Urban pioneers Jean and Foster Owen are ready for the next chapter in their lives
By Susan Shinn
Thirty years ago, Foster and Jean Owen embraced the pioneering spirit when they moved to the West Square, eventually renovating two houses.
Longtime advocates of the arts in Salisbury, the Owens are preparing for the next frontier in their lives.
In mid-July, they’ll be moving to Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill.
Carol Woods encourages everything the couple has come to stand for: volunteerism, service, involvement in the arts, giving back.
Foster and Jean have spent the last decade orchestrating this next chapter of life, and in mid-July will hitch up their wagon ó well, OK, Foster’s shiny burgundy pick-up truck ó and head east.
Foster, 73, and Jean 71a, are aware that they’re leaving a legacy behind ó for their family and for the community.
In looking ahead, they’ve spent time looking back, too.
A recent note from the couple’s daughter Susan Atkinson, a city planner in Norman, Okla., brought it to light.
“Thank you for bringing us up to know that old houses are vitally important,” Susan wrote in part. “Thank you for thinking it was important to rehabilitate a few of them. Thank you for who you are and who you raised me to be. It helps so much to know where I’ve come from!”
“All of a sudden,” Foster says, “I realize there’s a legacy that’s been created.”
There was a time in Salisbury, the couple points out, that old houses were simply torn down.
But Ed Clement and others in Historic Salisbury Foundation ó urban pioneers, if you will ó took a stand.
“That groundwork takes on a mind of its own,” Jean says. “I think anybody who takes a stand is going to have that pioneer determination.”
“It takes a bit of courage sometimes when you’re involved like that,” Foster adds.
“The bottom line is that you’re pleased because the beautiful houses are wonderful living places again.”
These days, when something slips Jean’s mind, she says, “That’s why we’re going to the home!”
The couple uses that term a lot ó always tongue-in-cheek.
Yet they realized 10 years ago that the time had come to plan for their future.
“In our parents’ generation,” Foster says, “you went to the home when you couldn’t stay in your own home.”
Now, there are active, dynamic retirement communities like Carol Woods, and closer to home, Trinity Oaks.
The men who started Carol Woods, Foster notes, were retired UNC professors who didn’t want to leave Chapel Hill.
They found 120 acres on Weaver Dairy Road only a few miles from campus off Airport Road (N.C. 86), and began Carol Woods.
Its mission appealed to the Owens. Add to the fact that a family friend is there ó along with Anne Ramsay, formerly of Salisbury ó and they feel somewhat at home already.
Being proactive about their future is just part of the couple’s personality.
“Both of us had dealt with parents who tried to stay at home,” Foster says. “We don’t want to take our chances so that we would have to be put somewhere.”
Staying home under whatever circumstances were necessary held no appeal for the Owens.
With both daughters living out-of-state ó daughter Kate Williams lives in Austin, Texas ó they decided to make their own plans on their own terms.
“We talked to the girls and we were all in agreement that this was the way to go,” Foster says. “It would help them and it would help us.”
Admittedly, the Owens will be downsizing. But they’ve done it before, when they moved from the “big house” over on South Fulton Street now owned by Greg and Kristin Shields, to their cozy “eyebrow” bungalow on West Horah.
They’ll be able to take a lot of special pieces of furniture with them ó family antiques, as well as stained glass acquired from Franchot Palmer, Brent Smith’s pottery and expansive, contemporary paintings from various local artists.
The bungalow’s new owners, Tim and Trisha Proper, are interested in some of the arts and crafts furniture that complements the house so well.
Things are beginning to fall into place. Actually, it’s been that way all along.
When the Owens retired ó she as an educator, he as assistant city manager ó they ramped up their volunteer activities.
Waterworks Visual Arts Center and the Salisbury Symphony had long been important to the couple.
“There are blocks of time to have to devote to certain things” throughout life, Jean says. “The chapters of your life are like segments of
an orange. When you have children, that’s really just a small quarter of the orange. After you raise your children, then you have more time to fill up.”
For Foster, that meant even more time to devote to music.
After Jean Owen, as he is wont to call her, music is his second-best friend.
He’s long been a barber-shop quartet member, and he recently joined the Polka Dots as their tuba player.
Band members lament the fact they’ll be one dot short before long.
Jean especially is enamored of the symphony.
“The arts raise your sights and give you hope,” she says. “We’ve got hungry people, that’s true. But if the minds aren’t fed, people won’t stay in Salisbury.”
The Owens have not just served on boards for the symphony and Waterworks and United Way and the Meroney Theatre, they’ve taken on leadership positions.
Linda Jones considers herself lucky that Jean was on the symphony board when she became executive director five years ago.
“She was a leader, caretaker, friend, confidante, worker bee,” Linda says. “My goodness, it was a 24/7 effort she put into being president of the board.”
Linda and Foster served on a Lord Salisbury committee together.
“They are both good listeners,” Linda says. “They don’t just listen, they act. It’s a lifestyle of caring for the community through the boards on which they serve.”
Unlike Ed Norvell, fundraiser extraordinaire who admits to more than a few sleepless nights, a lack of sleep doesn’t bother this couple.
“Sleepless nights aren’t always a negative,” Jean says. “Your creative juices are flowing sometimes and you can think of one more way to do something or get something done. So that’s a positive thing.”
“One of the neat things about retirement,” Foster says, “is if you get a hot streak at 3 a.m., it doesn’t matter.”
Foster and Jean plan to take their time and decide what activities they want to get involved in. Carol Woods has transportation to all major arts performance venues at Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh. There are museum trips and weekly lectures on their own campus.
There are also committees led by residents embracing every aspect of life at Carol Woods, from budgeting and management to music and other arts.
Now that the future is secure, the Owens want to take things day by day, week by week.
“We’re going to enjoy it in the moment and not do any more long-range planning,” Jean says. “We’re going to be OK.”Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or email@example.com.
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