LeadingAge Magazine · March/April 2014 • Volume 04 • Number 02

Artists, Fliers, Skiers and Reunited Families: These are the People We Serve

March 12, 2014 | by The Members of LeadingAge

Our members tell the stories of the remarkable people they serve, and those who serve them.

Francis Asbury Manor, Ocean Grove, NJ
With her Queen’s English accent still very much intact, Evelyn Palmer (née Burgess) recalls how “Our Prime Minister (Neville Chamberlain) barely got the (declaration of war) words out of his mouth when the bombs began to fall.” The place was London; the time was September 1939 to May 1941. Londoners were officially under Germany’s Blitzkrieg, a devastating concentration of artillery, tanks and air power that would continue over London and surrounding towns for 76 consecutive nights. When it was over more than 40,000 civilians had died, half of them Londoners.

Dad “was a stubborn Englishman,” Evelyn says, “who refused to build an air raid shelter under our home.” Eventually, the elder Burgess took his wife, five children and a granddad to a neighboring shelter to wait out the attacks in safety. The Burgess home was substantially damaged during these raids. When the home was repaired and the family returned, Evelyn found, to her great dismay, a dress hanging in her closet “that was pock-marked with glass shards from the bombing.” Because of rationing, replacing lost clothing was virtually impossible. “Each one of us was issued 14 clothing coupons for the year,” she said, adding that it took all 14 coupons just to buy a coat. “Shoes required 7 coupons and a pair of stockings were three.”

On the other side of the world Evelyn’s brother was taken prisoner by the Japanese in Singapore and was held captive nearly four years.

In 1943 Evelyn met Charles Turner, a handsome American soldier, in Cheltenham. He proposed, she accepted and her adoring fiancé’ happily waded through the myriad paperwork involved in bringing a war bride back to the States.

Charlie went to fight in France while his bride traveled to America in a convoy of 22 escort ships, Evelyn says, “actually zig-zagging across the Atlantic to avoid submarine attacks.” During the nightmarish journey, she often awoke from a deep sleep to hear depth charges whizzing by the ship.

The young English girl arrived on America’s shores alone, and was met by her three new sisters-in-law. In October 1945, on the couple’s second wedding anniversary, Charlie returned home.

Life continued for the young couple on a Maryland farm. Evelyn hit the ground running, raising three daughters, while being a happy albeit inexperienced farm wife. She recalls pumping water and doing the family wash by hand “but I drew the line at milking cows.”

Several years after Charlie passed away, Evelyn met and married Clyde Palmer. A widow again after nine years, and by then a New Jersey resident, in 1998 Evelyn found a home at Francis Asbury Manor. Immediately active in her new community, Evelyn started the Francis Asbury Manor Glee Club in 1999 and also operated the FAM Gift Shop for six years.

What are some of this nonagenarian’s life lessons? “You have to roll with the punches,” she says, “and you have to remember you can’t please everybody.”

- Patricia Darcey, marketing director, Francis Asbury Manor

Carolina SeniorCare, (United Church Homes and Services), Lexington, NC
William, 60 years of age, and Luther, 58, struggled through much of their years. They were often separated, with little or no contact. About a year ago, Luther tried over and over to contact William with no success. “I was afraid he was dead,” shared Luther. “I was at Carolina SeniorCare and I spotted him at lunch, I was thrilled and relieved. I gave him a big hug. I’m glad he is alright.”

“For the staff at Carolina SeniorCare, stories like this fulfill our mission and life passions,” says Thomas Chang, executive director. “Now that the brothers are together we notice many things in common, each with twinkling blue eyes, impish grins, and similar mannerisms. We are thrilled they are together; it was one of those magical moments.”

William enrolled at Carolina SeniorCare in April. He remembers working hard and loved to ride his bike. One day he woke from sleep and he could no longer move his legs. Today, William scats around the Day Center in a wheelchair and meets no stranger.

Luther enrolled at Carolina SeniorCare in September. He loves spending time with his older brother. They enjoy chatting but not so much about the past. “We don’t want to remember the bad times,” stated Luther. “Luther was the troublemaker,” William chortled. “We would skip school and hide under the bridge using our lunch money to buy candy bars. He always got us in trouble.”

Each brother agreed today is a better time. When asked how Carolina SeniorCare has impacted his life Luther simply grinned and said, “I like being with my brother. I don’t have to worry about him anymore.”

