Who doesn’t dream about living next door to their best friend? Jeannine Russo and Peggy and Ted Pajak had always talked about escaping Chicago’s cold winters in retirement, and this is the year they’re making it happen. The friends’ shared-wall Villas will be finished around October, so look for them at The Mix! We got these snowbirds on the phone recently to hear about how they found Kissing Tree and why the Villas were the perfect fit.
KT: How did you hear about Kissing Tree?
Jeannine: Peg and I hate winters in Chicago, and we had always talked about wanting to have a place to go in wintertime. We had looked and talked about a bunch of places, like Florida and Palm Springs. All my cousins live in the Austin area, so I visited every summer as a child. I don’t know how I stumbled on to Kissing Tree. I think I read an article about how San Marcos was one of the best places to retire? And they always say, if you want a winter home, look in a gated community. That way you have the security when you leave it; you can lock up the house and walk away for several months.
Peg: My husband Ted and I wanted to have another home, and we became friends with Jeannine’s family down in Texas. We really loved it there, and when we were down for a visit, we looked at the larger homes at Kissing Tree. We were set on buying one, but then Ted had a stroke. We stopped looking for about a year or so while he was recovering, and during that time Kissing Tree always sent updates. When they sent the update about now selling the Villas, I just mentioned it to Jeannine, never thinking we would do this. But then we started talking—you could get a Villa for half the price and the square footage! That’s how we got interested, and we bought one sight unseen!
KT: Oh wow! So you hadn’t seen the Villas in person yet?
Peg: No, but we had seen the larger homes, and we know how good the workmanship is at Kissing Tree.
KT: What was it about the Villas that made them a good fit?
Jeannine: We first looked at the larger model homes, but that was a lot of home for just a couple of months. With the Villas, we liked that they are relatively close by, and all of the lawn care is taken care of. I said to Peg and Ted, if you guys get one, I’ll get one too, and we can live by each other! At first, we didn’t know they were connected. It was perfect for what we were looking for.
KT: Do you guys plan to keep your homes in Illinois?
Jeannine: For now, yes. Right now, we’re about 20 miles south of Chicago. I’m in Orland Park, and Peg and Ted are in Palos Hills. There are always choices and options. My parents are still here—they actually live in a 55+ community up here! They have friends they’ve known all their lives who move in, and new friends they meet. The circle just gets bigger and the activities are a lot of fun. It just seems like a cool thing to do!
KT: With two of you making decisions about the floor plan and exterior, was it hard to choose what to get?
Jeannine: We are so in tune with liking the same things! We actually picked out what we wanted separately, and then when we compared, they were almost the same! We decided on the Galvez—it’s a single-level floor plan—because Ted and Peg have 4 levels now. Peggy’s husband likes space, and he didn’t want to feel crowded, so we chose a lot with lots of land around it.
KT: So how did you two meet?
Jeannine: If my mother were here, she’d take all the credit! When I was in college, my mother wanted me to come home for summer, but I didn’t have a job at home, so I stayed to work and have fun. The next year, my mom found me job in Chicago before summer so I wouldn’t have an excuse. She happened upon the company Peg worked—they sold tools and equipment to high schools offering skills courses like shop. They usually hired high school and college students; they’d put an ad in the paper, and they liked to hire all the summer help by Easter.
Peg: After Easter, I got a call from Jeannine’s mother saying her daughter needed a job. She said, if you have a test or anything, she’ll pass with flying colors—she went on and on. And Jeannine was everything her mother said she was!
Jeannine: So, Peg hired me, and I worked for her for the next couple of summers. Then when I graduated, they offered me a job. At some point, I left and settled at place I am now, at Northwestern University in Chicago. Then a few years later, I had an open position in my department, and I needed someone I could rely on, so I asked Peg if she would come work for me. This is her last year—she’s retiring in August.
Peg: I worked there for 11 years!
KT: Oh, congratulations, Peg! Jeannine, are you going to retire, too?
Jeannine: I plan to continue working for the time being, and being able to come down there in winter. At first, I wasn’t sure how it would work out, but because of the pandemic, our entire university has been working remotely since March. It’s been going very well, and I don’t think there will be a problem for me to spend wintertime there.
KT: What are y’all most excited about as far as living at Kissing Tree?
Peg: I’m excited about the heighted social life! I can’t wait to play cards with people and go to the biergarten, go swimming, the whole gamut! I just want to have fun!
Jeannine: Peg is the party person! It takes me a minute to warm up. Peg is always getting me in trouble. But I’m excited about all that too—the amenities, the people, the weather, the community—everything is new there. Being from Chicago, we like to explore and do day trips, we ‘ve seen all the areas in Indiana and Wisconsin. In Texas, it’s going to be so fun to go explore someplace new.
KT: So Peg, have you spent a lot of time in Central Texas?
Peg: Two years ago, we did an Airbnb for a month. We had friends come and visit, and our kids took separate trips. Everybody loved the area and is very supportive.
Jeannine: My parents are in their mid 80s, and they always talked about how they’ll come visit. Once I’m down here, they’ll come stay with me or my uncle and aunt in Buda. They’ve been down here and they are really enjoy it.
KT: When will your Villas be done?
Peg: The contractor said would probably be in October. We’ll have to come down for the final inspection. We’re planning a little caravan, with cars and some furniture. We can’t wait!