Tales of Adventure, Generosity, and Fun: These are the People We Serve
March 14, 2019 | 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.
Covenant Shores, Mercer Island, WA
Covenant Shores recently pulled out all the stops to celebrate and honor one of its residents. It was 80 years ago that the classic film Wizard of Oz was released. Resident Meredythe Glass, now 98 years old, appeared in the movie as an extra and is quite possibly the only, or one of the only, living cast members.
The community celebrated Glass and the film with a red-carpet reception, complete with team members dressed as characters from the movie, just prior to this year’s Oscars.
Glass participated in a live interview and shared highlights of being in the cast with those in attendance: remembering hearing Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and signing autographs as mementos. Following the reception, the community screened the entire movie for all to enjoy.
The honoring of Glass, who volunteers 2 days per week at a local thrift shop, included multiple newspaper, television, and radio interviews.
Randy Eilts, director of public relations & communications, Covenant Retirement Communities
Messiah Lifeways Adult Day Program, Carlisle, PA
A family man, world traveler, lifelong educator, and retired high school administrator, Richard “Dick” Nickle is known for many things—but quitting isn’t one of them.
On Super Bowl Sunday in 2000, Nickle was clearing his driveway of snow when a drunk driver hit him and continued driving with Nickle on the car. The impact of the crash sent his snowblower onto a neighbor’s porch. Nickle suffered a heart attack, stroke, and traumatic injuries, and endured major surgery and a lengthy hospitalization that “seemed like forever.” His right leg is supported with a metal rod and his left leg ends halfway between his knee & ankle. He credits surgeons at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center with the gift of an air-vacuum prosthetic leg that fits more comfortably, but life as an amputee can still present challenges.
“Some people think life is over, but it’s not,” Nickle says. His resilience led him to start the Amputee Support Team of Central PA, with the motto, “So others may benefit from us.” The organization’s vision is to empower members, families, caregivers, and friends to optimize the care and well-being of amputees in our area.
Nickle knows the journey is not easy; but he and his wife Barbara are using their experience to shower compassion and support on others. As a client of the Messiah Lifeways Adult Day Program, Nickle uses humor to connect with fellow clients. He enjoys crafts and projects that require collaboration: “There’s still so much we can accomplish,” he says.
He finds that much of the wisdom he gained as an amputee applies nicely to the adult day program: “You have to be a good listener and trust the people who are helping you.” Nickle devoted more than 40 years to educating students at Cumberland Valley High School, and now he’s teaching all of us an important lesson about perseverance and the power of positivity.
Karin Bisbee, strategic communications specialist, Messiah Lifeways
Spanish Cove Retirement Village, Yukon, OK
Oklahoma City’s Boathouse District hosts athletes from around the world, but it’s the Spanish Cove Golden Dragons paddling team that continues to earn a standing ovation at the Oklahoma Regatta. Team members are all residents of Spanish Cove Retirement Village. They range in age from their late 70s to 93, with the average age about 84.
The Golden Dragons made Oklahoma history as the first senior dragon boat paddling team on the Oklahoma River back in 2012. This fall marked the team’s seventh season of paddling. The team motto is declared boldly on the back of the practice shirts: “Paddle Strong, Live Long.”
A dragon boat team is made up of 10 or 20 people, depending on the size of the boat. They paddle to the beat of a drummer at the bow, while a “steer person” (instructor) steers the boat. Camaraderie is a motivating factor for all the Golden Dragons. Their competitive spirit can be attributed to their philosophy of aging well through an active lifestyle.
A typical season in Oklahoma is 10 weeks in the spring or fall. The spring season leads up to the Stars & Stripes River Festival and the fall season culminates with the OG&E Night Sprints Regatta Festival. Racing wasn’t on any of our residents’ minds during our first season. The team practiced for “fun, fitness, and fellowship,” and then we received an email with our race schedule. The teams we were scheduled to race during our first few seasons were corporate teams of individuals in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Many spectators were surprised to see a team of older adults. However, when they see the Golden Dragons’ athleticism and competitive spirit, it’s truly a magical moment that changes negative stereotypes about aging.
Today, there are several teams in our age group, and we have our own category to compete in: “Wise Dragons.” All paddlers in that category must be at least 60 years old.
During our 90-minute practices, the team works on stroke technique and does a variety of drills. Paddlers work out their arms and shoulders, but successful paddlers also use their core muscles, which provides leverage and reduces stress on the arms. Paddlers stay in shape using the Spanish Cove fitness center or attending exercise classes.
