On August 20, 2021, almost exactly 25 years to the day that Woodlands in Huntington opened its doors to its first group of residents in 1996, the community held an anniversary celebration like no other. It was a fitting and friend-filled tribute to a place that has become an important part of the Huntington community.

On that perfect Appalachian summer evening, nearly 200 people gathered to celebrate the past, present and future at Woodlands, where neighbors become longtime friends and everyone is welcomed into the tight-knit Woodlands family.

A first-class event with first-class friends

To meet the magnitude of the milestone occasion, Woodlands’ 25th anniversary celebration was truly a first-class affair. Men showed up in suit jackets and women wore exquisite attire. All three of the dining rooms at Woodlands were outfitted with elegant European place settings, fancy napkins and glass goblets.

The stately surroundings were a fitting backdrop for the evening’s events, which featured many special guests reflecting Woodlands’ connection to the Huntington region. Leading off the evening was master of ceremonies Rob Johnson, anchor for local news WSAZ-TV, whose parents both resided at Woodlands. Johnson then called on current Woodlands resident, Rabbi David Wucher, to provide the invocation before dinner.

The meal itself was a highlight of the night, and Woodlands’ culinary crew of Ron Smith (director of food services) and Bret Bledsoe (kitchen manager and executive chef) pulled out all the stops to provide a magnificent menu. Everyone enjoyed delicacies such as lobster tail and petite filets, complemented by au gratin potatoes and French beans. Dessert was Bananas Foster, a fitting choice and subtle nod to the Foster Foundation to which Woodlands owes its existence.

After dinner, another esteemed guest took the mic. Huntington mayor Steve Williams spoke and shared his appreciation for the role that Woodlands has played in the past two-and-a-half decades in Huntington for anyone interested in a lovely retirement lifestyle. Williams’ mother currently lives here, and he spoke poignantly about how glad he is that his mother—and so many others—have been able to live well at Woodlands.

Next, important members from Woodlands’ present and past shared their remarks, including Steve Roberts, the current Foster Foundation board president, and Mike Milligan, the architect who designed Woodlands. Following them at the podium was Woodlands’ current CEO, Jeff Harkins, who reflected on his tenure while sharing some exciting capital improvements that will be coming soon to Woodlands, such as new walking paths, enhanced pond access, a patio expansion and more.

The night’s finale would be a classic champagne toast to the Foster Foundation and the Rev. Gray Hampton, whose vision and dream it was to establish Woodlands. But before the toast, there was a special surprise presentation.

The big reveal 

Speak to any member of the Woodlands community and you’ll quickly understand how special the folks who live here truly are. They bring with them a range of experiences and expertise, which was on display—literally—the night of the 25th anniversary celebration.

Jim Tardy, who lives at Woodlands, is nicknamed the “resident artist.” To honor the milestone anniversary, he painted a 48-inch by 42-inch piece depicting the Rev. Gray Hampton standing next to the fountain in his honor at Woodlands. The revelation of the painting was a total surprise to all but a select few at the community, which only added to the joy of the evening’s events.

rev gray hampton by jim tardy

Painting of the Rev. Gray Hampton, by Woodlands resident Jim Tardy

The night of Woodlands’ 25th anniversary celebration reflected everything special about this retirement community in Huntington, WV. From fabulous food to the gathering of longtime friends, families and friends who feel like family, it was a resounding success.

Of course, the success of the anniversary celebration would not have been possible without the contributions of a dedicated committee and its focused leader.

Teamwork, leadership and support

Woodlands’ 25th anniversary committee included a dozen dedicated individuals, led by the energetic and ambitious Mary Lue Light. During all the planning stages for the event, Mary Lue took the lead and smartly tapped the skills and expertise of committee members as well as members of the broader Woodlands community.

“I had a wonderful committee, everyone was so positive,” Mary Lue said after the celebration. “We also had such great resources under this roof and people who have skills and were willing to offer them to make this a success. And the staff was so supportive of this effort. [CFO] Eileen Wheeldon provided us with resources that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and Jeff Harkins enthusiastically helped too.”

Fellow members of the 25th anniversary committee agreed, and especially credited Mary Lue for making the anniversary a wholehearted success.

“She is a treasure,” Carolyn Hunter said. “She was the perfect person for the moment, having a plan and involving everyone, while also not being afraid to get in there and roll up her sleeves.”

In total, the committee included Mary Lue Light , Carolyn Hunter, Betty Barrett as well as Cynthia Beal, Barbara Calhoun, Josephine Fidler, Ervin Jones, Marilyn Cohen, Martha Woodward, Susie Jones, Aubrey King and Cheryl Hodge.

“We had a group of people who have been doing interesting things all their lives and with the anniversary we got the chance to do even more,” Betty said. “It all came together, and we all had fun doing it.”

Getting everything to come together was an even more impressive feat considering that the 25th anniversary included so much more than just the dinner and celebration. The committee also produced a yearbook chronicling the history of Woodlands and a 24-minute documentary.

Stay tuned to the Woodlands blog to learn more about the yearbook, documentary and everything else the committee is doing to share the special story of Woodlands with others. And if you’d like to become a part of the Woodlands story, contact us to coordinate your own private tour. Click here or call us at 304-697-1620 today!

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