Category Archives: Health & Wellness

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.

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.

An oasis in the side pocket

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Here’s a riddle. When can a pool table be a concession for both candy and hair conditioner? Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, Iowa has the answer. Once a month, Jan, a four-year Fieldcrest resident converts the community’s game room pool table to a pop-up store covered with convenience items that residents want most.

Fieldcrest activities manager Judy Wallace remembers Jan’s reaction when she recruited her to manage the store, “She said ‘Yes I’ll do it. I think it’ll be fun.’ Toothbrushes and toothpaste, those are the necessities, but the candy is what really flies out of there,” Judy reports.

Initially, it was fun for Jan and for the residents to have another outlet, “It gets them out of their apartments to another area to socialize. Seeing other people helps us mingle and feel connected,” Jan reflects.

But having a social oasis hasn’t replaced the family interaction that residents miss so dearly since the coronavirus hit. “It breaks my heart that I can’t see them as often as I’d like,” says Jan. With the pandemic now seven months old, Jan feels lonesome and yearns for family visits free of time limits and conditions. With positive tests still high in Northwest Iowa, it’s a prevalent feeling among all residents and staff. Fieldcrest would like nothing more than to open up, as soon as it’s safe.

“It’s harder than I could have ever, ever, ever expected,” says Judy. “Being on the front line every day is very challenging. I’ve cried more tears than I knew were possible.” Still, she’ll keep coming up with innovative ideas to help residents feel engaged and part of the community.

Fieldcrest Assisted Living 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.