Singers, Playwrights and Valued Employees: These Are the People We Serve
November 13, 2016 | by The Members of LeadingAge
LeadingAge members share the stories of the outstanding people they work for and employ.
LeadingAge members share the stories of the outstanding people they work for and employ.
Clark-Lindsey Village, Urbana, IL
It is the light within 88-year-old Jan Impey that draws people to her. It shines through the music she shares, adds sparkle to the lilt of her laughter, and gives shape to all she does with and for others, be it choral directing, volunteering, fulfilling leadership roles, performing jazz piano, leading sing-a- longs, or representing our village in the wider community. Despite personal challenges, Impey exudes joy and brings forth joy in others through her music and through the ease with which she interacts with people.
Impey is a major force at Clark-Lindsey Village. The CLV monthly calendars are filled with activities generated by and for residents, and she has an active, influential role in nearly half of them. She is on our Residents Council, where she is fearless in asking hard questions to which others would like answers but are reticent about speaking in public. She earns the admiration of residents and staff for the courtesy, tact and good humor with which she conducts herself.
Impey is a classically-trained pianist with ABD degrees, but as a performing pianist, her greatest love is jazz. A greater love still is her passion for involving other people in music. No matter what their mood, no matter how dismal the day, everyone is inspired by the special knack Impey has for drawing people in to share her joy of music. Warbly voice? Tone deaf? Haven’t sung since high school? No matter. In her sing-a-longs—her monthly get-togethers with residents and guests—everyone sings. Out come the song books of favorites and familiar tunes, and she begins her magic at the keyboard, working her charming comfortable style of interacting with everyone, and so begins another hour of joyful singing by all.
In her first year at Clark-Lindsey, Impey formed a chorus, the ChoraLiers, which has grown from 18 to 36 members, ranging from age 17 to 94, and including residents, staff and people from outside the community. She also volunteers at a performing arts center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; spearheaded a campaign to make “care shawls” for residents at Meadowbrook Health Center; and has helped local churches put together their own choral groups to put on Christmas concerts.
- Ron Wilcox, vice president of residential services, Clark-Lindsey Village
Plymouth Harbor on Sarasota Bay, Sarasota, FL
Bert Adams, an employee at Plymouth Harbor on Sarasota Bay, has had a passion for helping others since before she can remember. “As a child, I felt like I could change the world,” she says.
Bert works as a concierge in the Smith Care Center skilled nursing community, where she has been for more than 25 years. Before moving to Sarasota, Bert volunteered at her local church in Swainsboro, GA. It was there that she got her start working with seniors, serving alongside them in the food service department. Since she moved to Sarasota in 1988, Bert has not only served the greater Sarasota community, but also the Plymouth Harbor community, becoming a self-appointed charity organizer almost immediately after taking the job.
When she’s not organizing company volunteer events, including sorting days at the local food bank or county cleanup days through Keep Sarasota County Beautiful, you can find Bert volunteering with the American Cancer Society or working with fellow volunteers at her church. In November 2015, Bert was even awarded Keep Sarasota County Beautiful’s Guy Hudson Award, which recognizes “an extraordinary life-long volunteer.”
“When I started at Plymouth Harbor, I wanted to gather a group of volunteers and I knew there were others here that felt the same way,” Bert remembers. “I know now that I can’t necessarily change the world, but together we can make a difference.”
- Kathy Messick, communications coordinator, Plymouth Harbor on Sarasota Bay
Bixby Knolls Towers (Retirement Housing Foundation), Long Beach, CA
Tom Clark, whose father was in the Navy, was born in San Diego, CA and moved to Long Beach in 1934.
After service in World War II, Clark obtained his degree in optometry at UC Berkeley. He went on to practice in the Los Altos area of Long Beach for 40 years.
Clark was a member of the track teams at both Long Beach City College and UC Berkeley, and was inducted into the Long Beach City College Hall of Fame and Hall of Champions.
In 1952, Clark was married to his college sweetheart, Lois, and they had 3 children, Paul, Jim and Carol. He now has 2 grandchildren, Sophie and Nathan.
