Head and Heart

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Rachelle Strasburg’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease at the early age of 64. And while the family was heartbroken by that news, the diagnosis helped launch Rachelle on an exploration of learning and purpose.

Rachelle converted her personal experience with her grandmother to an 18-year career in caregiving and relationship building, which has now evolved to being named Vista Prairie’s first Vice President of Sales and Marketing. In the newly created position, Rachelle will work with leaders in each of our communities to connect with potential new residents.

“With a heart for service and a passion to transform aging services, I am dedicated to collaboration, creativity, and growth in all the work I do,” Rachelle said when accepting the position.

She began her senior care journey working as a caregiver at a senior living company in Rochester, MN. It was there that she knew her life would always involve serving the older adult population. Rachelle worked as a manager in residential memory care and later transitioned into 55-plus Independent Living Property Management. As she gained knowledge about the sector, she found that she was naturally skilled in sales and marketing.

“I learned a lot about aging services and really enjoyed the sales and marketing aspect of the business,” she says. “Understanding the customer journey and creating thoughtful content, resources and campaigns around it is my favorite part of what I do.”

Among her accolades, Rachelle completed the LeadingAge MN Leadership Academy in 2019 and the organization’s Sales and Marketing in Senior Housing Certification program. She studied business administration at North Hennepin Community College and business management at the University of Minnesota.

Welcome aboard Rachelle!

Memories

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Bob is sitting in a chair that brings back loving memories. It’s the first chair he and Hazel bought, early in their 73-year marriage. Bob crossed the 100-year-old threshold last year. With Hazel’s passing two years ago, the chair provides comfort in their apartment at Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN.

Bob’s service in the Pacific during World War II earned him his accounting degree on the GI-Bill, from the University of Minnesota. Hazel and Bob met in St. Paul while both worked for the Internal Revenue Service, he as an auditor and she in administration.

Following some IRS transfers, they eventually established an accounting practice in Fairmont. He and Hazel worked side-by-side for 47 years, helping hundreds of area farmers, businesses and individuals with their taxes and other accounting needs. The domestic and business partnership worked. “When Hazel and I had a disagreement, I went for a long walk,” Bob says. “That took care of it.”

Bob remembers vivid details about a boyhood that contributed to his work-ethic and values, as the eldest child in a family of six, “As I grew older, I assumed more of the work around the house,” he recalls. “I scrubbed the kitchen floors, the bathroom, did the laundry.”

Bob remains in the same Goldfinch Estates apartment that he and Hazel moved to 12 years ago. “Hazel liked the apartment,” Bob noted. “We were very comfortable there. It worked out very well.”

Goldfinch 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.

In command

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Along with his characteristic smile, Joe often wears a hat signifying his hitch in the U.S. Navy. For four years he served aboard the USS Columbia, the submarine illustrated by his side. Instead of helping to navigate that ship, he’s now fully in command of his current environment as a resident of Vista Prairie at Garnette Gardens in Redwood Falls, MN.

Joe is a Redwood Falls native, attended high school there, even owned the local roller-rink for a brief time at the age of 21.

Seven years after his Navy discharge, Joe was diagnosed with brain cancer. For two years, he underwent the whole series of chemotherapy and radiation. That cured the cancer, but he suspects the treatment also led to a stroke. While those misfortunes have been the biggest challenges of his 45 years, impacting his mobility and speech, they have not dampened his outlook on life.

“I’ve been through some things, but positivity has never gone away,” Joe relates. “In fact, it’s never been stronger.”

Highly skilled in computers and electronics, Joe has become a passionate motivational video producer. He started the series while living with his mother in Redwood Falls during his stroke recovery. While he’s grateful for his mom’s support, he yearned to live more independently. Recently, he moved into Garnette Gardens along with an array of professional quality video production equipment, where he continues to turn out videos like this one.

“I’ve been living here for a month,” notes Joe. “I love it here, the other residents are a hoot, the staff is great. I really feel at home here. Their assisted living here is awesome.”

As his slogan, Joe subscribes to a motivational sign hanging in a Garnette Gardens hallway – Be the Reason Someone Smiles Today. “I think the whole world needs positivity,” he says. “It’s infectious.”

The community offers 62 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who also value their independence but, like Joe, need options for personal care and supportive services. We also offer 16 memory care suites. Nine care suites round out the options, offering a higher level of assisted living care and supervision.

