Roots and Wings

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Family roots helped guide a career in pharmacy, a profession instrumental in vaccinating his generation against COVID-19. Air Force wings propelled him to meet his wife of 56-years. Duane Hammargren’s roots and wings have influenced his 89-year journey, with a few fiery detours along the way. The Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds community in Alexandria, MN has been Duane’s home for more than five years.

As a boy and later a young man, Duane’s roots grew deep in drugstores. He swept the floor at the store his dad owned. After his father became a traveling rep for a pharmaceutical company, Duane was called home from his first year in college to drive his dad from store to store, following a serious car accident.

Those experiences grew Duane’s wings to his own career in pharmacy, enrolling at what is now North Dakota State in Fargo. Wings of a different nature led to a detour. Four days after he joined the Air National Guard while in college, his unit was called to active duty during the Korean War. Following his Air Force discharge two years later, he met and soon married his bride Joanne.

“She was a wonderful person. I married up,” Duane says. He resumed his pharmacy studies in Fargo. In the next three years, Jo gave birth to two of the couple’s five children. During those school years, Duane supplemented Jo’s income as a nurse by working full-time in a drugstore in Moorhead. 

“I really enjoyed the school and the classes,” Duane recalls. “Just before I graduated, I was initiated into the Rho Chi Pharmacy Honor Society.” Now a licensed pharmacist, Duane and Jo wound up in the Twin Cities suburbs where his professional roots and wings eventually combined with his beloved partner and mentor Don Hanson in the business of pharmacy.

Duane vividly recalls another detour in those early years, “Thanksgiving Day, 1965, got a phone call that the whole shopping center was on fire.” It started in a back room of the Gamble store next door. While the store was a total loss, Duane and Don set up shop in a small vacant drive-in restaurant – and were back in business the same day, at least to dispense prescriptions.

“When we moved back into the main store after the fire, Don sat down with me and wanted to know if I’d like to be his partner,” he remembers. “I went to work as a pharmacist and when I came back after the fire, I was a partner!” Don and Duane eventually expanded to four pharmacies, which they managed until they sold all four and retired in 1983.

Duane and Jo moved to Alexandria where they found a house on Lake Ida until yet another detour. Their car exploded in their driveway and set the house on fire – another total loss. They had already put down roots on that lot, so they built a new house on the same site.

After Jo passed away in 2011, life got lonely for Duane, even with 15 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. He decided to move to Windmill Ponds five years ago. Considering the pandemic’s challenges, Duane credits the community’s executive director, Chris Carter, “I feel that her handling of the virus has been excellent. She’s done an excellent job.”

Duane’s roots in health care make him a believer in the value of the COVID-19 vaccine. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he says. He’ll get his second dose of the Moderna vaccine at Windmill Ponds on Feb. 16. The community offers assisted living in 65 one- and two-bedroom apartments, designed for seniors who enjoy an active social environment and expect high quality care.

editor’s note — Windmill Ponds plans to resume inside visits following required COVID-19 testing, in compliance with Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.

A life of service and celebrity

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Rose Bancks is working to defeat her second pandemic. She fought off her first when she was just two years old, back in 1918. Rose celebrated her 105th birthday on January 8, with her friends at Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. And just a few days ago, Rose rolled up her sleeves again, to keep COVID-19 out of Goldfinch. The community has not recorded a single resident positive test since this pandemic struck Martin County, almost a year ago.

As a nurse, Rose has spent most of her life in service to others, sometimes for famous people. She tells the story of care for Lucille Ball in 1943 while working in a California hospital during World War II. 

Born in Wisconsin, Rose was a teenager during the great depression, in a family that was frequently on the move. She began her 41-year nursing career in 1937 when she got her diploma in Spokane, Washington. During the war, she volunteered to be a nurse in the Army at the age of 25.

Stationed in California in 1943, she worked at Birmingham General Hospital in Van Nuys caring for injured soldiers as well as celebrities like Lucille Ball. She also was appointed to be the private nurse for Aurora Quezon, the wife of the Philippines president, after her gallbladder surgery. For several days after she was discharged to a private residence, Rose continued her care for the first lady there. She described Quezon as a gracious person. 

The hospital is also where Rose met her husband Leo, a Dentist in the Army. Leo was sent off to Japan during the war but when they were reunited after the war, they moved the family back to Minnesota. 

In Fairmont, Rose served as the Director of Nursing for the former Fairmont Hospital and retired in 1978 from the new Fairmont hospital, now part of the Mayo Healthcare System. Looking back on her life and career, Rose is very grateful for the time she spent as a nurse in the service, and for being able to help so many soldiers.

Rose and Leo had three children, eight grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren. Leo passed away in 1996.

Goldfinch Estates has been home for Rose for more than 10 years, second most in longevity of its some 119 residents. When asked what she has enjoyed most about her Goldfinch years, she said, “I have had so many wonderful girls take care of me and so many nice people here to visit with and we have had so many good activities.”

