Category Archives: Resident stories

Joy for Joyce

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The joy on Joyce’s face was evident when Kacee visited Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN. One hundred-year-old Joyce was one of about a dozen Copperleaf residents who gathered last month to greet Kacee, her canine companion Luna, and their owner/trainers Al and Claudia Balay.

Kacee and Luna are both rescue dogs. Their regular inside visits recently resumed after COVID visiting guidelines eased.  They became regular Copperleaf visitors after Al’s mother Gertie moved into Copperleaf more than five years ago. “We liked that mom was in a smaller facility like this where the staff gets to know her and the staff gets to know us,” Al reflected.

Al has been a veterinarian for 44 years. For 25 of those years, he directed and expanded the Veterinary Technician program at Willmar’s Ridgewater College.  He and Claudia manage a horse farm near New London where they board and care for 16 horses, with the help of farm dogs, Luna and Kacee.

Claudia also stays active working with youth involved in 4-H. Kacee has scored highly in 4-H competition at the county and state level. “She enjoys her work a lot,” says Claudia, crediting Kacee, “as you could probably see when she was vocalizing for the residents.”

Benefits for the residents are obvious now that the dogs’ visits have resumed. What do Al and Claudia get out of it?  “Making people smile,” Claudia says without hesitation. “It’s very satisfying for me to know that I can give back through the animals.”

“My mom loves the dogs too,” Al adds. “When we were restricted through COVID, we would walk out around behind the building and still brought the dogs so she and the other residents could see them through the window.”

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.

Passion, Purpose and Flexibility

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Shirley’s long-time passion was downhill skiing. She’s standing next to a framed collection of patches from all the mountains where she and Marvin skied during much of their 65- year marriage. Marv passed away a few months after they moved into Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. Now 90, Shirley’s fellow Goldfinch residents became her family, along with two children, four grand-kinds and five great grand-children, one of whom she recently met for the first time.

While childrearing and skiing were among Shirley’s passions, her lifelong purpose was “helping.” Her career in nursing evolved to leadership and administration in Estherville, Iowa, where she started the School of Nursing at Iowa Lakes Community College.

“Then they moved the school to Emmetsburg,” Shirley recounts. “That made the driving too much for me so they asked if I would be director of nursing at Holy Family Hospital, which I did for a long time.”

Shirley’s career flexibility set up her third chapter in nursing after she and Marv moved to Fairmont. She directed services at a half-way house and an outpatient center treating people with chemical dependency. She served her final nursing role for people who were incarcerated in the Martin County jail, retiring when she was 77. 

As we enter the 21st month of this pandemic, Shirley still has the mind of a nurse. She laments that not as many people are vaccinated as should be. “I think the messages are mixed,” she says. “I think the science is good but then people begin to go out on their own. ‘The government isn’t going to tell me what to do.’ Well, they tell you; you have to wear a seatbelt. They tell you; you can’t drive more than so many miles an hour. What’s the big deal?”

Shirley skied until she was 77. “Skiing is my claim to fame,” she sums up. She and Marv skied together all over the world, much of it after Marv lost one of his legs to cancer. “They told him when they amputated that he only had a 20 percent chance of living,” Shirley remembers. “And he lived 30 years.”

The Goldfinch Estates community offers 92 one and two-bedroom apartments, like Shirley’s, 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.

King Marv – King Max

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Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon Iowa has a new set of “M&Ms” to honor — King Marvin and King Max. Resident Marv, 95, was crowned Fieldcrest’s king last February at its Valentine’s party. Now his great-grandson Max also has been crowned — king of the Orabs, at Sheldon High School’s Homecoming this fall.

What’s an Orab, you ask? “Orab stands for ‘orange and black,’” Max explains. “It’s just an acronym.” And what about wearing a crown in the same year as Marv does, “I got a text from my grandma a few days later asking if I knew my great grandfather is also a king. I thought that was really cool that we both share that.”

