Built on the Support of a Family
In mid 1980, Mack Willis, Sr. was promoted to his IBM division HQ in Princeton, NJ. This meant moving from his home state of Georgia to unfamiliar territory. The move from Atlanta happened when Mack and Gwen were expecting their second child, when James. Mack, Jr. was just three years old.
Shortly after arriving in Princeton, following weeks of house hunting (up and down the stairs, in and out of the car), James was born one month ahead of schedule. 90% of the family’s household goods were still in moving boxes when Gwen was rushed to the hospital. Luckily, they had contacted their aunt, Lois Wright, who lived in White Plains, NY upon their arrival to New Jersey. White Plains was less than two hours away. Aunt Lois, a retired nurse and hospital administrator, was perfectly suited to jump in and help with this “surprise” situation. A desperate call to Lois from Mack got very quick results.
A Helping Hand
Aunt Lois and her husband, Uncle James, came to the rescue. “Mack, you go to IBM and take care of your new job,” she said. “James and I will look after Gwen, Little Mack, and the new baby.” This was a life saver for the Willises. Gwen and the new baby went home from the hospital to White Plains, NY with Uncle James and Aunt Lois.
What was supposed to be a two-year assignment turned out to be a ten-year assignment: three years in Princeton and seven years in Chappaqua, NY. Since Chappaqua is 15 minutes from White Plains, the Willises joined Aunt Lois’ and Uncle James’ church in White Plains. The families grew very close during this ten year period in the Northeast.
Returning to Atlanta
In 1989, Mack got an opportunity to move back to Atlanta, GA. About six months after their move, Uncle James passed away. Aunt Lois decided to come live in Atlanta to be near the Willis family. Upon Aunt Lois’ arrival, Mack and Gwen helped her find a home in College Park, near several retired friends from NY. After about five years, Aunt Lois was in her mid 80s and required more attention. Mack and Gwen wound up going to College Park to check on her, sometimes three to four times per week. Something had to be done. They tried getting her a live-in caregiver but that did not work out. They went through five caregivers in one year.
Assisted Living: A Caring Solution
It was about this time that Mack and Gwen noticed new facilities being built near their home in East Cobb called “ASSISTED LIVING HOMES.” They realized that the services offered would be ideal for Aunt Lois. She was not seriously ill physically but needed watchful oversight. She needed three hot meals a day, timely snacks, assistance with laundry and cleaning, and help with other activities of daily living (ADL’s). These services would be a game changer for Lois and her family.
At that time, there were no such communities available in Southwest Atlanta or Vinings. This was when Mack and Gwen realized that someone needed to build a community for elders in this area. And that was the beginning of Summerset.