Category Archives: Resident stories

Loss, love and gingersnaps —

Posted on

The aroma of fresh-baked cookies often beckons visitors into Lea’s apartment at Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN. Gingersnaps were among Al’s favorites. Lea’s husband of 65 years passed away eight months ago at the age of 94. While his death was not COVID-related, the loss still weighs on Lea, their daughters Darla and Deb, and the whole extended family.

“Without COVID, when we used to go to the dining room, he liked that because he liked to visit,” Lea remembers. “He was a great visitor.”

Visits in the dining room are coming back now that all residents are vaccinated. Al’s photo hung on Copperleaf’s wall of honor along with other veterans. He and Lea moved in two years ago, from their home in nearby Atwater where they had operated the Willow Cove Family Restaurant for more than 11 years. Lea maintains her Atwater connections through the love of her church family.

“The pastor was here on Saturday,” says Lea. “He comes quite often.” Besides church and family visits, now on the rise, Lea stays in touch with friends at Copperleaf — active with exercise, regular devotions, Bingo, excursions to the Dairy Queen and decorating for holidays.

Lea’s eldest daughter, Darla, registered with Copperleaf as an essential caregiver. In that capacity she was able to participate in the community’s vaccination program, administered by Thrifty White pharmacy.

“I do all the paperwork for mom,” explains Darla. “I feel like a huge burden has been lifted from me because I’m not at the 65-year-old mark where I would be eligible for it this soon.”

Lea recently agreed to be a Copperleaf spokesperson in a series of local radio spots; “We act like family,” Lea comments in one spot. “We always ask how everyone is.” It was the feeling of home that sold Al and Lea, Darla and Deb on Copperleaf. That and the full-size oven so she could keep baking cookies and other traditional recipes like Lutefisk and Lefse. And as Lea reports in yet other radio spot, “Oh, and the staff is wonderful, very accommodating.”

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.

Teacher’s pet

Posted on

At the age of 95, Lorraine’s life is defined by teaching. Her cat, Pretty Lady, is her constant companion at Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows in North Mankato, MN.

“She was a cat that they threw out on the street and the Humane Society ended up with her,” Lorraine remembers. “I had just put down my cat that I had for 18 years and I swore I would never get another one. But here’s this little cat that they figured was eight then. I’ve had her for nine years.”

Inspired by a childhood teacher, Lorraine started her own career in the classroom, in Morrison County’s Cushing, MN when she was just 19, after less than a year of teacher training. She loved it, amid its challenges.

“They tested me every inch of the way,” Lorraine recalls, with a twinkle in her eye. “Some days I’d go to school and I’d have a nest of frogs in my desk.” The school was located on top of a hill with a little pond below, a perfect habitat for frogs — and mischief. “Oh, we have a new science project today,” she’d reply. “The trick was to stay ahead of them.”

Lorraine and her husband raised six kids. He was a mechanic, who died when he was just 60. She later went back to what is now Minnesota State in Mankato to get her teaching degree and graduated the same year her oldest son graduated from high school. With her new diploma, she taught sixth grade in Garden City, MN, eventually becoming the principal of that school. Nobody in her family had ever gone past the seventh grade.

Later in her career, Lorraine took on some additional training and switched to teaching adults to read. Her first client was John, a 45-year-old auto body mechanic. “I asked him why he wanted to learn to read, ‘Well my daughter’s going to go to school and it would be awful if I can’t read back to her,’” she recounts.

John and Lorraine are still in touch. Soon after she moved into Monarch Meadows three years ago, John came to visit her and Pretty Lady. She also loves it, of course, when her kids and grandkids come to visit. You’ll find her in the dining room, now that residents can eat together again, welcoming new people when they move in.

Monarch Meadows, located in North Mankato, MN is one of our largest communities, with 86 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and 12 care suites. Call Nancy at 507-386-2451 to book a tour.

Respect for mom, and virus

Posted on

Carla Starkenburg is one of many adults now in the role of caring for an aging parent. Carla’s mom Jennie (left) is a resident of Vista Prairie at Fieldcrest in Sheldon, Iowa. This role reversal took on new meaning in February when Carla, a registered nurse for O’Brien County Public Health, administered two rounds of COVID-19 vaccine to Jennie, along with other residents and staff.

“Just to know that she’s got the extra protection now, with the vaccine, it was a good feeling to be a part of that,” Carla says. She’s one of six children, including five older brothers.

A good feeling for 95-year-old Jennie too, since she recovered from COVID-19 back in October. Jennie and Carla’s father moved into Fieldcrest more than six years ago. He passed away in 2017 after 72 years of marriage.

Carla says she and her fellow O’Brien County nurse have delivered more than 2,500 vaccinations since December, with people coming to their offices, doing clinics in places like Fieldcrest and most recently for teachers in the schools in O’Brien County. “It’s been very challenging but very rewarding at the same time, because we know it’s all for good,” Carla sums up.

So, with the vaccine now being more widely administered, does that mean we can get back to normal visiting practices in places like Fieldcrest? Carla urges more patience, “We still have to be very cautious. I feel like we have to respect the virus. It’s real. We have to be cautious with how we are in our communities.”

