Category Archives: Meet the Team

Seven years, no itch

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For seven years, Jeanine Schneider has planned and carried out the activities for residents of Vista Prairie at River Heights in South St. Paul, MN. Jeanine is busy preparing for indoor activities prior to another Minnesota winter. She’s responsible for residents on the assisted living side of the community and for the more specialized activities required in the memory care suites.

“If we’re doing an activity that not everyone can do, I’ll try to improvise,” Jeanine says. “Like maybe a memory care resident can look at a gardening book but not actually garden, or they can feel the dirt in their hands and get that tactile sensation.”

River Heights residents harvested fresh veggies this past growing season, cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as a variety of blooming flowers. The gardens also yielded lots of satisfaction.

“It’s the joy, knowing that ‘I grew this,’” for the residents. “Sometimes we do it from seeds, sometimes not.” While the tomatoes started as plants, the cucumbers came from seeds. Gardening isn’t the only source of joy at River Heights.

“I started this new thing. We give quarters if someone wins in Bingo and the residents get such a bang out of it,” Jeanine remarks. “Lately, I’ll pick one game out of the whole Bingo tournament and say, ‘If you win, all your tablemates win.’”

Jeanine also recognizes how much joy she gets out of seeing the residents joyful and having fun. “I’d want someone to take care of me and do things with me when I get older.” Fortunately for River Heights, that time is not near.

No seven-year itch for Jeanine, “I love it. This is kind of one big family.”

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

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.

Two women met at a bar —

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Well not really. Karissa Kosek actually met 96-year-old Anne, a resident, shortly after Karissa assumed her new position as the Activities Manager for Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN. They’re enjoying time together in Copperleaf’s Suds Room, where residents often gather for a beverage or a game of pool.

Karissa, 20, graduated from Ridgewater College in Hutchison, MN with an associates degree in marketing and communications. She and Anne became friends in July, soon after Karissa began her first full-time job at Copperleaf.

“Anne came to a lot of activities, so I got to know her first,” Karissa recalls. “She was someone who I could always rely on and know that she would be there.”

Reliability is Anne’s Copperleaf calling card. “I can’t sit still,” she says. “I’ve got a sewing machine here and I do things for people like sewing on curtains or whatever they want.”

In fact, her current project is to make lap-robes as gifts for every Copperleaf resident to keep them cozy this coming winter. She’s been doing this sort of thing since she retired 18 years ago from a career spanning more than 30 years as a health aide in nursing homes and group homes.

It’s one reason the move to Copperleaf 18 months ago came naturally. “It just felt like home,” Anne remembers.

Warm first impressions also helped Karissa get off to a good start, “The community here is very welcoming, and we’re always doing something; so it doesn’t ever feel like work,” she says.     

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.

Build Trust

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Teaching business principles in a classroom of high-schoolers or helping to manage a large senior living community — the key to success is the same – build trust. That’s Mandy Farrow’s mantra as she assumes her new role as the Executive Director for Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. Mandy should know. She brings experience on both sides of that career track. 

“You build trust with people, whether it’s the people you teach or the people you’re caring for, only if you prove to them that you’ll follow through with the things you have promised,” Mandy says. “Until you build that trust, you can’t make any real progress.”  

Mandy’s trust building experience also includes running a kitchen and bathroom remodeling business with her husband for 15 years before she decided to pursue teaching. To prepare for that, she obtained her Master’s in Education before teaching in two area high schools. Her undergraduate degree is in business management. 

About a year ago, based on her business management background, Mandy was hired as the business office manager at Goldfinch, during the height of the pandemic. 

“I was so impressed with the leadership team, the people I was working with,” Mandy recalls of that time. “It was difficult to explain to families when they couldn’t come in. That was the hardest thing, trying to be compassionate and strict at the same time, to keep everyone safe.” 

And Goldfinch did just that. While Martin County had suffered 2,376 COVID cases by the end of July, only a handful of Goldfinch residents or staff ever tested positive. Much of that credit goes to the nursing staff, and the leadership of Mandy’s predecessor, Pamela Rubis, who is retiring. 

“The separation from families was devastating for our residents,” Pamela recalls. “Our staff rose to the crisis to support the residents to the best of their abilities, adding joy to their days and nights. Fortunately, all our residents are vaccinated. After the initial crisis of the pandemic a few of the residents tested positive but were never symptomatic.” 

The Goldfinch culture that Pamela cultivated provided the positive energy that the staff brings to the community every day – the culture that attracted Mandy to be its next leader. “They really are living the mission and the values of Vista Prairie,” Pamela says. 

And that also helped build trust with the community, since the word was out that Goldfinch did not have a COVID outbreak during the height of the pandemic. 

“It’s been a very rewarding, a privilege and blessing to work with the amazing residents, families and team at Goldfinch Estates,” Pamela concludes.

The community 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. 

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!