He started to have an interest in politics around 1960 and was appointed to the Long Beach Park Commission in 1963. In 1966, Clark was elected to the Long Beach City Council and served for 30 years, an unbroken record. He even served as mayor of Long Beach for 7 years. After 2 years of retirement, Clark was elected to the board at the city college where he served for 16 years before retiring again.
Tom was president of the League of California Cities and the California Community College Board of Trustees, and a board member with the California Public Retirement System.
Tom is a founding member of the Long Beach City Library Foundation, Long Beach International City Bank, SCAN Health Plan and The International City Theater. He is also a member of the Long Beach Lions and Rotary Clubs and, for 53 years, was a board member with the Long Beach YMCA.
Soon after Tom moved to Bixby Knolls Towers in June of 2014, he met Ruth Florea, who (as Ruth Johnson) was the first Mrs. America®. They were married at the community in 2015.
- Alyssa Gauss, communications coordinator, Retirement Housing Foundation
Friendship Village of Schaumburg, Schaumburg, IL
For Kris Howard Jensen, volunteering has been a lifelong passion. Before she moved to Friendship Village she was involved in the outside community. She worked to get the community college system created by the Illinois legislature, then to get a referendum passed to build Harper College, and then served as an elected trustee of the College for 24 years. She also served on and chaired the boards of Northwest Community Hospital and the Northwest Suburban Girl Scout Council.
Jensen started the Friendship Village “New Life for Old Bags” program, an initiative to give homeless people a more dignified and comfortable night’s sleep, and keeps thousands of plastic bags out of our landfills. Jensen first heard of making sleeping mats out of plastic shopping bags at her church and thought it would be a perfect fit for our residents. Approximately 30 residents have been trained in the process of creating the mats, which require 500-700 bags each. Our residents have given 21 mats to New Life for Old Bags, which donates them to Catholic Charities for distribution. Jensen and her group were profiled in a local TV news segment.
I met Jensen when she volunteered to serve on my Life Long Learning Committee, which decides what type of educational programs are offered at Friendship Village. She chaired the committee and also took an interest in other volunteer programs.
Even though Kris is retired and she doesn't earn a paycheck anymore, she says her pay is helping other people.
- Jeannette Magdaleno, volunteer coordinator, Friendship Village of Schaumburg
Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, San Francisco, CA
David Pactor’s life changed significantly when his lower right leg was amputated due to a wound infection. The journey he has been on since can only be compared to riding a complex roller coaster. He is committed to living life to its fullest, however, spending time expertly curating fine pieces of art, while making himself available to help those recovering from physical loss or injury.
Pactor understands the empowering effects volunteers bring, having spent 2 months working to restore his mobility in our rehabilitation unit. In 2010, he encountered volunteers who offered time and support to help him make progress in his recovery. When it came time for him to be discharged, he made up his mind to come back to Laguna Honda. He returned and officially became a volunteer for the hospital in 2011. Since then, he has devoted hundreds of hours to different functional areas including activity therapy, communications and rehabilitation.
Pactor spends time with Laguna Honda recent amputee patients and helps out with logistics for programming and events. The simplicity of sitting down to talk with another individual may not be quantifiable, but the impact is evident. Pactor lifts the spirits of residents participating in occupational and physical therapy. Nowadays, David proudly shows off his prosthetic leg by always rolling up his right pant cuffs. He exudes confidence and demonstrates comfort with the leg.
Pactor is also responsible for keeping alive The Voice, a quarterly newsletter driven by resident-submitted content. A key staff departure left the hospital with minimal resources to continue its production. He stepped up to the plate and has served as a second editorial eye to ensure the content is first-quality. In addition, he has published several articles relating to his personal story as well as self-help narratives.
- Quoc Nguyen, assistant hospital administrator, Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center
Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Rockleigh NJ
Love can be celebrated anywhere, even within the walls of a nursing home. On June 16, Evalyn and Irwin Brownstein pledged their love and commitment to one another, for the second time. The first was 58 years ago and the wedding of their dreams never occurred due to the challenges of wartime and the recent loss of Evalyn’s mother. They result was a quick, tearful wedding with less than a dozen guests.
