Category Archives: News & Events

Mountain climber

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Eunice and Judy Wolner climb virtual mountains together at Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. Judy explores the reality of the residents she cares for, like Eunice. As the Lead Care Coordinator for the community’s memory care unit, she has engaged seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia, and their family members, for more than 18 years.

Goldfinch’s longest serving staff person, Judy applies her experience in the field to supervise a dedicated staff. “The reason I’m here is because I need to be here,” she says about her calling as a Goldfinch leader. “It’s never been about the money. I feel like somebody has to be there. Our mission here gives families peace.”

While memory care is Judy’s latest adventure, it’s not her first. When she was 21, she and a group of friends climbed Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The peak is literally next door to Moshi, the village where she grew up with four brothers and three sisters in Tanzania.

She recalls that the climb (Judy is third from left in the photo) took three days to go up and three to come down, for an average of 6-8 hours each day. “This was considered the easiest route but after the first day, I knew why our ancestors called it Kilemanyaaro,” her tribal language’s expression for “cannot be conquered.”

Trans-Atlantic travel was Judy’s next exploration, in her early 20s, as she visited a friend in New York. This love for adventure landed her in Minnesota where she met her husband and got married in 2005. They settled in Fairmont, his hometown, where they are raising their son. Judy quickly secured a position as a Goldfinch Estates resident assistant.

Most folks in Fairmont don’t look like Judy. She sees her ethnicity and race differently. Growing up in a high tourism part of Tanzania with people of all colors, faiths and cultures was a blessing. “There’s a lot of foreigners that come and climb the mountain or go on Safaris,” she says. “Moving to the U.S. was the first time I was referred as ‘Black’ which is a way to distinguish people in the U.S. However, that’s impossible where I was born, with so many shades of the same color. We are simply Tanzanians. It’s more about what part of the country you come from, or what tribe you’re from.”

Living in Fairmont for nearly 20 years, she has helped to educate friends and coworkers about her race, culture, and her career. She recalls one conversation where she responded to a child’s curiosity this way – “We’re just like flowers. Wouldn’t it be terrible if we only had the white roses or the red roses and not all these other colors?” This child’s mother later reflected that she’d frequently wondered how to explain race to her kids.

“If your heart is pure and you tell the truth, there’s no problem,” says Judy, expressing her philosophy. “It all depends on adults and the seeds that get planted early in life.”

And that’s the same philosophy Judy teaches in climbing memory mountains with residents. “Part of our role is to educate family members to accept their loved-ones for who they are now, not who they were before they moved here.”

In addition to its 41 memory care suites, Goldfinch Estates offers 92 one and two-bedroom assisted living apartments for seniors who want access to supportive services while maintaining their independence.

Bon appétit

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Jennie Marcus wants to take your order at Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN. Would you prefer the Daily Chef’s Selection or are you in the mood for a hot panini sandwich today? If so, you should try the Chicken Caprese with mozzarella cheese, tomato and a balsamic glaze, served on artisan bread. Copperleaf’s North Winds Fine Dining menu will soon feature these choices and many more, in addition to yummy breakfasts, served each morning until 10 a.m.

It’s all about choice and flexibility. “We all look forward to our next meal,” says Jennie, Copperleaf’s Executive Director. “For residents to have choice on when and what they want to eat, and who they want to eat with, is going to make a huge difference in our services. They can also invite their families to come and get something from the restaurant.”

The dining experience will change for Copperleaf’s 24 memory care suites as well. The former dining room in that section has been converted to new activity space. The new dining area will have facilities to enable residents to eat when they want to. “It will allow the staff to do more one-on-one care with them,” Jennie explains.

Jennie says the residents have enjoyed watching the progress so far with the $1.5 million renovation in the kitchen, and throughout Copperleaf’s public spaces. “One of our huge landmarks was moving the grand piano upstairs,” she recounts. “That was an emotional day. Now that it’s on the mezzanine level it sounds so beautiful. I think it was always meant to be up there; the acoustics are so nice.”

When spring comes, Copperleaf still plans to create an outdoor dining area with views of the marsh behind the building and a pergola for shade. “We’ll be coming to residents and members of the community for financial support to go beyond our renovation budget,” Jennie said. The community offers 55 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and seven care suites in addition to memory care. Compassion, smiles and fine dining all around.

Advent

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Brandon and Franklin with Finnish Painting

Brandon and Franklin with Finnish Painting are touching up a hallway before new carpeting is installed for Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, IA. As Christmas draws near, anticipation also is building for Fieldcrest residents as a renovation project in excess of $1.5 million reaches the halfway point.

“They get to watch the whole thing happen right before their eyes,” says Senior Executive Director Cal Diekmann. “They’re very excited about the end product but for now, they’re so excited just watching it.”

