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Lanier Village Estates celebrates 10 years
Local leaders had vision to bring retirement community to area
Alice Eckhardt, executive director of Lanier Village Estates, welcomes everyone to the McGill-Scarbrough Chapel Friday afternoon during a 10-year celebration and founders garden dedication ceremony.

A decade has passed since the vision of a continuing care retirement community in Gainesville came to fruition.

Lanier Village Estates dedicated a new garden On Friday celebrating its history and honoring its 17 founders.

"Gardens take a long time to bring into reality — very much like the efforts of the founders of this community," garden designer Mark Fockele said.

Around 175 residents, staff and dignitaries remembered the community's humble beginnings and remarked on the significance of its presence today.

Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner remarked on how much the residents had contributed to the community.

"Lanier Village Estates has added so much to the quality of life here," Bruner said. Bruner was the first social worker for the community's nursing home facility, WillowBrooke Court, and the owner of Village Nursing Care, now owned by Lanier Village's parent, ACTS Retirement-Life Communities.

Lanier Village Estate's origins go back further than the 10 years it has existed.

In the 1960s, Lillian and Grady Fraser thought their 86 acres of land would be a great location for retirement living. Some years later, several area residents got together and formed a group, Lanier Retirement Community, to look for housing options for seniors. ACTS, which presently owns 23 retirement communities nationwide, got involved.

Lanier Village Estates opened March 15, 2001, with 150 apartments and 25 carriage houses. Today nearly 500 senior citizens call it home, including founder Eula Pearce Sommer.

"It's bigger and better than we ever expected," Sommer said.

In the Lanier Village chapel, Executive Director Alice Eckhardt remarked on the foresight and perseverance of those who made the community a reality.

"Aren't we lucky that the founders had the vision to make this and bring this into fruition," Eckhardt said.

After hearing about the history of Lanier Village, the audience adjourned to the garden.

From a book owned by his great-grandfather, Mark Fockele read part of an essay by Sir Frances Bacon, "Of Gardens."

"‘God almighty first planted a garden,'" Fockele read, "and indeed it is the purest of human pleasures' — and that is what this garden is intended for."

Fockele wanted the garden to be very green, with a variety of textures. He compared the needles of the juniper to the smooth leaves of the summersweet planted next to it.

The plants surround a fountain with a square pool, the focal point of the garden. As the shrubs and trees mature and the plants fill out, Fockele hopes his design will provide an enclosed, shady space for reflection.

"This is an opportunity to create the kind of garden that people really enjoy, that really refreshes the spirit — a good garden does that," Fockele said.

Fockele's parents, the late Lou and Jean Fockele, were among those who sought to create a retirement community like Lanier Village.

"The Fockeles were very optimistic people, didn't settle for less than the best," Sommer said, "so I think their personality had some influence, too."

Fockele compared the design, planning and planting of the garden to the creation of Lanier Village Estates. Like the community, Fockele hopes his garden will grow into a special place, a private hideaway that's still close to home.

"I think the thing to say about the garden is come back in five years, come back in three," Fockele said.