LeadingAge Magazine · March/April 2016 • Volume 06 • Number 02
The Terrace at Phoebe Allentown, Allentown, PA
Alyce Tokus, 101, volunteers three half-days per week in the Community Life Office at the Phoebe Allentown Health Care Center. She is an independent living resident at The Terrace at Phoebe Allentown, so she can walk across the street “to work,” as she describes her volunteer office duties.

Tokus began volunteering at Phoebe Allentown over 26 years ago when her husband Leonard was a resident. She believes the time she devotes to Phoebe keeps her going. They love having Tokus around because she lifts their spirits. They describe her as being energetic, dedicated, friendly, and sometimes she seems to them like she is the happiest woman in the world.

Tokus’ sense of well-being is larger than life. Being able to do what she wants at her age is something for which she is very grateful. She loves spending her time volunteering at Phoebe, feels lucky that she gets to use her mind to help others and is able to make other people smile. Where Tokus goes, happiness and smiles follow.

Tokus was featured in an episode of Focus, a public affairs program on WLVT, a PBS station in Lehigh Valley, PA. Her story begins at the 3:50 mark in this video:

Tokus has been featured in other media reports:

- Trina Johnson-Brady, community relations specialist, Phoebe Ministries

SearStone, Cary, NC
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, LA, Kevin Johnson has been surrounded by good food all his life. His grandmother was a chef, and Kevin worked part-time at the private Camelot Club while in high school and college.

After obtaining a degree in business, Johnson combined his passion for fine dining with his business acumen and embarked on a culinary career that included working in hospitals, private clubs and senior communities. He worked with and learned from world-renowned chef and cookbook author John Folse.

In early 2014, Johnson joined SearStone as director of dining services. For special occasions, he’s been known to treat residents to tableside service of Bananas Foster, dimming the lights to enhance the visual allure of the flaming dessert.

For his efforts, Johnson recently won a national Enhancing Resident Experience Award from Sodexo Global. The nomination process included submission of letters written by managers and residents praising his skills and service. He advanced to the national level after winning a regional award.

“What brought me back to working in a senior setting is the warmth and caring that residents have for those who take care of them,” said Johnson. “Being able to see the same people every day means a lot to me, and you get to know them and what they like or don’t like. I also get a lot in return in terms of the knowledge and advice they’ve shared with me.”

- Glenn Gillen, S&A Communications

Abernethy Laurels, Newton, NC
Barbara Taylor had dreams of riding a horse again. With the help of a nearby farm, the retirement community turned her dreams into reality.

Taylor grew up in Haywood County in western North Carolina. Taylor often shares stories about her childhood horse named “Baby.” She enjoys telling others about growing up with a family that rode horses instead of using an automobile. “Any time we needed to go to town, we just hopped on our horses and went,” recalls Taylor.

Taylor told staff members about her dream of riding a horse again and the fact that it had been more than 20 years since she last rode. Activities Director Amy Carter submitted the request to Abernethy Laurels’ “Grant a Dream” program and Taylor was selected. Rising Hope Farms, a local therapeutic riding center, offered the perfect accommodations.

Dressed in denim from head to toe, Taylor saddled up on “Gideon,” a 22-year-old Appaloosa, and never missed a beat. After the hour-long ride, Gail Wartner, Rising Hope Farms’ owner, handed Taylor an equine grooming kit and a bucket of treats to feed the horse. The rain poured and the skies were gray, but Barbara had a smile that could light up the darkest of days.

“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do something like this again,” says Taylor. “Being on that horse brought back so many good memories. Words can’t describe how special this made me feel.”

- Shaylyn Ladd, director of public relations, United Church Homes and Services

Brookhaven at Lexington, Lexington, MA
E. O. Wilson and his wife Irene arrived at Brookhaven at Lexington in 2001. A renowned American biologist, author and 2-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Wilson contributes greatly to Brookhaven as a resident and as a model for healthy aging.

Since moving to Brookhaven Wilson has continued his research, travel and writing and has published 13 books, including his first novel, Anthill, in 2010. He can often be found in the café, where he writes books and discusses a broad range of topics over morning coffee. He also shares his knowledge formally via resident lectures. Brookhaven residents enjoy the formal and informal discussions alike, even if they don’t participate themselves.

