Engineers, Artists and Dedicated Staff: These are the People We Serve
May 15, 2017 | by The Members of LeadingAge
LeadingAge members tell the stories of remarkable people they work for—and with—every day.
LeadingAge members tell the stories of remarkable people they work for—and with—every day.
Asbury Place, Maryville, TN
Born Aug. 14, 1916, Hugh Barnett has acquired a wealth of wisdom and experience. He is well-known for his sense of humor, wit, positive attitude and rich storytelling. He graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in engineering and went on to become part of the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, TN, one of the most significant research and development projects in world history. His successful engineering career took him across the United States and Canada.
Among his accomplishments, Barnett is most proud of his two sons, Larry and Lee, and his marriage to his late wife, Shirley. He attributes his long life to exercise, healthy habits and a loving family.
Barnett’s 100th birthday party was held at Asbury Place on Aug. 10, 2016. He was presented the State of Tennessee Centenarian Award while surrounded by more than 30 close friends and family.
- Savanna Howie, Moxley Carmichael
Seabury, Bloomfield, CT
“I’ve been painting for nearly 25 years,” says Rozanne Hauser. “Soon after my husband passed away, I tried a 2-day watercolor workshop with a friend. Well … I was hooked.”
Hauser, 76, is a talented and dedicated pastel artist who moved to Seabury with her life partner, Lou Mazzotta, to flourish.
While art space for Hauser and Seabury’s other artists is currently at a premium, due in large part of an expansion and repositioning project currently underway, the dozens of resident artists immersed in various forms of art media will soon have a larger, dedicated studio space to call home.
“We have paper craft card makers, collage experts, clay workers, needlepoint and embroidery artists, bead workers and jewelry makers,” adds Hauser. “We just recently opened 2 new galleries at Seabury where our painters can display their work. Every day, I see conversation among the residents. I’ve been complimented on the work and time I’ve put in, not only with my own art, but what we have accomplished with these galleries.”
Linda Berry, past president of the resident council at Seabury and a distinguished embroiderer and quilter since childhood, adds that art at this community contributes a sense of vitality and purpose to the lives of residents. “Art reduces stress and keeps the creative juices flowing,” exalts Berry. “The opportunity to display our work makes us strive to finish what we’ve started, and to start something entirely new.”
The artists’ group at Seabury builds a sense of community and allows likeminded residents to share ideas and to learn new techniques. According to Berry, the resident artists inspire and motivate one another. Most of all, they feel appreciated by those who enjoy their work.
Hauser and Mazzotta, only a year into their life here, couldn’t be happier. “This community is vibrant, and it was such an easy transition for us to take our passion to a place that is supportive and forward thinking every day, finding tangible and intangible methods to keep us active,” concludes Hauser.
- Marc Zirolli, marketing counselor for independent living, Seabury
Duncaster, Bloomfield, CT
Ronald Compton has made photography, once a serious hobby, into what he considers his life’s work. Compton, the former president of a large insurance company, has turned a lifelong interest in camerawork into a pro-bono job, doing photography for dancers’ professional portfolios.
Almost every day, Compton heads to his studio in Avon to capture magnificent photos of dancers—alone, in couples, in costume or nude. The pictures he is taking are not for any profit of his own, but for the benefit of the dancers themselves. The dancers are students at the Hart School of Music. These photos allow them to build their professional portfolios, something that could be too expensive for a dancer just starting out on a career.
Photography is not a new-found interest for Compton either. It’s been a part of his life since his teens. “I am almost never without a camera. I will shoot anything that attracts my eye,” he says. He and his wife moved 5 times as part of his insurance career. “Every time my wife and I bought a new house, the first thing I did was build a darkroom,” he says. His first published photographic collection was called Clothes Lines Around the World. While traveling with his family he photographed clotheslines everywhere. He adds that his children even have some of the pictures hanging in their homes.
Compton believes both of his careers, one business-centric and one creative, have been equally important to him. His photography, however, has allowed him to practice a different level of concentration and skill than his executive position. Each feeds a different part of him and he’s a multi-dimensional person. “I am a pacifist ballroom dancer who can’t sing at all,” he jokes. “My grandmother was a professor of piano although I can’t play at all.”
