2016-12-15 / Front Page

‘A Happy and United Household’

By Betsy Sherman Walker

Shelby Coates enjoys a quiet moment on the second floor at the Nina Lynette Home. Coates, a former lawyer, also founded an international charter yacht brokerage business on Long Island. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) Shelby Coates enjoys a quiet moment on the second floor at the Nina Lynette Home. Coates, a former lawyer, also founded an international charter yacht brokerage business on Long Island. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) Christmas present often has a way of evoking Christmases past.

When the residents, board members, guests and staff of the Nina Lynette Home on Washington Street gathered on Monday, Dec. 12, for their annual holiday celebration, one suspects that folded into the holiday cheer was a silent salute to the community of gentle souls who, over the years, have found both home and hearth in the stately house with its broad front porch that provides an intimate view of the Newport Bridge.

It’s not that far-fetched.

According to board president Jane MacLeod Walsh, a lifelong resident of the Point who has served on the board for more than 30 years and has been at the helm since 2007, the key to the home’s longevity is that its governance today is based on the tenets of its founders. The board of directors, Walsh explains, runs the facility according to the [founding] constitution and bylaws. Notably, she recites, from the original handbook: “Residents are expected to treat the director and her assistants, as well as one another, with becoming respect and courtesy and by acts of kindness and mutual forbearance, to make a happy and united household.”

Founded in 1905, the philanthropic roots of the Nina Lynette Home for the Aged were based on providing for the needy. In this case, in the form of shelter and care for the elderly. The purchase of the property at the corner of Washington and Cherry streets was financed by Mrs. W. Watts Sherman, Mrs. Lorillard Spencer, and Mrs. George Peabody Wetmore.

“The purpose of the home was to provide a pleasant home for aged women,” says Walsh, “and it was later broadened to include men.” The name comes from a family tragedy involving the Spencers’ two young daughters, Nina and Lynette. Walsh says that, according to “family lore,” they had become ill “from drinking tainted milk during a trans- Atlantic ship crossing and died.” Walsh added that Mrs. Spencer was reportedly so devastated at the loss of her two young daughters that she wore black mourning clothes, complete with hat and veil, for the rest of her life.

Much about the home has evolved over the years. Nina Lynette is now known as an elegant home for the actively retired, an upscale boarding house of sorts, located down on the Point. “We are not a nursing facility,” Walsh says. “Our golden rule is to have consideration for others.” She adds that an admissions committee makes an effort to ensure that newcomers will feel welcome.

“I think it’s one of Newport’s hidden gems,” says Walsh.

Joanne Dunlap is another longtime member of the board, and is also a resident. Dunlap recalls that at one point the board considered changing the name to reflect the more contemporary lifestyles of those who live there. But the original name prevailed.

The house, built in the early 1860s and which The Newport Daily News in 1879 called “one of the prettiest bits of architecture in Newport,” feels more as if built for a large family of seven or eight rather than an aggregate of senior citizens. There are two two-room suites which are both occupied, and five single rooms, three of which are available. All the rooms have private baths. None of the units have kitchens, so residents eat their meals prepared by the kitchen staff together in the dining room. Staff members include a cook, grounds keeper, overnight security, and someone to do in-room housekeeping.

Long Island was home for Shelby Coates Jr., a retired lawyer who had been stationed in Newport as a young officer in the Navy. Years later, he has returned. Up on the second floor, Coates enjoys the view of the Newport Bridge from a den-like alcove. When not enjoying the specular sunsets or, at this time of year, the necklace of lights across the bridge, he enjoys the home, its location, and the camaraderie.

Today Nina Lynette operates as a nonprofit and is overseen by a board of directors. Besides Walsh and Dunlap, those currently serving are Mary Bauer, Jane Hence, Richard Koziara, Ellen Leys, Thomas O'Loughlin, Barbara Peters, Mary- Beth Pike, and Kathleen Shinners.

About a year and a half ago, Dunlap downsized from her home in Middletown into a first-floor two-room unit with 12-foot ceilings, oversized decorative windows, and doors with access to the side yard. Her suite is like an embrace. When asked what made her choose Nina Lynette over one of many independent living facilities on the island, Dunlap said it was the people involved, the staff, its history. And the charm of the house itself. Having been active on the board for so many years, the familiarity was appealing.

For her, there were no other options. “It just felt like coming home,” she says.

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