Today, The Forest at Duke is home to 324 residents and a cozy backdrop for the work of 277 team members. After 27 years, as one can imagine, many changes have shaped the community into what it is today.
There are some constants, though. Texas native Evebell Dunham is quick to point out a defining one for her: “The friends we’ve made.”
“I would echo that,” Molly Simes, who grew up near Rochester, New York, smiles at Evebell. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people here. We’ve been very fortunate, I think, to have been able to live here among people we know and love.”
The ladies are dear friends and two of eight residents who moved into The Forest at Duke the year that it first opened its doors. Known as “Pioneers,” this group also includes four team members who helped propel the community to a successful start back in 1992.
New faces at The Forest
Molly and her husband, Frank, joined the community in October that year, while Evebell and her husband, Bob, moved to The Forest that November.
“Everyone was new to us,” Molly explains. “My husband and I came at the same time most other people did, from all over the country. And we met very often at the door to the dining room.”
Molly describes that in the early days of The Forest, a maître d’ in the dining room would sometimes go to a table where there were vacant seats and ask if a lone diner or two could join those already situated for a meal. “I always turned my back because I didn’t want someone to say, ‘Well, not really!’” she laughs. “But someone always said yes. That’s how we met many people.”
Meeting Forest neighbors
Molly, Evebell, and many of the other new Forest residents in those early days got to know their neighbors by way of cocktail parties. These events were Forest-wide, “but it was individual, so that we could invite people to our apartments or cottages,” Molly says.
It was also because of these parties that residents got to see others’ homes on campus. “You met people going in the hall every night about the same time, and they were going this way, and you were going that way,” Evebell motions her hands left and right to demonstrate. “You’d wonder, ‘Where are they going today? Wonder when we’ll go there?’”
Molly and Evebell don’t remember the precise moment they were introduced, but they got to know one another over a series of shared experiences. Between the cocktail parties, their husbands’ friendship, and the ladies’ shared love of nearby Duke Gardens, the two really hit it off.
“I think we are best friends,” Molly says.
“Yes,” Evebell agrees. Indeed, Molly and Evebell’s daughters have jokingly called them Thelma and Louise!
A close friendship blossoms
At Duke Gardens, the friends were dedicated volunteers. “After we’d been at The Forest a little while, my husband became interested in volunteering at the hospital,” Molly recalls. “And I was interested in gardens. Not that I’d had any formal training, but I went to Duke Gardens. They welcomed me.”
“I think at that time, just about everybody that came to The Forest was volunteering in the community,” Evebell remembers. She was already working in a garden in Chapel Hill and also enjoyed gardening at her cottage.
“And I thought, ‘Well, make it three!’” Molly jokes. She invited Evebell to join her as a volunteer at Duke Gardens. There, the two led walking tours, and each got to drive a six-passenger golf cart, one of which was lovingly nicknamed “Molly’s Trolley,” because Molly and Frank donated it to the Gardens.
Fun and sun on the North Carolina coast
In addition to their volunteer efforts, Molly and Evebell further bonded on trips to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. What began as a one-time lunch invitation became a long-time tradition.
That first year at The Forest, Evebell and Bob had an out-of-town guest visiting them, and Molly invited the Dunhams and their guest to visit them at their vacation home at the beach. After that one delightful lunch together, Molly and Frank shared beach trips with the Dunhams each summer for the next 13 years, always at Station One Condominiums, right on the oceanfront in Wrightsville Beach.
It helped the ladies’ friendship that their husbands got along so well, too. Bob Dunham called Molly’s husband “Professor,” while Frank Simes called Bob “Senator.”
“We had a lot of fun with that, especially in restaurants. That was your son, though, who played with that,” Molly chuckles, looking at Evebell. “One time, we weren’t getting very good service, and their son said, ‘Well, Senator Dunham won’t be very happy.’ So the waiter asked, ‘Oh! Where are you from?’ And Bob had to make up some county.”
“We got better service, though!” Evebell chimes in with a grin.
Molly and Evebell: two peas in a pod
Individually, Molly and Evebell have a number of hobbies and interests. Molly is part of the Forest “Pool Pals,” a group of about half a dozen residents who enjoy spending time in the pool, as well as taking part in social meetups “with all our clothes on,” Molly jokes. She also enjoys crafting handmade greeting cards and mending clothes for fellow residents.
Evebell plays a lot of bridge – which she credits for keeping her mind sharp – and likes spending time outdoors.
The two friends visit with one another nearly every day and are rarely seen apart at Forest functions. They see the very best in each other and aren’t shy to share those things.
“There’s nothing that Molly won’t do for people,” Evebell says of her dear friend of 27 years.
“I think what impresses me most about Evebell is her faith,” Molly answers. “I think she just has faith in everything. First and foremost, her faith in God. She is most understanding and a good listener. I enjoy hearing about the many places she has lived and traveled.”
Indeed, Evebell has traveled extensively around the world. She and Bob went on many exciting trips together and often took turns deciding where to visit. “We saw the world,” Evebell says. “We really did.” The shelf outside Evebell’s apartment is always full of photos, knick-knacks, and other memorabilia from her travels. Forest residents, team members, and visitors often stop by to visit the colorful display, in awe of the riveting adventures Evebell and Bob shared.
Dressed to impress
Over the years, Halloween has become a favorite holiday for Molly and Evebell. For at least the past decade, the friends have donned creative, complementary costumes for the event, much to the delight of community members. The two have dressed as Salt and Pepper, Sugar and Spice, Ham and Cheese, and a number of other fun pairs.
This Halloween is still up in the air. “I’d like to be a pair of shoes, because we both like shoes,” Molly says. “But how can you dress up like shoes? We’re working on it.”
The Forest community can’t wait to see what imaginative pairing the best friends put together this year!
—Lauren Young, Marketing Specialist
Header image: Evebell, left, and Molly are the best of friends. Photo taken September 2017.