Though they may brag to family and friends that they have heard “E.O. Wilson lecture right in their own home,” they are most appreciative of his approachable manner and the active exchange of ideas that enrich the intellectual and social life of the Brookhaven at Lexington community.

Wilson’s recent appearances in the media include this Audubon magazine article and this PBS program.

- Jim Freehling, CEO/president, Brookhaven at Lexington

La Loma Village. Litchfield Park, AZ
Sandy Foell, a resident of La Loma Village, makes selfless gifts of her time, talent and treasure to the Sun Health organization. Since 1993 she has served as a volunteer at the local community hospital (formerly owned by Sun Health) and continues with other volunteer opportunities, including in the library at Luke Air Force Base. Foell has logged almost 15,000 hours of service to our organization alone.

She has served as president of the Auxiliary and has served on the governing boards of the organization since 1996, including terms as chair, trustee and secretary. Foell also served on the board of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute, which is world-renowned for its work on eradicating Alzheimer's disease. She has worked to improve the field of aging services through her work with the Arizona state board of licensing for nursing home administrators.

During her work years, Foell taught French as well as English as a second language. She has been instrumental in raising funds to support the organization, working directly with the foundation to engage residents, board members and the community. Sandy is on the board of Habitat for Humanity, and is active in her church.

In addition to her volunteer time, Foell visits residents of the health care center on a regular basis, connecting with them, providing reassurance and a kind word or gesture. She has suffered with health challenges but does not let that stop her. She is a willing ambassador of the organization to the general public.

- Sharon Grambow, chief operating officer, Sun Health

The Colonnade (Sun Health Senior Living), Surprise, AZ
The commitment and community involvement this couple demonstrates in their everyday volunteer efforts—in 17 different organizations—touches the lives of untold thousands of people. They have committed themselves to this since retiring in 1998, so they have been working with many of these same organizations for 10-15 years. Having been married 39 years, they choose to commit their lives to others in meaningful and measureable ways by helping homeless veterans, raising money for ROTC high school scholarships, sharing their enthusiasm and instilling patriotism and love of country and flag to high school seniors, serving older adults at Sun City Grand’s (SCG) welcome center, being involved as flag bearers on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, spending one-half day monthly retiring flags, and being involved in an employee appreciation committee in their own Life Plan Community (a.k.a. CCRC), to name only a few activities. Jerry Wojtas enlisted in the Army Reserves in college and served 2 years of active duty and stayed in the reserves for 32 years until he retired in 1986.

This couple shows what a difference 2 retired individuals can make in the lives of thousands living in Arizona, be they students, veterans, older adults; be they wealthy or indigent; be they educated or not; and be they donors or residents or educators or spouses/family of retired military. They cross all boundaries in the community. For all who meet them, Pam and Jerry Wojtas are “poster children” of the volunteer movement in our country, lead most dramatically by retirees who want to still be active and involved in their communities, making a significant contribution to those they meet and those who they inspire to join them in volunteering.

- Barbara Foster, executive director, The Colonnade

Angelus Plaza (Retirement Housing Foundation), Los Angeles, CA
For the past 15 years, Angelus Plaza resident Catalina Pu has diligently provided stellar volunteer service at this senior housing community’s Senior Activity Center and throughout the community.

Since 2000, Pu has logged over 28,000 volunteer hours, translating for Chinese residents, serving as a computer lab assistant, stuffing envelopes, sorting newsletters and providing event support as a server and hostess.

Pu’s pleasant demeanor, enthusiasm, integrity, sense of responsibility, firm commitment, resourcefulness, solid work ethic and productivity are all attributes that she routinely displays.

She has been recognized by the Evans Community Adult School, the City of Los Angeles, former Councilmember Jan Perry and the L.A. County Commission on Aging for her extraordinary volunteer service throughout the greater community.

