LeadingAge Magazine · May/June 2016 • Volume 06 • Number 03

Learning From the People We Serve

May 11, 2016 | by The Members of LeadingAge

Look into the lives of the remarkable people LeadingAge members serve and employ.

PineCrest Retirement Community, Lufkin, TX
Judy Kocar has been a wonderful asset to PineCrest Retirement Community as well as the Lufkin community at large. Kocar is an individual that spent her life raising children, being a successful businesswoman, traveling with her husband and enjoying each day that God has given her.

Since taking an early retirement in 1992, Kocar continues to stay active throughout the community of PineCrest and volunteering her time to help in many not-for-profit organizations in Lufkin. Each week Kocar works the gift shop at Memorial Health Systems of East Texas, engaging herself with hospital guests, family members and friends to ensure that their experience is one of a kind. Kocar also serves ice cream to residents and family members at PineCrest. Actively serving as a proud member of the Independent Living Activities Committee for the last 8 years, Kocar helps host numerous events year-round for all residents to enjoy.

First United Methodist Church in Lufkin is also a place you can find Kocar, as she was the president of the Sunday school class as well as an usher and greeter. Kocar is also very involved with helping out the Lufkin Chamber of Commerce with events such as the Texas State Forest Festival and the Neches River Rendezvous. In some of her spare time, Kocar and a group of fellow residents knit prayer shawls for local church organizations.

- Shari Palacios, executive assistant, PineCrest

The Samarkand, Santa Barbara, CA
It’s been decades since 88-year-old World War II veteran Karl Sterne strapped on a leather helmet, goggles and a headset to take flight. Thanks to Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, he had a chance to get back in the seat of the same type of plane he had learned to fly in at the young age of 18: a 2-seater, open-cockpit Boeing Stearman biplane. The experience, Sterne said, “Was just like 70 years ago.”

Sterne served as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was one of 9 military veterans living at The Samarkand who took a 15-20 minute dream flight in the fully restored vintage biplane, the same aircraft used to train military aviators during the 1930s and 1940s. Ageless Aviation volunteer Mike Sommars flew the plane.
The residents who flew with Sommars ranged in age from 75-93. "It was wonderful,” says Dwight Anderson, 84, who served in the U.S. Navy. “We flew right over The Samarkand and then the coastline and then back to the airport.”
Roger Bradfield, 91, served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Of his flight, he said, “It was perfect. A day I'll remember for a long time.”
Additional Dream Flight recipients included Hank Sharp, 90, 2nd Lt., U.S. Army Air Corps, World War II; Ken McLeod, 93, Lance Corporal, Canadian Army, World War II; Bill Losee, 82, Seaman aboard USS Calavert; Tony Sanchez, 76, Airman First Class, U.S. Air Force; Roy Washburn, 82, Lt. Commander, U.S. Navy Reserve; and Eb Shortle, 75, Lt., U.S. Navy.
- Wendy D’Alessandro, Lynn Public Relations

Shorehaven, Oconomowoc, WI
Shorehaven Tower resident Richard Johnstone is nothing less than brilliant. He has designed and built his own robot named Heather, developed and patented software, has more than 30 patents, worked with NASA, and rose from the ground floor at Kearney & Trecker to vice-president of international technology. He designed and built motorcycles, cars and trailers in 1950, using restored military parts. He raced the fastest motorcycle in the world, running his own race track. He became a leader in designing and manufacturing computer-controlled machine tools. Lately, in working with our network administrator Eric Groenke, he no longer feels “invisible.”

When Groenke first hooked up the Internet in Johnstone’s assisted living apartment, he saw the patents and realized he had worked alongside Johnstone at Kearney years before. Now the two speak the same language, and Johnstone has a friend.

For much more on Johnstone’s robot and his remarkable life story, see this article from Lake Country Now.

- Sarah Williams-Berg, director of community relations, Shorehaven

MI Residential Community, Lawrence, MA

Srs. Claire Bergeron and Marcel Theriault belong to The Holy Union Sisters order and have lived long lives of service and volunteering. Sr. Bergeron was born in Sanford, ME, and entered religious life in 1948. Sr. Theriault was born in Lawrence, MA, and entered the order in 1951.

Theriault has taught school children in Lawrence, Groton and North Attleboro, MA, as well as Pawtucket, RI. Bergeron served as a cook in Lawrence, Lowell, Concord and Cambridge, MA, and Pawtucket, RI before moving to Mary Immaculate Residential Community 10 years ago, along with 9 other nuns from the Holy Union Sisters, when the convent they were living in was sold.

