Category Archives: Better With Food

Rita is moving to a new menu

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Rita Gronski may be most comfortable in her chef’s coat, but with praise and support from many residents like Dwight, she’s now serving from a new menu – the role of Executive Director for Vista Prairie at Brentwood in Rice Lake, WI. The promotion was official on September 27.

Rita not only was responsible for providing delicious meals and snacks at Brentwood for 11 years, but she’s also managed one of the community’s most complex departments ensuring that residents have the right nutrition for their specific needs. Her 30 years of experience in senior care have taught her that it’s all about choice.

“The residents here have a choice in their menu,” Rita explains. “When they come here, they have their voice and their choice in food, where they may have given up their choice about things like driving. If they have a recipe that they’ve made from when they were a kid, we will bring it into to the kitchen and we will make it.”

Dwight sees this personal touch as a compelling advantage about Brentwood, especially for his sweet tooth, “I relate to the variety of food. For instance, we have a lot of homemade desserts here.”

Rita will continue to spend time with new residents when they move in, “I want to know them. This is my time to visit with them and know their likes and dislikes.”

Rita’s leadership skills and devotion to the customer come in part from her ownership of an area family restaurant prior to becoming Brentwood’s culinary manager. A dietary management certification from the University of Wisconsin at River Falls provided her academic training.  Her work-ethic goes back to growing up on a diversified livestock and dairy farm.

“We are delighted to welcome Rita to her new position,” said VPC Chief Operating Officer Anna Petersmeyer. “Rita has become a trusted resource for the residents, in many ways beyond great food.”

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.

Loss, love and gingersnaps —

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The aroma of fresh-baked cookies often beckons visitors into Lea’s apartment at Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN. Gingersnaps were among Al’s favorites. Lea’s husband of 65 years passed away eight months ago at the age of 94. While his death was not COVID-related, the loss still weighs on Lea, their daughters Darla and Deb, and the whole extended family.

“Without COVID, when we used to go to the dining room, he liked that because he liked to visit,” Lea remembers. “He was a great visitor.”

Visits in the dining room are coming back now that all residents are vaccinated. Al’s photo hung on Copperleaf’s wall of honor along with other veterans. He and Lea moved in two years ago, from their home in nearby Atwater where they had operated the Willow Cove Family Restaurant for more than 11 years. Lea maintains her Atwater connections through the love of her church family.

“The pastor was here on Saturday,” says Lea. “He comes quite often.” Besides church and family visits, now on the rise, Lea stays in touch with friends at Copperleaf — active with exercise, regular devotions, Bingo, excursions to the Dairy Queen and decorating for holidays.

Lea’s eldest daughter, Darla, registered with Copperleaf as an essential caregiver. In that capacity she was able to participate in the community’s vaccination program, administered by Thrifty White pharmacy.

“I do all the paperwork for mom,” explains Darla. “I feel like a huge burden has been lifted from me because I’m not at the 65-year-old mark where I would be eligible for it this soon.”

Lea recently agreed to be a Copperleaf spokesperson in a series of local radio spots; “We act like family,” Lea comments in one spot. “We always ask how everyone is.” It was the feeling of home that sold Al and Lea, Darla and Deb on Copperleaf. That and the full-size oven so she could keep baking cookies and other traditional recipes like Lutefisk and Lefse. And as Lea reports in yet other radio spot, “Oh, and the staff is wonderful, very accommodating.”

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.

Vote for Vista Prairie

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With more than nine years of appetizing service for Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows, Chef Barry Ahl is the senior Culinary Manager among all his peers at our eight communities. While he’s not running for office, his involvement in the Mankato area has earned wide community support.

Among Monarch’s unique features, Chef Barry and Executive Director Andrea Rupe have a virtual culinary demonstration on the drawing board, where residents, family members and the public can get help in preparing favorite holiday dishes. They’re planning the first installment this month.

“I can show them how really basic and easy it is to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal, right down to the homemade cranberries and giblet gravy,” says Chef Barry. “You know, some people don’t even know how to dress a turkey.”

