Editor’s Note: This is Part Two in a two-part series on Stillwaters Estates. Find Part One at chronline.com.
Talk to residents of Stillwaters about their community and certain words and phrases pop up a lot: safe, friendly and caring.
Ask them why they think their community is so great and many will credit founders Dave and Diana Williams for having a vision of a community that reflected their own brand of caring and faith.
“It really was a mission and a ministry for them, I think,” said Audrey Kimball, who has lived at Stillwaters since 2003.
Despite their own hardships and being told their vision for a retirement community for middle class people would never work, the Williamses have built a place that residents love for many reasons. While residents often credit the Williamses with the success, the couple point to their faith as the true cause.
“We think it’s the Lord that keeps this place like it is,” Dave Williams said. “You hear people often say ‘this isn’t like any other place. It’s like a family.’”
When they married 58 years ago, Dave and Diana Williams had a different kind of mission on their minds. After graduating from the University of Washington and working a medical internship in Philadelphia, Dave Williams enlisted in the Air Force in order to be stationed in Taiwan. The couple had friends in Taiwan, plus the hospital he was working for paid only $50 a month so the Air Force was a better opportunity for their growing family.
After their stay in Taiwan, the couple moved to Sacramento, California, then to Lakewood and Everett. They then decided to return to Taiwan for another two years, this time as part of a mission for their Free Methodist denomination to live among and treat children with polio. Their second trip to Taiwan was aboard a cargo ship with three young children in tow.
“My wife has been a good companion. I can’t imagine anyone else going through this with me,” Dave Williams said. “When you have a purpose, you can endure.”
The family then lived in India from 1973 to 1976 in a very small village at a crossroads. Their son, Paul, now a doctor, and daughter, Sheri, now a nurse, found their love for medicine, often getting to attend surgeries with their father at the small, informal hospital. Diana Williams recalled that the hospital was very primitive, with x-ray machines and lab equipment that were unreliable.
“What Dave became was a very good doctor because you couldn’t rely on those things. He had to think,” she said.
The Williams family came back home to Washington in 1976. Dr. Larry Hull, who founded Washington Orthopaedic Center in Centralia in 1973, had been a classmate and roommate of Dave Williams during his time at UW. He encouraged the couple to come to Centralia, where Dave Williams found employment at Providence Centralia Hospital. At that time, the couple said they had no idea their lives would change so dramatically 10 years later when they broke ground on what is today Stillwaters Estates. But they said looking back on their different global adventures, they believed they led to what they are doing today.
“Faith has always been a huge part of our lives and we have experienced things that have been invaluable to us,” Dave Williams said.
Though he didn’t move into Stillwaters until 2008, Bill Brumsickle lived near the community when it was created. He recalled the uproar among neighbors when the former farm nearly became a trailer park and being relieved when the Williams family proposed their vision. He watched the community as it developed and said he always admired how beautiful and park-like it seemed.
“I watched it from day one and I thought, ‘I’d like to do that.’” Brumsickle said.
Brumsickle met his wife, Doris Wood, a resident since 2004, at a Stillwaters Board of Directors meeting. They have been married since 2014. Wood said she moved there in 2004 when her husband died to be closer to her mom, who lived in one of the apartments there.
“When I first moved here it was so quiet,” she recalled. “There were times I had my front door open all night and never worried about it.”
Safety, companionship and a desire for a home with less required maintenance are all things that draw people to Stillwaters, said Cindy Mund, who has been Stillwaters’ realtor, broker and resident consultant since 2010.
“People are coming from houses that often have acreage and they’re realizing that at some point down the road they need to have less responsibility,” Mund said. “They’re trying to get into a place where they can age safely in their own home.”
When Don and Lynn Rash built their home at Stillwaters in 2014, some of their friends didn’t know what to think about their choice of an over-50 community.
“A friend of ours, when they heard we went to Stillwaters, said ‘I heard they moved to Stillwaters. Are they OK?’” Don Rash said. “And we said ‘yes, we’re OK and we’re getting better.’”
The couple retired from jobs in public schools in 2003 and 2004 and said choosing Stillwaters was not about an inability to manage their family home, but a desire to focus their energy on other things. The couple loves traveling and leads an active lifestyle of activities, such as kayaking, and they want to fit as many of these things into retirement as they can for as long as they are able.
“In the summer, we’re in and out and gone a lot and it just is safe here. It feels safe and your neighbors are watching your house when you’re not there,” Lynn said.
Life at Stillwaters is what you want it to be, residents say. For some, it’s about the security of a community. For others, it’s about connecting. Activities such as exercise groups, movie nights, bingo, wood carving and a coffee klatch offer residents a chance to meet their neighbors and socialize.
Carol Lee Rickard moved into Stillwaters in 2005 with her husband, Bill, and then moved to a smaller unit in 2011 after Bill died. She said when they first moved to Stillwaters she was still working a lot of hours and didn’t get very involved in many of the activities but has met many dear friends nonetheless.
“I visit with a lot of people when I walk the dog. There are so many people with dogs here we laugh at each other because we all know the names of the dogs but sometimes not the people,” Rickard said.
Kimball recently celebrated her 90th birthday and, because COVID-19 restrictions were still in place, the Stillwaters staff assisted Kimball in planning a drive-by celebration from the facility’s gazebo. Staff who go over and above, residents who care about and check on their neighbors and a neighborhood that feels like a modern version of Mayberry, it all starts at the top with Dave and Diana Williams, Kimball said.
“The joy I feel in this community the Williamses have set up an atmosphere for real caring and interest in their residents. It’s just incredible,” Kimball said.
Today, the Williamses are residents of Stillwaters themselves. David Williams still takes calls from residents at night for problems ranging from a clogged toilet to a burned-out light bulb. He said serving like that gives him a chance to get to know residents one on one. The Williamses said they worried when they moved in they might be busy non-stop responding to requests from residents but said they were pleasantly surprised otherwise.
“You know what, people are so kind here, they just treat us like any other neighbor,” Diana Williams said.
The Stillwaters Community is held in a Williams family trust and is very much a part of the Williams family. Kids and grandkids are frequently present in Stillwaters, helping with various projects from planting trees to baking cookies for their elaborate annual Christmas party. Three of their grandchildren work at Colonial Estates. Their son, Dr. Paul Williams, moved his Washington Park Direct Care and Quick Clinic several years ago to Colonial Drive, just outside the Stillwaters gates. Their son in-law, Dan Keahey, is the facility’s managing real estate broker. But most importantly, Diana Williams said, their entire family knows the community is part of their family and as such, is to be cared for.
“All of our children and grandchildren already know it’s not to be sold,” Diana Williams said.