“There’s been a murder!”

At the announcement of the fictional killing, a dozen or so spectacularly dressed individuals sprang into action, working the room in a quest to unveil the killer among them. Laughter echoed, and the elaborate tale of a deal gone wrong unfolded with unexpected twists.

This wasn’t the script of a popular whodunit novel; rather, it was a captivating murder mystery performance orchestrated by the residents of Woodlands for their fellow residents and guests. The event showcased how senior living communities, like Woodlands, empower their residents to shape their leisure and entertainment.

“I love living here at Woodlands. They have so many activities here for us to do, both on and off campus,” expressed Barbara Calhoun, a seven-year resident deeply engaged in local events, including her role as an actor in the murder mystery. “The play was tremendous. It was standing room only, and everyone had so much fun.”

In the heart of this senior living community, residents are not just spectators; they actively contribute to the vibrant tapestry of events, ensuring that each day is filled with enriching experiences and shared joy.


Man acting in a murder mystery play

Woodlands resident John Palmer (left) portraying Pierre Pinot in the Woodlands murder mystery alongside fellow residents.

The immensely popular murder mystery unfolded as a result of Woodlands’ Director of Activities, Donna May, embarking on a journey of trial and error.

Having previously hired an acting company for a community play, Donna decided to infuse a new level of enjoyment into the next production. Opting for a more interactive approach, she purchased a kit and invited the residents to take center stage as the stars of the show.

That decision stirred up a wave of excitement and anticipation throughout the community leading up to opening night. Residents eagerly delved into their roles in the wine-themed caper, adopting unique character names like Catherine Chardonnay and Joe Merlot. The atmosphere buzzed with creativity as they experimented with various outfits and even tried out different accents to fully embody the characters.

Donna’s innovative approach not only transformed the event into a hit, but also empowered the residents, turning them into the driving force behind the communal excitement.

“When we first had a murder mystery, we discovered we had a few residents that actually participated in the company. That drove me to start looking at buying a package and inviting the residents to join in,” May said. “The play itself was a lot of fun. It wasn’t scripted, they had to create their own dialog and character. And the preparation for the character was a big part of it. Several of our residents went to Goodwill to secure things to make their character look just right. They have already asked when we are going to do it again.”

One of the actors/residents in the performance was John Palmer, a five-year resident and a former professor from Charleston, West Virginia. His character, Pierre Pinot, would be unveiled as the murderer, something he embraced with vigor when he discovered he had performed the fictional killing.

Woodlands Director of Activities Donna May

“I ended up being the killer,” Palmer said with a laugh. “I didn’t know it until they handed out the envelope. We knew the themes and some of the things we were supposed to say, but the rest was all improvisation. Halfway through, they handed out another envelope after the murder and the first sentence on my card is, ‘you are the murderer.’ I had to act as if I was totally innocent.”

Throughout the performance, the faces of audience members were alight with joy as they enjoyed their friends and peers trying out their acting chops under the bright stage lights.

Taking from that experience, John celebrates the freedom and flexibility afforded him at Woodlands through a unique assortment of daily events.

“Donna is a hero. She doesn’t have to do things like this, but she does. She did everything she could to make the first event work, got feedback, changed it a little bit, and made it a success. She went well beyond what an activity director would do,” Palmer said. “We got to watch it the first time and now we have residents who are playing the main characters. That is special.”

That active participation is a big part of the draw of community living. Communities provide an opportunity to enjoy communal dinners, join for special events, and share a bond that simply doesn’t exist when living at home.

“Part of our image is a tranquil place with ponds and fountains and relaxation, but then there are also people playing competitively on our croquet court and their friends are coming out to watch,” Palmer said. “That balance is the joy of being here.”


Ladies enjoying a Marshall University women's basketball game

Woodlands resident Barbara Calhoun (right) and friends attend a Marshall University women’s basketball game.

February marks National Senior Independence Month nationwide, providing a fitting occasion to celebrate the autonomy and freedom of choice that seniors cherish in shaping their lives. It also serves as a reminder for communities serving this demographic to plan ahead for the ongoing support needed to uphold residents’ independence.

Recognizing that autonomy significantly influences the quality of life, communities like Woodlands are dedicated to curating diverse schedules. These calendars are thoughtfully designed to encompass a wide array of activities, ranging from passive enjoyment to direct, engaging participation. That variety fosters an environment that nurtures individual independence and diverse interests.

And not all of these activities are confined to the sprawling 171-acre Woodlands hilltop community. There are plenty of outings away from campus, with transportation provided by Woodlands. These include dinners out on the town, local performances and events connected to Woodlands’ unique bond with Marshall University.

Residents enjoy almost weekly trips to Marshall athletic events, performances and university activities, helping keep the bond strong between Marshall and the numerous alumni and fans that make up the community.

During the week of her 88th birthday, Barbara Calhoun joined many of her closest friends in a trip to a Marshall University women’s basketball game, cheering the Herd to victory alongside fellow MU supporters.

Among her favorites, Barbara listed activities including dinner with her friends at Woodlands’ on-campus restaurant The Bistro, book clubs, weekly cornhole events and daily walks, combined with outings to Marshall sporting events, local restaurants and regular trips to Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky.

While the decision to leave her home and move to a community was not an easy one, she was pleasantly surprised at what community life was truly like upon her arrival.

“I had lived in our house for 17 years after my husband passed and just got tired of the upkeep,” Calhoun said. “It was more than I wanted to fool with, and I wanted someone to help take care of me. I had been (to Woodlands) several times and decided to come here. There is so much more to do here than I ever imagined. It is just a great place to live.”


Man performing in a murder mystery play

Embracing the golden years often comes with the challenge of diminishing independence, as external factors attempt to shape your choices and routines. At Woodlands, we understand this struggle, and our mission is to empower you to reclaim your independence!

In your personalized independent living space, you take the reigns of your schedule. Moreover, with Woodlands’ LifeCare contract, you’re shielded from the uncertainties of life. As your healthcare needs evolve, our commitment to your well-being ensures a worry-free transition.

Discover the liberating possibilities of a worry-free lifestyle at Woodlands. Call today at (304) 697-1620 to learn more or schedule a personalized tour. Your journey to newfound independence begins here.

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