- Jeffrey Winston, community relations coordinator, Angelus Plaza

Three Pillars Senior Living Communities, Dousman, WI
Paul Rossmiller, 88, moved to Three Pillars Senior Living Communities in 2014, returning to the land he sowed as a young boy. You see, he grew up on the original Dousman, WI, Masonic Farm. Born in 1927, Rossmiller was orphaned and lived with his aunt and uncle. When he was in the fourth grade, his uncle was hired on as the farm manager at the Masonic Home, and with that came the opportunity to live on-site.

By the time Rossmiller was in middle school, World War II was in full force and men began leaving to serve in the armed forces, so his responsibilities grew. He milked cows, baled hay, and even helped with slaughtering cows, pigs and chickens. He recalls scooping hickory nuts from the groves on the farm and helping to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables. The farm was the food source for the home and they would slaughter meat once a month to provide for the residents.

Rossmiller’s fondest memories as a youngster include the time he spent with the residents at the home. He remembers the “smoker room” where the male residents would socialize. This recreational room included pool tables and was where residents taught Rossmiller how to shoot pool.

“It was after the Depression and I heard so many stories of loss,” Rossmiller remembers. “There were a lot of interesting people that lived in the home. I learned a lot.”

After service in World War II, Rossmiller went on to dental school at Marquette University. It was also a time when he dabbled in entrepreneurism with a lucrative laundry business he became involved with during his junior year. After graduation from dental school, he went on to open his own practice, eventually retiring in Hartford in 1997.

When it was time for Rossmiller to decide where he’d like to spend his golden years, the answer was easy. Since his time on the farm as a young boy, he always knew he’d want to return. He witnessed how well the people treated each other and the wonderful relationships between the residents and employees. These were memories that he always held dear to his heart.

- Natascha Bohmann, chief marketing & communications officer, Three Pillars Senior Living Communities

Hospice of Morrow County, Mt. Gilead, OH
Elsie Wilson is a treasure to Hospice of Morrow County (HMC).

Wilson has been a valued member of our team for 20 years and currently holds the honor of being HMC’s longest continually serving volunteer. At age 93, she’s still making a real difference in the lives of everyone she touches, whether through her work with HMC or through her many other community connections.

Wilson began volunteering with HMC after the death of her husband, who had been a local minister for 35 years. She tells how her family “encouraged” her into volunteering. Following her husband’s death, she says, she went into a depression and her family noted that it seemed as if she stopped living when he died. Soon, Wilson found comfort in comforting others, and her support of HMC has been truly amazing.

In earlier years, Wilson was asked to speak to school groups about hospice care, which was an emerging field at the time and not well known. The students were attentive and respectful of her message, and her community outreach helped spread the word about the value of hospice care in this rural and often underserved county.

Wilson’s real gift is making handmade quilts and crocheted tablecloths for our annual “Hearts for Hospice” fundraising auction. Over the past 20 years, the auctioning of Wilson’s many donated masterpieces has brought in nearly $30,000.

Wilson is an active direct care volunteer, driving herself to see patients, primarily in nursing homes. She is a regular attendee at our monthly “Lunch with Friends” informal bereavement group, often accompanied by a newly bereaved family member, whom she helps ease into the group. She faithfully attends our spring Garden Memorial Service and Christmas Angel Tree Memorial Service. She also tries to stay in touch with discharged patients and family members, all done with a loving and giving heart.

- Jennifer Taylor, director of communications, LeadingAge Ohio

Saint Simeon's Episcopal Home, Tulsa, OK
Vernon Stanton is an enthusiastic participant in Saint Simeon's Wellness Center and became an “unofficial” volunteer recruiting other residents for wellness activities (commenting that people spend too much time sitting around!), encouraging his fellow residents to come to the pool and workout room, as well as participate in weekly sports competitions. Stanton has a genuine interest in learning as much as he can about proper exercise techniques so that he can better assist residents. He is a keen observer and dedicated to helping other residents age well.

In late 2013 Saint Simeon's Wellness Center started a “Men's Gym” time in the health care center. The wellness center wanted more male presence to help lead the class and provide personal attention and coaching. Stanton gave an enthusiastic "yes" when approached about this new program. In his position Stanton helps escort participants to and from class and leads them through the weightlifting portion. Perhaps most importantly, he serves as a positive role model and encourages the men to pursue better health and vitality through their exercise. He has been able to inspire them as only a peer can—someone who has “been there.” The program has been so successful that additional sessions were added.

