LeadingAge Magazine · January/February 2013 • Volume 03 • Number 01

A Passion for Helping That Never Fades

January 13, 2013 | by The Members of LeadingAge

Meet some of the elders who come from all walks of life and bring tremendous histories, wisdom and energy to their communities, along with the dedicated staff who make our work possible.

Eaton Senior Communities, Lakewood, CO
Linette Gauer’s sewing skills are the foundation of her many volunteer activities. She was part of a sewing group at the Apex Community Center in Arvada, back when she lived close by and wanted to give back to her community. The group, among many activities, made Christmas stockings for a local church, which fills them and donates them to local nursing homes and people in need. Gauer also became involved with Project Linus and, since moving to Eaton, has brought that work with her and involved other Eaton residents, making blankets for traumatized children. Gauer is also involved with Rocky Mountain Smockers, which makes Wee Care Gowns for stillborns and premature babies for three area hospitals; makes prayer shawls for a local church; and makes lap blankets for veterans at the VA Hospital.

- David Smart, president/CEO, Eaton Senior Communities, Inc.

Windsor Park Manor, Carol Stream, IL
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! Nope, it’s none of the above. What may appear as a quickly-passing blur is Windsor Park resident Paul Heefner as he speeds on his way to one of his many volunteer activities. Heefner is well into his ninth decade, but it certainly isn’t obvious because he never seems to slow down. Until only recently, he has been a dedicated runner circling the campus on his morning training runs, getting ready for local races or the Illinois Senior Olympics. He volunteers at Central DuPage Hospital and works at the Repeat Boutique Shop in Wheaton; he conducts Bible studies and delivers mail to patients in Windsor’s Johnson Health Care Center; he corresponds with two prisoners and checks their Bible study lessons every week; he visits shut-ins regularly as part of his ministry at Wheaton Bible Church. As Republican committeeman for the Windsor precinct, Paul heads up the voter registration and oversees the introduction of candidates. Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Paul sets up a huge display in Windsor Park’s Centrum area, which honors the resident men and women from Windsor who have served in the US armed forces.

- Jolene Moore, director of wellness, Covenant Retirement Communities

St. Andrew's Resources for Seniors, St. Louis, MO
Juanita Hartwig’s devotion and spirituality are contagious; just being around her makes you want to be a better person. A committed supporter of St. Andrew’s, Ronald McDonald House, Teen Challenge and Smile Train, among other organizations, Hartwig believes it’s important to give back. Her volunteer efforts have included hospice duty in Florida, working in the gift shop at Brooking Park, a St. Andrew’s skilled nursing and assisted living community, and counseling newly widowed and sick women at her church. She believes that she has been blessed with the ability and resources to help others, and she is doing a wonderful job of it. She lives each day by the Scriptures: “Of those who have been given much, much is expected.” Now 83, Juanita even finds time to practice a soft-shoe routine for an annual performance at The Willows. The sign over her kitchen sink says it all: “Today is going to be another great day!”

- Bernadette McCaffrey Groner, St. Andrew's Charitable Foundation

Volunteers of America, Alexandria, VA
William Laney is a gifted man who once lost hope as his life spiraled out of control due to health problems, and took a devastating turn while he lived in Florida. As a younger man, Laney had climbed the ranks of management with many successes in creative, entrepreneurial ventures. When his life took an unexpected turn he was faced with poor health, rising housing costs, and the limitations of a fixed income. He found himself hopeless and homeless, spending more than seven years going nowhere, living on buses.

Today, with help from VOA’s outreach team, Laney lives at Pine Grove Apartments in Gainesville, FL. He has applied his talent as a writer to produce a book titled Homeless Isn’t Hopeless and is recognized by the Huffington Post as a dynamic contributing author. He delights other residents with his culinary creativity and has transformed food donations into memorable evenings of fellowship.

