LeadingAge Magazine · May/June 2015 • Volume 05 • Number 03

Activists, Artists and Athletes: These are the People We Serve

May 02, 2015 | by The Members of LeadingAge

LeadingAge members serve exceptional seniors who have lived exceptional lives. Here is the latest installment in our series.

St. Andrew’s Resources For Seniors, St. Louis, MO
Moviegoers who saw the recent film Selma may have wondered what it was like to take part in that famous march. Tower Grove Manor resident Sister Antona Ebo doesn’t have to wonder, she just has to remember.

“There were six of us sisters from St. Louis that traveled to Selma,” she recalled about the March 10, 1965, protests. “I was the only black nun, so they put me front and center for the march. My friends had told me to keep a low profile and to keep my mouth shut. But it turned out not to be possible.”

Ebo became a symbol of the protest, one of the Sisters of Selma that became the basis of a 2007 documentary by the same name. Her recollections of that day remain crystal clear, even as she approaches her 91st birthday. “When we walked into that Selma church, Andrew Young (later U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) said, ‘One of the great moral forces of the world has just walked in the door.’ I couldn’t imagine he was talking about me. But I realized God had a role for me to play that day.”

In the years since Selma, Ebo has continued to advocate for greater equality and understanding. In 1968, she helped establish the National Black Sisters' Conference and later served as its president. After earning the first of her two master’s degrees, she became the first African-American woman religious leader to be in charge of a U.S. Catholic hospital. Six universities have awarded her honorary doctorates, and she still travels the country giving speeches, accepting awards and sharing her story.

“There are moments when you hear everybody talking at the same time but nobody is listening to anybody," she says. “We need to be silent and listen to each other, to learn what’s really on each other’s minds.”

- Kynan Katzman, public relations/communications coordinator, St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors System

Woodside Place (Presbyterian SeniorCare), Oakmont, PA
With the help of the art educators at Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, residents at Woodside Place, a specialized Alzheimer’s personal care community, are given the opportunity to let the creative sparks fly at their monthly visits to the museum.

The collaboration was born when Woodside Place Social Worker Jennifer Marasco attended a session where the educational curator from the Warhol Museum was a speaker. Inspired, Marasco felt the Warhol would be a great place for residents to unleash their artistic skills, as well as for memory retrieval due to the historical references in Warhol’s work.

To get started, the art educators attended dementia training. They learned how someone with Alzheimer’s may think and feel when presented with a stimulating piece of art. They acquired skills on how to communicate with the residents and become comfortable interacting with them. The training has really paid off and has helped to offer a well-rounded experience for everyone involved.

The educators help to foster special moments with our residents, igniting that creative spark and helping the residents feel proud of the art they have created. In the two years that Presbyterian SeniorCare residents have been attending the sessions, they have made silkscreen masterpieces—everything from footballs to flowers. They also spend about an hour in the museum looking at different exhibits.

- Janice Citeroni, communications and public relations specialist, Presbyterian SeniorCare

Asbury Place, Maryville, TN
When I think of an adventurous resident, Luetta Ousley always comes to mind. She was born in Rutledge, TN, in 1929 and was the youngest of five children raised on a farm. She played high school basketball at Rutledge High School.

She started working at Standard Knitting Mill not long after graduating. There she became friends with a coworker and started writing to the latter’s son, who was in the military. Bruce Ousley was stationed in Germany, and for almost a year he and Luetta were devoted pen pals. After a year, they met and to hear her say it, “It was true love at first sight.” She went to Chicago to meet him and they briefly dated before going to Rossville, GA, and eloping. Over the next few years Ousley continued to work at Standard Knitting Mill, but would take time off to travel with her husband and family. She lived in France for 14 months and Germany for three years. After returning from any move she always had a job at the knitting mill, from which she retired at age 64.

After 39 years of marriage, the love of her life passed away. At this time, Ousley turned back to sports and joined a bowling league where she won numerous trophies. She was an avid bowler for 10 years. At the age of 80 she was still living the dream of adventure and riding on the backs of motorcycles. She now resides with us here at Asbury Place Maryville and is still full of adventure. She attends almost all outings and activities, with her favorite being the bowling trip we took.

