Connecting to Community 

John and Sylvia Yankey’s thirst for knowledge and involved nature is an asset to Judson’s South Franklin Circle.

Shortly after moving to South Franklin Circle in November 2021, John and Sylvia Yankey were perusing the latest edition of The Cardinal when they spotted a call for contributions to the community’s resident-run publication. “We felt that would give us a terrific chance to meet incoming residents and ‘pioneers,’” John says. 

As academics, the Yankey’s are inherently curious and drawn to a range of topics. The couple spent their professional careers in the nonprofit sector, and aside from consulting for countless nonprofits, John served as a chaired professor at the Case Western Reserve University Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences for 45 years. He taught courses well past retirement until 2019. Sylvia’s developmental and fundraising background included campaign planning, feasibility studies, and everything else. “Our whole focus has been the nonprofit world,” she says. In fact, a passion for nonprofits is what led them to Judson Senior Living—also a nonprofit—and South Franklin Circle in Chagrin Falls, not far from where they lived in Beachwood for the previous 32 years. 

Continuing the dialogue from that first phone call to The Cardinal’s editor Dot Bambach, Sylvia laughs, describing a long pause on the other line after she shared, “We are interested, and we are academics.”

“She probably thought, ‘Oh, no—those academic articles with footnotes!’” Sylvia quips, lightheartedly adding, “That has turned out not to be the case at all!” Indeed, the couple landed in an ideal position for meeting members of the community, learning about its history, and exploring topics they never imagined, like how turkey became Thanksgiving’s meat of choice, how to determine the age of a tree without cutting it down, and Sears Roebuck Kit Homes. “Contributing to The Cardinal keeps the mind engaged, and it has taken us down roads we likely never would have traveled intellectually,” John says, adding that the editorial staff members have become great friends. The Yankey’s have also discovered longtime connections they didn’t expect. For instance, their first member profile for The Cardinal featured joan gelb (all lowercase intentionally, as she and late husband, vic, prefer). Turns out that John and vic were involved in several philanthropic activities before his passing, including efforts at The Mandel School.  It is a small world at South Franklin Circle—and a connected world, which makes for an active and engaging lifestyle. “One of the things we were looking at when choosing a community was vitality,” Sylvia says. “And we found that vitality and a vigorous, energetic group of people here.” 

Inspired Living

The Yankey’s priorities when searching for a nonprofit community with a continuum of care included activities, nature, comfort, connections, and dining. When they toured the campus and experienced the wooded preserve, the outdoor setting right at their feet was immediately appealing. “We are walkers and hikers, and we saw South Franklin Circle provided those opportunities,” Sylvia says. Their thirst for knowledge is quenched by the Dialogue Series, a speaker-networking and social event they look forward to and are invited to help plan. “Following the dialogue is a fabulous reception, and everyone gets excited about hearing the speaker and gathering afterward,” John says. The upcoming series will host local area CEOs such as Debora Yandala, president and CEO of Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Also on the schedule is Greg Harris, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, The Cleveland Foundation’s new president and CEO Lillian Kuri, along with The Cleveland Orchestra’s president and CEO, Andre Gremillet. With eight speakers annually, the thought leadership discussions that take place at South Franklin Circle are designed to inspire, share knowledge, and spark conversation. This is precisely the type of environment where the Yankey’s and their new neighbors thrive. 

Finding Balance

“When we are called to do something, we do it,” John says, pointing to their role as Resident Ambassadors. Now settled into life at South Franklin Circle, the couple attends open houses to meet potential members and answer their questions. The Yankeys recall the value of hearing first-hand from members what South Franklin Circle has to offer. Sylvia dials back to when they toured their home. With two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an office space, an updated kitchen, and a balcony overlooking the woods, “I said, ‘I could live here and be very happy,’” she relates. The couple takes turns dining at Radius Restaurant and The Bistro or ordering prepared options for delivery. They maintain connections off campus, too. They work out with a personal trainer twice a week, and Sylvia plays bridge on Fridays with a group she has gathered with for more than 20 years. During her consulting years, Sylvia jokes that clients knew reaching her during reserved bridge afternoon hours was a “useless exercise.” 

She adds, “John is very athletic and knows how to keep his muscles strong,” which is why they stick with their trainer based in Orange, a short drive from South Franklin Circle. John continues to serve on the Visiting Committee at The Mandel School, while Sylvia serves on the board of the nonprofit Parkinson’s disease wellness organization, InMotion.

“For us, we found the right balance at this stage in our lives,” John says. 

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