BROOKSVILLE — Many retirees aren't content merely to pick up the TV remote or sort through pieces of a jigsaw puzzle for the remainder of their years.
But few have built second careers with such long-term involvement and creativity as Elsa and Federico Wolter. In September, the couple opened the doors of the Hacienda House, an adult family care home they built from the ground up south of Brooksville in the style of a lavish Italian villa.
"Life started to be long," explained Federico, who has reached 83 years with the decorum of a gentleman prince.
He's the steadfast leveler to Elsa, still the dynamo at 61, who designed and decorated, inside and out, the 4,600-square-foot country estate, which includes four suites for "moms and grandmas" seeking gentle home care in refined surroundings.
To provide such care, Elsa recently earned a certified nursing assistant license, specializing in geriatrics, after a career as an architectural and interior designer. She designed the home and managed its construction over three years.
Each suite offers a sitting room, bedroom, private or semiprivate bath, kitchenette and private patio. Common areas include a great room, a kitchenside dining area, a formal dining room set for 12, an outdoor sitting area and an Olympic-sized lap pool.
Throughout, Elsa has painted interior walls with murals of historic scenes from around the world, as befits an Italian villa. Having traveled worldwide, "When we came to Italy, that was it," Elsa declared of the architectural style that captured her favor.
Having retired as air freight manager, Caribbean and Florida, for Lufthansa Airlines, house manager Federico today reads to residents, plays board games and walks with residents around manicured grounds carved from the surrounding forest.
Elsa provides personal care including, when necessary, bathing and toiletry needs. She arranges guests' brought-from-home furnishings and mementos, and even decorates the suites to their personal tastes.
Of personal care demands, Elsa said, "I took care of my dad. He had dementia really bad. So, this is nothing (too difficult)."
On a recent Saturday morning, Elsa helped a guest from bed and getting dressed, served her a tray of breakfast in her favorite chair, returned later to replenish her cereal bowl and noted a partially uneaten boiled egg.
"You want me to take this?" she asked.
And to a visitor: "Miss Mary always saves something to feed the peacock."
The bird preens outside Mary's window.
Elsa prepares and serves three meals and three snacks a day. Residents are welcomed to join the Wolters for any meal.
"We eat wholesome food," Elsa pointed out.
"We snack a lot," she added. Eating becomes a form of entertainment for many elderly folks.
Entertaining residents is the biggest challenge of adult family care, Federico said. The imagination of elders falls off.
"When they give up entertainment — reading, TV, walking — then we have to be inventive," he said.
The home is licensed by the state Agency for Health Care Administration. For several years previously, the Wolters operated it as a bed and breakfast. But business fell off during the latest economic downturn.
Federico bought the undeveloped property in 1974 when he was perusing Florida for exports via Lufthansa. He also met Elsa through the airline when she applied for a job fresh from a year as an exchange student in the United States from Argentina. Federico, too, is a native Argentinian.
The couple have no retirement in mind. Their next step is to convert another original building, once their home and her design office, to a two-unit independent-living facility.
They'll call it Nostalgia House.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]