Wanda Fleming, a Juneau resident since 1973, says she waited two years for the opportunity to move into her new community, but since arriving a couple of weeks ago life as a retiree is happening at a whirlwind pace.
“We have an activity director who keeps us busy — boy, does she keep us busy,” said Fleming, while eating dinner with about 15 other residents Wednesday at the newly opened Riverview Senior Living complex.
The assisted living facility on Clinton Drive in Vintage Business Park, has nearly 90 apartments and sits on 2.5 acres of forested land that borders a trail. Fleming said she and her other new neighbors are staying busy with activities ranging from bingo games at the complex to trips to places such as the Alaska State Museum.
Riverview is seen by local officials as an important step in addressing Juneau’s shortage of both residential housing and senior care facilities. Carrie Pusich, Riverview’s community relations director, said about 70% of the apartments have been claimed by people who will move in gradually during the coming months to ensure a smooth startup for both residents and staff.
“Right now we have probably 48 other depositors, so we could fill up very quickly,” she said. “These are people who are going to be moving in during the next 90 days. Right now August is the last scheduled move-in.”
Among those dining at Riverview on Wednesday evening were three siblings visiting Dan Beason, a Juneau resident who first moved here in 1949, and was among the first four residents to move into Riverview. He had to temporarily move to a facility in Anchorage in January due to the lack of practical options for local senior housing vacancies, which consisted of a couple of small private care facilities.
“They’re pretty full and they’re really expensive,” said Karen Beason, one of his sisters.
For the past decade, Alaska has had the fastest-growing senior population per capita in the U.S., according to the Alaska Commission on Aging. Juneau’s population of senior citizens during the next 16 years is expected to double, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Having the Riverview complex open made for a welcome reunion among the Beason family. Karen Beason said it also offers a different setting and doesn’t have the wait list that exists at the state-run Juneau Pioneer Home.
“The Pioneer Home is really meant for people that can’t take care of themselves,” she said, “This hopefully is meant for a long time for some people — and a social thing.”
Riverview has 58 assisted living apartments, plus 29 memory care units offering elevated levels of care. Its facilities include an in-house movie theater, activity room, beauty salon, massage room and laundry services.
An official grand opening ceremony is planned during the coming months, Pusich said.
Fleming said Riverview is a facility she’s hoped for years would become available in Juneau.
“When I saw it in the paper in 2021 I thought ‘This is it,’” she said. “I watched it being built, I drove by and I got excited.”
Construction on the complex, which is operated and managed by Northstar Senior Living, began in September of 2021 and prospective residents got their first look about a year later. Fleming said when she moved in the experience was more family-like than that of a residential complex, since she was among the first four residents.
Fleming also got an early chance to select her apartment, which has a view of Mount McGuiness she said contributes to a setting that makes her think of the Swiss Alps.
Judy Kiesel, a Juneau resident since 1942 who moved in shortly after Fleming, had a different motivation for selecting an apartment that looks in the opposite direction.
“There is a mountain named for my dad on North Douglas Highway, so I’m looking out at Mount Meek,” she said.
A different priority was fulfilled this week for Betty Marriott, a Juneau resident since 1962, as her baby grand piano was moved into her new second-story apartment. She was an elementary school teacher for many years who also occasionally performed music at the now-defunct Fiddlehead restaurant, and her new neighbors spoke highly during Wednesday’s dinner of her playing skills.
“Of course, I’m very careful about hours,” Marriott said.
The evening’s menu, which included nine options ranging from seared cod fillets to Cobb salads, was prepared by a five-person kitchen staff led by chef Roberto Dominguez. His culinary experience over many years includes a number of major Las Vegas hotels, but he said his motivation to work at an assisted living facility came after his parents entered one elsewhere earlier this year.
“My dad said the food was horrible,” he said. “I told my dad this is terrible and I wish they had a chef. So I’m trying to make it as pleasant and comfortable as possible.”
Riverview ended up being a good match for both the facility and chef, he said.
“They didn’t have a chef they wanted,” Dominguez said. Meanwhile, he was working in Anchorage for a mining company, which meant intensive shift schedules, and “I didn’t want to work for four weeks in a row.”
While there are expected challenges common to many chefs in Juneau these days — notably recruiting workers and ensuring a reliable delivery schedule of supplies — Dominguez said the menu planning isn’t among the difficulties.
“They want good comfort food, something that tastes good,” he said. “They like flavors — lots of flavors.”
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com or (907) 957-2306.