Refugees, Musicians and Volunteers: These are the People We Serve
September 18, 2017 | by The Members of LeadingAge
LeadingAge members tell the stories of the generous and accomplished people they work for—and with—every day.
LeadingAge members tell the stories of the generous and accomplished people they work for—and with—every day.
Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly (JCHE), Brighton, MA
The life story of Galina Migdalova, a JCHE resident, exemplifies the resilience of the human spirit. She was just 11 years old when Nazi Germany invaded Russia. Evacuated from Leningrad in the summer of 1941 amid German bombardment, Galina and her 2 younger siblings were separated from their parents and spent 9 arduous days attached to a convoy of children fleeing the German advance.
When they were finally reunited with their parents in the fall of 1941, Leningrad was under a German blockade. Starvation now threatened everyone inside the city, and for many, survival seemed more of a fantasy than a realistic hope.
Yet the horrors of World War II did not crush Galina’s spirit, nor her artistic aspirations. After graduating from a technical institute, where she specialized in sewing accessories for military uniforms, Galina eventually landed a job as a children’s clothing designer and seamstress.
Shortly after emigrating to the U.S. in 1980, her years of dressmaking experience caught the attention of a Long Island clothing boutique owner, who hired her as a designer and seamstress.
Galina moved into JCHE’s Coleman House in 2010, and a few years later, while in rehab recovering from surgery, she took up watercolor painting for the first time in her adult life. She was among the artists JCHE featured during an art auction at our 2016 Gala.
Eugene Slaven, communications manager, Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly
Masonic Village at Dallas, Dallas, PA
Born to a spirited gospel singer in Harlem, New York City, Wally Richardson first explored his musical prowess on the piano and through his voice. He found his true calling at age 15 when his brother suggested he pick up a guitar.
In 1951, Richardson was drafted into the U.S. Army and served with the 173rd Army Band at Fort Dix, NJ, and the 9th Army Band at Ladd Air Force Base in Fairbanks, AK.
He recorded or performed with such artists as King Curtis, James Brown, Eartha Kitt and the Four Tops, and also accompanied different acts at the Apollo Theater. He worked as a studio backup guitarist with several acts, including Mahalia Jackson (“The Queen of Gospel”), Etta Jones, Tony Bennett, B.B. King and Louis Armstrong. Richardson was one of New York’s most prominent sidemen during the 1950s and 1960s.
Richardson preferred to play jazz, but he also covered gospel, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, pops, blues, funk and soul. He recorded his own album, Soul Guru, in 1968.
Richardson graduated from Rutgers University in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree and certification in music education. He taught at Essex County College, the Jazzmobile workshop, and with the Teaneck and Englewood School Systems in New Jersey.
Richardson is a musician and a teacher, but he is also a perpetual student. As he told one former student who had credited him for inspiring him to continue a lifelong journey of learning, “Continue to surround yourself with those who are looking for answers and beware of those who say they have found them.”
Debra Davis, public relations manager, Masonic Villages
Plantation Estates, Matthews, NC
“When I was 9 years old, I played with paper dolls,” says Gerry Schmitt. “Now, I’m doing it in real life, and it’s so much fun!”
The 83-year-old tech-savvy grandmother recently became a global fashion designer. She turns beautiful art into high-end fashion, with help from her husband, Stan, a photographer. Scarfs, tops and tote bags in her collection on Vida.com, an online boutique, sell for $75 to $120 each.
Schmitt designs all her clothing from her home at Plantation Estates.
“At night, I look forward to going on the computer,” says Schmitt. “I do some magic to transfer the art into clothing. I turn beauty into beauty.”
The Schmitts joined the world of fashion only a few months ago. Gerry received an invitation from the San Francisco online apparel company after someone saw her artwork on Facebook. She says she can design up to 2 pieces a day for the company, spending about an hour on each.
Retirement certainly hasn’t slowed down Schmitt in her business endeavors. A few years ago, she also launched her own photo restoring business. She is locally recognized for expertly using Photoshop to restore antique photos. Her talent has been featured in The Charlotte Observer and on 2 Charlotte TV stations.
Lisa Sileo, communications manager, Acts Retirement-Life Communities
The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, Fresno, CA
It’s been nearly 15 years since Dwight Harder got the news he was dreading. He had Parkinson’s disease. It was a diagnosis that changed his life forever. Little did he know that 8 years later, his wife Julie would be diagnosed with the same disease.
Dwight and Julie are among the estimated one million Americans living with Parkinson’s. Despite their diagnoses, the Harders have made it their mission to help others living with the disease in the Fresno area, and at The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, the senior living community they call home.
Several years ago, the couple joined a Parkinson’s support group. Together, dozens of people discuss their concerns and worries about their diagnosis. The Harders have helped others with understanding the disease better.