- Joy Cline, chief marketing and public relations officer, United Church Homes and Services

Asbury Springhill, Erie, PA
Thirty years ago, Springhill landscaper Karen Ellis took a tour around Lancaster, PA, in a small airplane. When it was over, she told her husband, “Someday, I’m going to learn how to fly a plane.”

Ellis, 57, has taken dozens of flights around Erie in the past two years. But the one she took on Oct. 2 was particularly meaningful to her. On that day, Ellis was accompanied by 89-year-old Springhill resident Barbara Omark, whose husband, World War II pilot Warren Omark, received the Navy Cross for his daring attack that sank the Japanese carrier Hiyo during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

(Warren Omark’s exploits in WWII were amazing.  Read about them at this site.)

Now deceased, Warren belonged to an air club years ago and he and Barbara would go up together sometimes. “I’ve missed it,” Barbara Omark says.

Ellis and Barbara Omark developed a friendship when Ellis offered to construct a birdhouse for the couple’s garden home. “I knew Mr. Omark and his war record, and Barbara would always ask me how my lessons were coming,” Ellis says. “I asked her if she’d like to go up with me someday. I knew she’d say ‘yes’, and I thought this would be a nice way to honor Mr. Omark’s memory.”

Ellis and Omark flew for about an hour, taking in aerial views of Springhill, Presque Isle State Park, downtown Erie and creative corn mazes in the area.

“Warren would be so excited for me,” Barbara Omark says. “He loved flying, and hopefully, he’s flying wherever he wants to now.”

- Cathy Canning, communications manager, Asbury Communities

Abbey Delray South, Delray Beach, FL
The United States is rich with a variety of cultures and ethnicities, and at Abbey Delray South, a large number of older adults are offering insight into their worldly experiences.

Nearly two dozen residents at Abbey Delray South spent significant portions of their lives living or working overseas. It’s created a unique international flair at the community that’s seen in events, activities and everyday culture.

Some of the residents include Walter Krueger, who attended the Stockholm School of Economics and worked for Scandinavian Airlines. Then there’s Esther Kotchek, a former German and Russian high school teacher and her husband, Seymour, who lived in Germany. Rudy Beck lived in France and his wife, Jackie, is from Switzerland. And Bob and Fe Stott have crossed the Pacific Ocean more than 200 times.

In all, 20 residents are members of the Boca Raton International Club (BRIC), which has about 100 total members from 29 countries, who speak 23 different languages.

“It’s really neat to understand and connect with other residents and experience different cultures,” said Esther Kotchek, Abbey Delray South resident and former president of BRIC.

The range of residents’ backgrounds at Abbey Delray South leads to a lot of fun experiences at the community. On Christmas Eve, one of the dining venues is turned into an international restaurant serving traditional meals from all over the world, including French, German, Swiss and Italian dishes. The community also hosts international food and wine tasting events throughout the year.

- David McCreight, marketing director, Abbey Delray South

Friendship Village of Bloomington, Bloomington, MN
For more than half a century, Ruth Lyons has been conquering mountains one ski slope at a time. Now 79, Ruth is sharing her love for skiing with children in the Twin Cities area.

On Dec. 19, she started her regular treks from Friendship Village of Bloomington to the slopes for her 26th year as a ski instructor at the Three Rivers Park District: Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area.

She teaches group lessons to fifth-to-eighth grade kids. In her tenure, she estimates she’s helped more than 200,000 area youth learn to ski, or about 8,000 children a year. For many of these kids who come on school field trips, it’s their first time ever trying to ski.

Ruth’s love for teaching youth comes naturally. She loves seeing their faces as they accomplish what they thought would be impossible. She’s also a big advocate of people of all ages staying fit and active, and she knows firsthand that skiing is a great form of exercise.

When not on the slopes, Ruth is busy with other activities at Friendship Village of Bloomington and still takes trips out to her cabin in Colorado to do some skiing.

- Pauline Drake, director of marketing, Friendship Village of Bloomington

Menorah Park Center for Senior Living, Beachwood, OH
The gentle laugh and calm greetings heard on any given day at Stone Gardens Assisted Living Residence in Beachwood, OH, emanate from 95-year-old resident and lifetime artist Hy Snell. His friendly personality, sweet demeanor, and humble serenity are as inviting as his kind eyes and wise words.

Though he has lost most of his eyesight, his innate vision of the world sets him apart as the kind of person that sees hope and positive energy in everything he does, especially his paintings. Always on the go, lately, it takes him a bit longer to push his walker between his apartment, the art studio, dining room, his Tai Chi classes and various other campus activities because he’s often stopped and hugged, or showered with kind words and a congratulatory handshake for his new-found fame.