The sisters have volunteered in many different capacities at MI Residential Community. They have worked in our country store, which sells incidentals and necessities of daily living. The sisters also deliver our monthly newsletter to resident apartments to keep them informed about goings-on in the community. They are counted on to set up our dining room with decorations and dinnerware as well as wrapping the utensils to be used at our monthly themed social.

- Martha Swett, resident service coordinator, MI Residential Community

Crown Center for Senior Living, St. Louis, MO
An early riser, Edie Sobel is often the first one in the office—preparing flyers, checking reservations for a class or creating the daily word puzzles. For the past 15 years, Sobel has been a vital part of the programming department at Crown Center for Senior Living, an independent, affordable retirement community. Crown Center is proud of the programs offered to residents and seniors in the surrounding neighborhood, and proud of resident Sobel’s role in making things happen.

Newly widowed in 2000, Sobel decided it was time to sell her home and move to Crown Center. In addition to an apartment, Edie was looking for a place she could contribute and be productive. Moving in with furniture and boundless energy at age 78, she began volunteering nearly full-time with the program department while still being employed part time at a nearby business. By 2005 it was evident that Sobel was such a crucial part of the program team, she was brought on staff as a program assistant and was persuaded to quit her “outside” job.
Sobel continues in that capacity. “I love that I can get to work by taking a short elevator ride” she says, laughing. “But really, it is so special to still work. It keeps my brain active and gives me a purpose to get up in the morning and a place to go.”

Others really count on Sobel. “She is so reliable; even when other staff members are running late because of a snow storm, we are confident that Edie is in there; answering the phones, distributing the daily schedule, and getting our department ready for another busy day,” comments Amy Neuman, program manager. “I love having Edie as a colleague.”

Edie Sobel has raised a family and is proud of her 2 children, 4 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren, who are scattered from coast to coast. “I’m so lucky” says Sobel. “I have such a wonderful family. I’m also so lucky to have my Crown Center family. The residents and staff all make me feel like we are one big family.”

- Randi Schenberg, community relations director, Crown Center for Senior Living

Smith Village, Chicago, IL
In December, Roy Uddman, 82, was thrilled to play an important role in his granddaughter’s wedding preparations. His daughter, Susan Evans, had pictured the bride and 5 bridesmaids getting ready for the wedding in her home, but concerns about having to move furniture for the photographer, and deal with the family dog, caused her to hesitate.

Evans called her father to ask if he would mind storing the bridal gown, which needed a closet with plenty of room for its long train. She also contacted me to see if I might be able to suggest a nearby hotel where she might reserve a room for the bridal party’s preparations. Instead, I suggested she reserve one of our two-bedroom guest suites at Smith Village designed for family members.

Uddman, retired after a long career with General Mills and with Central American Group, has lived at Smith Village since 2014. He is both family-oriented and community-oriented. A Chicago native, he became active in the local chamber of commerce and Jaycees. After 25 years, he still serves on the board of the South Chicago Parents & Friends, a not-for-profit that strives to improve quality of life for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

At Smith Village, Roy attends resident council meetings and participates in food committee meetings. “I like to know what’s going on,” he says. He also exercises in the onsite fitness center twice a week.

Roy served with the Army’s 378th Engineer Combat Battalion, using heavy equipment to clear roadways shortly after the Korean War. Sitting down to dinner for the first time at Smith Village, he met fellow resident Don McCarthy, who served with the same unit. “I’m still getting to know people here,” Uddman says. “Some of us have a lot in common. Don and I have become good friends.”

On the day of the wedding, the bridesmaids got ready and kidded around in the apartment while a makeup artist attended to Uddman’s granddaughter Alexandra Evans, a 4th-grade teacher who would soon marry Brian Noffsinger.

Around 1:00, a bus-sized limo pulled up to the entrance of Smith Village, ready to transport the bridal party to a nearby church. Waiting patiently in the lobby and dressed in a brown suit and tie, Uddman beamed with pride. He stood tall next to his granddaughter as they posed for photos shortly before boarding the limo bus—one of life’s fairy tale moments.

- Loris Vander Velde, sales counselor, Smith Village

Pine Haven Christian Communities, Sheboygan Falls, WI
For Pine Haven Christian Communities resident Dorothy Holden, creating art has been a way of life. “If there wasn’t a paintbrush in her hand, there was a knitting needle,” says her daughter, Penny Walsh.

