Like mother, like daughter

Joan and Ray Walpole were two of Tarragal Glen’s earliest residents. Now daughter Diane has followed in their footsteps. Here’s why.

Photograph of Diane and Dave Merchant in front of their new home at Tarragal Glen

On Mother’s Day in 1988, Joan and Ray Walpole took a day off from tending to their 120-acre farm in Kulnura to take a look at the plans of ‘Tarragal Glen’, a new retirement community being built on Terrigal Drive in Erina, New South Wales. Before too long, they snapped up Villa 7 “off the plan”, moving in a year later and becoming beloved pioneers of this soon-to-be bustling retirement community.

Fast forward 32 years, and with numerous new villages to choose from on the Central Coast, daughter Diane and her husband Dave also decided to call Tarragal Glen their home for the next chapter of their lives.

Find out what drew Diane to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Pioneers from the farm to the village

Black and white image of Joan and Diane Walpole in front of family farm
Joan and Ray Walpole on their family farm in Kulnura.

After 45 years tending to their family farm in Kulnura, stiffening joints meant it was time for 71-year-old ex-serviceman Ray and 66-year-old Joan Walpole to take a step back from the physical, and often emotional, demands of life on the land.

So, when son-in-law Dave Merchant suggested they take a look at plans for a new retirement community down in Erina in 1988, Joan and Ray willingly took up the offer. And according to a memoir Joan wrote in 2016 about her life in Tarragal Glen, “We liked what we saw”.

After purchasing Villa 7 off the plan, the Walpole’s left the farm in the capable hands of daughter Lorraine and her husband, Rodger, and moved into the village in the summer of 1989.

As two of the village’s earliest residents, Joan and Ray were pioneers in the community, watching on in earnest as the village grew from a handful of villas to the hive of activity it is today.

Photograph of of Joan and Ray Walpole at Villa 7
The first photograph ever taken of Joan and Ray Walpole at Villa 7.

“Mum and Dad were there when the village was really taking shape. Over the years, they saw the Manor and Country Club being built and, being some of the first residents to move in, the community really flourished around them,” said Diane.

And it wasn’t just the village that blossomed during their stay. To Diane and Dave’s surprise, the adjustment from farm to village life wasn’t as difficult for Joan and Ray as they had imagined, noting that Diane’s father really embraced his new life at Tarragal Glen.

“Ray liked having people to talk to after so many years on the land. Life on the farm was tough and he enjoyed being able to socialise with others every day, not just on the weekend or special occasions,” said Dave.

Photograph of Joan standing beside her flowering rose garden
Joan stands beside her flowering rose garden.

The Walpole’s shaped much of what Tarragal Glen is today. Ray played a pivotal role in beautifying the gardens before he passed away in 1999, while Joan was often the life of the party, spending 13 years on the social committee. But their collective legacy is the exquisite rose garden, adorned by a special plaque commemorating their contribution to this picturesque pocket of the village.

A cherished dignitary at the village’s 10th, 20th and 30th anniversaries, Joan Walpole was one of Tarragal Glen’s longest-standing and most beloved residents; enjoying life in Villa 7 until mid-2020 when she spent a short time in hospital before moving into higher care and, sadly, passing away in March 2021 aged 98.

“Some people, when they get to that age, there’s nobody at their funerals as all their friends have passed away. But there were so many wonderful friends and family of all ages there. It just shows the impact she had on everyone she met,” said Diane.

While Joan’s passing closed the chapter on an incredible 31-year residence at Villa 7, it wasn’t long before another Walpole was to walk through the gates of Tarragal Glen.

Following in Joan’s footsteps

Diane and Dave Merchant had been mulling over moving into something smaller for a little while. Having lived in their family home in Narara, a suburb of Gosford, for 48 years, they were ready to down tools on home maintenance and start a new chapter of their lives that didn’t involve a whipper-snipper.

But when Dave was unexpectedly diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2020, the couple had to speed up their future planning and began researching retirement communities in their area. After touring some of the local villages, Diane and Dave began to feel a little disheartened.

“We did our research and looked at quite a lot, but they all seemed very old and dreary. They just weren’t the right fit for us,” said Diane.

With Dave’s diagnosis in the back of their minds, the couple were looking for a new home that was big enough for two, without being too much upkeep for one. A place where they could enjoy life together, make new friends and get involved in the community, knowing care and support would be available if or when they might need it in the years ahead – from both village staff and neighbours alike.

Diane and Dave were no strangers to Tarragal Glen. The couple had been regulars at the village for over 30 years, visiting Joan and Ray weekly; from cuppas at their villa to celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary at the lavish Country Club.

While they weren’t specifically looking for a larger villa like Joan’s, Diane decided to give the team at Tarragal Glen a bell ‘just to see’ what was available.

Even though the pair had done many laps around the grounds, they hadn’t spied all the independent living units scattered throughout the village.

“Jason from the sales team, who knew Mum quite well, was extremely helpful and spent time showing us all the various options.  We actually didn’t realise they had so many independent living units here which were surprisingly large. It was the perfect solution for us. He also showed us Mum’s refurbished Villa 7, which was very thoughtful of him.

“Tarragal Glen is a light, bright, welcoming and well-established village. The gardens are lovely and the atmosphere is lively,” said Diane.

“It’s certainly not dreary!” added husband Dave.

“We know Mum and Dad lived a wonderful life in this community. We were fortunate enough to see that with our own eyes. When it comes down to it, that’s what we’re looking for as well,” said Diane.

Continuing a legacy

Photograph of Diane and Dave Merchant in front of their new home at Tarragal Glen
Diane and Dave Merchant in front of their new home at Tarragal Glen.

Sadly, Joan passed away before she knew Diane and Dave had made the decision to move into Tarragal Glen.

But as Diane and Dave begin to settle in to village life, they’re able to take solace in the little reminders of Joan and Ray that are dotted around the grounds.

“We often pass the rose garden on our afternoon walks through the village, which is a fond reminder of Mum and Dad’s love for this place.

“And now that the lockdown has ended and social events have started in the village again, we are continuously meeting people who introduce themselves to us and who knew Mum when she was here. It’s very special to hear stories of her life as we settle into our new home,” said Diane.

As the saying goes, ‘Mother knows best’ and when it comes to retirement living, this has certainly been the case for Diane.

In Joan’s memoir, she fondly remarked that “A retirement village is what you make it”.

As the second generation of Walpole’s to walk the beautiful grounds of Tarragal Glen, Diane hopes to continue her legacy and make her retirement experience just as special as her Mum’s.

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