Retiring Harwich COA Director Foley Takes On A New Career

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Aging , council on aging

Council on Aging Director Barbara-Anne Foley takes a breath of fresh air outside her office on Friday. Foley will be retiring this week and taking the manager and innkeeper's job at the Commodore Inn in West Harwich. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

WEST HARWICH — There will be new faces greeting people at the Commodore Inn, but they will not be unfamiliar to many people in the community. Longtime Council on Aging Director Barbara-Anne Foley and her husband John are starting new careers as managers and innkeepers of the 27-room resort.

“It's a big step, literally a dream come true,” Barbara-Anne Foley said of the decision to leave her council on aging position after 18 years and take on a new challenge. The Foleys will take over their new jobs in a matter of days; Barbara-Anne's retirement date is July 3.

Foley said she was not looking for another position but her seasonal neighbors, Dan and Kelley McNamara, who also live in Texas, raised the question of retirement at a cookout and what dream-come-true opportunity they'd like to pursue. Foley said when she is out walking, she often passes the Commodore Inn and she has thought many times that it would be nice to own or be the innkeeper of the resort near the ocean.

Dick and Flora Jones have operated the inn for a quarter of a century and were looking to sell and take on a smaller business. The desires of several longtime residents collided on Friday when the McNamaras purchased the two-acre resort for $2,835,000, and asked Foley and her husband to manage it.

“It was like marrying off your baby,” Flora Jones said of letting go of those past 25 years. She said the couple is planning to stay in town. “It's our town,” she said, adding they are looking at another business interest locally.

“The people who bought the inn will do a wonderful job,” she added.

The Jones family will still have connections to the Commodore Inn, Foley said of the plans to continue serving the renowned Scottish scones made by Fiona Rendon, the Jones' daughter. “We'll continue the tradition of providing scones to the customers and the people who come in off the street for them,” Foley said.

“I would not have left without this opportunity, but this is a dream come true and it fell in our lap,” Foley said.

She and her husband have not had a lot of experience directly with tourism and room rentals, but through their church they have had experience in preparing breakfasts for 50 people and holding fundraisers for 250 people, so she sees a short learning curve. “We're good at getting food out hot and quick,” Foley said.

The new innkeepers will be working with the new owners to expand breakfasts, including waffle, pancakes and breakfast potatoes. They are also looking at providing a second breakfast seating for the public.

Foley said they would also like to expand the season down the road and they are working on lots of ideas. They will continue with bus tours and clam bakes, she said. She said they would also like to work with coaches and kids on traveling sports teams, providing lodging in the off-season.

For Barbara-Anne Foley her dream comes with an obvious transition. She left a position at the Eagle Pond Nursing Home to take the COA job. At the time the council center was in the Albro House next to town hall and did not provide much space. Ten or 11 people would fit around a table on the second floor and anything larger had to go to a church or the library.

In early 2000, the community center opened and provided seniors with access to a 32,000-square-foot building, which has “served the seniors phenomenally.” She said there were a little over 3,000 seniors in town back in 1999 and now there are more than 5,000; 44 percent of the town's population are seniors today. Foley said there are a 1,000 residents in town over 80 years of age and a lot over 100. “We're seeing [people] living much longer,” she said. She attributed some of that to the great expansion of programs at the COA, such as the lunch program, where there is a lot of camaraderie and people helping people.

The programs allow the COA to keep an eyes on seniors and see how they are doing, whether they are eating, suffering or need assistance in any way, she said.

“It takes a skilled, competent, compassionate staff and we have skilled, knowledgeable people who have served the town well,” Foley said.

Foley took the time this week to praise that staff, singling out Gale Barnes (see related story), who is also retiring on the same day as Foley after 21 years of service to the town. But Foley emphasized the importance of volunteers over the years in making the COA operation run so well.

She also had great praise for public safety personnel and their ability to respond to the needs of seniors. “We're really lucky in this town in how people jump into action,” Foley said.

The retiring COA director spoke warmly of the centenarians she has spent time with in her position, people like Dottie Atkins, who lived to 107 and June Halloran, who celebrated her 102 birthday at Ruggies. Foley told the story of a family from Australia who happened to be in the restaurant at the time.

The man said he'd never seen anyone who was over 100 years of age. He wanted to know the secret. Halloran said: “Drink a little bit of wine, a eat a little bit of chocolate, not Hershey's, and have no man put slippers under my bed after my husband died.”

“I'm going to miss the seniors and the volunteers the most,” Foley said. “It's exciting to know you can help people. I'll still be living in town. I'm not going anywhere. If I can help, I will.”