Who We Are – Pursuer of Passions

Hamden resident never shies away from something new

Older woman playing piano

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” – Socrates

Florence Cruz’s curiosity and unquenchable thirst for knowledge has taken her on a wonderful lifelong journey. The New York native has earned multiple college degrees and succeeded in an eclectic mix of professions and interests, ranging from chef to mounted police officer to ski instructor (at age 70) and organist.

The 82-year-old resident of Benchmark Senior Living at Hamden says the journey continues – it must.

“Learning keeps you aware of what’s going on around you in many different ways,” Florence says.

Old photo of woman riding horseFrom Music to Psychology 

Florence has always loved education, even as a little girl growing up in upstate New York. She excelled at school and devoted herself to acquiring knowledge and sharing it. She’s earned a master’s in education as well as undergraduate degrees in psychology and music.

As a teenager, she learned to play the organ on the famous Davis-Ferris Tracker Organ in the auditorium of Round Lake Village — and continued her affaire de coeur with the instrument for decades to come.

With a mixture of admiration and awe, her son Dimitri recalls seeing her play in their hometown’s auditorium. He watched his mother up on the raised dais with her back to the crowd, working the keys, stops, and pedals of the oldest pipe organ in the country, while the imposing instrument loomed overhead bellowing the haunted rhythms of The Phantom of the Opera.

Even now, she plays the organ a few times each month for spiritual services at Hamden, delighting her fellow residents.

For most of her career, Florence Cruz worked as a clerk for New York’s Departments of Education and Commerce. Retiring from that, she returned to school once again, this time to learn the culinary arts. Then she got herself trained and certified as a peace officer, to work weekends as mounted security at the Saratoga Race Course.

Undaunted at any age, she was nearly 70 years old when she became certified as a ski and snowboard instructor for retirees wanting to go “Down, not over, the hill.”

“I guess I just like learning,” she says.

Woman skiingWelcome to Benchmark

When it came time to move Florence into a memory care community, Dimitri knew what was important: Attentive staff, a curriculum of activities for his mother’s insatiable love of learning, and close proximity to him, so he could visit whenever possible.

They visited a few places before deciding. Dimitri says Hamden stood out for the genuine interest and concern associates displayed, and the informative executive director who explained how it all worked.

“They just seemed to put everything together for us into a package that my mom could afford, that we could handle, (and) that had programs to keep her active and engaged. And (they have) a really great staff,” said her son.

One of the things Florence likes most about Hamden is the food. “It’s very good,” she says. “Very interesting.” High praise from someone with a culinary background.

For the past three years, Florence has lived in the memory care neighborhood (known as the Harbor) at Benchmark Senior Living at Hamden. To her, it’s a place of learning – a place where she can continue her pursuit of knowledge.

Florence’s eyes light up most when discussing the community’s activities, which she participates in daily: crafts like picture-framing, meditation classes, exercise, and physical therapy.

Ask Florence Cruz for some words of wisdom, and she’ll laugh and get a faraway look in her eyes. Then she might say: “Don’t rush into anything. Except learning. Rush into that.”


Endless education

Benchmark associates create the activity calendar for residents according to the National Wellness Institute’s Six Dimensions of Wellness. They also make sure to offer fun options for people with different conditions and abilities.

Activities at Benchmark hit all 6 wellness dimensions:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Cognitive
  • Spiritual
  • Sense of purpose

Benchmark Senior Living at Hamden