Irwin is a resident of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and Evalyn is a frequent visitor. In a conversation with the recreation staff about special events in June, all focused on the theme of the “month of love,” the Brownsteins shared the story of their “wedding that wasn’t.” That’s all it took for the staff to spring into action and plan a very special renewal of vows.
The Brownsteins, originally from Brooklyn, NY, moved to Teaneck in 1963, where Evalyn taught. Irwin was the director of student life at City College and taught special education in New York City, where he developed the first environmentally based special education curriculum. They have 2 children and 2 grandchildren.
Now in their 80s, the Brownsteins were treated to a full-fledged wedding bash at the Jewish Home. First came a bachelor party, with residents enjoying a belly-dance. Some of the residents and staff even joined the belly dancer for a few lively dance moves!
Following the bachelor party, all of the guests (residents and staff), gathered in the Jewish Home’s synagogue, with Chaplain Rabbi Simon Feld officiating the ceremony under a chuppa (Jewish wedding canopy), followed by the traditional breaking of a glass and boisterous singing and dancing. Later in the day, residents dressed in their finest attire joined the happy couple for dancing, toasts and a wedding cake.
“We are so grateful to be celebrating with all of you here at the Jewish Home,” Evalyn said following the ceremony. “This truly is a happy place.” And Irwin added: “This is a gift from God.”
- Ezra HaLevi, director of community relations & outreach, The Jewish Home Family
Green Hills Community, West Liberty, OH
After her husband and parents died, Willadean O’Brien needed to find something to help fill her hours. She visited Green Hills on a Tuesday in 1989, and was back volunteering the next Tuesday. She hasn’t stopped in 27 years.
“When I started I would do ice water and lunch one Tuesday, and lunch and the Country Store the next Tuesday,” she says. “Sharing ice water and serving lunch are my favorite even today. I love meeting and visiting with people.” Over the years, O’Brien has volunteered in the beauty shop and the Country Store. She has watered plants, helped with special dinners, and done friendly visits. She has even helped in laundry when there was a need. O’Brien’s presence makes a difference in so many lives. The staff know they have a support that will do whatever it takes to get things done. The residents are met with a warm smile and loving, generous hands.
“The kitchen staff call Tuesdays ‘Terrific Tuesday’ because Willadean is here,” says Kelli Fritz, director of support services. “They know that they have an extra pair of hands that magically feel like more to help. She is such a joy to both staff and residents.”
GHC was founded by volunteers with a dream of a “senior citizen village.” As the dream became a reality the cornerstone of their success rested on a group of volunteers, The Women’s Auxiliary. These women treated their time at Green Hills as a job, but were actually volunteering. Willadean came to GHC just after the Women’s Auxiliary ended its 18-year run. She continued that spirit of generosity and love that had been there for so long.
O’Brien treats her volunteer work as a job, and is consistent in the time she so generously gives. When her son was killed in a freak accident on a Friday, she was back to Green Hills on Tuesday. When she was told it was okay to miss, she said "This is where I want to be. It is keeping me busy helping others who need it."
Humble is a word that is often used when describing O’Brien. She doesn’t volunteer for recognition but because she has a servant’s heart, she is always looking for ways to enhance the lives of those around her.
- Nita Wilkinson, director of advancement, Green Hills Community
Jefferson's Ferry, South Setauket, NY
To call Carol Fenter a “doer” is, while true, a bit of an understatement. A resident for nearly 15 years, she has consistently been active within and outside the Jefferson’s Ferry community. At age 80, rather than slowing down, Fenter continues to be a valuable asset to her neighbors and Jefferson’s Ferry, as well as CCRC residents across New York and around the country.
