Category Archives: Aging Resources

Colleen’s Compassion

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Jeanette (left) is a resident of Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, MN. In the photo, she’s visiting with Colleen Marcus, recently named Garnette’s new executive director. Jeanette is 87 years old and the oldest of nine children. Her little sister Barb, aged 83, also lives at Garnette Gardens.

While Colleen is the new ED, she’s not new to Garnette, having served in various sales and marketing roles for the last six years. The fact that she already has a relationship with Jeanette and all the other residents is a big plus.

“The residents have the comfort level of knowing me,” says Colleen. “They don’t have a problem coming and talking to me, which is kind of nice.” Colleen promotes her open door, “That means for residents and families of residents to come and see me and my door is open for staff as well.”

Colleen remembers the story of a woman who moved to Garnette recently who has four sons, two of whom she already knew. That happens a lot in the small town of Redwood Falls, population 5,000. Colleen recalled that one of the sons she knew had a brother they thought might be skeptical about their mom moving into an assisted living community.

“They toured Garnette and he came along,” Colleen recalls. “By the end of the tour he was saying, ‘I think this is a good idea.’” After Colleen’s promotion was announced, she received a congratulatory call from that son, saying, “I gotta tell you they made a good decision because you sold me on moving mom in when I really came that day wondering if it was a good idea.”

Colleen figures that to build his confidence in Garnette, she needed to show the son that his mother would be treated with compassion when she moved in. “Compassion is a way of being empathetic with residents, understanding where they’re coming from,” she says, “and understanding that moving to Garnette is a good thing for his mom, because of the companionship that she’ll have. Some people are at the mercy of being stuck where they are with nobody to come and see them. Here, they can be out and about, make friends, find their joy and not be so lonely.”

Colleen emphasized that, with rare exceptions, residents could always access Garnette’s common areas, even during COVID. Most recently, the MN Department of Health has lifted all restrictions, allowing visitors to come and go and residents to leave the building when they wish, even in the rare times there’s a positive test for COVID in the building.

The Garnette Gardens community offers 61 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who value their independence but want options for personal care and the supportive services they need. We also offer 16 memory care suites. Nine care suites round out the options, offering a higher level of assisted living care and supervision.

Joy for Joyce

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The joy on Joyce’s face was evident when Kacee visited Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN. One hundred-year-old Joyce was one of about a dozen Copperleaf residents who gathered last month to greet Kacee, her canine companion Luna, and their owner/trainers Al and Claudia Balay.

Kacee and Luna are both rescue dogs. Their regular inside visits recently resumed after COVID visiting guidelines eased.  They became regular Copperleaf visitors after Al’s mother Gertie moved into Copperleaf more than five years ago. “We liked that mom was in a smaller facility like this where the staff gets to know her and the staff gets to know us,” Al reflected.

Al has been a veterinarian for 44 years. For 25 of those years, he directed and expanded the Veterinary Technician program at Willmar’s Ridgewater College.  He and Claudia manage a horse farm near New London where they board and care for 16 horses, with the help of farm dogs, Luna and Kacee.

Claudia also stays active working with youth involved in 4-H. Kacee has scored highly in 4-H competition at the county and state level. “She enjoys her work a lot,” says Claudia, crediting Kacee, “as you could probably see when she was vocalizing for the residents.”

Benefits for the residents are obvious now that the dogs’ visits have resumed. What do Al and Claudia get out of it?  “Making people smile,” Claudia says without hesitation. “It’s very satisfying for me to know that I can give back through the animals.”

“My mom loves the dogs too,” Al adds. “When we were restricted through COVID, we would walk out around behind the building and still brought the dogs so she and the other residents could see them through the window.”

Copperleaf senior living community offers 55 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments, 20 memory care suites and seven care suites, providing 24-hour continuous senior care.

Passion, Purpose and Flexibility

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Shirley’s long-time passion was downhill skiing. She’s standing next to a framed collection of patches from all the mountains where she and Marvin skied during much of their 65- year marriage. Marv passed away a few months after they moved into Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. Now 90, Shirley’s fellow Goldfinch residents became her family, along with two children, four grand-kinds and five great grand-children, one of whom she recently met for the first time.

While childrearing and skiing were among Shirley’s passions, her lifelong purpose was “helping.” Her career in nursing evolved to leadership and administration in Estherville, Iowa, where she started the School of Nursing at Iowa Lakes Community College.