Holden’s love of art came from her father, who was an avid painter in oils. While in her 40s, she became well-known for her rosemaling (Norwegian decorative painting), creating and selling many wedding plates. Her daughter notes that she spent most of her time in her studio behind their garage. In her late 60s, Holden took an oil-painting class to expand her techniques.

During her oil painting class, Holden brought a request to her instructor. Decades before, her father had started a painting but passed away before he could complete it. She’d kept it, thinking someday, someone should finish it. A fan of her instructor’s work, she thought perhaps she’d found the person to complete the painting at last. Her instructor told her she had—but the person to paint it needed to be Holden herself, to finish that which her father had started. The completed painting now hangs in her room, a cherished piece of her life story.

Holden no longer paints because her hands cannot hold and maneuver a paint brush the way she used to. But her room is filled with memories she has created. Each child and grandchild has a painting or a sweater that was handcrafted by her, and every single relative treasures the family painting, started by her father and finished by Holden herself.

- Karin Oliver-Kreft, director of marketing and community outreach, Pine Haven Christian Communities

Whitney Center, Hamden, CT
Moving to the Whitney Center was one of the major transitions in our lives. One of the hardest parts for many of us is giving up things we have treasured for years.

For me, it was my large Lionel train collection and layout. I had a 14-foot by 30-foot room in our home specially designed for my trains. In the summer of 2014 my collection included 100 engines, 490 freight cars, 92 passenger cars, and 197 accessories, along with innumerable catalogs, instruction books and other papers. The layout had over 200 feet of track and 15 switches, could run 3 trains at one time, and had every accessory Lionel made from 1945 to 1955!

I received my first Lionel trains, a 3-car freight set, at Christmas 1947 when I was just 7 years old. I still have that set and it still runs, including the whistle and smoke on the engine. It was this childhood Christmas gift that ignited a lifelong passion for everything Lionel. Every Christmas for the next 9 or 10 years Santa brought a new car, engine or accessory.

I began to get involved with trains again about 1973, becoming an avid collector and a zealous historian of all things Lionel. After the layout was filled I couldn’t stop buying Lionel trains.

Unconsciously, I was probably trying to fulfill my childhood dreams of owning all the trains and accessories in those Lionel catalogs of so many years ago.

My wife, Ann, and I moved to the Whitney Center in 2014. My layout had to be removed and my train collection largely sold. I sorted out the trains I had while growing up, and packaged everything else up for sale by two Internet auction companies.

All that remains of my almost 900-piece collection are 3 small cartons of my original trains; my collection of original, post-war Lionel catalogs; and numerous books about both Lionel and real trains. Someday they will go to my two grandsons. For now I am thinking about displaying a few of my remaining trains in my den here in the Whitney Center. I am also considering creating a display of them for the Whitney Center community to enjoy at Christmas.

- Jim Hutton, resident at Whitney Center.

Cathedral Square, South Burlington, VT
Since moving to Cathedral Square’s Grand Way Commons Senior Housing in 2008, Nancy Baker has come to embody the kind of community spirit that helps such a building thrive. Indeed, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that it would be difficult to imagine life at Grand Way Commons without her.

Baker was born in Burlington, VT, in 1938 and apart from some time spent in California and Florida after high school, Burlington has been her home for her entire life. She reminisces fondly on the time she spent in California where she worked for a company that was responsible for building parts that were used in the construction of the ship that took part in the first moon landing. She recalls the excitement she experienced watching the landing on television, knowing that she had played a role in such a historic event.

After returning to Vermont, Baker worked for an insurance agency where she eventually became manager, overseeing a contract that provided insurance to the state’s employees. It was during this time that she met her second husband, Russell “Red” Baker.

One of the most impressive of Baker’s accomplishments upon moving to Grand Way was forming part of the group that launched a weekly meal program in the building, serving delicious hot food to both residents and staff. The program has gone through various incarnations since its inception, but still continues today thanks to the help of Baker and her team. Such was the success of this contribution to the building that in 2010, the group was recognized in the United Way Hometown Hero Volunteer Awards.

Furthermore, Baker has also contributed her time and resources to events aimed at fund-raising for the building’s resident association: In addition to organizing countless bake-sales, she also initiated a bottle-redemption program that has raised over $1,000 for resident activities and programs.

Baker has also enjoyed the benefits of SASH (Supports and Services at Home) while living at Grand Way Commons. SASH is a free program designed to provide personalized coordinated care to help participants stay safely at home and Baker is one of its primary cheerleaders. She feels that her health is of central importance to the SASH staff at the building, and is only too happy to ensure that new residents of the building sign up for SASH upon moving in.