Fenter’s contributions are many and ongoing. She has co-chaired the Advocacy and Public Policy Program at Jefferson’s Ferry, which educates and encourages members to advocate with legislators or regulators, or lobby at the state or national level. She is Chair of the Jefferson’s Ferry Foundation and has served on the residents’ council for 11 years, holding all of the major offices. She serves on several other Jefferson’s Ferry committees, and has been appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the New York State Continuing Care Retirement Community Council.
Fenter travels extensively to attend LeadingAge New York and other LeadingAge conferences, meetings, and advocacy efforts, including a recent trip to the LeadingAge conference in Washington, DC, where she met with state and federal legislators to discuss the needs of older Americans and the impact of proposed legislative changes and funding changes.
Fenter taught for 22 years while raising 4 boys, and rose to chair the school’s business education department, supervising 10 teachers. Although retired for 25 years, she still hears from former students. “I’ve never had much self-confidence, in spite of people telling me how well I do things, including two of my principals. I didn’t do that well as a student, but that made me a better teacher, because I understood the struggles of my students.” Her neighbors call her the person who can’t say no. “I hate to disappoint people, love being busy and can’t imagine doing nothing.”
- Kathleen Caputi, account manager, Epoch 5 Public Relations
Masonic Village at Sewickley, Sewickley, PA
Tracy Miller touches the lives of many residents in every area of our campus every day. Each morning he is a positive energetic hello at the Grill Room for breakfast. He can be found at the Monday night retirement living bingo; conducting visits many days a week in the nursing home and personal care; entertaining the children and the residents dressed as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus; or running the annual petting zoo.
The smile on the face of a personal care resident that rode a pony at the petting zoo for the first time since her childhood will forever be engrained in everyone’s hearts and minds. That was a moment that will never be forgotten.
The event Miller is best known for is “Enchanted Evening.” Nine years ago, Miller and one of his close friends were having breakfast together and asked what they could do to honor the ladies in personal care and the nursing home. This was the beginning of Enchanted Evening, a formal gala for the ladies of personal care and the nursing home. Our Star Points Assembly Room is transformed into an elegant event room. Themes over the years have included “English Garden,” “Evening in Paris,” “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Moroccan Nights,” and “An Evening in Paradise.” The ladies can select a gown and jewelry for the evening, which feels like a shopping spree for them. Residents from retirement living arrive in the nursing home and personal care a few hours prior to the event to assist the residents with primping. The ladies receive a corsage and formal portrait. They are then treated to live entertainment, a champagne cocktail, surf and turf and a variety of decadent desserts.
Tracy organizes other residents to help with the various community events, and they all add their own personal touch and understand the larger vision. Tracy does fund raising for all of the events he organizes so there is no negative financial impact for anyone. In addition to monetary donations, Tracy receives donations of fishing poles, Santa and Mrs. Claus suits, gifts from Santa, evening gowns and jewelry. His constant smile and dedication enhance the lives of the residents in every area of our community.
- Eric L. Gross, executive director, Masonic Village at Sewickley
Asbury Methodist Village, Gaithersburg, MD
In 1943, Phyllis Zeno wrote her senior class musical for St. Agnes Girls School in Albany, NY. She returned home from college for the summer a year later when the local TV station called to ask if they could produce the musical with the school’s original cast members. Shortly thereafter, it aired on local WRBG-TV, and her future never looked brighter.
Zeno was the founding editor of AAA Going Places magazine for Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, staying there for 29 years following a career as a lyricist and composer of openings and closings plus specialty songs for Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians. After several years as staff writer for Waring’s CBS television show, she became an industrial show writer for 18 years. She is a frequent contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Cruise Travel magazine and the Christian Science Sentinel.
When Zeno moved into Asbury Methodist Village in 2013, she wasted no time exerting her talents. “It was remarkable that I could move in, announce I wanted to write a show, and essentially start a new career,” she says. This year marks not only her third original production here, but also an important milestone for the community and Zeno herself. “They asked if I would create this year’s show around the 90th anniversary of Asbury Methodist Village, which also happens to be the year of my 90th birthday,” she says. With that, It Takes a Village … 90 Years came to life and proceeded to sell out 3 nights this past May to more than 900 people.