- Natasha Ofosu, program manager, housing services, Volunteers of America

Bethany Center Senior Housing, San Francisco CA
Born in Bakau, The Gambia, artist Queen Amie Krubally moved to Bethany Center Senior Housing in 2009. Before moving to America, she was introduced to batik art. She departed from the traditional stamp method and pioneered her own batik form to create expressive, painterly batiks full of stories and themes central to her ancestry, like motherhood, victory and life. In recognition of her wide-ranging influence, the Gambian government granted her the title “Queen of Batik.” Over the past 40 years she has taught, worked, and exhibited in locations around the world, including London, Berlin and Los Angeles. In 2009, she was one of 53 artists who took part in “Wonderland,” an exhibition that featured 16 site-inspired projects set in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. She loves Bethany Center’s multicultural celebrations. At Bethany she encourages her neighbors to join in on Bethany’s art and dance classes, and attend its musical and cultural celebrations. Everyone agrees how a room changes when Queen is present. She is full of vitality and spirit, and willing to share that life with those around her.

- Megan Coss, program assistant, Ruth's Table, Bethany Center Senior Housing, San Francisco, CA

Beacon Hill, Lombard, IL
Candy Bishop loves to bake desserts in her home at the Beacon Hill, but she doesn’t keep them around for long. She sends countless cookies, cakes and other treats to U.S. troops serving overseas. She has also written soldiers more than 4,000 personal handwritten letters. Bishop is a volunteer with Soldiers’ Angels, an organization that provides support to soldiers, veterans and their families. She originally got involved with the group to make a difference in the lives of others, but soon found that building connections with soldiers also changed her own life. She is an inspiration to other residents and staff at her community, and she encourages each of them to get involved and give back on any scale they can.

- Morgan Schaeffer, GlynnDevins

Abbey Delray, Delray Beach, FL
Tom Kaiser is a World War II veteran and Abbey Delray resident who spends his time giving back to veterans. For several years, Tom has helped veterans get the recognition they deserve for their time on the battlefield. He has helped see that more than 400 veterans wounded in World War II are awarded the Legion of Honor, a prestigious award in both the United States and overseas. Most of the veterans didn’t know they were eligible for the medal, but are now being recognized for their heroic actions. He has personally helped see that more than 10 residents at Abbey Delray received the Legion of Honor medal.

- Dani Row, GlynnDevins

Mt. Miguel Covenant Village, Spring Valley, CA
Russell and Pat Camp seem like a typical retired couple living at Mt. Miguel Covenant Village—lots of sunshine, friends, and a relaxing lifestyle. That might be your idea of retirement, but for the Camps, life is still an adventure, as it always has been. Both 84, the Camps have been married for 64 years, and their marriage has been marked by a devotion to service. After being ordained in the Covenant Church in 1953, the family left for Costa Rica where they studied Spanish for a year before going to Ecuador as missionaries. Later, the Camps returned to the U.S., where Russell and Pat completed their degrees and taught for 11 years in California. By 1974 their three oldest children were in college and the Camps returned to Ecuador with their youngest son for 10 more years. Russell started churches in the east jungle while Pat worked at the school, translating material into Spanish for the Bible Department, and teaching music. In 1985 Russell was asked to serve in the Spanish Covenant Church in San Francisco. For the next eight years Pat taught kindergarten and for two years Russell taught migrant education.

Today, both Pat and Russell continue their volunteer work on-campus and off. Russell has participated in 11 mission trips to Guatemala, where he assists in construction projects and enjoys his work with children, especially singing and teaching them accordion. About 15 years ago Russell decided he wanted to take up kayaking so he built his own and continues to paddle around Mission Bay every week.

- Catherine Sevier, resident services director, Mt. Miguel Covenant Village

The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, Fresno, CA
Though they are retired, Mary Nii, Rosemary Cotton and Naomi Dyck have never really hung up their nurse uniforms. They’re part of a stellar group of former nurses—now residents at The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens—who continue to lend their expertise and wisdom to help others at the community. “We have a passion for actively helping and caring for others, and it’s something that’s never faded,” explains Nii. The dozen or so residents who make up the Health Care Committee help develop new wellness programs and support with new health care policies and procedures. The group is a “think tank” for new ideas, in addition to providing hands-on assistance to fellow residents when they see fit.