Snell’s personality and love of paintings became larger than life when he shared his dream of being known for his art with the Menorah Park Dream Team. It arranged to display his art at a few local shows, and booked him to appear on a few local talk-shows, later posted on YouTube. And that’s how Snell was discovered. In just a few short months, Snell has become an inspiration across the nation.

For several months, a photo of Snell, with his motivational words, has been displayed on a 25-foot-high mural on the front of the Pfizer headquarters in New York, and there’s a three-minute documentary featuring Snell talking about his passion on Pfizer’s website. Pfizer chose him to help launch its National Campaign on Aging, “Get Old.”

The crew that filmed Snell said they’ve never met such an inspiring role model. It’s no surprise, says his daughter Amy. “My father’s energy and drive towards his art are such a defining part of him and yet he is such a caring and playful man with such a big heart. Other people are drawn to him because of his friendly and sincere nature. He’s someone who experiences and enjoys his life. He’s had hard things to deal with, but has maintained a positive attitude and desire to go forward, rather than to dwell on his difficulties.”

Snell has gotten a lot of media coverage in recent years:

- Sherry Gavanditti, public relations & media specialist, Menorah Park Center for Senior Living

The Francis E. Parker Memorial Home, Highland Park, NJ
When Leona Kaufman, Parker at Stonegate resident, received an acceptance and full scholarship to the famous Cooper Union School of Art, she was planning to study art and music. She excelled in both, married her college sweetheart and had a fabulous career in advertising at Madison Avenue in the early 1950s. Kaufman, a lifelong student, soon gravitated to the very rare gold leaf manuscripts, studying with the masters of the “old” art in London. For many years she created these very beautiful manuscripts for Johnson & Johnson for every patent award for research and development.

See a video interview with Kaufman:

Kaufman also continued to play violin and performed in concerts at Carnegie Hall. “Very early I showed talent in both art and music and I was blessed and encouraged first by my parents, my husband and even my children to try every art form.” She enjoys her life surrounded by her art, her husband’s treasured sculptures and her son Seth’s art works. He has a thriving art career in CA. “I guess the talent runs in the family,” she adds with a big smile.

At the Parker Assisted Living Community, Kaufman’s suite is spacious enough to display some of her “treasured” pieces while at her doorstep there are so many activities and amenities. She made many friends or, as she calls them, “dinner companions,” and even started playing cards late into the night. “I never played poker and now I love it,” she says.

As an avid student of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Rutgers she was happy to have the opportunity to continue to attend weekly movie and lecture courses in the Parker Pavilion Theater since last summer.

Another of her favorite pastimes is the weekly horticultural program with Lee Shahay, Parker at Stonegate horticulture specialist. “One week we learn about the bees and another week Lee presents a program on cherries, including delicious dessert,” says Kaufman; “At Parker I can continue to live and learn!”

- Margaret Fourounjian, senior manager of marketing & community relations, The Francis E. Parker Memorial Home

Friendship Village of Schaumburg, Schaumburg, IL
Rather than complain about the abundant snow on the ground, residents of Friendship Village of Schaumburg consciously and very actively embraced it. In January, residents aged 80-plus hit the slopes of Villa Oliva in Bartlett, IL, for their first-ever snow tubing adventure. They were joined by some employees who came along for fun, along with residents from GreenFields of Geneva, their sister community.

“There were approximately a dozen residents who braved the cold for the adventure,” says Mike McCann, director of lifestyles at Friendship Village. “We like to say that they redefine the term ‘snowbird.’”

See this entertaining video of the outing. The fun begins at about the 1:00 mark:

More traditional programs on campus include fitness classes, a book club, arts and crafts and yoga. However, the residents often seek more adventurous and unusual pursuits. Tubing was a perfect way for them to enjoy the winter, and relive favorite memories of their childhoods.

- Jeff Rose, lifestyles manager, Friendship Village of Schaumburg

Masonic Village at Sewickley, Sewickley, PA
Joining the company of Mother Teresa, Sen. Bob Dole, Walter Cronkite, Clara Barton and others, Cathy Frasca, a Masonic Village at Sewickley resident, was inducted into the National Association for Homecare & Hospice Hall of Fame on Nov. 1 for her decades of home health care advocacy in the Pittsburgh area, and for helping to set worldwide standards for home health care programs.