Compton sums up why living with passion about a variety of interests is important: “As you get older it becomes more important than ever to have as many interests as you can.”
- Andrea Obston, Andrea Obston Marketing Communications
A.G. Rhodes Health & Rehab, Atlanta, GA
Nearly 20 years ago, Bobby Reynolds had a vision when he purchased his home in Jonesboro, GA. Although he didn’t have any expertise in landscaping or gardening, Reynolds knew great things were in store for his backyard.
“It was in rough shape, but when I cleaned out the yard, I saw the potential,” says Reynolds, who’s been the security officer at A.G. Rhodes for 8.5 years.
Reynolds would spend the next 18 years teaching himself how to landscape, and he transformed his yard into a neighborhood attraction. A big part of his vision was that it would be wheelchair-accessible. He didn’t know at the time that he’d eventually be working with seniors who would reap the benefits of his vision.
“I started on this way before I came to A.G. Rhodes,” says Reynolds. “I had no idea I’d be working for a nursing home.”
As his yard neared completion, Reynolds worked with activities director Vanissa Johnson to arrange trips for residents to have lunch and relax in his garden.
“The residents loved it,” says Johnson. “Bobby and his wife had a cookout for us and the place was just beautiful.”
Another group of residents went back the next month, and Johnson and Reynolds plan to make it a regular activity.
Reynolds gets many visitors from his neighborhood and surrounding areas, and several family members of A.G. Rhodes residents have also stopped by. He says people are always surprised about the story behind the backyard’s transformation.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” says Reynolds. “When people see it, I want them to know that if you want to do something, you can do it if you believe you can.”
Reynolds says the residents at A.G. Rhodes frequently tell him how much they enjoyed their visit and how grateful they were, but he says he’s the one who’s blessed.
“I know they got a lot out of it, but I think I got more out of it than they did,” says Reynolds. “I saw my dream come to fruition.”
- Mary Olsen, director of communications, A.G. Rhodes Health & Rehab in Atlanta
Shell Point Retirement Community, Fort Myers, FL
Dozens of Shell Point residents had a chance to show and sell their art recently, when Shell Point and the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center (SBDAC) partnered to present a month-long exhibition titled Ageless Creativity: The Artists of Shell Point.
The show featured 188 jury-selected artworks produced during the retirement years of 49 Shell Point resident artists. Represented media included acrylic, watercolor, oil, pastels, pencil, charcoal, clay, fabric, stone, metal, shells, wood, mixed media and photography.
One artist, Herbert Sklar, has won more than 50 awards in juried competitions for outstanding concepts and designs in print and television media. During his career, Sklar was an avid photographer, and his black and white images have appeared in a one-man show at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. His work has also appeared in galleries and juried shows, such as the National Artists Alliance in New York and the International Institute of Photography.
Ageless Creativity artworks were carefully selected by a panel of 4 independent jurors, who judged submissions according to artistic merit, creativity and overall excellence.
Cash prizes for Ageless Creativity artists were made possible thanks to financial support from The Legacy Foundation at Shell Point.
- Sarah Nadal, PR & associate content editor, marketing & communications, Shell Point Retirement Community
Cathedral Square Senior Living, Burlington, VT
For Vermont-based painter and gallery owner Stephen Zeigfinger, creating art is much more than a livelihood; it is a powerful restorative tool for mind and soul. Zeigfinger, who creates abstract art on oversized canvases, has recently begun teaching painting to fellow residents at Cathedral Square.
Zeigfinger, originally from New York City, had spent the last 15 years overseas operating art galleries in Budapest and southern Spain. A thin, wiry man in his early 70s, he made the decision to move to Vermont almost 2 years ago to be closer to his son and grandchildren. Since then, Zeigfinger and his wife Allison have operated a frame shop and art gallery called the Richter Gallery in Shelburne, VT, which also serves as his working studio. Each day customers can watch him circling large canvases where he drips on trails of colorful paint using plastic bottles. Using a mixture of acrylic and alcohol-based paints, Zeigfinger creates explosive images of color reminiscent of tie dye.
