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Meet Coleman House Resident Marvin Wilkenfeld

Posted: October 16, 2017

At JCHE's 2017 Gala, four residents shared their stories, shining a light on how critical affordable, supportive housing is to the wellbeing of seniors. This is Marv's story.      


“I am a dyed in the wool New Yorker,” asserts Marvin, who was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, and lived in Queens and Manhattan too. “There’s just no place like it.”

An avid amateur photographer in his youth, Marv worked in the New York film industry for 15 years, but the work was unsteady, and he was struggling to earn enough for his family.  Then, the burgeoning health food industry piqued his interest.

In 1970, the aspiring entrepreneur opened one of the first health food stores in Manhattan. “They hadn’t even invented granola yet,” Marv jokes. “I didn’t know what I had at the time, but I knew it was the beginning of something.” 

For 21 years, he ran a successful business, but was forced to relocate after his lease wasn’t renewed. Unfortunately, he lost too many customers and had to close shop.

He was sixty-two at the time, and managed for a while working as a sales rep. Then a friend of his started raving about where his mother lived—a senior housing place called Coleman House in Newton, MA. Finding himself at 68 in a difficult financial spot, the lifelong New Yorker moved into Coleman in Newton in 2004.     

As fate would have it, there was a little convenience store at Coleman that needed someone to run it on a very limited budget. Enter Marvin, who jumped at the opportunity and quickly turned the store around. Clean, neatly stocked, and clearly geared to what our Coleman residents might need when a trip to the store is not possible, “Marvin’s Garden,” as the store was renamed, is clearly Marvin’s entrepreneurial outlet and labor of love.   

For the past 8 years, Marv has also taught ESL once a week to Coleman’s immigrant residents. It’s one of the ways he gives back to a community that he also sees as “a safety net” – “I thank God that Coleman House was there for me when I needed it.”



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