Ted and Baerbel Schaller Model Life and Love Worth Living

Editor’s note: In celebration of OLDER AMERICANS MONTH and the theme “Blaze a Trail,” LifeSpire of Virginia is featuring one resident a week from its four continuing care retirement communities who most embodies the characteristics of a “trailblazer” in wellness, community and hospitality.

By Ann Lovell

NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia—She calls him, “My Ted.” He says he always gets the last word: “Yes, dear.”

Ted and Baerbel Schaller obviously love each other. The couple, both 76, will celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary in June. The couple’s devotion to one another is well-known among residents and staff of The Chesapeake in Newport News, a LifeSpire of Virginia continuing care retirement community, where they’ve lived since 2010.

“They still hold hands walking from their cottage to the dining room. They are an inspiration,” says Patricia Morris, LifeSpire vice president and head of the VBH Foundation, LifeSpire’s benevolence arm.

The Schallers also model wellness, community and hospitality, which is why they are two of LifeSpire’s featured trailblazers during Older Americans Month in May, says Jonathan Cook, LifeSpire President and CEO. The U.S. Administration for Community Living sets aside May each year to recognize the contributions of older Americans. The 2016 theme is “Blaze a Trail.”

“The Schallers are true ambassadors for The Chesapeake,” Cook says. “They represent all that it means to be part of a LifeSpire community.”

“We moved in six years ago at age 70. It was the best time to do it because there is so much to do,” says Baerbel, who goes by her nickname, Bell, she says, because many people can’t pronounce her German name.The Schallers look for every opportunity to be involved in The Chesapeake’s myriad activities. Ted bikes 20 miles three times a week, and Baerbel claims he is “addicted to exercise.” She serves on the activities committee and the chorus committee, and both serve on the worship and spiritual life committee and as music librarians. From “aqua ease” in the community’s indoor pool to exercise class to creative arts to chorus, the Schallers’ involvement and energy seem boundless.

“THIS MUST BE THE PLACE”

The couple first learned about the community when they attended an AARP refresher driving class hosted at The Chesapeake in 2009.

“We can’t afford this,” Ted and Bell said to each other at the time, admiring the many amenities of the community. Ted is a retired U.S. Army sergeant who worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Newport News. Bell is a homemaker who manages the couple’s finances.

“He makes the money, and I spend the money,” Bell quips.

But working with Liz Gee, The Chesapeake’s marketing director, the couple realized affordable options were available to them. The couple also paid a refundable deposit to add their names to a waiting list. This program, now called The Chesapeake Club, allowed them to use the community’s amenities at no additional charge. They also put their house of 34 years on the market — in the middle of the U.S. housing crash.

“Our house was on the market a year,” Bell says. “We moved in anyway.”

“There’s no place like this place so this must be the place!” Ted exclaims.

He continues, “The Chesapeake had the right feel, but two things sold me on it. One … being able to use all the amenities before we moved in. Two: If we run out of funds through no fault of our own, they won’t put us out on the street.”

“This is why we make contributions to the benevolence fund,” Bell says. “We know the benevolence fund helps keep people in their homes.”

The couple also appreciates the faith-based nature of The Chesapeake. Neither Ted nor Bell was “raised in church,” Bell says. Ted’s father immigrated to the U.S. from Austria, and he describes himself as Catholic. Bell grew up in East Germany where worship was forbidden and describes herself as Lutheran. Both say religion plays a part in their lives now, and both serve as ushers in the nondenominational worship service that meets weekly at The Chesapeake.

“The Schallers are ‘utility players,’” says Nancy Hayes, chaplain at The Chesapeake. “I know I can count on them.”

But it isn’t so much “religion” or religious activities that inspire the Schallers as the way that faith-based attitudes play out in their everyday interactions with The Chesapeake’s staff and other residents. “Respect” is one word Ted uses, incidentally the same word he uses to describe the success of their marriage. “Honesty” and “trust” are others.

“People treat each other differently in a faith-based community,” Bell says. “They talk differently to one another. Nobody talks nasty here.”

“Everyone is honest,” Ted says. “It has a calming effect.”

A LIFETIME TOGETHER

Respect, honesty and trust are not only hallmarks of the couple’s relationships with other people; those characteristics have been the foundation of the couple’s relationship with one another since their first meeting in a small West German village in 1974. Bell, whose family lived in East Germany, left the communist state in 1955 when she was 15 years old.

“When I finished my schooling in East Germany, I had the choice of becoming a blacksmith or a mason,” Bell says. “My parents said, ‘No.’” So, the young woman moved to West Germany to live with her aunt and uncle.

Ted, who was stationed with the U.S. Army in West Germany, first spotted Bell at a party in an adjoining village. She didn’t notice him. A few months later, a young American military couple who rented their home from Bell needed a driver to take them to the airport. Ted showed up with the car. Bell didn’t speak much English — as an East German, she had learned Russian in school. Ted, who understood some German, was studying the language. He asked Bell to help him with his German homework.

“We were married six months later,” Ted says, proudly. “It took me three tours to Germany to find her.”

To this day, the two still speak German in their home.

A LIFESTYLE WORTH IMITATING

The couple’s only regret in a lifetime of happiness is that they have no children.

“I love children,” Bell says. “I always wanted children.”

In 1976, the couple filed paperwork to adopt but were advised that the military lifestyle was too unstable for a child. Still, they recognize that the life and love they share is unique and fulfilling.

“We never fight. We have no kids, so there’s no reason,” Ted quips.

“And, we have nieces and nephews, and we have the big family of The Chesapeake,” Bell says.

In particular, her nephew, Sven, who lives in southern Germany, calls, texts and visits them often. They proudly show photos of Sven and the numerous trips they’ve made together.

“One time Sven told my Ted, ‘Uncle Ted, I never drink or smoke because you don’t do it,’” Bell says proudly.

Modeling good behavior for the next generation is important to the Schallers, not just for Sven’s benefit but for others as well.

Bell sums it up best.

“We want to live a life in front of people that they can look up to,” she says.