This style of painting, he says, is incredibly therapeutic: “When I’m painting, I’m in a trance. I watch the paint flow, I tilt the painting and help it along by putting in airbrush paint which reacts with the acrylics so the paint explodes on the canvas.”
Recently Zeigfinger shared his techniques with fellow Cathedral Square residents. Two volunteer workshops drew seniors ranging from ages 63-98. With the sounds of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata playing softly in the background, residents dripped paint on paper, tilted it this way and that, and watched to see what emerged. “Mine looks like a monkey playing a violin,” one resident jokes. “It’s like a Rorschach test!” muses another resident, a former psychologist.
Zeigfinger, a former university professor, admits, “The best part of teaching was seeing people come alive.” He had seen one 96-year-old woman sleeping in a lounge chair that morning before the workshop. “During this workshop she came alive and was so spontaneous and turned on,” he said. “It was so nice to see her expressing herself.”
- Kristin D’Agostino, activities coordinator, Cathedral Square Senior Living
Colony Retirement Homes, Worcester, MA
Howard’s story is fraught with ups and downs, and yet it is for this very reason that he personifies a great accomplishment. He was often dirty. His fingers were deeply stained by nicotine and he looked like he had not changed or showered in several days. When he smelled bad we had to ask him to go back to his apartment and clean up. He did not like wearing his hearing aids or his dentures, and so it was sometimes hard for him to be understood or for us to understand what he was saying.
Howard was one who had clearly always struggled. He had held a series of menial jobs, but did get by until people started taking advantage of his big heart. That is when we found him.
Howard came to us from a shelter. Because of his developmental delays, he was an easy target for people who wanted money or cigarettes. He roamed the city, going to different soup kitchens to feed himself. Finally, his sister applied for housing on his behalf. But his struggles were not over. Like vultures, the people who preyed on him before now tried to help themselves to his new apartment. Family and staff worked together and with extra support, he learned his obligations as a tenant, minimized the visitors and avoided eviction. He was further stabilized by the meals program, where he was guaranteed 2 meals a day. With help, he accessed food stamps, medical care, transportation options and other services to keep him strong and healthy until the end. Staff even got him to quit smoking for some time!
Despite himself, Howard became an integral member of the community. He would make the rounds most mornings, bringing the daily update and a “good morning” to each person in turn. He tried to help when he could. He delivered trays to people who were sick in the building and even helped out at the local soup kitchen. He seemed to thrive on the guidance offered by all staff—he must have understood that our “suggestions” were well intended, even if they were sometimes hard to hear. He never took offense when we needed to correct him.
Howard died recently. We knew it was coming. But somehow, I am still shocked at the hole he has left. Howard was a pillar of our community. His success is our success and we are proud to have made a difference in his life. Without stable housing and services, Howard would certainly have stayed homeless, died sooner, or ended up in a nursing home. More important, he would not have found a community that accepted him and cared for him. And in the end, isn’t that the ultimate rags to riches story? He mattered. He was loved. He will be missed. We should all be so lucky.
- Marianne Delorey, executive director, Colony Retirement Homes
Lima Estates (Acts Retirement-Life Communities), Media, PA
At 96, Woodie Benson will tell you without hesitation that he’s been called everything in the book.
Just ask the folks around Lima Estates, and you’ll find out he’s right.
“If this was a high school, he would be the president of the student body, the homecoming king and the captain of the football team,” says Executive Director Meghan McGeoy. “He is the cruise director to our never-docking cruise ship—the ‘Big Man on Campus.’”
Benson’s daily schedule is as packed as any head of state. He drives friends to doctors’ appointments, takes them to the store and regularly visits the local VA hospital, where he donates homemade blankets crocheted by a group of ladies at Lima whom he recruited to help veterans.
A veteran of World War II, Benson helped establish American Legion Post 390 at Lima. He travels, golfs and competes in the annual OlympiActs—a day of senior games for Acts residents.
“He is the poster child of aging gracefully,” says McGeoy. “He wants everyone to be happy, positive and together. He wants people to be active and continue to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Benson is sometimes affectionately referred to as the “Mayor of Lima Estates.”