Still, Carla is confident that Jennie is in the right spot at Fieldcrest, “I feel like she’s getting wonderful care. The staff has been wonderful. When things were closed and we couldn’t come and go as we wanted to, was I upset? Yes,” Carla reflects. “But we knew it was for the best to take care of the people who are living there, to protect their residents. We knew that and I knew that.”

There are encouraging signs at Fieldcrest, with the resumption of weekly clergy-led worship services and more social activities, still with virus precautions. 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.

Roots and Wings

Posted on

Family roots helped guide a career in pharmacy, a profession instrumental in vaccinating his generation against COVID-19. Air Force wings propelled him to meet his wife of 56-years. Duane Hammargren’s roots and wings have influenced his 89-year journey, with a few fiery detours along the way. The Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds community in Alexandria, MN has been Duane’s home for more than five years.

As a boy and later a young man, Duane’s roots grew deep in drugstores. He swept the floor at the store his dad owned. After his father became a traveling rep for a pharmaceutical company, Duane was called home from his first year in college to drive his dad from store to store, following a serious car accident.

Those experiences grew Duane’s wings to his own career in pharmacy, enrolling at what is now North Dakota State in Fargo. Wings of a different nature led to a detour. Four days after he joined the Air National Guard while in college, his unit was called to active duty during the Korean War. Following his Air Force discharge two years later, he met and soon married his bride Joanne.

“She was a wonderful person. I married up,” Duane says. He resumed his pharmacy studies in Fargo. In the next three years, Jo gave birth to two of the couple’s five children. During those school years, Duane supplemented Jo’s income as a nurse by working full-time in a drugstore in Moorhead. 

“I really enjoyed the school and the classes,” Duane recalls. “Just before I graduated, I was initiated into the Rho Chi Pharmacy Honor Society.” Now a licensed pharmacist, Duane and Jo wound up in the Twin Cities suburbs where his professional roots and wings eventually combined with his beloved partner and mentor Don Hanson in the business of pharmacy.

Duane vividly recalls another detour in those early years, “Thanksgiving Day, 1965, got a phone call that the whole shopping center was on fire.” It started in a back room of the Gamble store next door. While the store was a total loss, Duane and Don set up shop in a small vacant drive-in restaurant – and were back in business the same day, at least to dispense prescriptions.

“When we moved back into the main store after the fire, Don sat down with me and wanted to know if I’d like to be his partner,” he remembers. “I went to work as a pharmacist and when I came back after the fire, I was a partner!” Don and Duane eventually expanded to four pharmacies, which they managed until they sold all four and retired in 1983.

Duane and Jo moved to Alexandria where they found a house on Lake Ida until yet another detour. Their car exploded in their driveway and set the house on fire – another total loss. They had already put down roots on that lot, so they built a new house on the same site.

After Jo passed away in 2011, life got lonely for Duane, even with 15 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. He decided to move to Windmill Ponds five years ago. Considering the pandemic’s challenges, Duane credits the community’s executive director, Chris Carter, “I feel that her handling of the virus has been excellent. She’s done an excellent job.”

Duane’s roots in health care make him a believer in the value of the COVID-19 vaccine. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he says. He’ll get his second dose of the Moderna vaccine at Windmill Ponds on Feb. 16. The community offers assisted living in 65 one- and two-bedroom apartments, designed for seniors who enjoy an active social environment and expect high quality care.

editor’s note — Windmill Ponds plans to resume inside visits following required COVID-19 testing, in compliance with Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.

A friend indeed

Posted on

Donna Medina (left in the photo) and her friend Marla are neighbors in the Memory Care Suites of Vista Prairie at River Heights in South St. Paul, MN. They enjoy having lunch together occasionally. For Donna, friendship has been a saving grace since she moved in last May, amid eight months of pandemic response.

A recent post-Christmas party was an example of the comfort and support residents and caregivers are getting from each other. The photo is from that party, where Donna and Marla are modeling their new pajamas, donated by the nearby Target store.

“It was very, very fun,” Donna remembers. “I was glad I went. Sometimes I stay in my room, but I did go. I enjoyed myself. The management is very nice. They gave gifts. I received a beautiful purse.”

With lower infection rates in Dakota County and the promise of the COVID-19 vaccine, due to be administered on Jan. 21, visitors should be readmitted at River Heights in the near future. Stay tuned for that information on our website. Residents also look forward to weather when they can enjoy the beautiful outdoor terrace at River Heights.

Donna got even more encouragement at that party – a cat as a new companion. The River Heights staff asked Donna to adopt the cat after her original owner, another friend of Donna’s, had recently passed away.

“I was asked if I would take her,” says Donna. “Her name is Bailey and she’s a lot of company for me. She jumped right up on my bed, so I thought – ‘Wow.’ Now she sleeps on my lap or she comes on my chest. She knows when I’m upset or crying and she’s right there with me. She’s just wonderful.”

While Bailey’s friendship is helping to make River Heights a joy-filled environment, it’s Ara, Franky and other staff members who Donna cites for their compassionate care.

In addition to its 16 memory care suites, River Heights offers assisted living in 44 apartments. Want to learn more about River Heights? Call Franky at 651-326-6501. She would be happy to introduce you virtually to the whole dedicated staff.