Category Archives: News & Events

BFFs to the rescue

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If your best friend forever (BFF) is a herpetologist for a zoo, Gary has some advice for you. Be ready for some unusual adventures. Gary recently brought the newspaper account of one famous escapade to his new home, Vista Prairie at River Heights, in South St. Paul.

The 1963 stories picture Gary’s role in helping BFF Bob Duerr recover an 11-foot-long crocodile from St. Paul’s Lake Phalen. Bob got the call when someone spotted the croc and quickly surmised that it had been stolen from the nearby Como Zoo. Bob was the zoo’s expert in reptiles and amphibians at the time. Gary set the springtime scene, which was around high school graduation.

“Some kids drove their car right over the fence at the zoo and lassoed the croc from a moat filled with water,” Gary remembers. “Then they did a really dangerous thing. Of all the places to take it, Lake Phalen, the playground for the kids.”

When Gary arrived at the lake Bob was already in the water, in the process of capturing the croc. Bob suffered a nasty slash on his arm so Gary took over, as the photo shows, and subdued the croc until it could be transported back to safe surroundings.

An accomplished writer, Gary described the aftermath of their adventure in an essay about his life, “My first and second grade daughters dipped into their piggy banks and bought several copies of the morning papers, both St. Paul and Minneapolis, with the whole story, complete with lots of pictures. They cut out the stories and took them to school and boasted and bragged and went on about their dad.”

After a life of ups and downs, one of his four daughters recently helped Gary move into Vista Prairie at River Heights. At the age of 84, he feels secure and well cared for. Want to learn more about River Heights? Call Danielle at 651-326-6501.

Painting Memories

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While Josie Olander’s service helps awaken the senses of Copperleaf residents, she didn’t expect it to include painting a mural on one of the memory care unit’s walls. Executive Director Jennie Marcus had the idea, and Josie, who joined the staff a little over a year ago, made it happen. She painted a couple hours at night, starting around Thanksgiving and going into early December — after her regular evening shift ended.

“A farm scene came to mind,” Josie says about the process. “I come from a family of farmers; my grandpa was a farmer and my uncle still is, in Renville County.”

Several memory care residents chatted as Josie created during the three-week sketching and painting process. She remembers one who had especially valuable advice. “He raised horses and his information flowed out as he stepped back into that role. It was just awesome,” she remembers. “He also taught architectural drafting… so when I was drawing the barn, he had some legitimate pointers on my perspective.”  And perhaps the ultimate affirmation for an artist – “the resident said the mural brings a lot of life to the place.”

Josie’s resident assistant role takes her to all three Copperleaf choices: assisted living, care suites and memory care. “I just want to help out where needed,” she explains. Variety in her work is a theme. During the day she’s a para-professional at Dream Technical Academy in Willmar, providing an opportunity to practice her professional skills with high school youth as well.

Josie also responded to some self-imposed pressure – completing the mural in time for the annual Copperleaf holiday party. “I stayed that night until about two in the morning, but I got it done!”

Copperleaf senior living community offers 55 one-and-two-bedroom Assisted Living apartments, seven Care Suites, providing 24-hour continuous senior care, and 20 Memory Care Suites.

Gifts for Very Special People

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This Vista Prairie at River Heights patio in South St. Paul is a peaceful oasis outside our Memory Care services there. Memory Care is available in our Minnesota communities in Fairmont, Redwood Falls and Willmar as well, and in Sheldon, Iowa.

Lynn Buckley is the Memory Care and Care Suites Manager for Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, and an expert in this field. During this holiday season, Lynn offers some helpful gift advice to you, for people on your list who have dementia.

The first and most important tip is to know what stage of the process your loved one is in. Your care professional can easily answer this question for you. Buying a gift for a loved one in the early stages of dementia can be very different from buying a gift for someone in the late stages. These suggestions are grouped according to the stages of dementia:

Early Stage:

  • Activity books, like crossword puzzles or strategy books, adult color books, color pencils
  • DVD’s of classic movies, TV shows or music that your loved one likes
  • A photo album or a family event calendar with photos of family members
  • A memory phone where photos and phone numbers of loved ones can be stored
  • Digital photo frame
  • A clock with digital time, date and day
  • Personalized video of family member and friends
  • Transportation gift cards
  • Familiar books
  • Box of cards with stamped envelopes
  • Transfer old family videos, photos and slides onto a digital recording
  • Gift card for Meals on Wheels or at a local senior dining opportunity
  • Favorite sports team memorabilia

These items will help stimulate your loved one to reminisce.

Middle Stage:

  • Automatic night lights that turn on and off with movement
  • A clock with digital time, date and day
  • An automatic pill dispenser if your loved one resides in their home
  • Simple craft items that will spark your loved one to reminisce
  • Scented lotions and bath soaps
  • Larger print books
  • A bird feeder

Late Stage:

  • Slippers
  • Weighted lap blanket
  • Fidget toys
  • Stuffed animal
  • Warm soft lap blanket

Finally — the best gift for all stages is your time!

The primary focus of our Memory Care services in Minnesota and Iowa is to provide an attentive and caring environment for seniors dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. Our program is full of activities that help relieve the anxiety, confusion and frustration that impact residents’ lives.

Pamela Rubis is Leading Safe Care in Fairmont

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Vista Prairie Communities (VPC) has named Pamela Rubis as the Executive Director of its Goldfinch Estates Senior Living Community in Fairmont. She is responsible for all operations, contact with residents, staff and the community — in short, assuring Safe Care at Goldfinch Estates.

A veteran human service executive, Pamela brings 20 years of experience in leadership and marketing positions with senior care, a nursing home and homes for people with developmental disabilities. Her experience includes service in care communities in Adrian, Hutchinson, Lakefield, Luverne and Worthington, Minnesota. She assumes leadership of VPC’s largest community, with 92 one and two bedroom assisted living apartments and 41 memory care suites.

“We welcome Pamela to the Vista Prairie family of senior living communities,” said VPC Chief Operating Officer Kim Webster. “Pamela is known for her high quality care and her excellent communication, customer relations and interpersonal skills.”

Pamela obtained her Human Services certificate from Rochester Technical & Community College in Rochester and completed additional training in Project Management from the United States Geological Survey’s Data Center for Earth Resources Observation & Science in Sioux Falls, SD.

Always a Teacher

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Aggie may have retired many years ago as an elementary school educator but that hasn’t slowed her life-long purpose to teach and to learn. Now 92, she’s pictured here behind an enormous photo of her late husband Clarence as they disembarked from a travel adventure.

On her dining table in her Vista Prairie studio apartment is Aggie’s latest Spanish vocabulary lesson, courtesy of Eddie, the River Heights maintenance manager. She reciprocates with an English phrase to broaden Eddie’s command of the language.

Aggie recounts her years teaching at Highland Elementary School in St. Paul. One year she was asked to teach a whole class of first graders from another school that had suffered a fire and was in a disadvantaged part of town.  

“I worked so hard with those kids and it really paid off,” she remembers. “At the end of the year, they had more than 60 schools in the St. Paul area and my kids made the top. I was so proud of those kids and they were from families with nothing, but they worked hard.” 

Aggie gave up her 35-year teaching career to care for Clarence when he became ill. After he passed away, Aggie went back to teaching on a voluntary basis. She eventually sold her condo about two years ago and moved into River Heights, where she had previously volunteered.  

Vista Prairie at River Heights is a warm and welcoming community in a quiet residential neighborhood in South St Paul. River Heights has the feel of being home, offering assisted living in 44 cozy studio, one- and two-bedroom senior apartments, as well as 16 memory care suites.