- Carla Rafferty, lifestyles team leader, Asbury Place

Village Shalom, Overland Park, KS
Sam Goldenberg will attest that there’s always something new to discover, even about old, familiar places, and certainly about oneself. He has quickly established himself as a regular at Village Shalom’s Spa & Wellness Center, and in particular at the warm-water exercise pool, which he uses several times a week.

“I had been to Village Shalom to visit my mother-in-law before she died,” he recalled, “and for yahrzeit (memorial anniversary) services in the synagogue. But I honestly didn’t know [the wellness center] was there,” he says, until his sister, Mitzi Kaufman, mentioned it.

“My sister has been on my neck to get out and meet people,” Goldenberg confides. He was widowed in 1989, and his two sons are grown, so he has lived alone for some time. He took his sister’s suggestion as an opportunity to try something new.

“I did a lot of waterskiing growing up, and I also played basketball,” Goldenberg recalls. He also loves cars. “Corvettes. I had three of them. I also had three boats.” After a moment’s reflection, he adds, “I should have been a race driver.” The cap atop his head, emblazoned with a Corvette logo, punctuates his statement.

At age 77, he moves—reluctantly—a bit more slowly. Several physical conditions prompted Sam to follow his doctor’s advice to pursue some sort of water therapy. “The water’s good, the conditions are great, the people are great. I don’t take classes; I just like to do my own thing.”

“I don’t know what I would have done without this. It gives me a chance to meet and talk to people. That’s part of the therapy for me. Life’s a lot more fun when you know people. I don’t know of any finer place you could come.”

- Linda Salvay, communications manager, Village Shalom

The Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Rockleigh, NJ
Jewish Home at Rockleigh residents have been participating for more than a year in the “Inner Spirit” program, an art class designed by artist Christine Penska that meets once a week. The program is intended to help people express themselves through art, says Penska. “We emphasize creating art, but not the final product. The residents are encouraged to have fun experimenting with art materials, such as acrylics and watercolors, in a non-judgmental environment,” she notes. “It’s very therapeutic. The residents feel good about it and have a real sense of accomplishment.”

“When residents first come in, they’re quiet, and then they come alive,” notes volunteer Rosemary Donahue, a resident of Old Tappan, who helps Penska during the class.

In the fall of 2014, some of the budding artists had a one-week exhibit of their paintings at Bunbury’s, a coffee shop in Piermont, NY. A number of artworks were sold at this and other exhibits.

- Iris Rosendahl, public relations coordinator, Jewish Home at Rockleigh

Piedmont Crossing (United Church Homes and Services), Thomasville, NC
Nearly 300 members of the Asheboro community and surrounding areas recently honored the Rev. Dora Atlas, who has been feeding the homeless and others in need for two and a half decades.

Atlas, who is now 93 years old and lives at Piedmont Crossing Retirement Community in Thomasville, retired in 1989 as minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheboro. At that time, Atlas says she felt a calling from God to leave the walls of the church and take her ministry out to the community. She kept feeling a tug at her heart to feed the hungry. With plans to use her social security check and personal savings to finance the project, Atlas began work in the late 1980s to open a soup kitchen in Asheboro.

“I feel like the boy (in the Biblical parable) who offered the two fish and the five loaves,” Atlas says. “I’m just that simple. I think I can feed the people.” Atlas was correct: she could feed the people. Our Daily Bread Kitchen opened in January 1990 and in its first year fed more than 10,000 people.

The recent ceremony, held in Asheboro at AVS Banquet Centre, was to honor the work of Atlas. Still in full operation today, the soup kitchen receives no funding; all items are donated; all time is volunteered. “Usually I am not at a loss for words, but tonight I am overwhelmed. It is a privilege to be here with you, who have given of your time to be here, thank you for coming,” Atlas stated. During her speech, Atlas shared her appreciation for the support of the community. She was quick to thank those that donate food and their time to cook, serve and clean.

In her closing remarks, Atlas says “I dreamed a dream, and that dream has come true.”

- Shaylyn Ladd, director of public relations, Piedmont Crossing

A.G. Rhodes Health & Rehab, Atlanta, GA
Penina Bowman, recently a short-term rehab patient at A.G. Rhodes, has vast interests—bowling, gardening, playing piano, sewing, public speaking, ceramics, cards, reading, cooking and much more. “I’m never bored,” Bowman says.

