Category Archives: Life at VPC

20 Years of Compassion and Joy

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When resident Marv Diekerlers got his COVID-19 vaccination in January, he was part of the latest chapter in the 20-year history of Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, Iowa. That history was the topic of this article by Justin Rust, managing editor of the Sheldon Mail-Sun, which we reprint here, with permission:

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Fieldcrest celebrates 20th anniversary – June 21, 2021

Providing a joy filled atmosphere is the goal of the staff at Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest Senior Living Community in Sheldon.

That goal was tested recently by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the facility to close its doors to visitors for about a year to help protect the residents from a virus that harmed seniors the most.

It also left them isolated except for their interactions with the Fieldcrest staff and their fellow residents.

The goal didn’t change, though. It only amplified how important it was to remain joyful.

“We have remained positive and joyful and committed to having the best experience you can have,” said Fieldcrest senior executive director Calvin Diekmann. “Plus we are keeping them safe. We offered the vaccine and we have done just wonderful in the past 16 months.”

As the pandemic winds down, it comes as Fieldcrest is celebrating a major milestone since the facility at 2501 E. Sixth St. reached its 20th anniversary this past week.

A celebration was planned for Thursday, but a heat advisory forced the Fieldcrest staff to postpone it until Sept. 16. Diekmann and his staff didn’t want the residents to suffer from the extreme heat.

“Our main goal is to always serve the residents and help them live in a joy filled environment,” Diekmann said. “That’s always our main goal.”

When Fieldcrest was opened 20 years ago, it has 56 assisted living rooms. In 2014, 13 assisted living rooms were added along with 12 memory care apartments. That was the same year VistaPrairie became the ownership company of Fieldcrest.

Diekmann has been with Fieldcrest for nine years.

“By far my favorite part of this job is listening and visiting with the residents,” Diekmann said.

The residents are also Fieldcrest director of health and services Jennifer Roos’ favorite part of her job. She has been with Fieldcrest for seven years.

“No matter how bad your morning started, once you walk through the door, there’s a resident to greet you,” Roos said. “It changes your day. I love coming to work every day and I love my job. I love seeing them all.”

While the residents help the staff stay positive, keeping that same attitude was hard with the pandemic.

The staff knew it had to push through during the toughest stretch of the facility’s 20 years.

“Him and I, we had to stay positive because all of the staff was looking up to us. If they saw we weren’t being positive, it was huge for them as well,” Roos said. “So being positive and coming in every day, doing the best we could to keep the residents safe and happy and keep the staff safe as well. It wasn’t easy, it was hard every day, hard on the staff every day and we made it through.”

Roos gave credit to Judy Wallace, Fieldcrest’s activities manager, and Heidi Starkenburg, Wallace’s activity assistant, for keeping the residents in good spirits over the last year.

“I really saw Judy evolve throughout the pandemic because she had to change so much,” Roos said. “Heidi did one on ones with residents all day long. They were huge during the pandemic with really keeping their spirits up. There were no group activities during it. Judy would take arts and crafts to them and they had different games they would do with the residents.”

Diekmann added he had to watch for remote control cars since they would be racing down the hallways.

Fieldcrest opened back up to visitors in April and group activities resumed for residents a couple of months ago.

“Last week Judy and Heidi brought a bus full of residents to Hills Park. They had watermelon and there may have been a small water fight,” Diekmann said with a laugh. “They came back and some of them stopped by my office to say how much they enjoyed it. They are so glad we can do those things again.”

Wallace has even been able to bring back a fan favorite.

“She has an ice cream truck and the residents love the ice cream truck,” Roos said. “She has different flavors of ice cream and music they can play. It’s one of the residents favorites as well.”

With all of the amenities and activities Fieldcrest offers, Diekmann said the facility is “pretty unique.”

“We are the only assisted living facility in the area with full sized kitchens and two bedroom apartments,” Diekmann said. “Our staff is just amazing. They are so resident focused and we live the joy every day. During COVID, sure there would be good days and bad days but our staff always came back with a smile on their face. We have the most courageous staff ever. I am bias but that’s what I would say.”

Even with all that Fieldcrest has to offer, it’s the residents who impress Diekmann the most.

“I am just in awe every day when I come in here. It’s just so rewarding when a resident tells you thank you,” Diekmann said. “Or even if they are upset about something and we can fix it. It’s so amazing to see the happiness they have when the families got to come back in. To me, those are the big things.”

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.

Devotion

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Throughout her life, 93-year-old LaVerne has been a devoted role model for her three kids and grand-kids. She moved into Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds in Alexandria, MN during a difficult year. George, her beloved husband of 70 years, was in hospice at the time. And then there was COVID.

