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Roots and Wings

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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.

Holly and Jingles — out of quarantine!

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December 10 was a big day for Holly and Jingles as the two elves ended their 14-day quarantine.  They are back for their third year, making spirits bright for Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, MN. The COVID-19 safety protocol made this year’s visit a little different.

“The residents have really enjoyed them these last two years,” reports Colleen Marcus, Garnette’s community outreach manager. “A few will go around each day and look for where they might be.” 

With their new-found freedom, Holly and Jingles will be roaming around the community from now ‘till Christmas Eve, making sure everybody is ready for Santa. You can track their adventures on the community’s Facebook page

Holly and Jingles got their invitation from Garnette Gardens Executive Director Natalie Seehausen, whose daughter hosts their friend Elf on a Shelf each year at her house. Will the two elves will be back?

“We do plan to bring them back next year, under less difficult circumstances,” Colleen says. “They show up Friday after Thanksgiving and after Christmas eve they go home to the North Pole.”

The Garnette Gardens community is making spirits bright in 61 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors. We also offer 16 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Care Suites round out the options, offering enhanced care for people recovering from surgery or illness.

We’re Good

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Listening plays a big role in the selection of a senior living community, as a Twin Cities East Metro resident learned when she visited Vista Prairie at River Heights in South St. Paul.

We’ll call her “Mary.” After that initial visit, the family decided to leave a deposit on an apartment. When her River Heights hosts asked if she wanted to sample some other potential locations before making a commitment, Mary responded, “No, we’re good.”

Was it the quiet neighborhood, or the friendly staff that convinced her so quickly? While those probably contributed, it was more likely two other factors —

— this flowerpot that the staff had prepared for Mary to take with her. During an initial phone interview, Mary had commented that she’s an avid gardener.

— that her cat (and best friend) Toby could move in with her.

“She is pretty sad about the transition as she misses her screened in porch where she and Toby shared time together,” reflected River Heights’ Danielle Lloyd. “Well, Toby is now welcome here at River Heights. We’re a pet friendly community.”

Well done, Vista Prairie staff and congratulations, Mary, on your good discernment skills! The gardens at River Heights and several fellow gardeners welcomed you when you moved in recently. We think River Heights will fill you with joy, in addition to Toby, who sits right beside you on the terrace, watching the leaves change color.

Want to learn more about River Heights? Call Danielle at 651-326-6501.

Why We Do What We Do

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Two phrases stand out in the Vista Prairie Communities mission statement, “compassionate care and joy filled environments.” A family member recently sent a letter to our staff at Fieldcrest Senior Living Community, which remarkably defines what we mean with those words.

“There have been so many times when Fieldcrest staff have gone above and beyond our expectations in the one and a half years our parents have resided in this assisted living,” reads the letter.

The letter was from the daughter of one of our residents who passed away in March. Before her death, staff members in Fieldcrest’s Memory Care unit cared for her briefly.  Her husband, LeRoy, still resides in one of Fieldcrests’s assisted living apartments. The letter was addressed to Fieldcrest Director of Health Services Jennifer Anderson, who is pictured here reading the letter to LeRoy.

The kind words, hugs, prayers, and support for Dad and our family throughout Mom’s journey —”  That’s just one of the specific points the letter makes to illustrate “compassion and joy.” There are twelve more.

Fieldcrest Executive Director Cal Diekmann reflected on the letter, “This is why we do what we do! There were many tears and heartfelt times with the family.” Cal described how the whole Fieldcrest crew went above and beyond. “We love what we do!” Cal exclaimed. While she was a favorite of many staff members, Cal also confirms that the quality of care for her was not all that rare.

“Everyone treated Mom with love and respect from the day she arrived to the very end, for that we will be forever grateful!” the letter concluded. “You are lovely people who do amazing work for the residents of Fieldcrestl You will always hold a very special place in our hearts.”

Purpose Does Not Equal Perfection

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Connie Platz

Connie’s life purpose is to help people, even though she’s not living out that purpose as a nurse, like she planned. In the early ‘80s when she and her twin sister were in nursing school in St. Cloud, there was scant information about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a condition they were later diagnosed to have.

“When we read about it in our abnormal psychology nursing books, there wasn’t much written about OCD,” Connie recalls. “In school we were told that OCD was caused by ‘an overanxious family environment.’ We’ve come full circle, because OCD is now understood as a biological chemical imbalance in the brain.”

At the relatively young age of 55, after losing her marriage, leaving the nursing profession and the frustrations of cycling through job after job, Connie’s mother suggested moving into an assisted living community. Vista Prairie at Monarch Meadows in North Mankato has become a significant part of her OCD therapy, funded through government disability payments.  She had tried almost all the different medications for OCD. She did months of in-patient behavior therapy and underwent deep brain stimulation surgery, which uses a brain implant. Nothing worked long-term.

Since her move in March, Connie has high hopes that Monarch Meadows is the answer she has sought for more than 30 years. She describes the resident assistants as her “coaches and cheerleaders,” all at the same time, “Since I moved here, there’s quite a difference. When my mother asks how I’m doing, I say ‘I’m doing good mom!’”

Connie’s OCD will never go away, but she can cope much better now, with the friendships she has and 24-hour support. “I still worry about making mistakes,” she says. “It’s like having a battle in your brain all of the time.”

Connie stays in close contact with her sister, who lives in New Ulm. The two turned their disability into service, offering workshops for health care professionals titled, “Double the Trouble, the Troubling Effects of OCD.”

“We wanted to speak at schools but at the time the schools were saying, ‘how can you talk about a mental illness when you’re mentally ill yourself.’ The reason we wanted to approach schools is because OCD can hit at a young age. If you can catch it early, while their brains are still developing, they can get help quicker,” Connie explains.

Connie’s most recent workshop about the complexities of OCD was for the Monarch Meadows staff.  “We like to get the word out and educate people about OCD, so that there isn’t so much stigma.”