Clarence has been home to Joan Baez, Joyce Carol Oates and Bishop John Neumann. Now it is home to the Bowen sisters, who form a close sorority in the Brothers of Mercy's Senior Apartments. The five sisters, who come from a family of 15 children born in Mount Jewett, Pa., gather every Tuesday to play cards, which usually turns into an afternoon of laughs.
The sisters, who range in age from 71 to 85, came to the apartments one at a time over the past three years.
Gay Truesdale was the first to move in. A friend recommended the place. "I loved it from the first day," she said in the southern accent she picked up in Texas.
One simple joy is the birdfeeder outside her window. She gets to watch nature at its most beautiful.
"I thought that was a gift. I was living with my sister Evelyn before and we always fed the birds. We had so many birds come in. I just loved them," she said.
Loretta Weldgen came next. She saw how happy Gay was living there, so she left her senior apartment complex in Batavia and came to Clarence.
Then came Sharon Covert, who is celebrating two years here. "I like the friendliness of everybody," she said. "I don't think there's too many where I don't know their names."
Sharon is known for her own friendliness. When the other residents gather in the multipurpose room for cards or bingo, Sharon is the one who goes around giving backrubs.
Evelyn Mason, had lived with Gay for nine years, and then had another housemate for 20 years. When she moved out, Evelyn sold her house and came to her sisters.
She plays cards when they need her. "There is such a variety group down there, I don't want to go in take someone else's place. I say, 'When you need me, call me.'"
Eloise Folan, the youngest of the five, was fittingly the last to move in. She came last December from Florida after seven years of being a granny-nanny to her grandchildren. She lived with each of her sisters for two-week stints while waiting for her application to be accepted, during which time she made copies of all their keys and now lets herself into their apartments. She feels a real need to be close to her family.
"I love being with the sisters because just three months ago, one of my favorite friends I've known for 62 years; they found her deceased in her apartment. She was gone three days before they found her. I like the idea that we're here for each other. We can check up on each other. I pray to God that none of us finds somebody dead three days later. That really scared me."
There's more to the family. Their parents, Melvin and Lois Bowen, had 15 children including two sets of twins. A sister, also named Lois, lives in Cheektowaga, while a brother, Walter, lives in Depew. The rest of the children have passed on. Through the years the sisters have moved to other states and cities. Elma, the youngest sister, once prayed they would all be together again in the same area. "I believe this was an answer to her prayer," said Evelyn.
When they play cards, the five sisters invite Lois, making it six.
"Seven," Evelyn said. "We make the brother come over with his wife, too."
"That makes eight, Ev," corrected Sharon.
That kind of "correcting" goes on a lot among the Bowens. Each sister acts like one part of the whole unit. When Gay points out a plant given to her by their mother blooming in her front window, calling it "Mom's Prayer Plant," because she forgot the real name, Eloise points out that it is properly called shamrock.
The Brothers of Mercy complex is much like a regular apartment complex. The 100 residents all have access to a computer room, coin-operated laundry room, gym and a multipurpose room where they have dinners and bingo, as well as monthly birthday parties for the residents. The Brothers of Mercy bring in entertainers in the form of singers and magicians, and guest speakers with a lot of good information from Senior Social Services, who work with the residents one on one to meet their individual needs.
Although many residents still drive, a van service will take them shopping, to a senior center, and even to the casino.
The sisters offer a great deal of thanks to the staff of Mary, Jan and Joe. "They really have their heart in this place," said Sharon.
Mary, the administrator for the complex, listens to the needs of every resident. "She takes them to heart. She tried to please everybody," said Evelyn. "Everybody who works here, they come down the hall and they'll go out of their way to say, 'Hi.'"
When Evelyn had a problem with bees. Joe from maintenance immediately took care of the six hives he found. "I was pleased with how fast they did it and how thorough they were in getting rid of them," she said.
For those times when they want to stay in, they each have their own apartment they furnish themselves. If they want to get some fresh air, the grounds have many walkways through the scenic nature of Clarence.
"You can get the exercise you need. I see people 85, 90 out there walking and it's safe, it's really safe to go out there and have that freedom to go up and down the paths. You see a lot of little creatures," Evelyn she said.
They used to get a lot of deer, but they are no longer allowed to feed them because they once drew a skunk. So, they stick with birds and their one crazy squirrel who hangs by his tail to get suet from the birdfeeder.
"Talk about determination. We can learn a lot from them," Evelyn said. "God must get a kick out of his creation."
"I sure do," added Gay.