“He is the Norm to our Cheers,” adds McGeoy.
Just add them to the list of things he’s been called over the years.
Benson was featured in a local newspaper after he shared the heartwarming, intergenerational bond he formed via a pen pal correspondence. He and Pam Loosle of Utah met face-to-face for the first time last fall after nearly 4 years of written correspondence. You can read their story here: “Letters to a WWII Veteran: An Inter-Generational Bond.”
- Brian Donathan, communications manager, Acts Retirement-Life Communities
Rolling Green Village, Greenville, SC
When Kathryn Trantham moved to Rolling Green Village, she knew she had found an engaging place to call home. Within months, the legally blind woman was helping create a masterpiece of art that will last forever on a wall at the senior living community. She was a part of an intergenerational project that was eye-opening for dozens of people living within the Greenville area, and is now turning many heads.
After seven months, 4,300 hours and 38 gallons of paint, “The Seasons of the Heart” took shape. On February 27, the group of painters completed their finishing touches and hosted a dedication ceremony. Several students from St. Joseph’s Catholic School participated to help residents like Kathryn create a mural on an exterior wall of the community’s health center. The saying, “It takes a village” came into play as residents’ family members and staff members joined in.
When Rolling Green Village decided to create a work of art on an ugly cement wall, the first thing they searched for was an artist who could catch the vision and be inspired. This vision led to St. Joseph Catholic High School visual arts teacher Deborah Pickard, who helped to design the mural.
“The idea behind the painting was Ecclesiastes 3:1, and how time changes with each season and in life,” says Pickard. “We painted the trees in each season, since they’re a big part of the community. People from every generation were out here painting … it truly was a learning experience for everyone involved.”
“It’s an amazing feeling to know I’ll always be a part of Rolling Green Village,” says Trantham. “To see something colorless turn into a beautiful work of art is wonderful. I got to meet some amazing kids. I spent one day with a group of teenage boys, and learned that despite our age, we had many similarities in common. We enjoy the same movies and books. It was eye-opening. They were so respectful and I’m grateful that I had this experience to learn from them.”
- Chelsea March, GlynnDevins
The Community at Brookmeade, Rhinebeck, NY
Sy Kattelson is a world-renowned photographer whose journey has taken him all over the world and brought him to Dutchess County.
Kattelson began his photography prior to WWII with a camera that required 2 people to operate. In 1942, he volunteered for the Air Corps as an aerial cartographer, developing film taken from aircraft to assess the success of their bombing runs. Towards the end of his service, he was redeployed to France where he worked as an Army publicity photographer.
Kattelson returned from the war with a more portable camera and a more developed skill and eye for photography. He joined Photo League and began documenting the urban life of lower- and middle-class New Yorkers.
His photographs are included in the impressive collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; The National Gallery of Canada; and The Musee d'Art Moderne, Saint Etienne, France.
Kattelson’s work can also be found on exhibit at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in Manhattan and at Arbor Ridge at Brookmeade Community. He views photography “as a serious art form showing ordinary people’s lives,” and one of his goals was to use his work “to show the world what it was.” He was recently featured in a New York Times article.
- Brian Zeidan, director of development, The Community at Brookmeade
Three Pillars Senior Living Communities, Dousman, WI
Bob Kappel and Ruth Secosh are two residents that make their community a better place.
Kappel has always been a believer in giving in any way he’s able. Whether making generous donations to organizations near to his heart, volunteering his time, or offering simple gestures of kindness, he has given abundantly in his 83 years.
In his first year of residency at Three Pillars, his generous heart has sought out numerous ways to give gifts of time, treasure and talent, accompanied by unwavering positivity and a whole lot of zest. He models the joy of selflessly giving to others with no desire for recognition in return.
“It’s just how I do things,” Kappel says. He has his share of troubles, but never lets them crowd his sunny outlook. “I have health concerns, my own issues—sure, just like everyone. But I’d much rather put a smile on my face and be known for sharing gifts of simple kindnesses rather than sharing my woes.”
