Tag Archives: Vista Prairie Communities

Educator, nurse, joy promoter

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Aja Ross embodies all three identities on the staff for Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, MN. Most recently and by popular demand, she’s escorted Lenny, her Bichon/Lhasa Apso mix – a source of plenty of joy for Goldfinch.

“He’s a little timid but once he gets past that, he’s a social butterfly,” Aja explains. “People just seem to light up when they see him.”

Now that the community is more open, with COVID-19 waning in Martin County, Lenny tags along with Aja (pronounced Asia) a few days each week. His coat is hypoallergenic, so no risk to residents — and he’s well compensated. “Sometimes the residents give him treats, his favorite form of payment,” Aja says, “and the back scratches and playing fetch with him.”

The pandemic’s fewer restrictions are a welcome transition for the whole Goldfinch community. Aja is thankful that the residents responded so well to the vaccinations.

“My guard still isn’t down. I was nervous when we opened up,” she says, “but that’s just the nurse in me.”

Aja brought her Med-Surg and ER experience at Mayo Clinic Health System-St. James Hospital to her new position as Goldfinch’s staff development nurse, responsible to ensure that the whole staff complies with the latest state health department requirements and Vista Prairie’s stringent policies for quality care. She’s now taken on the added responsibilities as the Director of Health Services, a position that still requires her to tap her earlier roots as an educator.

Career transitions are nothing new for Aja. In 2007 she started a one-year stint as a social studies teacher at Fairmont High School, before she decided to go back to college for her degree in nursing.

“The combination of being able to teach and still work as a nurse with staff development was perfect,” Aja says of her initial Goldfinch role. “I’m still using my nursing skills but I’m also teaching.” One of her earliest clinical training experiences in nursing school was at Goldfinch, and her grandpa lived there for a time, in memory care.

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

Miss Congeniality

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At age 84, Laura has been a people person all her life. And the Cardinal is her favorite bird, as she proclaims on her sweatshirt. The bank where she worked was just a few miles from the assisted living community where she lives now, Vista Prairie at River Heights in South St. Paul.

“I started when I got out of high school when I was 17,” Laura says, about her career at the bank. “And I worked there for 40 years. I worked up to be a teller. I was dedicated to them and they were good to me. The two grammas would help me out because eventually I had four kids.”

After Laura married her high school sweetheart, Art, they had two daughters and two sons. It didn’t take long for all of them to conclude that she’s in the right spot now at River Heights, where she can visit with people and eat in a dining room.

“This place is nice. I like getting to go downstairs to sit with people to eat,” Laura reflects, since her April move-in. “I’ve met a lot of people down there and it’s been enjoyable. I’m really growing attached to the people. I’ve gone out walking with several different ones.”

All four kids’ families can visit often and now that it’s spring, Laura can use the two patios at River Heights where residents enjoy gardening and other outdoor activities. She’s used to that. Laura grew up in Stewart, MN in rural McLeod County, until the family moved to West St. Paul so her dad could be closer to his work in a packing plant at the nearby stock yards.

Laura has stayed safe throughout the pandemic. She also maintains her connections to her lifelong church in West St. Paul. A friend usually picks her up for the services, which have resumed in person.

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

Loss, love and gingersnaps —

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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

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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

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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.