This past year, there were 6 Wise Dragons teams competing in the OG&E Night Sprints Regatta. The Golden Dragons beat 3 other teams to make the finals. We have some beautiful Dragon Boat paddling trophies, and have won gold, silver, and bronze medals.
A few quotes from team members:
Red Callaway: “Being a long-distance cyclist, paddling seemed right up my alley. I was romanced in. Don’t hold back because of your age, it’s a … joyful challenge. My motto is ‘paddle strong, live long, die healthy.’”
Barbara Bjork: “Prior to moving here, I visited Spanish Cove and met Wellness Director Debbie Miller. When she told me about their paddling team, I signed up right then. It really was one of the deciding factors in making my choice of the 3 communities I visited.”
Nancy Tarr: “As a bonus, we get some serious exercise, tone muscles, improve coordination, and build team spirit. Maybe there is something to be said for genes and the love of water sports, since 2 of my granddaughters are on the University of Oklahoma rowing team.”
Debbie Miller, director of wellness, Spanish Cove
Wartburg, Mount Vernon, NY
Wartburg, a full-continuum provider in Westchester County, NY, was founded as an orphanage by Rev. Dr. William Passavant, who was moved by the sight of children whose parents were killed in the Civil War.
With funding from businessman Peter Moller—whose son had perished in the war—the organization was created in 1866 on 121 acres of farmland. By 1897, Wartburg had begun serving older adults, but its service to orphans and at-risk children continued until 1979.
A Wartburg Orphans’ Farm School Reunion is among the many events included as part of the organization’s annual Fall Festival. The most recent festival, held Oct. 31, 2018, brought nearly 20 Wartburg alumni back home. This homecoming allowed them to create a safe space to reminisce and share their experiences.
These former residents shared their time at Wartburg with staff and each other. Some pored over their Wartburg records and cried as they recalled the experience of coming on campus, and how blessed they felt to find their “sisters,” which they still call each other.
Tony Spizzirro, Buzz Potential
Lenbrook, Atlanta, GA
Michael Halpern co-founded the nonprofit inner-city mentoring program YES!Atlanta in 1988 and helped lead the organization for more than 27 years. He was honored by LeadingAge Georgia at its annual Positive Aging Icon Award ceremony on November 18 at the Atlanta History Center.
YES! stands for “Youth Experiencing Success.” The organization’s goal is to give at-risk teenagers a chance to experience personal success based on long-term, regular support by committed, caring, and trained adults. As Halpern explains, “It started with a small group of citizens concerned about despair among inner-city youth. We designed our first Rising Star program in 1990; Coaching for Success, working with the Juvenile Court, was launched in 1993. Over the years, YES!Atlanta impacted the lives of nearly 1,000 teenagers by focusing on these 5 program cornerstones: Possibility, Responsibility, Commitment, Support, and Forgiveness.”
All who know and have worked with Halpern know that when he takes on a responsibility, he gives it his all.
Halpern serves as chair of Lenbrook’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, and used his 4-plus decades of experience in residential homebuilding and design to help plan Lenbrook’s new library last year. Today, he is on the committees working with Lenbrook management to plan renovations to the community’s Bistro, a casual dining venue.
After graduating from MIT with his degree in chemical engineering, Halpern joined his father, a homebuilder in New Rochelle, NY. During the Berlin Crisis of 1961, his Army Reserve unit was activated and he spent 10 months in North Carolina at Ft. Bragg, where he realized that Atlanta offered outstanding opportunities for new home builders. Moving here in 1962, he started The Halpern Corporation and went on to build more than 400 homes in the region, designing the majority of them himself until his retirement in 2007.
Interesting and active are just 2 of the adjectives that can be used to describe Michael, who has 3 sons with his first wife, Barbara, an accomplished playwright with the old Academy Theatre. “I like to think of Barbara and [second wife] Julie, who quickly became good friends after they met, as my real mentors,” says Halpern. “They actually banded together to get me to retire from my construction business just before the 2007 recession!”
“Thanks to Barbara, I became involved with the Atlanta theater community, and discovered a whole new passion. For more than 20 years, I designed theatrical sets—the highlight of which was my selection by the Atlanta Circle of Drama Critics for their Best Set of the Year award in 1977,” he says. “Thanks to Julie, I am living my best life right here, right now.”
Everyone who meets Michael Halpern knows why he was selected as an honoree at the Positive Aging Icon Awards: He is truly a positive force and inspires all he meets with his energy, intellect, and compassion.