“My husband always said, ‘You’re never off duty, are you?’” Cotton says. “And I guess I’m not. We’re a busy group and I think helping others is sometimes just in your blood.” CMS recently honored the community with its five-star rating for quality of health care. The former nurses say they’re happy to play a small role in creating a culture of excellence in care and wellness at the community.

- Steve Case, director of marketing, The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens

Eskaton Village Carmichael, Carmichael, CA
Sawdust is flying throughout the shop as the volunteer craftsmen at Eskaton Village Carmichael busily produce another batch of 100 wooden push-cars as holiday gifts for kids in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program. The tradition began 10 years ago, and has benefited from the time and talents of a revolving team of woodworkers. Village residents Jim Jackson and his buddies Doug Darmsted and Sterling Parrish staff the project’s most recent production line.

“This has been a real team effort over the years; a labor of love, that is worth every minute and every splinter when we see the children’s faces light up,” Jackson beams. “There’s plenty of quality machines and power tools here, so it’s fun for us guys to get together and make good use of the shop, too.”

- Stuart Greenbaum, VP, public relations and brand management, Eskaton

Asbury Place, Maryville, TN
Dr. Wayne Freeman, age 96, spent his life, including long periods in India and Nepal, studying seed production to grow food around the world. The Kansas State University (KSU) School of Agriculture, where he earned his undergraduate degree, refers to him as “the unsung hero of the green revolution.” He remains active in research and recently traveled to Mumbai, India, for a conference about hybrid rice strains. Dr. Freeman is also involved with the Presbyterian Church and University of Tennessee in a survey that strives to learn more about the causes of poverty and has organized work groups to help with the cause in Sevier and Cocke counties. He is an active member and serves on the board of over seven different organizations ranging from the Presbyterian Church in Gatlinburg, TN, to the alumni association at KSU.

When asked “What keeps you so healthy and active at age 96,” he replies, “Good genetics.” It soon became obvious that all the activity, reading, and socializing he does is a great contributor to his healthy living. “I like to keep my gray matter stimulated,” he explains. Even though it sounds like Freeman keeps a busy schedule, he still has a little time to spare. He’s even considering starting a book club at Asbury Place.

- Ian & Charity Rutter, freelance writers and photographers

Greenspring Retirement Community, Springfield, VA
In December 1963, Al Nielsen drove his wife and four children to Washington, DC, to see the National Christmas Tree. Nielsen captured the first photo of what would become a long-standing annual tradition. Now 90, Nielsen recently photographed the 2012 National Christmas Tree, making this the 50th consecutive year he has captured history in the nation’s capital. While all 50 years have been memorable for Nielsen, a few particular years stick in his mind. In 1979 and 1980, the tree remained mostly unlit out of respect for the American hostages being held in Iran. However, upon their release on Inauguration Day in 1981, the National Christmas Tree was relit in celebration of their impending return to the United States. “When I heard about the lighting of the tree, I took my camera and got over there,” said Nielsen.

In 2003, Nielsen and his wife moved to Greenspring. He has since become the “unofficial-official” resident photographer for the community, often taking photos for the resident-produced monthly newsletter and volunteering to operate the cameras in the community’s television studio. This year, two of Nielsen’s sons and a grandson accompanied him on his trip to see the brand new Colorado blue spruce on The Ellipse, trimmed with 450 LED light strings. “It was a family outing, just like my first photo in 1963,” says Nielsen, who has asked his youngest son, Brian, to carry on the tradition.

- Jessica McKay, public affairs manager, Greenspring & Ashby Ponds

Baptist Village Communities and Entrusted Hearts Services at Home, Cleveland, OK
As a young girl growing up in northeast Oklahoma, Joyce Beckham dreamed of becoming a tap dancer. Always a lover of music, she found the stage in a different way. In the 1960s Beckham began performing a Minnie Pearl act. Over 50 years later, 96-year-old Joyce is still entertaining her family and friends and is looking forward to “Minnie More.”