Stanton is extremely conscientious and kind to the members of the professional staff. Recently there was a week when the wellness center was without its only male staff member, who was serving his National Guard duty. Stanton quietly stepped in to help without even being asked. He was there throughout the course of each day, just in case he was needed. He is a thinker that puts his attention into helping improve processes, participation and outcomes.

The ease with which Stanton epitomizes the volunteer experience was summed up when he was given his official Saint Simeon's name tag. He shrugged and said “They all think I work here anyway!"

- Lindsay Fick, president/CEO, Saint Simeon's Episcopal Home

Whitney Center, Hamden, CT
Marjorie Miner, a resident at Whitney Center, won 2nd Place in the 8th Annual Connecticut Senior Juried Art Show—“The Art of Experience”—held at Pomperaug Woods in Southbury, CT. Connecticut artists aged 70 and older were invited to enter works they created after their 70th birthdays.

Miner, 99, won a 2nd Place Silver Medal on a ribbon for her sculpture titled "Two Men Watching a Baseball Game." The sculpture is a copy of a drawing titled "Two Strikes and the Bases Full" by Charles Dana Gibson that was featured in Collier's Weekly in 1904.

Miner attended the awards ceremony with 14 supporters, including family members and friends from Whitney Center.

Miner took up sculpting in 1980 and said she fell in love with it. "I've been sculpting ever since and I've won contests and awards," says Miner. "I am a writer, a publisher, a sculptor and a knitter.”

When living in Nassau County, she became the president of the Queens-Nassau branch of the National League of American Pen Women and then she joined the Artist Members of the Pen Women.

In 1999, Miner moved to Whitney Center with her second husband, Walter. He became ill with Alzheimer's and she cared for him for a number of years. Inspired by her experience, she wrote a book titled For the Alzheimer's Caretaker - Helpful Hints to share what she had learned with others. While writing has always been a passion of Miner's, and she still writes (mostly poems) when she feels inspired, sculpting has been a major part of her life.

"I have made 530 pieces in the last 30 years," says Miner. "I can make a piece in 1-2 hours and I keep a list of all my pieces." She says she spends 2-3 hours a day in the art studio, 3-4 days a week. Her son brings her clay from Massachusetts, delivering 25 pounds at a clip. Miner's friend Maishe Dickman collects her pieces and fires them in his kiln. When he returns with the finished products, Miner puts all of her sculptures out on a ledge in the hallway for anyone who wishes to take one.

Miner said over the years she has been inspired by Norman Rockwell, Degas, Monet, The Scream by Edvard Munch, operas, her pets, family members—whatever appeals to her at the time. She attributes her endless creative energy to keeping busy and good genes.

- Gretchen Joslyn, director of public relations, Whitney Center

Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, Elizabethtown, PA
A surprise attack, a test of courage and strength, and a defining moment, the Battle of the Bulge led to more than 75,000 American casualties in World War II. It was a time no one would forget, especially Masonic Village resident Jim Edwards, who fought on the front lines.

Although at first reluctant to do so, Jim recorded his memories in a short book titled Heroes Among Us for his grandson, who begged to hear his wartime stories. As he began to write, the horrific experiences he encountered during his 7 months of service came pouring out, and in doing so, Jim captured the true essence of war for all to read and reflect on.

As he wrote in his book, “Some of the experiences I have written about in the following pages hurt almost as much now as when they took place. No words or pictures can describe the feeling of combat nor can it be erased from the mind. To be hungry, thirsty, cold and exhausted, facing death each day during the winter; from an enemy with superior fire power, for what seemed like an eternity, cannot be fully understood by anyone other than an infantry soldier.”

Shortly after the book was finished, Jim’s grandson passed away from leukemia. Jim now refers to him as a great hero, saying the battle his grandson faced was much larger than his.

In September, on behalf of the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown Piece Makers quilt club, Jim received a Quilt of Valor for his service, commitment and sacrifice in the U.S. Army more than 70 years ago.

You can read Jim’s complete story by downloading Heroes Among Us from the Masonic Villages website.