Going the distance

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Eight years after Maya Kamrath joined the staff of Vista Prairie at Brentwood in Rice Lake Wisconsin, she’s still going the distance, for residents and now for her Ukrainian family 5,000 miles away. The Vista Prairie organization recently got behind Maya to send financial support from its employee fund donations to her birth mother Sveta, stepfather Sergii and brother Anton, none of whom she’s met in person. They live in Kyiv and so far, they’re safe, with the Russian invasion focused on other parts of the country.

Her Ukrainian family reacted last week to Vista Prairie’s support, “Thank you for helping us out at such a difficult time. We are also grateful to our daughter, Maya for organizing help.” And Maya added, “A special thank you for all the Vista Prairie Communities joining in together to make this possible for my family.”

Maya has literally come a long way – from a diet of oatmeal and potato soup in Kyiv to a secure adoptive home in Rice Lake. From a six-year-old’s insecurities in two orphanages, to a Certified Nursing Assistant and Brentwood’s most senior caregiver.

When her Wisconsin mom, Kathy, decided she wanted to adopt a child, Maya relates that her favorite sport influenced the country where she wanted to adopt, “She loved figure skating and two of the top ice skaters in the world at that time were from Ukraine.” Thanks to Kathy’s more recent initiative, and social media, Maya located her birth mother two years ago and established regular contact.

When she first arrived in the U.S. at six-and-a-half, Maya acknowledges how vulnerable she was as she encountered her new language and surroundings. “For instance, a hug or a comfort touch, I didn’t allow it at first. I had to understand what a hug was and what it meant to be comforted.” Finally, she came to understand the power of receiving affection through giving care herself as a baby-sitter.

Maya also went the distance through running. As a Rice Lake 5th grader, she ran more than 170 miles, equal the distance to the Minnesota boarder and back home. That started a competitive running career that went through the state high-school cross-country meet. Reporter Dave Greschner captured that part of the story for the Rice Lake Chronotype.

Maya’s heart for caregiving grew in high school. After she finished her daily workouts, she often visited Kathy’s mother, her adoptive grandmother. She lived in a nearby senior community and eventually needed dementia care. Maya’s knack for meaningful connection led to the Brentwood staff position while Maya was still in high school.

Maya reflects on her challenging life experiences, “The empathy I learned lets me understand and adapt to the differences in our residents. That’s what stands out the most. My relationships with our residents are the best part of working at Brentwood.”

The Brentwood community offers 28 one and two-bedroom apartments for seniors who value their independence but want options for personal care and supportive services. We also offer 19 memory care suites that provide a long-term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Smiles for Copperleaf

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These four people are a sample of the smiles that will soon be seen throughout Vista Prairie at Copperleaf in Willmar, MN. A $1.4 million renovation is about to start, which will mean major innovations in dining, resident communication, and all-around enjoyment.

The four people pictured in Copperleaf’s movie room (yes there are four) are the key planners, from left: Ryan Erickson from Larson Building, Amy Bursey from Monogram Design Consultants (on the floor with carpet samples), Copperleaf Executive Director Jennie Marcus, and participating virtually on the video screen, Anna Petersmeyer, Vista Prairie’s Chief Operating Officer.

Following the recent green light from Vista Prairie’s Board of Directors, Jennie is ready to set the plans in motion with many local building suppliers in the mix. “Our residents will benefit from a transformed dining experience,” Jennie says, “thanks to a new kitchen and our renovated dining room, complete with more convenient restroom facilities.”

While Copperleaf has always been known for quality care, an innovative nurse-call system will take it up a notch. “The wearable units will put residents in two-way contact with our clinical staff,” Jennie noted. “These devices will help make sure we’re always there for the support residents need.” The units also will monitor vital signs to aid physicians and other healthcare professionals.

“We also want to create a beautiful outdoor dining area with views of the marsh behind our building and a pergola for shade,” Jennie said. “We’ll be coming to residents and members of the community for financial support to go beyond our renovation budget.”

Beyond the high-tech and convenience features, Copperleaf will get an extreme paint-up/fix up with new floor and wall treatments throughout the public spaces and updates in the community’s 24 memory care suites. The community offers 55 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and seven care suites in addition to memory care. Compassion and smiles all around.