LeadingAge Magazine · July/August 2014 • Volume 04 • Number 04

Missionaries, Scientists, Diplomats and Good Friends: These are the People We Serve

June 22, 2014 | by The Members of LeadingAge

LeadingAge members serve an endless variety of people, special for their accomplishments, their charity or the joy they bring to the lives of others.

Otterbein Lebanon Senior Lifestyle Community, Lebanon, OH
On May 11, Grace DiGiovanni celebrated her 107th birthday. Surrounded by over 100 friends and relatives, a party was held at Otterbein Lebanon Senior Lifestyle Community in her honor. DiGiovanni was born in 1907 to Lena and Tony Danna, both Italian immigrants who came to the U.S. through Ellis Island. The eldest of 10 children, she grew up in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI, where she worked at a hardware store in her younger years. In the 1930s, she married her late husband, Michael DiGiovanni, with whom she had two children, Jimmy and Marie. During this time, she worked as a nursery aide at a hospital.

In 1907, the year Grace was born, Theodore Roosevelt was president. Grace also was born in the same year that the electric light bulb was invented. The average cost of a dozen eggs was 14 cents, and a pound of sugar cost four cents a pound. In 1907, the American flag only had 45 stars. Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii were all admitted after Grace was born.

Grace is a devoted and respected member of her family. Today her family includes her stepdaughter who lives in Florida, three grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, 24 great-grandnieces and nephews and 23 great-great-grandnieces and nephews.

- Kathleen Geers, director of marketing & communications, Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices

Redwood Terrace, Escondido, CA
For Dr. Harvey Hoekstra, the call to the ministry came at age 14. He was recuperating from three major abdominal surgeries, spending more than a month in a small-town hospital above the local pharmacy in his Minnesota hometown.

“I promised [God] that if He spared my life, I would try to become a preacher of the Gospel,” says Hoekstra, who kept his word and worked as a missionary for the Reformed Church in Ethiopia from 1963 until 1976.

In 2011, he returned to Ethiopia for the first time in more than four decades. Thousands gathered for a ceremony in the village of Teppi to honor the work that Hoekstra and his nonprofit, Talking Bibles, had done for the African nation. That includes creating a device that enables people across the world to listen to an audio version of The Bible in 140 languages.

“Our vision was to meet the spiritual needs of people who pass along generations of traditions orally,” says Hoekstra, who has lived at Redwood Terrace since 2004.

Hoekstra first worked as a missionary in Sudan, serving with his wife Lavina from 1948-61. During that time, he translated the New Testament into various tribal dialects for the American Bible Society and United Bible Society. He also developed a tape ministry.

In 1989, he founded Audio Scriptures International, which produced recordings of The Bible. A South African electrical engineer designed the digital device that we know today as the Talking Bible, which is just a little bigger than a passport. TBI has distributed about 100,000 worldwide.

He shared his adventures as a missionary in his memoir, Honey, We’re Going to Africa, and on several blogs he kept up for three years. “It brings back all kinds of memories,” he says. “It’s hard to believe we did what we did.”

- Monée Fields-White, senior writer, be.group

Judson Services, Cleveland, OH
It’s hard to imagine 101-year-old Judge Jean Murrell Capers demurely accepting an award without having her say, especially since she has dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of women and minorities.

Such was the case in May, when the Judson Manor resident received the 2014 YWCA Lifetime Achievement Award from YWCA Greater Cleveland. This is only the sixth Lifetime Achievement Award presented in the organization’s 38-year history.

See this video made for the event by YWCA Greater Cleveland:

Stepping up to the podium, she thanked the mostly female audience and quipped, “If it hadn’t been for others like me, you wouldn’t be where you are today.”

Judge Capers, as a prominent local figure and public servant, joins the illustrious ranks of local movers and shakers like Zelma Watson George and Stephanie Tubbs Jones with her contribution to the women’s rights movement and the fight against racism.

Graduating from Case Western Reserve University (then Western Reserve University), Judge Capers went on to become the first African American woman elected to Cleveland City Council, and eventually became a Cleveland Municipal Courts judge at age 62. She served in this position well into her 90s, continuing the fight against social injustice.

Judge Capers’ fight for the end of racial discrimination in Cleveland has produced tangible results that all people, regardless of race or gender, can see at work today.

- Rob Lucarelli, director of communications, Judson Services, Inc.

Piedmont Crossing, Thomasville, NC
A Davidson County native, 102-year-old Annie Mae Foster grew up on a farm near Reedy Creek. She can still recall her younger years on the tobacco farm. "There were tobacco worms that would get on our plants. I would knock them off and push them in the ground with a stick," says Foster. At 17, she married Irvin Foster, the man she says was the love of her life. The couple had three children. Along with raising their children, Foster held a job at Mont Castle Hosiery Mill, enjoyed gardening and was the proud owner of a border collie named Lassie.