The Monarch dining room recently opened for residents to have their meals, spaced one person per table, after a summer where all meals were delivered to each apartment – to ensure healthy nutrition.

“We made sure that we were taking care of every resident, one by one, going into their apartment, making sure that they ate three meals a day and a snack.”

Now that the dining room is reopened, the residents are delighted to see more of each other.

“One lady come up to me and said – ‘This is the best meal I’ve had nine years.’ Everybody’s walking around and smiling so I’m kind of like Santa Claus, because every day I get to cook really good meals,” Barry reflects. “That puts a smile on their face. That’s what joy basically is — with a smile or getting a compliment or getting a wink.”

Can we count your vote for Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows? Call 507-386-2451 to book a tour. Monarch Meadows, located in North Mankato, MN is one of our largest communities, with 86 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and 12 care suites.

Tapping experience and a service heart

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Mary Lou has seen some of this before, back in the 1970s. That experience motivates her to deliver meals to fellow residents of Vista Prairie at River Heights. Her years helping to operate the Lakeview residence in Virginia, on Minnesota’s Iron Range, provide perspective for the needs where she lives now in South St Paul.

“We had 18 or 19 residents living on three floors, no elevators and no air conditioning,” Mary Lou recalls about her days in Virginia. “We did 24-hour care — food was provided, medications, outings. It was like an assisted living facility.”

She and her husband were both registered nurses, working in Minneapolis, “We went to Lake Vermillion on a vacation and absolutely fell in love with the area. Within six months we were up North.”

And six years later, they owned the Lakeview residence. With her added experience owning and running a restaurant in nearby Biwabik, volunteering to help at River Heights amid the added food service responsibilities is a “no-brainer.”

“I live here, and I’m pretty much available,” she says. “I decided I would offer my services and they could utilize me.”

An accident in her Biwabik home compelled the assisted living move for Mary Lou. Her son and daughter-in-law, back in the Twin Cities, convinced her that being closer was better than being four hours away. “My son is wonderful support,” she says. “He and his wife and my two grandchildren keep me active and alive and happy.”

Mary Lou says she also enjoys seeing fellow residents on a different basis when she puts on her mask and delivers a meal. “We’re seeing each other more than just at activities or in the dining room. We talk about things every time I visit.”

The gardens at River Heights are coming alive again this spring. And inside, this warm and welcoming community offers assisted living in 44 apartments, as well as 16 memory care suites. Want to learn more about River Heights? Call Danielle at 651-326-6501.

Lessons from a quarantine past

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Here’s Culinary Manager Amanda Sundrin as she delivers a snack to Anitra, a resident of Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar. She and her late husband Duane moved in three years ago, following Anitra’s retirement as an elementary school teacher in several nearby communities.

She recently began life’s journey as a single woman again since Duane’s death last December, after being together for 69 years. However, in all her 94 years, it’s probably her experience one spring as a pre-teen that prepared her best for this pandemic experience.

“I had scarlet fever and our family was quarantined,” Anitra recalls. “We could not go anyplace. My older sister had to move out and live with my Aunt, because she was going to graduate from high school that year. My mother had to keep my dishes separate from everybody else and she would leave my meals at the top of the stairs.”

Those childhood memories give Anitra perspective on why Copperleaf is taking the precaution now to deliver meals and snacks to each resident’s apartment.

“It’s a very nice thing that they are doing, to keep us distancing,” she says. “Those culinary workers make sure that we have what we need and what we want. They are wonderful people.”

Before his death, Duane’s dementia made it necessary for him to live in Copperleaf’s memory care unit, a painful separation for Anitra. Her community of support means a lot to her.

“I have nothing but praise for the staff here at Copperleaf,” she concludes. “Not just now with this virus but from the minute we moved in, everything has been just wonderful.”

Copperleaf senior living community offers 55 one-and-two-bedroom Assisted Living apartments, seven Care Suites, providing 24-hour continuous senior care, and 20 Memory Care Suites.