Felecia Sveda, VP of operations/hospitality services at Lenbrook
The Village at Brookwood, Burlington, NC
The Village at Brookwood has a handsome breakfront in its lobby, in which residents share their collections, which run the gamut from valuable to wistful to humorous. Collectors have generally spent a lifetime hunting down their chosen items and often studying the history connected with them, and share their fascinating stories with the residents.
In my case, I did not understand that I had a collection to share. I had taken for granted the watercolors, jewelry, painted porcelain, silver, and cut glass that was scattered around my home, until I realized one day that it had all belonged to my grandmother, Marguerite Cassard [Timson]. The beautiful things that had for so long enriched my life were in fact the collection of the grandmother who had died before my parents were married. While we never met, I had come to know her without realizing it.
I first began to think about my father’s mother when a distant, previously unknown cousin, who was researching a book about our mutual ancestors, Michel and Marguerite Cassard, contacted me about his project. I learned from him that our family, the Cassards from Nantes, France, had emigrated to Haiti in the late 18th century, where they prospered until a slave rebellion led by Toussaint L’Ouverture resulted in the massacre of most of the French settlers.
As a result and in desperation, 2 Cassard sons were sent from the island. Gilbert, age 7, from whom I am descended, was adopted by a family in Baltimore, MD, and Louis, age 5, was adopted by a family in New Orleans, LA. My distant cousin is descended from Louis, and his Cassard history is available on Amazon.com for any Cassards who might be interested in reading it.
In those wakeful times in the middle of the night, I suggest that you remember people from your past and perhaps you will create a story, whether visual or written, that will be as satisfying a project for you and your community as mine has proven to be.
Joan Marder, resident, The Village at Brookwood
Crown Center for Senior Living, St. Louis, MO
Considering he was born and grew up in the grey, harsh conditions of the former Soviet Union, it’s no surprise that Vitaliy Petrashenko declares that America is the best place he’s ever lived.
But it’s also no surprise that feeling rooted in a new land is no easy task. Though he moved to the U.S. in 2002, he didn’t feel equipped to start studying towards citizenship until he moved to Crown Center in 2014. And when Petrashenko made up his mind to take on the daunting task of becoming a citizen, he wasn’t going to let anything stop him: not his limited English skills, not his age, not his rusty study habits, nor the absence of his loving family. Now, he had a community of friends, neighbors, and volunteers to see him through.
For 6 months, each and every day, they tutored and taught; they corrected and cajoled; they energized and encouraged. And the final barrier was breached when Petrashenko learned that an exception is made for older adults, which allowed him to take the exam in Russian instead of English. The culmination of his efforts came when he and 119 others were sworn in as new Americans.
Petrashenko had his own cheering section at the auspicious event. Seats were filled with the friends and neighbors he invited—the people who cheered him along the way, and now at the finish line.
It wasn’t an easy journey: growing up in a totalitarian society, leaving the familiar, living far from family, and transplanting himself to a place with a foreign language and culture. But when Petrashenko reflects on how he felt when he looked out into the huge auditorium and saw his people—his community there for him—a huge smile came across his face and he said, “I would do it all again.”
Randi Schenberg, community relations associate, Crown Center for Senior Living
Carroll Lutheran Village, Westminster, MD
How many couples do you know that have celebrated 70 years of wedded bliss? Ralph and Jane Nupp celebrated their platinum anniversary on August 7, 2018, with family and more than 150 friends from Carroll Lutheran Village.
Ralph and Jane met on a blind date in high school. They dated for 5 years before tying the knot in 1948. They moved around a lot at first; Ralph was in the Navy and was training to become a test pilot. The couple finally settled down on a farm outside of Baltimore. Ralph continued his work as a test pilot for Westinghouse while Jane raised 6 children and an assortment of animals.
Jane says she’s been able to stretch her creativity since moving to the Village nearly 25 years ago by taking art classes and helping to start Creative Expressions, an annual creative writing and art publication for residents. She has also volunteered in many ways over the past 2 decades.
The ceremony, organized and hosted by Chaplain Jimmie Schwartz, honored the Nupps’ strong bond with fond memories and anecdotes from their children. A common theme throughout their storytelling was how Ralph and Jane still demonstrate their ongoing love of each other and family.
The décor was purple (Jane’s favorite color), nearly 300 anniversary cards were strung around the room to wish the couple well, a wedding cake was included for the couple to cut together, and there was a cake and punch reception, just like the one at their original wedding reception 70 years ago.
For Jane and Ralph, their love for each other and family are the guiding forces in their lives. They now have 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren and are looking forward to having more soon.
Lisa Albin, director of communications and public relations, Carroll Lutheran Village
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.