“My act is always good,” says Joyce. “It’s just the audience that varies.”

She writes her own material by finding jokes in magazines and books and ends each performance on the piano with her rendition of "I'm Dreaming Tonight of My Blue Eyes." She dresses the part by wearing a vintage hat with a dangling price tag, just like Minnie Pearl. To this day, you will find her script inside. Her son, Willard Beckham, says that his mother is not someone who might be described as outgoing, but she is fearless onstage: “She was always up for performing … for anyone, anytime and anywhere.”

Joyce has performed for numerous crowds, including churches, schools, social clubs, community organizations, and her fellow residents at Baptist Village. Perhaps her most famous audience was at Sardi’s restaurant in New York City, where the crowd gave her a standing ovation. She was 91 years old. When calling his mother, Willard will often ask “how are you doing, Mom?” to which she always gives the same reply. “The show must go on!”

She’s got the hat to prove it.

- Carolyn Wells, marketing director, Baptist Village Communities

The Oaks Skilled Nursing, Asbury Bethany Village, Mechanicsburg, PA
Watch Susan Crossley at work and it’s clear she’s not at “work” at all. As director of therapeutic activities for residents in Bethany Village’s health care neighborhood, Crossley clearly views her job as a calling, which is evidenced by her warm rapport with residents. But it’s her tenacity in reaching out to those who have difficulty taking part in such programs that makes Susan so special.

Last year, Crossley applied for and Bethany Village was awarded one of 15 nationwide research grants through the Music and Memory Foundation, which studies individualized music therapy’s effect on quality of life for long-term care residents. Forty-eight iPods with personalized playlists for seniors were activated this year, and Crossley has recorded decreases in behaviors such as communicating distress, depression and pain. “It means so much more than us bringing in entertainment for an hour,” she says. For one resident, 94, whose form of deafness caused her to communicate distress, the iPod was life-changing. “Many of us have witnessed the calming effect of the music,” notes her son. “It has eliminated her ‘as-needed’ medication. We can see her softly singing and recognizing the sound. It’s almost as though the iPod has given her music back.”

- Cathy Canning, communications content specialist, Asbury Communities

Selfhelp Community Services, New York, NY
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, the staff of Selfhelp Community Services put aside their own difficulties to ensure that clients remained safe and sound. Staff contacted all high-risk clients before the storm to confirm that emergency plans were in place. For clients living in likely-to-flood “Zone A,” staff spoke with emergency contacts and family members to ensure their evacuation. Selfhelp employees maintained phone contact with clients throughout the storm and afterwards. They arranged for emergency relief as needed, including heating oil, heaters, water and food. They found fuel and volunteers for Meals on Wheels providers, who delivered blankets, water, and first aid kits in addition to meals.

Many staff suffered their own losses, but set them aside in concern for needy clients. Loss of property, electricity and transportation were overcome or forgotten when clients required attention. When Selfhelp’s offices lost electricity and communication, staff used their own cell phones and funds to ensure continued responsiveness. A few stories:

  • An 84-year-old woman with recent back surgery reported ongoing pain on the day before the storm. Concerned that the hurricane would prevent her from reaching the hospital, the social worker spoke with her family in Utah, who persuaded her to return there immediately. This was fortunate because she needed additional surgery, and travel through storm-devastated areas would have been impossible for days.
  • A home care aide in Nassau County sheltered an elderly Holocaust survivor with no family in her own home for several days. Another aide stayed overnight in the hospital with an evacuated client until a relief aide came.
  • Many clients living in Nassau County, where Selfhelp serves 425 Holocaust survivors, suffered flood damage to the basements and first floors of their homes. Staff is reaching out to FEMA and to insurance providers on their behalf, and will provide grants to those eligible, so that they may finally return home.

- Elizabeth Lynn, director, grants management, Selfhelp Community Services