She says keeping active helps her cope with her past. Bowman is a woman of many talents, and she is also a Holocaust survivor.

In April 1944, Bowman and her family were forced from their home into concentration camps. Bowman, her mother and two sisters went to Auschwitz, and her father and brother went to Dachau. Sadly, her parents did not survive but remarkably, Bowman and her siblings did.

Her Holocaust experiences are moving, but she also has a beautiful story about meeting her late husband, Harold. After liberation, she met Harold in Salzburg, Austria, where she stayed with a group of survivors waiting to go to Palestine. Harold, a U.S. soldier from Chicago, was interested in Hebrew and visited the group to find someone to practice with. Although Bowman didn’t know Hebrew, Harold pursued her anyway. “He just had an eye for me,” Bowman says.

Harold began teaching her Hebrew and they started dating. After several months, Harold was discharged from the Army and had to go back to Chicago, but not before giving Bowman a gift—a package with parachute fabric. She saved the fabric and later used it to make her wedding dress, which is now displayed at the William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum in Atlanta.

Bowman eventually made it to Palestine where she and Harold reconnected—he used his GI Bill benefits to study there. He told his family about her, and they sent along a trunk with clothing and other items for her. The couple married, moved to Chicago and had three children. In the late 1950s, they took a trip to Israel where she was shocked and upset that people weren’t talking about the Holocaust.

“When I came back to America, I told my brother-in-law, who was teaching Hebrew, about my experience and he told me that if I wanted to speak, he could find plenty of places for me to speak.” Bowman started speaking at synagogues, schools and clubs. She even took public speaking and writing classes so that she’d be more comfortable.

Several years ago, Bowman participated in a project to record the personal accounts of survivors. Her testimonial can be found here.

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

Kendal at Oberlin, Oberlin, OH
It’s not unusual for Oberlin Conservatory faculty and students to stage an opera. But this time, they did so with “a little help from some friends!”

Bringing together Oberlin Conservatory of Music voice students and residents of nearby Kendal at Oberlin for a production of Strawberry Fields, a one-act opera, is quite a feat. It is the brainchild of Sally Stunkel, associate professor of opera. The project is an offering for conservatory students during winter term.

Strawberry Fields, written in 1999 by Michael Torke, revolves around an unnamed elderly woman with dementia. She wanders into the section of New York City’s Central Park named Strawberry Fields in memory of John Lennon. The woman believes she has arrived at the opera, and takes a seat on a park bench. A Columbia College student, with a similar passion for John Lennon’s music, sits nearby and as they share their passions, the woman is able to make a brief, but real, connection with the student. Other members of the cast include the woman’s son, daughter, nurse, workman, passersby in the park and the chorus. The subject matter is treated with compassion and respect.

Stunkel says, “While I am normally limited to students in the ensembles of opera, real life has people of all ages in it and I am delighted to have them represented, especially since this is an opera about age and generations. The Kendal residents onstage remind us that age does not necessarily bring infirmity or dementia. I also wanted to represent Kendal’s involvement in more ways than just their support, but also with their people.”

Residents involved in the opera include an accomplished musician and vocalist, who plays the workman and sings in the chorus; a professor emeritus and scene designer, who is designing and constructing the scenes with the help of Oberlin College students; and other Kendal residents with music backgrounds, who are included in the chorus.

Stunkel and Michele Tarsitano-Amato, Kendal’s creative arts therapy director and certified dementia specialist, are collaborating in this intergenerational effort.

While only associated with The Beatles’ music through its setting, this opera has a strong message that relates to several of their songs including “Let It Be” and “Imagine.” Sally and Michelle hope that the audience takes with them the thought that cognitive loss does not define the person: “Let it be” and let them “imagine” their own reality.

See an expanded version of this article at the Kendal at Oberlin website, where there is a video slide show from rehearsals and reactions from audience members.

- Nancy Freed, community relations coordinator, Kendal at Oberlin

Whitney Center, Hamden, CT
Joe Fox and his wife Alison moved to Whitney Center 11 years ago; Fox recently celebrated his 99th birthday.