Still able to voice her love of the border collie breed, Foster said her birthday wishes this year were to have her family together and a border collie visit her. Little did Foster know her close-knit family planned a large surprise birthday party for her, with nearly 50 people in attendance.

With the help of a Winston-Salem-based nonprofit, Collie Rescue of the Carolinas, the staff at Piedmont Crossing arranged for a collie to visit and make Foster's birthday wish come true. Volunteers from Collie Rescue were honored to be part of the celebration. Not only did they bring a collie to visit Foster, but came prepared to celebrate the big day with balloons and gifts.

"This birthday surprise was the perfect gift for Mom. We are very appreciative that the staff at Piedmont Crossing put this together for Annie," says Margaret Pope, Foster's daughter. "Her face lit up when she saw the collie had come to visit her. What an excellent day—the smile on her face was priceless."

- Shaylyn Ladd, director of public relations, United Church Homes and Services

Casa Community Center, Green Valley, AZ
Three very different labels have been used to describe Vincent Barone: musician, diplomat and poet. The poetry came late in life for the 95-year-old who socializes and enjoys lunch several times a week at the Casa Community Center, a program of La Posada of Green Valley.

“Becoming a member of the Community Center was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Barone said as he reflected on losing his wife of 66 years in 2008 and a subsequent time of isolation and depression. “I stopped eating properly and my health became affected. The Community Center gave me a place to go rather than to sit home and stare at the silent rooms.”

Barone first came to the center as a kitchen volunteer—a physically demanding role for a man in his 90s. He now contributes as a member of the advisory Senior Lunch Program Site Council. He enjoys the center’s lunches, and he is frequently asked to read an original poem. “When members are encouraged to share their talents, it gives a feeling of self-confidence and accomplishment,” Barone advises.

Growing up in an Italian immigrant family on New York’s Lower East Side, Barone yearned for opportunities. His parents encouraged him to take up stringed instruments at a very young age, supported him as he played his way through high school. They were proud when he earned his way through college playing saxophone with some of the biggest bands of the era.

Barone attended St. John’s University in New York City and graduated in 1939 with a degree in social sciences; later he attained a master’s degree in international studies from New York University.

Diplomatic posts in Panama, Uruguay, Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Spain led to a lifetime within the political upheaval of Latin America and post-war Europe. His best memories came from the adoption of his two children in Latin America. He still follows international policy and is eager to discuss world events with his center lunch tablemates.

- Barbara Averill, manager of public and community relations, La Posada at Park Centre.

Calder Woods, Beaumont, TX
Connie Dickinson, 97, a resident at Calder Woods, began doing volunteer work in her community 27 years ago and has been going strong ever since. Nothing seems to slow her down. Dickinson estimates she has volunteered more than 13,000 hours at Baptist Hospital since 1987.

“After I retired I decided I needed to do something to occupy my time,” she says. “I didn’t want to be bored just sitting around the house doing nothing. I wanted to be out with people.”

Dickinson volunteers three or four days a week at the hospital’s information desk where she answers the phone and greets visitors. She still drives herself across town to the hospital. In addition, she works one day a week at the Calder Woods Coffee Café & Gift Shop.

A widow, Dickinson moved to Calder Woods in 2007. She had retired from Sun Oil Co., where she worked 25 years in the company’s oil accounting department. She and her husband, Murray, were married 59 years before his death in February 2002.

“After my husband died, I decided I needed a place to live where I felt safe,” she says. “We didn’t have children and I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.”

Dickinson has an older sister (who turns 100 in July) who also volunteers at a hospital in Memphis, TN, where she lives.

“I intend to beat her record and work longer than she does,” Dickinson says with a laugh.

Dickinson says volunteering makes her happy and gives her something to look forward to every day. “I feel like I get more out of it than I give,” she says. “At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve helped somebody.”

- Chelsea Quackenbush White, communications specialist, Buckner Retirement Services, Inc.

A.G. Rhodes Health & Rehab, Atlanta, GA
Rev. Miriam Haynes Holland paved the way for women in the ministry, serving in the late 1970s through the early 1990s as a minister in several Methodist churches in Florida.

Holland’s father was a Methodist minister and she spent her youth traveling throughout Georgia and Florida while he served different congregations. She later married a Methodist minister who served as an Air Force Chaplain. His father was also a Methodist minister and since they were both children of ministers, the wedding was conducted by their fathers.

Holland and her late husband had three children and lived on Air Force bases nationally and internationally before she decided to pursue her own ministry. After her husband retired, Holland went back to school and earned her Masters of Divinity in 1976, and served as a Methodist minister for 15 years before retiring herself. Even after retirement, she and her husband remained very active in ministry. They led services for ministers who were away, and were involved in various causes including the Methodist Federation for Social Action, an organization advocating for justice in the areas of peace, poverty and human rights.