Marv’s reign extends for another three months, until Fieldcrest’s next Valentines party. He has the responsibility to name his own successor, “I just go through the crowd and pick one,” Marv explains. And he’s not letting his regal status go to his head, “It’s just one of those things,” Marv says.

Max is one of Marv’s 13 great grandchildren. The student body voted on his selection from among four candidates, as well as the Homecoming queen. Max also is staying humble about the honor, “I don’t expect any special treatment and prefer to just stick in with the crowd.”

Emulating his great grandfather is something that’s helped shape Max. He’s a four-sport athlete at Sheldon High, on the football, basketball, baseball and golf teams. Golf is the sport that most unites Marv and Max, “I remember him bringing me out to the golf course when I was a young kid and us sharing that common interest.”

The experience sunk in. Max shot a 38 on nine holes, during Sheldon’s first golf meet this season. Next year he’s almost certain he’ll enroll at the University of Kansas as a biology major and eventually pursue a career in dentistry. 

Given his busy senior schedule, Max visits Marv as often as he can but not as often as Marv would like. Just one of those things with busy students these days. 

The Fieldcrest 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.

Sharing her smile

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Smiles come naturally for Rose Gibson, especially this one. Her photo was taken the day Olivia was born, her second great grandchild. Her smile was a frequent comment in many of the cards celebrating Rose’s recent 98th birthday. “Isn’t that something?” she ponders.

Rose and husband Warren moved into Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds in Alexandria about six years ago. Warren passed away a few months later, so the staff and her fellow residents became Rose’s family. “I really like this place,” Rose says.  

Rose and Warren lived in three neighboring states during their 65-year marriage, while Warren pursued a financial services career. Locations included Fargo, North Dakota and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, as well as four Minnesota communities: St. Paul, Rochester, South St. Paul and finally settling in the Alexandria area where Warren was a bank president.

When the family lived in South St. Paul, Rose served as the hospital auxiliary president for Divine Redeemer. She was instrumental in raising funds for the hospital’s first ambulance. The effort included a two-night variety show complete with a producer and costumes from New York City. Rose had just one word to describe the feeling when they took delivery of the ambulance, “Awesome!” she recounted. “It was a great thing and they really appreciated it. It was so much fun, and everybody felt good.”

Rose and Warren’s move to Windmill Ponds was partially prompted by Rose’s two strokes in 2014. “I’m thankful that they didn’t affect my mind and my right hand,” Rose says. She’s also still bringing smiles to other people. “I make greeting cards, and I still can do it.”

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.

Purpose is a three-letter word

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Joy – that’s the clear purpose Hazel has chosen for this chapter of her 92-year-old life, living at Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, MN. Joy has not come easy for Hazel. Eleven years ago, she lost her husband Bob. Since then, one of her four sons died, and she’s also recently lost two brothers and a sister. She’s the longest surviving of 13 siblings.

And still, she expresses lots of joy. “I love it here. I love the people. I take part in anything that I can to stay busy. That’s the reason I like it here.”

Activities Manager Catie Helgeson plans and provides many of the options that keep residents busy and Hazel is often by her side, helping out. “She wakes up with a purpose every day, bringing joy to others,” Catie reflects. “When we have entertainment, she’s right down there dancin’ with the other residents and just having a ball.”

The community was even more dependent on each other during this past COVID year when outside visitors were limited.

“We talked back and forth a lot and that kept me going,” Hazel remembers. “I knew – this is what it is — and I’ve gotta deal with it. So, I’ve tried to keep busy and just go with the flow.”

That’s been a theme for Hazel ever since she took a bus from her home state of Alabama back in the 50s, to visit her future husband’s family in Minnesota. They had gone together in Alabama while Bob was there on an engineering job. This was in December. They were married that New Year’s Eve.

“She’s a gift to all of us here,” Catie concluded.

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. We also offer 16 memory care suites. Nine care suites round out the options, offering enhanced care for people recovering from surgery or illness.