At Avesta’s community on Brook Hollow Dr. in Naples, one apartment sits ornamented by whirligigs (wooden ornaments designed to spin with the wind.), expertly crafted by the apartment’s resident, Russell Healy. Russell’s whirligigs have even landed him a featured article in the Bridgton News when he donated many of his works to a local charity auction. Though his voice is soft and gravelly, and his demeanor is somewhat timid, Russell’s story unravels intricately. As he speaks, certain things he talks about trigger him to leave his seat and retrieve relics and items he references.
Like any artist, his living space feels somewhat disorganized and chaotic until one takes the time to understand it. Over in the corner by the door rest three Betty Boop whirligigs, each in a different pose designed to create a unique movement. Across the room, next to the wall decorated with handmade birds and butterflies, rests Russell’s arm chair (most of his furniture has either been donated or was discarded by someone else; a true sign of the frugal New Englander) and a catalogue with several different ideas for art subjects. He makes his art in a shed where he keeps the majority of his woodworking supplies and tools.
Before Russell moved back to Maine, he and his wife, Mary, were living in Florida. They had spent a life together moving from New Hampshire, down to Massachusetts, and then up to Maine working on farms, mills, for painting companies, and owning land. Each move represented a sacrifice either Russell or Mary had made for the other in order to provide for their collective happiness. When Mary didn’t like the farm, they moved to Massachusetts, when Russell grew weary of the mill and city, they moved again, and so on. In that time Russell had run the farm, worked at the mill, been offered to run a painting company, and signed the deed of his last remaining property over to a friend, who had become like a son to him.
Their long trip took Russell and Mary to western Maine in Hiram until they saved enough to retire to Florida. Like so many others among them, they found a new home in the warm weather and senior-residence communities. Russell still looks back on that time with great fondness and misses the friends made while living there. Eventually Mary’s dementia
became more severe and she began to wander off in moments of confusion. Knowing that he could no longer care for Mary, Russell moved them back to Maine where they could live together and Mary would be provided the assisted care she needed. Russell knew Mary’s time was coming soon and that he would need a new place to to call home. A family friend helped him apply for affordable housing.
As Russell shows us around his apartment, it’s clear that he can do most everything he needs to take care of himself. He has corned beef cooking in the crock-pot, which he plans to share with a few of his neighbors, and he has a medical station where he takes all of his own vitals and can send them to the Togus V.A. hospital in Augusta, Maine. “I have to go up there to do my dialysis for my kidneys,” he informs us. One might suggest that a person who takes control of their own medical care and lives in affordable housing like Russell actually saves the state and tax payers a great deal of money on costs that might otherwise be spent on more expensive assisted living facilities. Of course for some there are no other options, but Russell takes great pride in his independence and his contributions to those things bigger than any one person.
Along with his proactive self-care and artistic donations to charity, Russell’s service in the armed forces during WWII is quite remarkable. He served for four years in Germany and France as part of the U.S.A’s 82nd Airborne, fighting Nazis. He doesn’t go into too much detail about his time in Europe, but he beams as he shows off a custom made baseball cap with the
lettering “82nd Airborne” on the side and an old photograph where he stands a young man in uniform with his wife. This attitude of contribution and pride in playing a small part in something greater than any one person is perhaps somewhat lost on younger generations, but it translates into personal relationships too. Russell has no lack of friends. His closest neighbor views him as a father figure and seeks to protect him from anyone who may try to take advantage. He started eating at the Bridgton Diner and has made friends with the proprietors. “I like to get along with everybody. I don’t like confrontation,” he says.
Russell is a special kind of person. He’s seen so much, and adapted to so many situations, one might expect him to have developed a cynical, protective shell. But this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead he remains genuine, dedicated to his passions and the people he is close to, and maintains a fond relationship with his past. What makes him great is not immediately apparent, but rather it reveals itself in layers, and each new anecdote unveils complexities, profound experiences, and new hopes.
Resident, Brook Hollow