It’s exactly this kind of welcoming spirit and desire to see her neighbors succeed that has lead Baker to become one of the most loved residents of Grand Way Commons.

- Eric Ellicock, intake specialist, Cathedral Square

White Horse Village, Newtown Square, PA
David Smith, a resident of White Horse Village in Newtown Square, Pa., spent most of his career as a professor of political science at Swarthmore College. In addition to chairing his department, Smith also found time to write 8 books, serve on numerous boards (mostly health-related and too numerous to mention) and act as a Stephen Minister for his local church. When Smith retired, his energy and interests followed him to White Horse Village where, in 2011, he and some fellow residents founded what later became known as the “Village Neighbors.”

The Village Neighbors stated purpose is to “strengthen the community’s reputation for hospitality and to promote the growth of personal relationships and sense of belonging.” The members pay friendly visits, invite folks to meals, visit health care residents and provide information to promote access to community services. They are always on alert to identify the need for a kind word, an extra hand or a listening ear. They have a special interest in caring for the caregiver and as a group recently attended several weeks of dementia training, in order that they might better support caregivers in their community.

All members of this group have had previous experience in counseling, either professionally or through their volunteer experiences. As a result of his activities with the Village Neighbors, Smith says he has gained a “greater understanding and empathy for older people and their needs and distresses.” In addition, he has an “increased understanding of and facility in communication about disabilities (including dementia), loss of spouses and the approach of death.”

“I can't say that I am wholly at ease with such circumstances, but I have become pretty successful at concentrating on and working with the individual and ignoring my own discomforts,” says Smith.

- Betsy Miller, director of social services, White Horse Village

Schmitt Woodland Hills Retirement Community, Richland Center, WI
Fritzi Goplen has been a hairdresser at the Schmitt Woodland Hills Retirement Community for 28 years. To say she has been a fixture at SWH would be an understatement. She has seen a great deal of change during those years.

In the early years the beauty shop was located in the retirement apartments. There were only 5 or 6 residents in the health center at that time and their hair was done in the health center. Because the shampoo bowl was in the bathroom of the health center, Goplen had to wash their hair in the bathroom and then take them to the dining room to dry their hair using the hair dryers that were actually brought down from the beauty shop on the second floor.

In 1988 when the assisted living opened it included a new beauty shop, so Goplen no longer needed 2 sets of tools and no longer had to run the dryers between floors. Part of a 2015 expansion and renovation project included a new beauty shop, located in close proximity to the retirement apartments, the assisted living units and the health center.

Fritzi does 2 or 3 permanents and approximately 25 cuts and sets each week. She works between 2 ½ to 3 days per week. While working here she has come to love the residents and appreciate their needs. She has had 6 relatives take up residence at SWH.

In her own words, “It will be a very sad day when I leave. It’s the best job I’ve had and I will miss it.”

- Wm. J. “Bill” Bartlett, development director, Schmitt Woodland Hills Retirement Community

Ashby Ponds, Ashburn, VA
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report from 2015, birth rates for twins recently hit a new high in the United States—33.9 sets of twins per 1,000 births, totaling 135,336 twin births in 2014. Research indicates that various factors may be at play, including a mother’s age and changing IVF guidelines.

In 1919, there were 16,316 live twin births reported in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census. That’s the year identical twins Irene Thomas and Arlene Louthain were born in a small farming town in Pennsylvania. Today, at 96, both Irene and Arlene are living life to the fullest, along with their husbands, at Ashby Ponds retirement community.

The oldest siblings of six, Arlene and Irene have always been close and have always looked strikingly similar. Known as “Das Bubs” (“The Twins”) in the Pennsylvania Dutch community where they lived, they were regularly mistaken for one another.

After high school, the two moved to the Washington, DC, area together and during World War II, both started working government jobs—Irene with the War Department and Arlene with the General Accounting Office.

After Irene was married, she and her husband settled in Virginia. Arlene, who was then working as a nursing assistant, lived just across the street in the Virginia Hills area of Alexandria. Six years later, Arlene was also married.

In 2009, Irene and her husband made the move to Ashby Ponds. A short time later in 2011, Arlene and her husband followed, moving in just one floor away. Today, Irene and Arlene are virtual celebrities at Ashby Ponds—they have even been the inspiration for one resident’s poems and prose over the years. The two can also often be spotted on a treadmill or in a fitness class throughout the week at the community.

So, what’s their secret? It’s simple: be happy, have a sense of humor, and marry someone nice!

- Jessica McKay, public affairs manager, Ashby Ponds