“It was really hard at first,” LaVerne recalls. “Things got a little better. I got to go see him every day. I spent from one to four in the afternoon. I looked forward to that; it was enjoyable.”

While she was able to see and say good-bye to George, who was in a separate location, other in-person family visits were not allowed during the height of COVID. Instead, some video technology helped LaVerne stay in touch with her far-flung three children, in the Twin Cities, Nebraska and Texas.

LaVerne’s Twin Cities daughter Cathy Woodward also knows something about devotion. She painted the rock that LaVerne is holding as a thank-you for Windmill Ponds’ quality care. Cathy also contributed her comments about the COVID crisis as part of a 2021 video produced by LeadingAge – Minnesota to recognize the state’s caregivers.

See the video, which honors all the caregivers in Minnesota. Cathy’s comments are about three minutes into the five-minute video if you’d like to fast forward.

Beyond family, LaVerne is devoted to the friends she’s made at Windmill Ponds this past year, “The ladies are so friendly and neighborly,” she says. “They have a movie once a week, so we go together, and we play cards.” LaVerne says she and her friends are going to sign up for the regular boat rides on Alexandria’s many local lakes.

“It’s gone surprisingly very well,” LaVerne says putting the year into perspective, “because of the friendly people. You don’t get a chance to get too lonesome because there’s always something going on. I enjoy it here very much. I wouldn’t want to be anyplace else.”

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.

It all adds up

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Dewey Pettit will add his passion for the future of senior living to his varied financial leadership experience as he assumes his new role on June 21 — Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Vista Prairie Communities (VPC). Dewey is ready for the transition from senior leadership in for-profit companies to a nonprofit.

“I am delighted to join this innovative organization,” Dewey said. “The role of senior care organizations will increase significantly in the future. I am eager to help Vista Prairie continue its growth and maintain its integrity as one of the best providers in the Midwest.”

Dewey joins VPC from HomeRiver Group where he was the Vice President – Finance, responsible for the financial reporting, accounting and treasury functions. During his four-years at HomeRiver, he built the accounting team and integrated numerous acquisitions that more than tripled the size of the company.

Prior to HomeRiver he was the Director, Sales Operations at Polaris Industries, where he also served as the Chief Audit Executive, streamlining external and internal audit and implementing a process improvement practice. Dewey also held various Financial Planning & Analysis leadership roles at Boston Scientific. He started his career at KPMG in their assurance practice and was a Certified Public Accountant for six years.

“We welcome Dewey to Vista Prairie Communities, to this important role and to our Executive Leadership Team,” said VPC President and CEO Jim Bettendorf. “Dewey will be responsible to ensure that our finance team continues to provide its excellent financial management and counsel. Our Controller, Reed Mainquist, and his staff will report to him.”

Dewey earned his BBA in Accounting from Saint John’s University and holds an MBA from Indiana University, with a major in Finance. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Plymouth Wayzata Youth Baseball Association and resides in Maple Grove, MN with his wife and their two children.

Welcome aboard Dewey!

Educator, nurse, joy promoter

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Aja Ross embodies all three identities on the staff for Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. Most recently and by popular demand, she’s escorted Lenny, her Bichon/Lhasa Apso mix – a source of plenty of joy for Goldfinch.

“He’s a little timid but once he gets past that, he’s a social butterfly,” Aja explains. “People just seem to light up when they see him.”

Now that the community is more open, with COVID-19 waning in Martin County, Lenny tags along with Aja (pronounced Asia) a few days each week. His coat is hypoallergenic, so no risk to residents — and he’s well compensated. “Sometimes the residents give him treats, his favorite form of payment,” Aja says, “and the back scratches and playing fetch with him.”

The pandemic’s fewer restrictions are a welcome transition for the whole Goldfinch community. Aja is thankful that the residents responded so well to the vaccinations.

“My guard still isn’t down. I was nervous when we opened up,” she says, “but that’s just the nurse in me.”

Aja brought her Med-Surg and ER experience at Mayo Clinic Health System-St. James Hospital to her new position as Goldfinch’s staff development nurse, responsible to ensure that the whole staff complies with the latest state health department requirements and Vista Prairie’s stringent policies for quality care. She’s now taken on the added responsibilities as the Director of Health Services, a position that still requires her to tap her earlier roots as an educator.

Career transitions are nothing new for Aja. In 2007 she started a one-year stint as a social studies teacher at Fairmont High School, before she decided to go back to college for her degree in nursing.

“The combination of being able to teach and still work as a nurse with staff development was perfect,” Aja says of her initial Goldfinch role. “I’m still using my nursing skills but I’m also teaching.” One of her earliest clinical training experiences in nursing school was at Goldfinch, and her grandpa lived there for a time, in memory care.

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

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.