Category Archives: Life at VPC

Miss Congeniality

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At age 84, Laura has been a people person all her life. And the Cardinal is her favorite bird, as she proclaims on her sweatshirt. The bank where she worked was just a few miles from the assisted living community where she lives now, Vista Prairie at River Heights in South St. Paul.

“I started when I got out of high school when I was 17,” Laura says, about her career at the bank. “And I worked there for 40 years. I worked up to be a teller. I was dedicated to them and they were good to me. The two grammas would help me out because eventually I had four kids.”

After Laura married her high school sweetheart, Art, they had two daughters and two sons. It didn’t take long for all of them to conclude that she’s in the right spot now at River Heights, where she can visit with people and eat in a dining room.

“This place is nice. I like getting to go downstairs to sit with people to eat,” Laura reflects, since her April move-in. “I’ve met a lot of people down there and it’s been enjoyable. I’m really growing attached to the people. I’ve gone out walking with several different ones.”

All four kids’ families can visit often and now that it’s spring, Laura can use the two patios at River Heights where residents enjoy gardening and other outdoor activities. She’s used to that. Laura grew up in Stewart, MN in rural McLeod County, until the family moved to West St. Paul so her dad could be closer to his work in a packing plant at the nearby stock yards.

Laura has stayed safe throughout the pandemic. She also maintains her connections to her lifelong church in West St. Paul. A friend usually picks her up for the services, which have resumed in person.

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

Together for 75 years

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Red and Pauline have made Vista Prairie at Brentwood their home for seven years. They were well known Rice Lake citizens and wanted a place to live their later years together. Both now 94, they will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary on August 3.  They have known each other since they were both in the third grade in nearby Mikana.

Three of the couple’s children still live around the area. Red and Pauline were able to have their first inside visit with them recently for Easter, after the COVID restrictions were lifted.

Red is best known around the community as the 40-year manager of Birchwood Manufacturing. When he was involved, the plant provided employment to more than 230 people.

“Our main product was the laminated golf club head,” Red explained. “We made about five million heads a year.” That was back when golf drivers were still made from wood. Now most of them are metal. Red didn’t take up golf until after he’d retired from Birchwood. 

Birchwood has evolved more recently to making faces for sheet paneling, since the plant was purchased by Besse Forest Products Group, a Michigan based producer of hardwood veneer, lumber and specialty plywood.

Before they moved to Brentwood, Pauline had spent eight weeks in a nursing home following some operations on her hips. That’s when they shopped around.  

“We just thought this was kinda homey,” Red recalls, about their selection of Brentwood.  “And it’s worked out that way.” The couple will be among the long-time residents who help welcome Mark Hayman this month, as Mark assumes the Executive Director’s role at Brentwood.    

The 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.

Sally is still Sally

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Lynn Buckley’s expression describes the difference in today’s care for people with dementia as opposed to former methods prevalent in her field of expertise. For the last two years, Lynn has managed the memory care suites at Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, MN. She and the staff she manages provide long-term care for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

“That person is still there,” Lynn emphasizes, referring to the folks they care for. “They’re just not able to communicate with us in the way they used to. We need to know them as a person, their likes and dislikes, their life history. Knowing those pieces can help our whole approach to caring for somebody, including which interventions are better for certain behaviors.”

Lynn recently became a Certified Dementia Care Specialist. The CDCS certification involves specialized training in the latest standards and techniques for caring for patients and clients diagnosed with Dementia.

“Dementia is not a disease in itself. There are several diseases that involve dementia,” Lynn explains. “We need to educate people about the basic signs of dementia to get an early diagnosis.”

Lynn’s CDCS certification equips her to present several courses, some through the Alzheimer’s Association, which she plans to offer to community education in the local school district and in several other area venues. 

“I’ve always had a passion to work with older adults,” says Lynn, a Licensed Practical Nurse who started as a nursing assistant in high school. She went on to manage a hospital adult day program for 25 years before she joined Vista Prairie.

Lynn likes the direction that dementia-care is going, “It’s a whole culture change. You’re looking at behavior management methods other than medication. Back in the ‘80s we were supposed to bring clients back to reality. Well, that didn’t work. Now we just enter their reality. That’s person centered.”  

In addition to its 16 memory care suites, 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. Care Suites round out the options, offering enhanced care for people recovering from surgery or illness.

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.

Teacher’s pet

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At the age of 95, Lorraine’s life is defined by teaching. Her cat, Pretty Lady, is her constant companion at Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows in North Mankato, MN.

“She was a cat that they threw out on the street and the Humane Society ended up with her,” Lorraine remembers. “I had just put down my cat that I had for 18 years and I swore I would never get another one. But here’s this little cat that they figured was eight then. I’ve had her for nine years.”

Inspired by a childhood teacher, Lorraine started her own career in the classroom, in Morrison County’s Cushing, MN when she was just 19, after less than a year of teacher training. She loved it, amid its challenges.

“They tested me every inch of the way,” Lorraine recalls, with a twinkle in her eye. “Some days I’d go to school and I’d have a nest of frogs in my desk.” The school was located on top of a hill with a little pond below, a perfect habitat for frogs — and mischief. “Oh, we have a new science project today,” she’d reply. “The trick was to stay ahead of them.”

Lorraine and her husband raised six kids. He was a mechanic, who died when he was just 60. She later went back to what is now Minnesota State in Mankato to get her teaching degree and graduated the same year her oldest son graduated from high school. With her new diploma, she taught sixth grade in Garden City, MN, eventually becoming the principal of that school. Nobody in her family had ever gone past the seventh grade.

Later in her career, Lorraine took on some additional training and switched to teaching adults to read. Her first client was John, a 45-year-old auto body mechanic. “I asked him why he wanted to learn to read, ‘Well my daughter’s going to go to school and it would be awful if I can’t read back to her,’” she recounts.

John and Lorraine are still in touch. Soon after she moved into Monarch Meadows three years ago, John came to visit her and Pretty Lady. She also loves it, of course, when her kids and grandkids come to visit. You’ll find her in the dining room, now that residents can eat together again, welcoming new people when they move in.

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. Call Nancy at 507-386-2451 to book a tour.