Category Archives: For the Family

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.

Respect for mom, and virus

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Carla Starkenburg is one of many adults now in the role of caring for an aging parent. Carla’s mom Jennie (left) is a resident of Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, Iowa. This role reversal took on new meaning in February when Carla, a registered nurse for O’Brien County Public Health, administered two rounds of COVID-19 vaccine to Jennie, along with other residents and staff.

“Just to know that she’s got the extra protection now, with the vaccine, it was a good feeling to be a part of that,” Carla says. She’s one of six children, including five older brothers.

A good feeling for 95-year-old Jennie too, since she recovered from COVID-19 back in October. Jennie and Carla’s father moved into Fieldcrest more than six years ago. He passed away in 2017 after 72 years of marriage.

Carla says she and her fellow O’Brien County nurse have delivered more than 2,500 vaccinations since December, with people coming to their offices, doing clinics in places like Fieldcrest and most recently for teachers in the schools in O’Brien County. “It’s been very challenging but very rewarding at the same time, because we know it’s all for good,” Carla sums up.

So, with the vaccine now being more widely administered, does that mean we can get back to normal visiting practices in places like Fieldcrest? Carla urges more patience, “We still have to be very cautious. I feel like we have to respect the virus. It’s real. We have to be cautious with how we are in our communities.”

Still, Carla is confident that Jennie is in the right spot at Fieldcrest, “I feel like she’s getting wonderful care. The staff has been wonderful. When things were closed and we couldn’t come and go as we wanted to, was I upset? Yes,” Carla reflects. “But we knew it was for the best to take care of the people who are living there, to protect their residents. We knew that and I knew that.”

There are encouraging signs at Fieldcrest, with the resumption of weekly clergy-led worship services and more social activities, still with virus precautions. The community offers 69 one- and two-bedroom assisted living apartments for seniors who need access to personal care and supportive services. We also offer 12 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

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 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.

Generosity and Imagination

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Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN combined generosity and imagination recently to share an early holiday gift — as “hero bears” surprised special persons in Copperleaf staff members’ lives. Each staff member’s family got one, along with a personal note of gratitude for their loved one’s dedication during more than seven months of care and protection against COVID-19.

“As we protect our most vulnerable citizens against COVID, it can be emotionally draining,” said Copperleaf Executive Director Jennie Marcus. “We are not just caregivers for the residents we serve; we are family, we are a team of superheroes. These hero bears will help us remember this challenging time. We hope these special people: spouses, partners, parents and others will beam with pride that their loved one made a difference to so many seniors. How cool is that?”

The generosity came from The Manhattan Toy Company, which donated 100 stuffed teddy bears. Jennie’s husband is the North American Distribution Center Manager at Manhattan Toy. He worked with the company to orchestrate the donation.

The imagination came from Jennie and Business Office Manager Mackenzie Fragodt, who managed the project to dress each bear in a “hero” T-shirt and a face mask. Mackenzie also put together the letters to each recipient’s “special person.”

A Copperleaf family member reacted this way, “Thank you for giving my daughter Adrienne such a wonderful opportunity to be a part of Copperleaf Senior Living Community. She is certainly happy with her new employment experience and glad she decided to try a new pathway.”

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.