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Chapel Chimes: Gratitude for 20 Years

By Sarah Sexton | Publish Date February 01, 2024

Reflection by Kirkwood Chaplain, The Rev. Richard Hanna

God’s Word, many times, tells us about the importance of gratitude. Psalm 92:1 declares, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord!” And Paul in Colossians 3:16-17 affirms: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

As I enter my last week after 20 years as Chaplain at Kirkwood by the River, I want to express deep gratitude and thanks for a lot of things.

First, I want to express gratitude for the rich privilege and blessing of having served as Chaplain in this special place.  When I started here, I kidded that I felt I had died and gone to preacher heaven. I’m guessing Nick Saban felt some of that when he started as Coach at Alabama. But as much as we both LOVED what we did, we also came to the conclusion at the same time that it was the season to move on to another phase of life. I’m so grateful for the blessing of having been here for these wonderful 20 years of ministry.

Second, I’m very grateful that in my 20 years at Kirkwood, I’ve had two of the best bosses in the world – first Gene Ashley, who hired me, and then Chad Carter, who has continued to support me in my ministry at Kirkwood.  What a blessing both of them have been to me.

Third, I’m grateful for an amazing staff at Kirkwood with whom I have shared service and ministry in this special place. It’s neat that there are still 9 staff people on board who welcomed me to Kirkwood 20 years ago – and they are still going strong. But so many others are part of the excellent team that makes Kirkwood what it is. What a privilege it has been to serve alongside them.

Fourth, I have deeply appreciated the support of the Board of Kirkwood by the River. I’ve had the privilege of working with all four of the Chairs of the Kirkwood Board since its beginning. The first three, all named Bill, were Bill Edmunds, Dr. Bill Dismukes, and Bill Horton. And I’m deeply thankful for the present Board Chair, John Higgins, who has provided excellent leadership to Kirkwood and outstanding encouragement for me in my ministry here. It’s especially meaningful that I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with some on the board who were part of the founding board of Kirkwood who helped to build Kirkwood 45 years ago.

Fifth, what a wonderful group of volunteers Kirkwood has, from Independent Presbyterian Church and several other local churches. These volunteers put on birthday parties, help with communion, play bridge with our residents, lead Bible studies, present music and other programs, and do so much more to enhance the quality of our lives at Kirkwood. At Kirkwood, we’re all grateful for those volunteers!

Sixth, and what a joy it has been to get to know the families of our residents. They are incredibly supportive, and helpful, and encouraging, both to their family members and to the staff at Kirkwood. They add so much to our lives as a family.

And, finally, last but not least, I have been deeply grateful for all the residents I’ve had the joy of getting to know at Kirkwood in the last 20 years. It is these residents, along with our staff and so many others, who make this community the special place it is. They help to create the wonderful spirit of love and warmth that defines Kirkwood.

One of our favorite scripture passages at Kirkwood is Psalm 92:12-14: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They will flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will bear fruit. They will always be green and full of sap.” I like to say that, at Kirkwood, our residents are happy and sappy!

Another favorite scripture passage that I use to welcome new residents to Kirkwood is Ephesians 2:19. “Therefore, you are no longer strangers or sojourners but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” – and I add this part – “called Kirkwood by the River!”

When I arrived at Kirkwood 20 years ago, one of our residents, “the angel of Kirkwood,” Robbie Sevier, told me, “When Kirkwood first opened its doors, God’s Spirit moved in. And it’s still here!”

Another resident told me once, as he deeply appreciated the care that he and his wife were receiving, “Kirkwood is a place of love.”

As I finish up my 20 years of ministry at Kirkwood by the River, I am deeply grateful for the rich privilege and blessing I have had to serve in this place of love, in this place where God’s Spirit is alive, where so many people work together to create a wonderful community of love and compassion, of friendship and faith. I have been richly blessed by it, and I will treasure the relationships created and memories made in this special place with all of my heart!

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The Residents

Our residents come from different backgrounds and bring their unique qualities, talents, and life experiences to complete the Kirkwood community. Here are just a few reflections from some individuals who call Kirkwood their home.

I fell in love with the cottage and the view from my back porch. I am excited to have a yard for Ginger, my poodle, to play in and my own garage, all within an established retirement community!

Charlotte Hamilton Current Resident

My husband and I looked at a number of places when deciding to move to a retirement community. For the most part, we found communities that said, ‘We’re going to take care of you.’ But Kirkwood was different. It wasn’t just about taking care of us. It was also about having fun, having friends, and living life to the fullest. The attitude at Kirkwood was positive and the atmosphere was comforting. We simply couldn’t resist. Without a doubt, the location was ideal. The Cahaba Room that overlooks the river, the mountains, the trails – there were just so many things about life. The community was lively. It was alive.

Alice Brooks Current Resident

We realized we were approaching an age where we might need more assistance than what just downsizing could provide. Knowing we have my sons nearby and the levels of care should we need it is comforting, and the beautiful hillside, river, and the woods makes it that much more appealing. We don’t know of any other community that has the woods, the various levels of care, and so many different amenities.

Phyllis and John Guschke Current Residents

We were moving my parents down from the Cleveland area to be near us. I looked at almost every retirement place in the Birmingham area. The second I turned into Kirkwood’s drive and drove up the hill, I knew that I’d found the perfect place for my parents to live in Alabama. In the six years that my parents have been at Kirkwood, I have always felt nothing but love and helpfulness from every staff member. Everyone is always helpful with a pleasant attitude. You can truly see and feel the family atmosphere. I’m happy that my parents can call Kirkwood their home.

Brenda Sheehan Kirkwood family member

When we learned that Cedar Ridge was being developed, that seemed to fit our needs very well. It is the ideal place for the next phase of our retirement.

Carol and Arthur Stephens Current Residents

One thing that we feel is very important here at Kirkwood by the River is the relationship that we have between the staff and the residents. They are dedicated to making our life here as safe and secure and pleasurable as possible. That goes a long way.

Fred Rogers Current Resident

The community's cottage living surrounded by a wooded, natural environment with access to future healthcare services is what attracted us to Kirkwood!

Rick and Jane Ricketts Current Residents