Goldfinch Estates offers 92 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who want access to supportive services. We also offer 41 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

A friend indeed

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Donna Medina (left in the photo) and her friend Marla are neighbors in the Memory Care Suites of Vista Prairie at River Heights in South St. Paul, MN. They enjoy having lunch together occasionally. For Donna, friendship has been a saving grace since she moved in last May, amid eight months of pandemic response.

A recent post-Christmas party was an example of the comfort and support residents and caregivers are getting from each other. The photo is from that party, where Donna and Marla are modeling their new pajamas, donated by the nearby Target store.

“It was very, very fun,” Donna remembers. “I was glad I went. Sometimes I stay in my room, but I did go. I enjoyed myself. The management is very nice. They gave gifts. I received a beautiful purse.”

With lower infection rates in Dakota County and the promise of the COVID-19 vaccine, due to be administered on Jan. 21, visitors should be readmitted at River Heights in the near future. Stay tuned for that information on our website. Residents also look forward to weather when they can enjoy the beautiful outdoor terrace at River Heights.

Donna got even more encouragement at that party – a cat as a new companion. The River Heights staff asked Donna to adopt the cat after her original owner, another friend of Donna’s, had recently passed away.

“I was asked if I would take her,” says Donna. “Her name is Bailey and she’s a lot of company for me. She jumped right up on my bed, so I thought – ‘Wow.’ Now she sleeps on my lap or she comes on my chest. She knows when I’m upset or crying and she’s right there with me. She’s just wonderful.”

While Bailey’s friendship is helping to make River Heights a joy-filled environment, it’s Ara, Franky and other staff members who Donna cites for their compassionate care.

In addition to its 16 memory care suites, River Heights offers assisted living in 44 apartments. Want to learn more about River Heights? Call Franky at 651-326-6501. She would be happy to introduce you virtually to the whole dedicated staff.

A pioneer in our midst

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Foster Dunwiddie doesn’t need an elevator as a resident of Vista Prairie at Brentwood, our new community in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Brentwood is built on one level. Foster knows a lot about elevators though, as a pioneering architect with a rich history in iconic public buildings, including the old Met Stadium in Bloomington, MN. It was the original home of the Minnesota Twins after they moved from Washington, DC. Foster recalled a big design challenge caused by a budget shortfall early on.

“The initial design had a shaft for an elevator, but we couldn’t afford the elevator,” Foster recalled in a 2018 video about his career. “Once we got a commitment from the Washington Senators that they were coming, funds loosened up a great deal.”

Now 95, Foster was educated at the University of Wisconsin as a civil engineer but an interest in sketching eventually drew him to the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota. He later helped establish the firm of Miller Dunwiddie where he remained for most of his 50+ year career. He became best known for his groundbreaking work in accessibility as a member of the Architectural Barriers Committee of the Minnesota Society of Architects.

“I had broken both my heels in a construction accident,” Foster remembers. “I suddenly found myself confined to a wheelchair and facing the problems of those in a wheelchair.” He pointed out at that time, there wasn’t legislation requiring the accommodations we have today. “I was lobbying the State Legislature to revise the Minnesota Building Code to require handicapped parking spaces, accessible door entry-ways and restroom modifications for people in wheelchairs.”

Foster’s other key contribution was in historic preservation. He pioneered what he described as a “detective project” to ensure that the restoration of Ft. Snelling was historically accurate. He also designed restorations for the Minnesota State Capitol building in the mid 1980’s.

“We had to make sure the public spaces were accessible so that witnesses for hearings could get into the building,” Foster said. “I also restored the House and the Senate chambers to make them accessible to people with disabilities.”

Foster and his wife Shirley moved to Brentwood in 2011. Shirley passed away a year ago, a short time after she and Foster had moved into memory care. “They’ve been very responsible meeting my needs here,” Foster concludes. And about the food? “I belong to the clean-plate club, and I’ve been working overtime.”

The Brentwood community offers 28 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who value their independence but want options for personal care and supportive services. We also offer 19 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Holly and Jingles — out of quarantine!

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December 10 was a big day for Holly and Jingles as the two elves ended their 14-day quarantine.  They are back for their third year, making spirits bright for Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, MN. The COVID-19 safety protocol made this year’s visit a little different.

“The residents have really enjoyed them these last two years,” reports Colleen Marcus, Garnette’s community outreach manager. “A few will go around each day and look for where they might be.” 

With their new-found freedom, Holly and Jingles will be roaming around the community from now ‘till Christmas Eve, making sure everybody is ready for Santa. You can track their adventures on the community’s Facebook page

Holly and Jingles got their invitation from Garnette Gardens Executive Director Natalie Seehausen, whose daughter hosts their friend Elf on a Shelf each year at her house. Will the two elves will be back?

“We do plan to bring them back next year, under less difficult circumstances,” Colleen says. “They show up Friday after Thanksgiving and after Christmas eve they go home to the North Pole.”

The Garnette Gardens community is making spirits bright in 61 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors. We also offer 16 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Care Suites round out the options, offering enhanced care for people recovering from surgery or illness.