Fox set his sights on achieving one important goal to commemorate his milestone birthday—walking a mile on the treadmill—which he accomplished with ease due in part to his philosophy of leading a balanced life.

"The only advice I can offer others is to lead a balanced life and that could mean something different for different people," says Fox. "Some may not be able to walk a mile, but they may find another goal. It's important to be balanced both physically and psychologically."

Fox has been working out at the fitness center for almost three years now with fitness coordinator Kate Meikle. According to her, Fox now walks a mile every time he's in the gym.

"[Fox] started out by walking on the treadmill for only 10 seconds during his first visit to the fitness center and now he's worked his way up to over a mile some days," says Meikle. "He pushes himself and wants to know how much faster others are going to achieve that speed." Fox warms up by walking at a speed of 2.6 for 10 minutes and then varies his routine depending on the day. Some days he prefers a long endurance walk for 30 minutes; other days he may choose to do shorter bursts at faster speeds with rests in between.

"I would like to pay tribute to Kate," says Fox. "She's a great leader, a wonderful advisor and guide to me. I recommend her in the highest terms."

"We inspire each other," says Meikle.

When asked if he has set a goal for his 100th birthday Fox smiled and chuckled. "At the present time, I don't have a goal because I don't want to count on getting to 100 and be disappointed," says Fox. "I say, 'If I get to 100 then I'll …' and leave it at that."

- Gretchen Joslyn, director of community relations, Whitney Center

Presbyterian Village North, Irving, TX
Dr. Lisa Clark was recently selected as one of D Magazine’s best doctors in the Dallas area, making this the tenth year she has been on the list, under either geriatrics or internal medicine. Since graduating from the University of Mississippi Medical School and completing her residency at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas 29 years ago, Dr. Clark has worked at Presbyterian Village North (PVN) as the community’s medical director.

“Medicine is a career that people choose because it feels like a calling or a mission, and I have found that helping residents develop goals of treatment aimed at improving their quality of life is very rewarding,” says Clark. “I thoroughly communicate with them and their families, as it is very important to me that they understand, and I address their questions and concerns. I believe I have built a positive reputation because of my ability to communicate. PVN has a very warm community feel, and it is very empowering to be a part of that.”

Dr. Clark researches new information about treatments, medications, diagnoses, symptoms and more daily, as she believes you can never stop learning when you work in the medical field.

“During her tenure, she has served more than 1,500 residents at PVN,” says Ron Kelly, executive director for Presbyterian Village North. “Our community was recently named one of the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report. We could not have achieved this … recognition without experienced team members like Dr. Clark.”

- Lauren Witt, Forté Group, Inc.

Jewish Home Assisted Living, River Vale, NJ
Residents of Jewish Home Assisted Living are getting a chance to tell their stories while helping to educate a new generation of students. Ten students, 10th to 12th graders from the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies (BCHSJS), are working on a documentary-style program with a group of residents. The goal is to make a video montage or photo book about each participating resident’s life and connections based on videotaped interviews, says Bess Adler, principal-director of BCHSJS.

Two students work with each senior and plan to have finished videotapes by the end of their spring 2015 semester. The students will get to know the residents and talk to them about their past experiences as well as the future, she explained. “There is a waiting list of other students who want to be in this course.”

- Iris Rosendahl, public relations coordinator, Jewish Home Assisted Living

Hebrew Health Care, West Hartford, CT
Jetta Roth, born July 25, 1915, has vibrant and fond memories of her time growing up in West Hartford, where she still resides. The soon-to-be centenarian had a large audience for her reminiscences when she was interviewed by a local television station as part of its “Healthier Connection” series.

Roth, who spends her days at the Senior Day Center of Hebrew HealthCare, spoke about her younger days as an athlete playing basketball; she also discussed how she raised three daughters with her late husband, and that she was blessed with a wonderful life.

Roth spoke at length about how important it is to remain active, and that the day center serves all her needs as a place to socialize with friends, exercise, and engage in various activities. She credits the mental and physical stimulation she receives as a major contributor to her longevity. She acknowledges that in addition to the various social benefits she enjoys, the nutritional and medical care she receives at the Senior Day Center helps her to continue living an active life in the community.

See Roth’s interview here.

- Kristen Kinney, director, marketing and communications, Hebrew Health Care