Throughout the school year you can typically find student residents of Beach City, an off-campus student housing community owned by St. George and Associates, cutting loose and socializing over some good food and music. Every week, students gather for events put together by coordinator Jessica Ashtiani, like taco nights, pool parties, and cooking classes.
But every week, you’ll also find someone unexpected in the crowd: Beach City’s 96 year old resident, Jean Nell.
This Valentines Day, more than 100 college kids who live at the Beach City housing complex came out for an extra special party: Jean’s 96th birthday!
With food catered by Dave’s Dogs, a live DJ, and a photo booth, students gathered around to wish Ms. Nell a happy birthday, give her Valentines cards and gifts, and let her know how much they love her. Mrs. Nell even got a visit from Rep. Salud Carbajal, who gave her a Congressional certificate and a large blanket with a picture of the US Capitol, and got a happy birthday song from a barbershop quartet.
A Chicago native, Ms. Nell has lived in Santa Barbara for 30 years, and in Beach City for 20.
“It was a small town then. You could drive down State Street and there wouldn’t be any traffic,” she told the News-Press.
When Ed St. George bought Beach City six years ago with the intention of converting it into student housing, Ms. Nell was one of three seniors who chose to stay in their apartments. Since then she has become fast friends with the students.
“It’s interesting. Oh, there’s something new going on all the time. The students keep me young. I love being around the young people. My friends, they live in these retirement homes and they’re just around old people their age, but the young people are so active. I love living here with them,” said Ms. Nell.
Beach City and its student residents have become her community, and they really do keep the 96-year-old living the life of a younger woman.
“She’s 96 years old and she’s vibrant, she’s healthy, she climbs up and down the stairs. She lives on the second floor because she does not want to give up her ocean view,” said Ms. Ashtiani. “She loves being here. Over winter break I spoke with her and she said, ‘When are the kids coming back? It’s so quiet here.’”
She takes care of the students and is always baking them cookies and cupcakes, but the students give back too, said Mr. St. George.
“They take really good care of her. They take her shopping. They bring her groceries upstairs. Help her with food. It’s good for them. I think it helps ground them,” said Mr. St. George.
Ms. Nell’s birthday isn’t the only day you’ll see students flock to her at a party. Any time there’s a get-together going on and someone spots Ms. Nell coming down the hill, they all run and bring her down to sit with them, said Ms. Ashtiani.
The relationship has inspired Mr. St. George. In the next school year, he’s planning on bringing in seniors into another unit at Beach City, as well as some at his Isla Vista property.
“Not everyone gets along with their parents, but everyone loves their grandparents, right? Who doesn’t love your grandparents. So, what I think it does is it lets them know that, hey man, I’ve got grandparents still. Maybe they’ll make an extra phone call that week, or that day, or that minute. I think it’s important,” said Mr. St. George.
Perfectly content, Ms. Nell said with her new young friends and the beautiful weather, she’d take February birthdays in Santa Barbara over her hometown of Chicago anytime.
“I’d rather be here! I love it,” said Ms. Nell.