“Then they moved the school to Emmetsburg,” Shirley recounts. “That made the driving too much for me so they asked if I would be director of nursing at Holy Family Hospital, which I did for a long time.”

Shirley’s career flexibility set up her third chapter in nursing after she and Marv moved to Fairmont. She directed services at a half-way house and an outpatient center treating people with chemical dependency. She served her final nursing role for people who were incarcerated in the Martin County jail, retiring when she was 77. 

As we enter the 21st month of this pandemic, Shirley still has the mind of a nurse. She laments that not as many people are vaccinated as should be. “I think the messages are mixed,” she says. “I think the science is good but then people begin to go out on their own. ‘The government isn’t going to tell me what to do.’ Well, they tell you; you have to wear a seatbelt. They tell you; you can’t drive more than so many miles an hour. What’s the big deal?”

Shirley skied until she was 77. “Skiing is my claim to fame,” she sums up. She and Marv skied together all over the world, much of it after Marv lost one of his legs to cancer. “They told him when they amputated that he only had a 20 percent chance of living,” Shirley remembers. “And he lived 30 years.”

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

Sharing her smile

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Smiles come naturally for Rose Gibson, especially this one. Her photo was taken the day Olivia was born, her second great grandchild. Her smile was a frequent comment in many of the cards celebrating Rose’s recent 98th birthday. “Isn’t that something?” she ponders.

Rose and husband Warren moved into Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds in Alexandria about six years ago. Warren passed away a few months later, so the staff and her fellow residents became Rose’s family. “I really like this place,” Rose says.  

Rose and Warren lived in three neighboring states during their 65-year marriage, while Warren pursued a financial services career. Locations included Fargo, North Dakota and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, as well as four Minnesota communities: St. Paul, Rochester, South St. Paul and finally settling in the Alexandria area where Warren was a bank president.

When the family lived in South St. Paul, Rose served as the hospital auxiliary president for Divine Redeemer. She was instrumental in raising funds for the hospital’s first ambulance. The effort included a two-night variety show complete with a producer and costumes from New York City. Rose had just one word to describe the feeling when they took delivery of the ambulance, “Awesome!” she recounted. “It was a great thing and they really appreciated it. It was so much fun, and everybody felt good.”

Rose and Warren’s move to Windmill Ponds was partially prompted by Rose’s two strokes in 2014. “I’m thankful that they didn’t affect my mind and my right hand,” Rose says. She’s also still bringing smiles to other people. “I make greeting cards, and I still can do it.”

Windmill Ponds offers assisted living in 65 one- and two-bedroom apartments, designed for seniors who enjoy an active social environment and expect high quality care.

Seven years, no itch

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For seven years, Jeanine Schneider has planned and carried out the activities for residents of Vista Prairie at River Heights in South St. Paul, MN. Jeanine is busy preparing for indoor activities prior to another Minnesota winter. She’s responsible for residents on the assisted living side of the community and for the more specialized activities required in the memory care suites.

“If we’re doing an activity that not everyone can do, I’ll try to improvise,” Jeanine says. “Like maybe a memory care resident can look at a gardening book but not actually garden, or they can feel the dirt in their hands and get that tactile sensation.”

River Heights residents harvested fresh veggies this past growing season, cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as a variety of blooming flowers. The gardens also yielded lots of satisfaction.

“It’s the joy, knowing that ‘I grew this,’” for the residents. “Sometimes we do it from seeds, sometimes not.” While the tomatoes started as plants, the cucumbers came from seeds. Gardening isn’t the only source of joy at River Heights.

“I started this new thing. We give quarters if someone wins in Bingo and the residents get such a bang out of it,” Jeanine remarks. “Lately, I’ll pick one game out of the whole Bingo tournament and say, ‘If you win, all your tablemates win.’”

Jeanine also recognizes how much joy she gets out of seeing the residents joyful and having fun. “I’d want someone to take care of me and do things with me when I get older.” Fortunately for River Heights, that time is not near.

No seven-year itch for Jeanine, “I love it. This is kind of one big family.”

River Heights offers assisted living in 44 apartments in addition to its 16 memory care suites. Want to learn more about River Heights? Call Michael at 651-326-6501. He’s happy to give you a tour and introduce you to the whole dedicated staff.