He smiles as he recalls organizing a sneaky surprise for a special nurse on his wing earlier this year. “She’s a person who others may not take the time to get to know. She’s serious about her job, she pays attention to details and doesn’t mess around. Maybe others don’t understand her personality, but I paid attention, figured her out and built a relationship.” Kappel did some online shopping for the perfect token of recognition. He rallied other staff and residents to initiate a surprise presentation of a special pin and certificate for her, officially signed by “Bob, Ambassador of Goodwill.”
“Everyone needs back pats,” he reminds us. “Be the one to give some. Kindness pays off in positive attitudes.”
People are also naturally drawn to Ruth Secosh. Her magnetic personality, warm demeanor, and unwavering attention to what’s important to others is evident upon first meeting her.
July 31, 2017 will mark her 101st birthday, and to Ruth, life is all about relationships. She’s pretty sure that’s what’s seen her through more than a century of life. “I absolutely love people—they’re what life is all about. The people in my family, my dear friends and my neighbors and staff at Three Pillars, I treasure them each as much as the next.”
Having lived a fulfilling chapter of her life as loving wife, mother of two boys in Pewaukee and Clerk of the Town of Delafield, she found herself entering a new chapter. Her children were grown and out of the house, she arrived at retirement and her beloved husband passed away. In 1999, at age 82, she made the move to Three Pillars.
In true Ruth fashion, she quickly became involved with activities where she formed countless friendships. She busied herself participating in the book club, knitting mittens to be donated to charities and gradually worked her way into helping in the campus gardens. For several years, she was dedicated to working in the Memorial Garden along the beautiful Bark River, which planted the idea in her mind of forming a garden club. With her mention of the idea, a group of close acquaintances ran with it, creating the “Green Thumbs Garden Club” that’s still going strong today.
- Kelsey Pangborn, communication strategist, Three Pillars
Covenant Shores Retirement Community, Mercer Island, WA
Covenant Shores celebrated the third anniversary of the Diversity Awareness Partners (DAP), a resident-led group that creates opportunities for residents and staff to increase diversity awareness through education and community participation.
The 7-member group welcomes authors, scholars, clergy and experts to educate residents about timely and impactful issues related to diversity, including religion, race, immigration and social issues. Field trips and tours provide another layer of opportunity for residents to expand their knowledge and life experiences.
In addition to coordinating educational opportunities, DAP has initiated several community outreach programs. Some, like the “Jam Session,” combine the efforts of volunteers living in residential and assisted living. During the “Jam Session,” volunteers work together to make 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to include in lunch bags that are donated to two local homeless shelters.
Residents train with World Relief to serve as cultural companions to help newly arrived refugees acclimate to American culture. They also donate clothing, furniture and other household goods to assist refugees as they settle into life in the United States. In their own backyard, residents offer additional English tutoring for staff who participate in the English as a second language program (ESL) on campus.
“We never stop growing as individuals and we never stop serving as role models for others,” explains Covenant Shores Executive Director Bruce Erickson. “High school students who work at our community mirror our behavior; they look to residents for guidance and watch how they respond to the events happening in our world.”
More than 100 guests attended the anniversary celebration in the Fellowship Hall. Chaplain Greg Asimakoupoulos moderated a panel discussion, with residents and staff responding to the question, “How has Race Affected Me?” Residents Sheila Huang and Rev. Bud Palmberg, along with staff members Coral Falcon and Travis McGruder, each shared stories about how race has affected them or someone close to them. McGruder shared how he has experienced racial profiling but chooses to “rise above it and take the high road.”
A multi-ethnic resident/employee choir performed under the direction of resident Donna Palmberg. Covenant Retirement Communities' Vice President of Community Impact Harold Spooner and Erickson presented remarks and resident and DAP member Ruth Kverndal thanked guests for their continued support.
- Wendy D’Alessandro, Lynn Public Relations
Thanks to the many LeadingAge members who wrote the stories included in this article. To contribute more stories of diverse, remarkable elders—and the staff, board members and volunteers who serve them—contact Editor Gene Mitchell at GMitchell@LeadingAge.org or 202-508-9424.