- Megan Leitzell, public relations coordinator, Masonic Villages

Selfhelp Community Services, New York, NY
Jinsheng "Jane" Qiu is the director of Selfhelp Community Services’ Benjamin Rosenthal Prince Street Innovative Senior Center. One of New York City's first 8 Innovative Senior Centers, this is one of the most active in New York City, and is contracted by the NYC Department for the Aging to serve 340 lunches every weekday. The site often surpasses this number and serves many more members who do not eat, but participate in the wide range of fulfilling arts, exercise, technology, social and cultural programs. Saturday programs and Saturday lunch are provided as well.

In 1995, Qiu immigrated from Sichuan, China, where she had been among the first batch of graduate students to earn a degree in the Foreign Language University in Chongqing after China's Cultural Revolution. Qiu’s graduate degree was in American Literature. In 1996 she enrolled in a MSW program at Yeshiva University's Wurzweiler School of Social Work, where her first field placement assignment was at Selfhelp Community Services. On completion of her MSW, Qiu returned to Selfhelp, where she has worked for almost 20 years. She earned her Ph.D. at Wurzweiler, and oversaw the merge of two senior centers into the one large center it is today.

- Mayer Waxman, managing director, senior communities, Selfhelp Community Services

Covenant Village of Florida, Plantation, FL
Don Bradley, age 86, is still in his element when standing in front of a roomful of music students, regardless of their age. “It’s what I was put on this earth to do,” the Covenant Village of Florida resident said. “Play music and teach.”

Bradley worked for 30 years as a high school band director and still plays the trombone with the Broward Symphonic Band. He’s played with several local jazz bands—he has mastered all of the brass instruments—and up until 2014 he visited South Florida schools as a musical consultant. Before retiring, he was band director for McArthur High School in Hollywood, FL.

Bradley decided to step back into his teaching role, but this time with students his own age and with instruments created using his own hands.

“I’m quite handy in the community’s woodshop, so I bought some wood from Home Depot, went to work and made some instruments that would produce different types of sounds,” he explained. He sawed and sanded pieces of new wood and pieces from broken tools to create clappers, sticks, and other percussion instruments. He gathered donations of various sized tin cans from the community’s dining room staff to use as drums.

Equipped with homemade wooden instruments and tin cans, a dozen fellow residents follow Bradley’s lead during his Circle of Rhythm music class, learning rhythmical exercises and practicing sounds and hand/stick techniques.

The Circle of Rhythm class meets twice a month. Most residents are novice musicians who are learning to read notes and find their musical rhythm for the first time. One or two are former piano and guitar players or sing in the Covenant Village choir. Nearly all of them attended the class first out of curiosity and came back for the fun.

- Wendy D’Alessandro, Lynn Public Relations

Schmitt Woodland Hills Retirement Community, Richland Center, WI
After 36 years of serving the residents, families and staff of Schmitt Woodland Hills, Bonnie Richardson retired in January. She hopes to be able to travel and spend more time with her family. Bonnie was the guest of honor at a surprise potluck luncheon arranged by her co-workers at Schmitt. Her husband Randy was part of the secret as were other close relatives. Randy presented Bonnie with a beautiful corsage and Administrator Jim Olson presented Bonnie with a plaque honoring her years of service.

Bonnie began at Schmitt Woodland Hills in 1980 and has been a tireless advocate for the residents of our retirement community, their families and our staff. She participates in the evaluation of potential residents, oversees the admissions process and helps the new residents and their families to acclimate to the changes in their lives. Bonnie has a unique ability to calm the waters and walk families through whatever is necessary to make the transition.

During her 36 years at Schmitt Woodland Hills, Bonnie has participated in 3 separate building expansions, 2 major remodeling projects, and assisted with the creation of House Calls, an in-home assistance program for area residents. She has always been active in organizations and associations which support long-term care including the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin Walk fundraising committee, the Richland County Coalition for Transitions in Care, Wisconsin Nursing Home Social Work Association Board and the Commission on Aging and Disabilities Board.

Most of all Bonnie feels her greatest joy and reward has been getting to know all the wonderful people she has been able to serve during her career at Schmitt Woodland Hills.

- William Bartlett, development director, Schmitt Woodland Hills Retirement Community