- Mary Olsen, communications specialist, A.G. Rhodes Health & Rehab

White Sands La Jolla, La Jolla, CA
As a self-taught plein-air (outdoor) traditional painter for 20 years, Rodger Heglar has spent a lot of time along the Pacific shoreline and on the hilltops overlooking the La Jolla Cove. He explores the many colors, natural light, textures and moods while capturing the beauty of the area’s land- and seascapes.

“I’m grabbing something from the environment and interpreting the feel when I first saw it,” says Dr. Heglar, who in a previous life was a prominent forensic anthropologist. “What inspires me now is the process of doing the art and the end result. It’s the enjoyment and feeling of creativity.”

In his studio, Heglar has an extensive collection of work—mostly oil paintings and pastels—many of which he has shown at art festivals and gallery shows. He also holds juried memberships in national and local art groups, including Oil Painters of America, the California Art Club and the La Jolla Art Association. “I never thought I would be doing what I’m doing now,” says Heglar, who has been a professional artist for 15 years.

Heglar has found his own niche as part of the plein-air traditional painting community, drawing inspiration from the breathtaking scenery of the West Coast. Tapping into his anthropology background, he also has explored Native American art and recently created pieces that reinterpret the ancient cave paintings from the Southwest.

“It’s no surprise that I would be doing something that has an anthropologic base,” he says. “It’s in my background and my understanding of other people and cultures. It felt natural to me.” For a more detailed look at Dr. Heglar’s artistic influences, see this article.

- Monée Fields-White, senior writer, be.group

Village Shalom, Overland Park, KS
What does a home economics teacher do after retirement? If she’s Pat Vomhof, she just continues to make her house a home—for everyone around her.

At 86, Pat has become a sort of one-woman Home Ec. department for Village Shalom, where she and her husband Jim moved to an assisted-living apartment in April 2012. Both had retired from careers in education: Jim as a college administrator and accreditation consultant, Pat as a high-school home economics teacher of 20 years. The couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in July 2012, but sadly, Jim passed away just a few months later. Pat took comfort in her new community by finding ways to keep busy while helping others—just as she has done throughout her life.

She began by making lap robes for some of the skilled-nursing residents. “I noticed that many of the people in wheelchairs seemed to always feel chilled. They wrapped up in whatever they could find,” Pat said. So she started crocheting “granny squares” that she could piece together into colorful, cozy creations of all sizes. They have taken shape as small table toppers, larger blankets, and shawls. “I’ve given away about 40 of them so far,” she reckons.

A master of many domestic arts, Pat also loves to bake. Each weekend, she makes cookie dough at the nearby home of her daughter, Sue Courtney. They transport batches of dough to Village Shalom and freeze them until the following Friday, when Pat and her assisted-living neighbor Janet Baird bake cookies for the residents of the memory-care area. It’s a delicious highlight of everyone’s week.

Also an avid gardener and flower lover, Pat taught a flower-arranging class last fall at Village Shalom University, the retirement community’s weeklong intensive course offering for residents and staff. She frequently volunteers her talents by making floral centerpieces for special events around the campus.

Pat likes to reminisce about growing up on a dairy farm in Minnesota, traveling extensively around the world with Jim, and raising the couple’s seven children. “They all learned to cook and sew,” she remarked. “Even the boys.”

But mostly, Pat looks forward to each new day and how many lives she can brighten with her warm, homey touch. “Wherever I am is my favorite place,” she said. “I’m happiest being right here.”

- Linda Salvay, communications manager, Village Shalom

CJE SeniorLife, Chicago, IL
When it was time to create a holiday placemat for CJE SeniorLife’s Home-Delivered Meals clients, Lieberman Center’s art therapy program was the perfect collaborator. It’s an annual tradition to print cheerful images and messages on a placemat around the holidays, and Ted Starcevich, manager of CJE’s Home-Delivered Meals Program, was on the lookout for vibrant imagery.

That’s when the work of Roz Jacobson, a Lieberman resident, was brought to his attention. An avid art therapy participant, Jacobson had produced a work of art, along with a message that resonated with Starcevich. “The fact that she’d been active in volunteering with a Meals on Wheels program in New York and knew all about what we do made her work perfect for our 2013 placemat,” says Starcevich.

Along with the artwork, the placemat also included Jacobson’s moving message about giving back and her inspiration for the image. It reads:

“Artist Note: When I volunteered at a Rehab Center in New York, I started a Meals on Wheels program there. It was something I was passionate about: helping others and giving back to my community. I had a hard time leaving it behind when I moved. Now that I live at Lieberman Center, I am glad that I can give back to this program, which was so much a part of my life.

“Enjoy your food, and I hope you enjoy this winter scene I painted—one of my favorite memories of my kids sledding down a hill. Bundle up!”