Now that it’s recarpeted, new furniture soon will be installed in the front living room, along with new curtains and a dramatic new fireplace, still to come.

Anticipating the end product is what has Cal most excited, “Our residents will have a brand-new dining experience,” he says. Meal offerings will feature more menu choices thanks to a completely refitted kitchen. Mealtimes will be staggered to fit better with residents’ plans, rather than having to observe a set meal schedule.

Residents will watch food being prepared from an in-dining room serving area. “It will be more of a home-cooked feeling, and I’m very excited about that,” Cal says.

Even an investment of more than $1.5 million has its limits. Replacement chairs for the activities room did not make the final cut, so Fieldcrest has launched a fundraiser for 50 chairs. Some residents have already stepped up to buy a chair, and so have some of Fieldcrest’s best vendors. If you would like to sponsor a chair, please designate your Fieldcrest gift online

While Fieldcrest’s staff also anticipate their new surroundings, renovations can be tough on caregivers too. “Absolutely,” Cal says. “They have to put up with last minute decisions. They do it with a smile, and they ask me if I need help. Just amazing.”

Fieldcrest 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.

A legacy that keeps giving

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Juanita Schmeeckle’s big heart and keen intellect live on in annual grants provided for Martin County nonprofits. Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates is connected in more than one way to Juanita’s legacy. Juanita made Goldfinch Estates her home in 2009. Mary Larson remembers accompanying Goldfinch’s nurse to Juanita’s home at that time, to assess her care needs.

“She lived a very modest, low key and private life,” says Mary, who recently retired as the Goldfinch Estates Community Sales and Marketing Manager. “She was an amazingly intelligent lady. She was very well traveled and had a style of her own!”

Before she moved-in to Goldfinch Estates, Juanita and a group of trustees established the Schmeeckle Foundation. The organization ensured that Juanita’s estate would be used to enrich lives through “innovation and creative collaboration,” as the website says. The Foundation’s Martin County focus includes early childhood care and education, people who are disabled and elderly, and the arts.

A second connection came in 2020 as Goldfinch Estates was honored to receive one of the Foundation’s grants. “The grant assisted us with career development, convenience services and support programs,” said Executive Director Kacey Kasel. “As a result, staff retention has increased and our need to bring in staff from outside agencies was drastically reduced, allowing our residents to be cared for by local staff who know their needs best.”

Goldfinch Estates is proud to be part of Juanita Schmeeckle’s legacy and her foresight. “Thank you, Kacey, and the rest of your staff for the care you give to the residents of Goldfinch,” said Shirley Maschoff, one of the Foundation’s trustees. “Juanita was very well cared for during the time she spent in your memory care unit, and we appreciate it.”

Specifically, the foundation grant funded a generous tuition assistance program that provided support for seven Resident Assistants to become Certified Nursing Assistants through the Minnesota Department of Health. Front-line staff also got recognition through programs like Employee of the Month. Finally, meals were made available to front-line staff by Goldfinch’s culinary staff to assist with the challenges of long duty shifts.

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

Dazzling bouquets

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The brilliant dahlia next to Shari Rich is just one of the dazzling bouquets gracing dining tables at Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows in North Mankato, MN. As the community’s activities manager, Shari recently collaborated with area gardener Sharon Chader on a joy-filled event.

“She has a huge garden full of flowers,” Shari explained. “She calls it ‘Lessons from the Garden.’ She donates all these flowers, and she doesn’t want to take anything home with her. She gives a little lesson as she’s putting bouquets together, and then she turns it over to the residents.”

Click here to see the result on Facebook. It’s Sharon’s ministry of beauty. It’s Shari’s way to help residents thrive.

“It was so much fun,” Shari says, beaming. “The joy on their faces… people who don’t usually smile… ‘just look at what I have,’” they say.

Events like this are just one of many ways Shari helps residents find their smiles and joy. She and her activities assistants conduct daily exercise for better physical health. And she’s an entertainer as well, with an unusual talent. Twenty-five years ago, she and her late husband got involved in puppet ministry in their church.

“We took our puppet team to a festival in the Twin Cities,” Shari remembers. “I saw someone do ventriloquism and I was hooked.”

These days, Shari uses her menagerie of puppets for her ventriloquist routines, “Mine are all animals, except for a pink girl, one of three main puppets,” she says. “There’s also a skunk; her name is Daisy. She’s fabulous. And then my alligator, the residents are going to meet this month.”

Shari concludes that when Monarch Meadows residents thrive, they are the dazzling bouquets for her.

“I like to find out what interests them, what their past interests were,” Shari explains. “Seeing their faces light up when they see you, that is just amazing. It’s about making a difference in their lives. I love it.”

One of our largest communities, Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows offers 87 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and 11 care suites. We also provide two respite suites, for short-term care when home caregivers need a break. Call Maddy at (507) 933-4681 to book a tour.