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David Freshwater

David Freshwater


I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and have been willing to take risks in support of my passions. Sometimes these ideas don’t exactly work – like that garage band I started with friends back in high school. Rock stardom just wasn’t meant to be.

But I did have an idea that seniors could spend their retirement years enjoying new experiences, continuing to learn, and sharing their wisdom with others. At that time in the 1980s, senior communities were basically places to live and at best be passively entertained. That’s when my grandmother became an inspiration for Watermark. She lived in Florida and was ready to move; I took her around to senior housing communities all over the state. We saw a lot of dreary places. But every now and then, I’d see one that impressed me and appealed to my grandmother, and I made a mental list of what was exciting and what to avoid.

We started with one community in Tucson and over the years increased the number of communities. As we grew,  there were some sweaty palm moments – there always are when you take risks. But David Barnes, who came on board in 1988, and I are people-people. We developed operating tenets that were important to us. Number one on our list: We wanted to enjoy what we were doing. We wanted to get up every day, despite problems and issues, and have fun. We wanted to surround ourselves with a team and with partners that got it, were professional, and loved what they did. We’ve been very successful at doing that!

Because of our team, our residents, and their families, we’ve had some of the most incredible compliments. Family members, community members, and residents are invited to teach at Watermark University. People have come to us and said, “My mom’s in your memory care and I teach this class she attends. While she no longer recognizes me, I get to spend a day with mom each week teaching this class, and I just enjoy her as a person. I don’t get hung up on the fact that she no longer recognizes me. It’s a blessing.”