Jacobson’s son David was so pleased with the positive and successful results from Lieberman Center’s Art Therapy Program that he generously donated art supplies to the program.

- Nicole Bruce, PR & media specialist, CJE SeniorLife

The Village at Heritage Point, Morgantown, WV
Ken Carvell recently joined the community of The Village at Heritage Point after being on a very long waiting list. It has only been a few months since his arrival, so many have not had a chance to become acquainted with him. Some residents see him during bingo. Residents were surprised to hear that Carvell was holding a series of lectures for all of the residents, called “70 Best Places to Visit in WV.” Many only knew him as “The Bingo Guy.”

Carvell was born in Andover, MA. He received a bachelor’s degree in botany from Harvard, a master’s in forestry management from Yale, and his doctorate in forest ecology from Duke. Before he graduated, West Virginia University’s forestry faculty recruited him to their department in 1953, where he taught forest ecology and historical/cultural interpretations. Carvell’s research focused on herbicide and he also wrote over 100 research articles in his field. He and his wife Elsie had two children.

Carvell was close to many students and helped hundreds of them find jobs after graduation. One even decided to start a scholarship in Carvell’s name. The award gives a graduate forestry student $2,000 to help with graduate school costs. He has won several awards and was president of the West Virginia Vegetation Association for five years.

Carvell, 89, continues to give guest lectures for the residents, and is a great addition to the many great people who reside in The Village at Heritage Point.

- Daphne Schreiber, executive director, The Village at Heritage Point

Bishop Gadsden, Charleston, SC
Mary “Goodie” DiRaddo, 86, has a wide range of hobbies such as swimming, reading, weaving, horseback riding, playing bridge, photography, art and assisting others with whatever the need may be. This mother of five has a great love for people. DiRaddo, along with her husband Joseph, traveled extensively from Turkey to Burma to Australia. DiRaddo led a very busy productive life. She spent two years in Munich, Germany, working with resettling refugees for a church world service. She was a photographer for the garden club for over 10 years and for the Bishop Gadsden Gab for seven years. She wrote her first cookbook, Steaming in Charleston, in 2007.

In 1999 Mary and Joseph moved to Bishop Gadsden. In 2013 she held her first art show here, including native vine baskets, wreaths, woven rugs and fiber arts. DiRaddo leads a group of eight to 10 residents in an exercise class every Friday for about 20 minutes. She also assists with daily activities such as preparing snacks, setting up for table games etc., yet she always finds time during her busy schedule to spend with her husband Joseph, visiting with friends, taking daily walks together, and more. Goodie DiRaddo is a passionate woman of God and a blessing to everyone she comes in contact with.

- Barbara Robinson, activities coordinator, Bishop Gadsden

Wesley Enhanced Living Burholme, Philadelphia, PA
Rosemary Tenpenny is proud to carry on her mother's legacy of caring for those in need. As a child, Tenpenny and her three siblings joined their mother on her missions to pitch in and help out whenever and wherever needed. Today, Tenpenny carries on the family tradition by visiting with the sick and praying with them; helping at her church on Friday night's with their children's program; and volunteering at a day care center in Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoons.

Tenpenny does much more, including helping in the kitchen during her church's program for seniors, as well as answering calls for Alpha Pregnancy's helpline. In this role, she connects pregnant teens and women with nurses, social workers and any other needed services. She also helps organize baby showers! Tenpenny’s generosity doesn't stop there. She also sits on the board of the Community Care Center of the Northeast (CCNE), an organization that provides quality health-related and companion services to the home-bound, chronically ill, physically and/or intellectually disabled, and elderly residents in Northeast Philadelphia and northeastern Montgomery and Lower Bucks counties. Tenpenny’s face lights up when she talks about her interactions with both children and seniors. Her mother would be so proud!

- Karen Doler, public relations manager, Wesley Enhanced Living

The Overlook Life Care Community , Charlton, MA
Since opening in 2006, the independent living residents of The Overlook Community in Charlton, MA (part of Masonic Health System of Massachusetts), have donated profits from their General Store to charity.

The General Store, managed by resident Jay Pownall along with 22 resident volunteer-shopkeepers, order and stock grocery items, sundries and greeting cards as a convenience for residents living in the community. Open five days a week, breakfast foods such as bananas, milk, cereal and bread are the hot sellers. Any money made above the cost of the items to stock the shelves goes to organizations such as the local food pantry and disaster relief. This past year nearly $2,500 was raised. The store profits also help support in-house programs such as purchasing new books for the library and buying yarn for the knitters who donate their handcrafted hats, mittens and blankets to veterans and hospitals. Every September, the General Store hosts a dinner for all Overlook residents to say thank you for their generous support of the store and charities.

- Sandy O’Shea, director of sales and marketing, The Overlook Life Care Community