When all is going well, stairs are no problem for Madelyn and Don Fox. But now in their 80s, this active couple envisions a time when that may no longer be the case. Working with HRB’s Independent Living Program Manager Misty Eberspecher, the Foxes installed a shower downstairs, so that they can transition to one-story living when and if that time comes.

Madelyn Fox fell in love with the house on Fletcher Bay Road before she even walked in the door on account of the trees. Since purchasing the home with her husband Don, Madelyn, who is an avid gardener, has added rhododendron, Japanese maples, and hostas to the cedar, Doug fir, and sword fern. Don, meanwhile, laid claim to the garage, where he set up his woodworking shop and would later make the Arts & Crafts rocker, mid-century modern tables, and colonial mantel that give the living room its warmth and vintage character. The extra bedrooms are for when the kids come to visit, with kids of their own.

The house is an absolute dream, but it was not what they planned.

In 2006, when the Foxes retired to Bainbridge Island from Michigan, they sought a single-story house. That’s the kind they had always lived in, and it made sense when they thought about growing old here. But the Foxes were fit. So when their realtor alerted them to the charming house on Fletcher Bay Road, they happily abandoned the plan.

In 2015, while biking in town, Madelyn fell and broke her ankle and spent five days at Harborview Medical Center. She couldn’t put weight on her ankle for three months and couldn’t handle the stairs, and because there was only a half bath on the ground floor, she couldn’t shower either. She slept in the dining room and when it came to bathing, the two of them got creative with sponge baths, kitchen sink shampoos, and a kid’s wading pool in the laundry room outfitted with a hose. With the help of a neighbor, they installed a ramp off the low deck out back.

“We didn’t think too much of it at the time, because we still thought we were young,” laughs Don.

But as active as they were, Don and Madelyn, 87 and 84 today, weren’t really young. In 2022, Madelyn had hip replacement surgery. Later that year, she met HRB’s Misty Eberspecher, Independent Living program manager, at a resource fair at the Bainbridge Island Senior/Community Center. Misty urged the couple to assess the safety of their home and consider grab bars, advice they had heard before from their primary care doctor.

The Foxes had successfully managed during both Madelyn’s recoveries, but next time, the challenges presented by their two-story home might prove insurmountable. They decided to install a downstairs shower, retrofitting the home for single-floor living so that they might age in place.

Don, who served at Fort Lewis, had a career as a dentist, and is a woodworker, boasts quite a bit of technical skill. And having worked in materiel management at the Defense Department, Madelyn’s got skills of her own. But neither had the appetite for this home improvement project. The Foxes reached out to Misty for help. HRB’s Independent Living program performs health and safety home modifications so that older adults and those with disabilities or recovering from an injury or illness might continue to live at home safely. The Foxes did not income qualify to receive these services free of charge, and so participated in HRB’s new fee-for-service program.

Misty met their reluctance with alacrity and efficiency. She began by meeting with them over several days to create a plan that would enable them to age in place safely. The Foxes watched with great appreciation as she then recruited a team of professionals for what turned out to be a complicated job. The original washer and dryer had to be swapped out for a stackable model to make room for the shower, water and electricity had to be moved as well, drywall ripped open, and the floor torn up and replaced. Misty was at their home every time a worker was present. She was there to avert potential problems with the tile and shower installation. And more important, she anticipated the need for extra studs to reinforce the shower stall grab bars. The Foxes always appreciated that Misty made sure the workers cleaned up well and did not track dirt through the house.

The house may have been love at first sight. But the Foxes’ attachment to Bainbridge Island developed over many years, beginning in the 1960s when Don was stationed at Fort Lewis and deepening over the next 40 years each time they traversed the island to visit an old friend from Michigan who had retired in Port Ludlow. One beautiful summer day, Madelyn recounts, they had come over on the boat and stopped for coffee at Pegasus Coffee House where she heard a group of women talking about issues of the day with a political slant she found appealing, and she was impressed by their openness. Madelyn recalls thinking, “This is the place.” That was the day the couple settled on Bainbridge Island as their future home.

The Foxes have since become deeply invested in the welfare of their community. They are longtime Helpline House volunteers, serving as gophers, shoppers, and shift workers in the foodbank. Madelyn volunteers at their church, Eagle Harbor Congregational, heading up its outreach efforts, organizing dinners in Port Orchard and Bremerton, and collecting and delivering toys to Mary’s Place in Seattle. She became acquainted with HRB when she was the unit leader for the Bainbridge Island League of Women Voters and would invite HRB’s executive director, Phedra Elliott, to speak. Don did occasional landscaping and maintenance at the church, and for ten years he made the oatmeal at 6:00 in the morning for the Oatmeal Club, a weekly men’s discussion group. The first year after moving to the island, the Foxes joined a walking group through Parks and Rec a few years after moving to the island. “Walking became a feature of our life,” observed Don. “We’ve been walking with that group for 16 years and another group also.”

With this regimen, it’s hard to imagine a time when the Foxes are unable to manage stairs. May they never require one-story living, but if circumstances prove otherwise, the charming living room and garden laced with trails, the kitchen large enough for family dinners and the well-appointed woodshop are all at ground level. No stairs required.