But it’s not the critical acclaim or record audience turnouts that make Phyllis most proud. “It has been a really rewarding experience for me but also for all of the residents who take part in these shows,” she said. “Bringing them out of their homes and proving to them that they can do it is what I live for.”
“It Takes a Village” marked the third consecutive show for one resident star, Agatha Sigmond, who is now 102. She had hesitations about rejoining the cast due to her age, but Zeno shared the plot line that involved a love interest … and a kiss. She decided to stay on board and now has a major part in the next show.
Another resident, whose wife is living with Alzheimer’s disease, insisted that he doesn’t sing or dance. Phyllis encouraged him with a part that simply walked him on stage to play a father figure. “‘Oh, I can do that’,” Zeno laughs as she recalls his reaction, “and now he has become a new star on campus with a reason to come to rehearsal and be part of a group.”
It was a record when 28 family members flew in from California and New York to see another “Grandpa” on stage this year. Previously, he needed encouragement from his wife to leave their apartment, but now he’s at the front of the line in every show getting a lot of attention. “It’s been a fun, happy experience for him, and that’s the point,” Zeno says.
She also utilizes the talents and past experiences of other residents, including a former librarian for the National Symphony who reprints, organizes and distributes all of the scripts and music. “She might not sing or dance, but she’s at every rehearsal, handing out music,” Zeno says.
Zeno is currently writing her fourth musical for Asbury Methodist Village. Songs come to her in the middle of the night, but she doesn’t sit at her piano to write them until the day gets started. “I don’t want to be evicted!”
This consideration for others around her extends far beyond the four walls of her apartment. Zeno writes with a focus on creating parts that will involve many as opposed to a select few, ultimately making them happy, engaged and full of laughter.
- Amy Bowman, Stanton Communications, Inc.
Asbury Place, Maryville, TN
James Tucker, a certified nursing assistant, recently celebrated 40 years of service with Asbury Place. His fellow employees describe Tucker as one of the nicest people on the team.
“It’s almost unheard of for people to spend 40 years of their career with one company,” said Carolyn Pointer Neil, health care administrator and regional director of clinical services for Asbury Place. “James can always put a smile on our residents’ faces with his dance moves and outgoing personality. We are so lucky to have him.”
Staff and residents celebrated Tucker’s dedication by planting a tree on the Maryville campus in his honor and marking it with a plaque.
“Asbury Place has become a second home and the staff like a family over the past 40 years,” Tucker said. “Providing care to the residents is one of my greatest joys, and there is nowhere else I’d rather work.”
- Scott Bird, vice president, Moxley Carmichael
Butler Senior Community, Butler, NJ
Claire Gorrian, 75, a resident at Butler Senior Community, returned home with 3 gold medals after participating in the Senior Games held in Virginia in May. She won the gold in 3 swimming events: 50 freestyle, 50 backstroke and 100 backstroke.
Gorrian started competitive swimming in 2008, competing in the Kerrville, TX Senior Games. There, she swam the 50 breast stroke and 50 backstroke, winning gold in both races. In that same year, she also went to Indiana and enrolled in the Senior Games there, where she won 2 silver medals. That win qualified her for the National Senior Games at Stanford University in 2009. With this new opportunity, Gorrian put down 3 personal goals: finish the race, do not disqualify and do not finish last. She reached them all but did not win any medals.
The recent 2016 win in Virginia qualifies her to participate in the National Senior Games in Birmingham, AL, in 2017. If she decides to enter, she says, she will work with a coach for a couple of months beforehand to prepare for the games.
Gorrian’s advice to everyone is simple: “Eat healthy—breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you’ve got to keep active. You’ve got to keep moving!”
- Mary Kelly, communications specialist, Springpoint Senior Living
Thanks to the many LeadingAge members who wrote the stories included in this article. To contribute more stories of diverse, remarkable elders—and the staff, board members and volunteers who serve them—contact Editor Gene Mitchell at GMitchell@LeadingAge.org or 202-508-9424.