Naturalist.
“I’ve been working on these trails for six years so they are bird and butterfly ready,” says Storms, who writes separate blogs on the La Jarra website for both expert and beginner birdwatchers. “I’ll be available to visitors and residents of the centers to take them on tours and provide information.”
Visiting bird enthusiasts and nature photographers will find the Nature and Heritage Center (the remodelled E.B. Raymond home) a comfortable site to rest, host events, or stay overnight. The Nature and Heritage Center accommodates eight to 10 overnight guests, offering modern amenities while preserving the original feeling of rustic ranch life. A wheelchair-accessible path around the nature center offers vantage points of the ranch’s lake and natural wetland ponds.
Guests of the Assisted Living, Memory, or Adult Day Activities Centers can enjoy watching the beautiful birds and butterflies of South Texas from indoors through the centers’ large windows, or relaxing on the long porches along each building. They can also walk around the paths or lawns, as the ranch is fenced for security and monitored via the latest security technology.
“There are many studies that show that physical activity, such as walking, may slow age-related memory-loss,” Wetegrove says. “We want to give guests the chance to be active and free to walk, but they will still be supervised and safe.”
Making New Memories
The Memory Center and the Assisted Living Center have a similar design and function; a large central community space with a perimeter of rooms is easy to navigate. A dining area where residents can prepare their own snacks or be served meals (they can also choose to eat at the Adult Day Activity Center) means they will never have to eat alone.
“One of the hardest things for our elders to deal with is loneliness,” Wetegrove says. While guests of both centers can request an individual room, Wetegrove says they intend for most to have roommates. As studies indicate that feelings of loneliness are linked to quicker cognitive decline, these pairings are mutually beneficial.
“We’re also looking forward to having volunteers at all of our centers to interact with the guests,” Wetegrove says.
Each center will have clinical personnel like registered nurses or licensed nurse practitioners to administer daily checkups and assistance with medications. The Memory Center will be staffed by professionals trained specifically to help those with memory loss. They will carry out programs and activities designed to stimulate the parts of the brain associated with memory.
“Across the ranch, we’re creating about 40 jobs,” Wetegrove says. “We’re hiring local folks who are bilingual, so our guests feel comfortable with them.” Aside from helping guests with activities of daily living, staff will serve as an ongoing resource for families.
Spend the Day at La Jarra
While the Assisted Living Center and Memory Center are for long-term residents, the Adult Activity Center provides day services for individuals who return to their families every evening. Entertainment, meals, and snacks are provided, as is transportation, if required. Winter Texans may be interested in La Jarra Ranch’s amenities but have to consider their living situation once the cold season ends. Wetegrove says there is plenty of space to accommodate RV’s on the ranch.
“They can stay a day, a month — as long as they like,” he says. La Jarra plans to build a community around the Adult Activity Center, which will also serve as a gathering place where parties and events such as Veteran’s Day services may be held.
“We want Raymondville to feel like this is a place for the community, also,” Wetegrove says. “If families feel like they’re at home here, they look forward to visiting their loved ones. That’s what we’re trying to give our guests — a home away from home.”
To learn more about La Jarra Ranch, visit their website: www.lajarra.com.