Forever Neighbors, Forever Friends

What do you do when your best friends tell you they are moving? Easy—you move too!

Meet Doug and Joni Norton, he from Baltimore with a thriving career as Chief Information Officer for a global aerospace defense technology company, and she a franchise business consultant from York, Pennsylvania. After marrying nine years ago and residing in York, Doug’s job took him bi-coastal, traveling back and forth between California and Florida. After living for a few years on the west coast, and with Joni’s family still back east, they decided to settle in Florida, choosing the community Wyndham at Duran in Viera, where they moved at the end of 2014.

Meet Mark and Connie Bradley, both born and raised in Wisconsin, both in healthcare—she prepared at the doctorate level in nursing, he a registered interventional technologist—they married 31 years ago. When Connie was offered the job of Chief Nursing Officer at a healthcare system in Florida, she and Mark moved to…you guessed it, Wyndham at Duran in Viera, five years ago, around the same time as the Nortons.

“What we didn’t know at the time was we were about to meet our best friends,” says Joni. “It was almost like our moves were actual destiny for our friendship.” In Viera, they lived a few houses apart and used the same builder. “I think we would have met eventually because we have so much in common, but we actually owe it to the home-automation guy who was working on both our homes and suggested we meet.” They became fast friends.

In the fall of 2017, when Hurricane Irma hit, Connie stayed at the hospital while the other three evacuated to Atlanta to wait out the storm. “Living in Florida, you expect hurricanes,” says Doug. “But getting hit back to back years (Matthew in 2016) really opened our eyes.” The Nortons realized Florida wasn’t their forever home, and with Doug planning to retire, they started looking around.

Avid boaters, they wanted to live near freshwater, “while staying in the south to enjoy the longer summers and further inland so we could avoid direct hurricane hits. So we started searching gated, planned, lake communities,” says Doug. “We were also on a short time frame as we wanted to move before the next hurricane season.”

“When we came to Reynolds for the first time in November 2017, we knew we were home,” says Joni. “The comfort of the mature, rolling woodlands and natural topography, along with the vast scenic lake and southern climate, gave both of us an instant feeling of excitement and we knew we had found where we wanted to live. Our real estate agents, Debbie and Mary Balicki, couldn’t have been more welcoming and made us feel so comfortable.”

During their three-day lifestyle discovery visit, Doug and Joni looked at many resale homes. “We wanted to build, but knowing our quick turnaround we hoped to find a home we could make our own,” says Joni.

They didn’t. “Joni has a particular style and nothing really struck her,” Doug explains.

On their last day, feeling a little deflated, Mary showed them one of the new homes being completed through the Signature Home Program. Traveling back to Florida, the Nortons made up their minds—Reynolds would be their new home—but they dreaded breaking the news to the Bradleys.

“I remember sitting down with them and knew it was serious,” remembers Connie. “When they told us they had decided to move to Georgia, Mark and I just looked at one another and we said, ‘Not without us!’’’

Two weeks later, the two couples visited Reynolds together. While Doug and Joni signed a contract for the new construction home, Mark and Connie made an offer on the homesite next door.

“What are the odds the ideal homesite would be right beside the Nortons,” laughs Mark. “We plan to build a walkway from house to house to make it easier to visit!”

Doug and Joni officially moved into their new home in October 2018. Mark and Connie are finalizing the designs for their new home, and hope to break ground this fall. In the meantime, Connie took a new job in Atlanta and they’ve relocated to Marietta. “We plan to use our Reynolds home part-time until I retire,” says Connie. “But with just over an hour and a half drive, I know we will spend most weekends at the lake with Doug and Joni.”

“While the golf courses add to the overall beauty of the terrain, it was not the driving force for either of us to move here,” Doug says—it’s the lake that really speaks to them. “We bought a boat very shortly after moving to Reynolds and store it at The Linger Longer Marina,” says Doug. “It’s so simple to use the boat app and the marina crew will have our boat gassed, in the water, and ready to go when we arrive. Lake living without living on the lake at its finest!”

After Lake Oconee, Mark says his favorite place to be when visiting the Nortons is outside. “There’s nothing better than taking in the fresh air, maybe with a cocktail and premium cigar in hand, watching whatever game is on and just spending time with our best friends, laughing and feeling blessed.”

If Joni and Connie aren’t outdoors with the guys, you’ll find them in Joni’s “Diva Den”—a downstairs room and creative hideaway just for the ladies. “We love to do arts and crafts,” says Joni. “Connie and I make our own greeting cards, paint, create art, stamp…you name it. It’s simply our time together.” Since moving to Reynolds, Joni has joined the craft club and several other Member-led social groups. “If you just lean in a little bit, you can be as busy as you want here and meet so many interesting people. This community is so active.”

The Nortons and Bradleys are travel companions, too, having visited Banff in Canada, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona together. This fall, they are taking a two-week cruise to Europe, stopping in Italy, Spain, and France. “We are perfect travel partners,” laughs Connie. “I am the travel agent, Mark the researcher (and cleaner), Doug the banker, and Joni the foodie, both cooking for all of us and finding the best places to dine.”

“Our friendship is effortless,” says Connie. “There is no drama and it just comes naturally. Most friendships are one-sided—maybe the ladies are the real friends or vice versa—but with us we all love one another equally.”

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