When Frasca was a child, she would find injured birds and animals and bring them home. She’d splinter their legs or provide other first aid. Nursing became a natural career choice. Throughout her early career, she balanced the provision of acute care, emergency and ambulatory care, long-term care, home care and hospice. Predicting a shift from institutional care to home health care in the 1960s, she established the South Hills Health System (now known as Jefferson Regional Medical Center) Home Health Agency, which grew to include 10 hospitals across five counties. It became the basis for many similar programs across the state, country and as far away as Japan.

“Seeing patients leaving the hospital so fast and needing additional care, we started evaluating patients as they were admitted to see if they would need home care,” Frasca says. “We wanted to ensure there was no break in the continuum of care from acute to home. Patients needed skilled care beyond hospital walls that their family wasn’t equipped to provide.”

Frasca testified before Congress to have respiratory care and occupational therapy considered Medicare primary services, making them eligible for reimbursement. She has volunteered with several boards throughout her career and been published across the country and abroad, and continues to provide consultations when requested, including during the implementation of Masonic Village at Sewickley’s Home Care program.

“I’ve been very blessed. I enjoyed what I did, so any award is icing on the cake,” she said.

- Debra L. Davis, public relations coordinator, Masonic Villages

Silver Maples of Chelsea, Chelsea, MI
How many times can you retire? Reinvent yourself? Keep giving back?

If you’re Hank Karner, you do it as many times as need be. Karner, who will be 99 in March, learned to fly while running his family’s grain elevator and then became a commercial pilot, instructor, and test pilot, test-flying the B-24s at Willow Run, part of Detroit’s famous “arsenal of democracy” operation.

Retiring after decades of flying just about every plane built between 1920 and 1970, Karner decided to join the Ski Patrol at northern Michigan’s Boyne Highlands Ski Resort. From age 58 to 70, Karner was trained in first aid, emergency procedures and ski safety, helping skiers of all ages learn how to enjoy the slopes. He continued skiing, just for fun, for many more years.

Then, after retiring from the ski patrol, Karner moved to Silver Maples of Chelsea Retirement Neighborhood to care for his wife Garney until she passed away in 2008.

Karner then took advantage of the volunteer opportunities and activities Silver Maples offered. At age 94, he jumped into helping out. Whether it was making signs for Chelsea’s new walking paths or bird houses for the art fair, setting up Wii consoles for the Wii team, walking in the Heart & Sole to raise funds for a local clinic, or bartending at Happy Hour and other special events, Karner just keeps on moving. That’s his philosophy: Just keep busy (plus a little red wine and dark chocolate)!

He says it’s good for him, but at Silver Maples, we say it’s win-win. And in 2013, Karner was selected as the Resident Volunteer of the Year. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was the perfect choice for this first-ever honor.

You can see Karner at about 0:19 and 2:16 of this very interesting video featuring Silver Maples residents:

- Shawn Elizabeth Personke, director of wellness & public relations, Silver Maples of Chelsea

Bishop Gadsden Retirement Community, Charleston, SC
Frances Carlisle, 94, loves country music. From country western to the most current chart topping hits, she listens to it all. If you visit Carlisle on any given day, you will find her radio turned on with country music spilling out for all to hear.

Carlisle grew up in Charleston, SC. She married her husband Francis in 1951. She was employed at South Carolina Electric and Gas for 33 years. She has always been a people person and loves to have fun. She is full of spunk and definitely young at heart!

In the past few years, Carlisle and I have become dear friends. She quickly learned that I, too, love country music. She will often bring me a list of songs wanting to know who sings them. We enjoy singing along together to the latest songs and talking about the old ones we still love so much.

When I learned Emmylou Harris, winner of 13 Grammy awards, would perform at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, I immediately went to Carlisle. Her response was “Oh, Emmylou … I can’t wait. Buy those tickets!”

In January, we donned our winter garb and made the trek to the concert. We had been counting down the days and were giddy with excitement. The concert did not disappoint. We enjoyed two hours of great music together.

When I dropped Carlisle back off at Bishop Gadsden, she gave me a hug and kiss and thanked me for spending the evening with her. I certainly couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather attend a country music concert with. It was a wonderful evening spent with a most wonderful lady.

Bringing joy to my residents is the most fulfilling aspect of my job. She has taught me to go for my dreams and to never stop living. Next up … the Zac Brown Band!

- Jenny Juhasz, activity coordinator, Bishop Gadsden Retirement Community