Beth enjoys her cozy reading space in the bedroom.

Condo Living: Beth Gage & Bob Wilson

Bob and Beth have plenty of time to do the things they enjoy, such as cooking for themselves.
Bob and Beth have plenty of time to do the things they enjoy, such as cooking for themselves.

Bob Wilson and Beth Gage married in June, 2012 and share a two-bedroom condominium at The Cloisters in East Asheville.

Both had been married before, and between them they have five adult children and seven grandchildren in such far-flung places as California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, and here in Asheville.

Beth started her career as a high-school French teacher in Illinois, and has an MA in French literature and language. After ten years she switched to speech pathology, a field she has continued for 42 years, working first with pediatric patients and more recently with adults who have had stroke or brain injuries and neurological diseases.

She still works on call at CarePartners Rehabilitation Hospital. She raised her children in Yellow Spring, Ohio, and in 1993 she relocated to Asheville, where one of her daughters, a Warren-Wilson College alumna, was living. Though her daughter later moved away, Beth stayed.

Bob is now a novelist, though he spent most of his career as a substance-abuse counselor and program director. A native of New Jersey, he had moved to Ohio for college—interrupted when he took a job as director of a free clinic near Ohio State.

After relocating to North Carolina he wound up in Cullowhee to finish his bachelor’s degree; after that he worked in Morganton, Wilmington, and finally in Asheville, first at Appalachian Hall, Highland Hospital, and Craggy Prison (all now closed).

He retired in 2004 from Swain Recovery Center in Black Mountain, though he later returned to work at CarePartners Adult Day Services until 2013. His novel, Killer Weed, will be published this month by Asheville-based Pisgah Press.

“We were about sixty miles apart in Ohio, but never knew each other, and then both of us ended up here,” Beth says with a laugh.

Why a condo?

Why, we asked, did they choose condo living over houses, rental apartments, retirement communities like Deerfield or cohousing neighborhoods like Westwood?

For one thing, Bob and Beth are active, busy people. “We’re not really interested in living in a communal place where you’re expected to take a certain number of meals together with your neighbors every week, or dinner every night with other residents.” Not only do they like to cook for themselves, but lots of activities keep their schedules booked.

Beth sings with the Asheville Choral Society and in the choir of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where they first met 16 years ago; Bob serves on several church committees, is active with writing groups, and both still work part-time.

Why the Cloisters?

Beth has been a resident since 1994 when she became the second owner of her unit (the complex opened in 1988). She had been travelling frequently and “I needed to get landed, to own a place. I was looking for either a bungalow or a condo, and I decided that whichever I found first that pleased me the most, I would buy.

“This complex felt safe. As a single woman I wanted to be able to come home from a concert late at night without looking over my shoulder. And I wanted someplace fairly quiet, and this is a quiet community.” And with a second-floor unit, “I feel safe opening windows and the deck doors.”

Also, their condo is at the highest point of the Cloisters, with views of the mountains from both the front porch and the covered back deck. “For someone who doesn’t own extensive land or mountains, it’s nice to have these views. Upstairs is open and airy, we’ve got the deck, the mountain view,” says Beth.

It was natural that when the couple decided to marry, Bob would give up his North Asheville apartment for condo life.

Does size matter?

While a few of The Cloister’s townhouses have three bedrooms, all the condos have two bedrooms, each with a bath. Bob and Beth use the large master as their bedroom, the slightly smaller front one as a study. Bob writes there, while Beth uses it as her office space. The room contains a futon couch for houseguests.

Beth says, “One thing that drew me here was a small footprint, both for me and economy of time in terms of maintaining. We have plenty of time to do the other things in our lives instead of maintaining a big house. It’s cozy, and just the right size for my life.”

Instead of maintaining a big house, Beth and Bob have set up nooks that are cozy, and just the right size.
Instead of maintaining a big house, Beth and Bob have set up nooks that are cozy, and just the right size.

Bob agrees. “It’s small enough to be cozy yet I never feel like I can’t get away; there’s always a place to get away from each other. And I like not having a lot of room I don’t use and don’t need.”

“We’ve set up nooks,” says Beth. Along with her favorite chair in the living room, “I have a reading space in the bedroom. So Bob can get away from me, I can from him. And if either of us needs meditative time, a door gets pulled to and the other recognizes it.”

Chuckling, Bob adds, “Sound-attenuating headphones are good, too. I’ll be writing and Beth will come in to work on her computer, and I listen to music as I write. So I just put the headphones on and I get the music without bothering her.”

Each of them also downsized, Beth when she first moved in 21 years ago and again to accommodate Bob. “It felt good to get a lot of antique books sold—and I didn’t leave that task to my children.”

Bob, too, got rid of a lot of books, maybe not as happily as Beth, but as he admits, “We kept a small rental space for the excess, but we got rid of it within six months. Habitat got a lot of things from each of us.”

Minimal homeowner burdens

Living in the condo also means they don’t have to deal with maintenance issues: roofs, lawn care, outdoor painting, building repairs. They speak highly of the Homeowners Association, an elected body of residents who meet monthly and supervise management of the complex.

Residents pay HOA fees that cover all outdoor maintenance, including new roofs when needed, painting the outside of all buildings every few years, grounds maintenance, and the operation of the pool, tennis courts, exercise room, and community building—which includes a large community meeting room that residents can reserve.

Good management ensures that those monthly fees cover all the monthly costs, and Beth can’t remember ever having to pay special assessments, as happens at some communities.

On the other hand, “They’re really assiduous about keeping everything clean, so in the summer you do hear blowers and mowers all the time,” Bob says with a smile. “But that’s not a complaint.”

Community garden

There’s even a community garden at the bottom of the hill where the Cloisters perches. It’s on land behind George’s Stor-Mor, reclaimed from its previous use as a dump for gravel, rock, and the complex’s equipment shed. Seven or eight residents each have a 3′ x 12′ raised bed.

“We grow tomatoes, green peppers, greens, kale, mache (corn salad), spinach, green beans, perennial rye for cover crop, garlics,” says Beth. “There’s not a lot of sun, and it certainly wasn’t prime gardening land, but it’s nice to have fresh vegetables.”

Beth enjoys her cozy reading space  in the bedroom.
Beth enjoys her cozy reading space
in the bedroom.

Getting water from the complex to the garden is a chore, she adds, “but there’s a real camaraderie among those who do garden there. We have pot-lucks, we purchased some equipment together, and bought the soil and mulch collectively.” Residents can sign up to get on a waiting list for the next available space.

The carefree life

As for visits with their families, living in the condo means that the kids and grandchildren usually stay elsewhere when they come to town, especially as those families have grown. And Bob and Beth don’t mind travelling to visit them all over the country. After all, with condo life, they can hop on a plane any time.