Residents at Brandon Wilde fondly refer to Mary Sargent as the "Happy Hooker." It's her love for hooking rugs that has earned her the nickname.
Ms. Sargent has hooked 87 rugs in her lifetime and has written three books on the subject. An author, artist and collector, she willingly shares her talents and energy with other residents.
"Her whole floor is covered with hooked rugs, and they are absolutely beautiful and incredible," said Anne Paugh, director of marketing for Brandon Wilde, a retirement community. "She's from New Jersey, and her home is like stepping back into an antique shop of country New England antiques, beautiful things. She has lots of collections, but bears and rugs are her things. She's quite a creative and interesting lady."
Ms. Sargent moved to Brandon Wilde in 1992 to be with her sister Kay Corinth, who moved here from New York after Brandon Wilde opened in 1990.
But she did not come here alone. She has about 65 bears to keep her company. There's Bruno and Champlagne seated at the dining room table; Maggie, her favorite, in a chair by the window sitting next to her other two favorites, Brandy and Dianne.
"You have to brush them off to sit down," said Ms. Sargent, who managed to stuff the contents of her two-story house into her two-bedroom apartment in Brandon Wilde's main building.
She has all kinds, including many antique and hand-made jointed bears.
"You do get kind of fussy the longer you collect," she said. "I like the old-fashioned type of bear -- the handmade ones, not just ground out of a factory where they all look alike. I have all kinds. I love all teddy bears."
There are bears, bears everywhere, and they all have names and stories to tell. Three friends chipped in to buy Maggie, a limited-edition bear by Gund. Brandy is a bear her husband David gave her on their last anniversary together, in 1990.
"It's all memories," she said of her many collections.
The bears helped her instantly make new friends when she moved to Brandon Wilde.
"It's very interesting how everybody loves teddy bears," Ms. Sargent said. "One day I was trying to find space for them, so I put a little bench outside my door and put three bears on it. Everyone was talking about them and so interested in them. Now I change them every once in a while. And if I haven't changed them for a while, the residents will complain. So often people tell me how much they enjoy seeing those bears out."
In January when it snowed, she put out a bear with its leg in a sling.
"People would see me in the dining room and ask me what happened," Ms. Sargent said. "I would tell them he slipped on the ice, but it was only a slight sprain."
But unlike the bears that happily sit and watch life go by from her front door, Ms. Sargent is involved in activities and social events at the facility. She is now the news editor of the Brandon Wilde Journal, which is published three times a year.
She describes her life before she moved to Brandon Wilde as the "quintessential suburban housewife." But it's been a life that has allowed her to do what she loves to do. She has written seven books on everything from entertaining to dieting.
"I had the best of both worlds," she said. "I could have a career and do it at home and have what I loved best -- my home and my husband."
And she may now be qualified to write a book on aging gracefully.
"Age is a number, and mine is unlisted," said Ms. Sergeant. "If I live at Brandon Wilde, it's obvious I'm not 25.
"I really am a very busy person," said Ms. Sargent, who also works in the gift shop in the afternoon. "People think we come here and just sit around. In the morning when I look in the mirror, I don't have to wonder what am I going to do today; I wonder how I'm going to get it all done."
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.