It began as a boys’ school in 1916. Then, it became a plush hotel decorated with Persian rugs and Flemish tapestries. It thrived in the “Roaring Twenties,” changed hands after the stock market crash in 1929, and became officers’ quarters during World War II. In 1955, the guests were replaced by residents when the buildings were converted into a retirement home. But it didn’t thrive with dignity and distinction until Covenant Retirement Communities assumed ownership in 1966.

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The Samarkand of Santa Barbara is now a retirement community offering residential living, assisted living, assisted living with memory support, and skilled nursing care. The original building may be gone, but the koi pond, magnolia trees and blue vases are reminders of the rich past of these 16 acres at 2550 Treasure Drive.

Just as the campus has changed over the past century, The Samarkand has adapted in how it serves the needs of seniors and their families, while retaining the tradition and values that remain at the core of its mission: to affirm the dignity of each person.

Almost 9 million Californians, or 23 percent of the population, are Baby Boomers. This generation is facing difficult issues about aging, but for most of them, it’s not getting older that causes them concern, but their aging parents.

“We work with many families who are earnestly looking for the right choices and options for their aging parents,” said Pam Bigelow, marketing director for The Samarkand. “But before they can get to that point, they aren’t sure how to approach their parents about the issues that come with aging.”

So, The Samarkand and 14 other Covenant Retirement Communities across the country are engaged in a new program to help families talk about these issues. The Web site,, features articles on things like, “When is the right time to give up the car?” and “Is staying in the house a good idea?”

“But the most popular page is the article titled, ‘How to best get started,’” Bigelow said. “People want to know how to bring up the subject without scaring mom or dad, or alienating them. It’s about a two-way conversation, and we give ideas that work.”

To help adult children through the process, the Web site includes a video, articles that can be downloaded and shared with aging parents, checklists for families, and a list of national resources and local services that may be available.

While The Samarkand is an option for those who choose a retirement community, Bigelow is quick to point out that the program is not trying to “sell” anyone on ideas that might not be a good fit.

“We are proud to provide a welcoming community and home to those who live here, but ‘Having the Conversation’ is not about The Samarkand or Covenant Retirement Communities; it’s about family members talking with each other, expressing their feelings, hopes and concerns,” she said. “It’s about peace of mind.”

Bigelow says many families may come to the realization that a retirement community is a perfect fit, or that it is not. Simple adjustments at home may make life a lot easier for aging parents. Hiring in-home care is another option. Sometimes the family can provide the best living arrangements. She says the important thing is for adult children and aging parents to reach a decision together.

Bigelow has been with The Samarkand for nearly 20 years, and recalls what one resident told her in 1991:

“A husband and wife were moving their boxes and we were talking about why they made the decision to move in,” Bigelow recalled. “She told me, ‘We came here as a gift to our children.’ Having ‘The Conversation’ is our gift to families.”

Click here for more information about The Samarkand of Santa Barbara, or call 805.687.0701.

— John Hall represents The Samarkand of Santa Barbara.