20 Years On, Highland Green’s Original Residents Are Still Meeting New Friends

As Highland Green welcomes more residents to the active lifestyle community, it is also planning for the future.

Highland Green residents Peter Wood, Jim Von Benken, Sally Von Benken, and Ellen Wood
Peter Wood, Jim Von Benken, Sally Von Benken, and Ellen Wood. Photo by Dave Waddell

In 2003, Ellen and Peter Wood were among the very first “pioneer residents” of a brand-new, 55+ residential community in Topsham, called Highland Green. One reason they were so keen on the place? It was so easy to leave. Then in their 50s, the Woods were frequent travelers — avid scuba divers — and for all their new community’s perks, the thing they liked best was that the cooperative ownership model meant they could always grab their luggage and their flippers and hop a flight knowing their grass would be mowed, their snow plowed, and their house generally maintained in their absence. “One of the beauties of living at Highland Green,” Ellen says, “is that, literally, you walk out, close the door, and just go on your trip.”

Back then, when Highland Green first opened, the Woods only had 46 or so neighbors, living on two roads that wound through a 635-acre campus. Twenty years later, the community is home to 338 people from 34 different states, including four of the original pioneers. The co-op includes a community center, a pool, and a tennis and pickleball court, along with a neighboring golf course and nature preserve. There are 225 free-standing homes, with more in the works. Independent-living apartment-style residences as well as assisted living and memory-care homes are also currently in development. “As our pioneer residents look toward their next steps, Highland Green looks to the future as well,” says developer John Wasileski. “We have a steadfast commitment to provide our residents not only with a safe place for various stages of life, but a community that provides them fulfilling days rich with life’s pleasures.”

The Woods are still globetrotting — their most recent trip brought them north of the Arctic Circle, where animal sightings included polar bears, reindeer, and humpback whales — but today, the couple has also grown to appreciate the sense of community they come home to. “Our girls didn’t grow up here in Maine,” Peter says. “So we didn’t have the sense of connection you get from raising your kids someplace. But this concept of a co-op seemed like an opportunity to be a part of a neighborhood.” The couple even helped establish a travel club to share their adventures with other travelers — and armchair travelers.

Peter and Ellen also appreciate the sidewalks and street lights — amenities not often found in wooded Maine communities — especially as dog owners who want to feel comfortable heading out for a walk, even on dark winter evenings. “The sidewalks and the lights allow you to meet people all the time,” Ellen says. “It’s been that way from the day we moved in, and it’s still one of the best things.”

a Quarry Cottages at Highland Green
Highland Green’s new construction options include Quarry Cottages (pictured) and custom homes.

One of the first couples they met was their neighbors across the street, Sally and Jim Von Benken, also among the pioneer residents, natives of Sudbury, Massachusetts, who have since become close friends. The Von Benkens had a condo in Portland and, one weekend in Maine, attended a production at Brunswick’s Maine State Music Theatre, where they saw an ad for Highland Green in the program. “We knew we wanted to live in Maine on a forever basis, but we couldn’t live in that condo forever,” Sally says. “It was a third-floor walk-up with no garage. So we said, let’s go look there. And we bought the property.”

Beyond being able to design a house that suited their needs, Sally and Jim were also attracted to the location. “It’s 30 minutes from the ocean and 30 minutes from the city, one in each direction,” Sally says. “That’s perfect for us. We can get to Portland, and we can get to Reid State Park. And we also loved the property because it’s on the river, and the trails were already being discussed. It was just perfect.”

Along with the Woods, the Von Benkens also found a community unlike what they had at their previous Maine property. “We are all of approximately the same age, perhaps with some similar backgrounds, and we were immediately all friends,” Sally says. “And it’s more than just playing bridge together. When somebody needs some help, we do it. We don’t even think about it.”

In an effort to give residents additional peace of mind, Highland Green is now launching independent-living apartments with conveniences like underground parking, elevators, one-story living spaces, and access to amenities ranging from dining and transportation, to housekeeping and nursing. While they hope the new build will draw immediate residents, they also see it as attractive to potential homeowners — and existing residents like the pioneers — who may like the idea of having a place to downsize, without leaving the premises. To the Woods, it makes sense.

“We’re 74 and 75, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t start looking to this next phase in our early 80s,” Ellen says. “I don’t want to stay in the house and regret that I’m housebound. If you move into independent living, there are activities, drivers, and food. You can be more social than if you remain in your house.”

“The innovative housing options within the Highland Green community provide a seamless way for our residents to continue to live their lives vibrantly while immersed in unequaled majesty . . . a truly ideal retirement choice, Wasileski says.

“Some people say, I’m going to die in this house,” Peter says. “I say, it’s easy to die in your house. Living in your house as you get older is a lot tougher. Socialization is a critical part of growing as we age. And moving to a place like the independent-living community makes it a lot easier for people as they get older to have that socialization. It’s a real plus.”

To learn more about available homes and new development at Highland Green, visit highlandgreenlifestyle.com. 7 Evergreen Circle, Topsham. 866-854-1200.