At home at The Seabrook

The Dorchester building is one of five residence buildings at The Seabrook on Hilton Head Island. Also shown here is the dining area and one of several lagoons.
The Dorchester building is one of five residence buildings at The Seabrook on Hilton Head Island. Also shown here is the dining area and one of several lagoons. Submitted photo

A thick book filled with color photos and commentary on the works of Pierre-Auguste Renoir rests on the lobby coffee table beside a large porcelain bowl with Greek ornamentation.

The book is no prop -- it's part of a well-stocked and diverse library tended to and filled by residents of The Seabrook of Hilton Head Island.

As it enters its fourth decade, the continuing care retirement community on Woodhaven Drive in the midst of a serene forest continues to serve its residents well. Residents travel under covered walkways to the Seabrook Club House, where most of the amenities are located. The Seabrook's facilities range from a heated swimming pool and woodworking shop to the Fraser Health Center, a licensed Medicare-certified skilled nursing facility.

Ben Racusin, 97, the island's first mayor, is a longtime resident of The Seabrook who now lives in the health center. He moved to the community with his late wife, Helen. The couple made a 26-item checklist and examined each of the existing continuing care facilities on Hilton Head at the time. In the end, although he had friends in all three communities, The Seabrook won out.

"It was the ambiance here. I remember saying to my wife when we were moved in and were looking at all our boxes 'I think we can be very happy here,'" he said.

The community is open to people age 60 and older but The Seabrook runs at a higher level.

"The average age here is 84-86," Maganini said. "And we have a huge group from ages 95 to 101. We have the most vibrant 95-year-olds. They say that people who live in a facility like this live at least seven years longer, and we can attest to that."

Economic impacts

Seabrook executive director Rob Lee said that in the 40 years since the community was founded The Seabrook has changed and adapted with the times and, just like other communities, has been affected by the latest economic downturn.

"The primary asset most people use to get into this community is their home and if they can't sell it, they can't move," Lee said.

Apartments at The Seabrook are available under a long-term lease, standard rental and outright purchase.

Residents who purchase their units are responsible for it until it is sold, whether the owner is still living there or not, Lee said. When real estate prices tumbled a few years ago, Lee said some of the apartments were donated to the community by descendants who didn't want to pay the association fees.

"That's why we have units that are available for long-term leases," he said, adding that the rentals have become a popular option.

Fun and fulfillment

Residents of The Seabrook look to Jan Maganini, director of resident services, for "a little bit of everything," she said.

She handles the calendar of events and the community newsletter, coordinates transportation needs, oversees the exercise program and more.

She also makes sure that residents are ready in case of a hurricane evacuation, with their medicines, pets and other critical items. Of the 200 apartments at The Seabrook, 180 are occupied and about 25 tenants have pets.

In case of an evacuation, the residents would temporarily move to a medical facility in Orangeburg.

Maganini also works with residents' adult children to help them with their parents' needs.

"The best part (about my job) is talking and being with the residents. This is a group of people interested in learning new things, whether it's about health or bridge," Maganini said.

Living a full life

Team Trivial Pursuit is a big pastime at The Seabrook, and the library is one of the most active sites in the clubhouse.

Genevieve Geer is a big fan of the Team Trivial Pursuit, while her husband, Peter, is often asked to be the caller for bingo sessions.

Genevieve Geer retired as a clinical psychoanalyst, Peter Geer as a graphic artists in the advertising industry. They both enjoy talking about their home at The Seabrook.

"The wonderful balconies overlook the grounds with big sliding doors so you don't feel like you are cooped up," said Genevieve Geer, who is on the community's trustees board of directors.

"When I don't feel like being communal, then I sit on my balcony and I am quiet."

Peter Greer maintains a painting studio outside of The Seabrook, and when he is not working jigsaw puzzles or watching movies at home, he is "painting, thinking about painting, fixing what I painted or waiting to paint."

One of his paintings hangs on the wall of The Seabrook's main hall leading to the dining room, which both the Greers say serves excellent food.

"It's creative, and that's difficult to do for about 200 people," Genevieve Greer said of the dining room's menu.

For Annette Martin, another Seabrook resident, the dining service also rates high praise.

She served as the community's executive director for most of the 15 years she worked at The Seabrook.

Martin retired in 2000 to care for her husband and returned in 2012, this time as a resident of the community.

"When I was working here, I loved the warmth between the staff and the residents," Martin said. "I loved the natural setting with the birds, trees and resident gator, and all of that has been maintained over the years.