They’ve learned the importance of staying social and interactive, and say this is a big part of their decision to move into their home at The Terraces. According to a study from the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, the rate of cognitive decline was reduced by an average of 78% in older adults who were frequently socially active, compared to those who were infrequently socially active during a span of 5 years.
In the future, the Harders hope to start their own Parkinson’s support group at The Terraces.
Chelsea March, GlynnDevins
Luther Community (Graceworks Housing Services), Bellefontaine, OH
Before success comes patience … when we add to our accomplishments the element of hard work over a long period of time, we’ll place a far greater value on the outcome. When we are patient, we’ll have a greater appreciation of our success. [John Wooden]
A 13-year resident of Luther Community has made history. Harold Heacock, age 91, walked with the Cardington-Lincoln High School Class of 2017 to be awarded his Veteran’s Diploma. This long-awaited graduation took place 73 years after his class graduated.
Heacock was a member of the Class of 1944 when, during World War II, he opted to join the U.S. Merchant Marines. Following his honorable discharge in 1947, he returned to Cardington, but shortly after was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1948. He was granted an honorable discharge in 1949 and returned to Cardington yet again. He joined his family’s farming business, married and had children.
Decades later, Heacock and his wife June moved to Logan County to be closer to their adult children and grandchildren. June became a resident of Logan Acres Senior Community and Harold moved into Luther Community. He is described by the staff and residents as a wonderful man who has a grateful heart and a warm smile, and as a doer of good deeds.
Through the years Heacock hoped he would someday have his high school diploma. His family approached Cardington-Lincoln High School after learning about a law, enacted in 2001, that allows school districts to award diplomas to veterans of World War II, Korea or Vietnam who had received honorable discharges. Heacock was eligible to be granted a Veterans Diploma and arrangements were made for the graduation date.
Heacock walked with the Class of 2017 on May 21 to receive that long-awaited diploma. His accomplishment was celebrated by friends and family in Cardington at a graduation party, and Luther Community held a graduation celebration.
LeAnnea Taylor, service coordinator, Luther Community
Cathedral Square, South Burlington, VT
If you have had the pleasure of living at Grand Way Commons Senior Housing during the past 6 years, there is a pretty good chance your life will have been touched in some way by John and Joanne Davidson. Since moving to this affordable community in South Burlington in 2011, both John and Joanne have made a massive contribution to the social life of the building. From participating in the residents’ association to taking fellow residents to medical appointments, organizing social events, or perhaps most famously, setting up and teaching a Wii bowling league, the Davidsons epitomize the spirit of neighborliness.
The Davidsons’ relationship began in high school in Ohio when John asked Joanne if she would accompany him to the prom. Despite an allergic reaction to the shirt that John wore that night, this year will see them celebrating 57 years of marriage.
Joanne is proud of the fact that her primary career saw her bringing up one son and 4 girls, including identical twins. Back in 1969 when the twins were born, medical technology wasn’t as advanced as it is now and so when the Davidsons made their way to the hospital they had no idea that they would be coming home with one more child than anticipated. John recalls the moment when the doctor informed him that he was the proud father of twins. He dropped to his knees in shock, prompting genuine concern from the medical staff for his well-being!
In addition to raising 5 children, the Davidsons’ life together has seen them live in various parts of the country. With John’s work necessitating a series of moves, they admit it was difficult for them to feel they had ever really put down roots. Their move to Grand Way Commons has provided them with a sense of permanency that they have rarely experienced in the past.
When asked why he feels compelled to contribute to the social well-being of his neighbors, John is open in his response: His faith told him that he was put in the building precisely for this reason. He talks warmly of his aim to draw his fellow residents out of their apartments and to participate in the life of the building. Joanne freely admits that she is content to let John be the outgoing partner in their relationship, but this in no way detracts from her contributions: she has played a vital behind-the-scenes role in numerous building events, with a specific focus on cooking for communal meals.
Ultimately, even though husband and wife may go about it in different ways, they both warmly profess the depth of their feelings toward their neighbors and one doesn’t have to spend too long here to know those feelings are reciprocated.
Eric Ellicock, intake specialist, Cathedral Square
The Community at Brookmeade, Rhinebeck, NY
Megan Smith is the go-to person at the Arbor Ridge independent living community, part of the Brookmeade Community. She’s the one who has the right answer, bright smile, can-do attitude and solution for just about any inquiry.
Smith started her career in health care as a social worker. Today she oversees all the operations of Arbor Ridge at Brookmeade Community and provides valuable service to her residents.
Smith uses her social work background to ensure the needs of her residents are met and satisfied. She goes above and beyond to create an environment that fosters creativity and comfort for her residents and their families. Her helping hand reaches to all aspects of services such as counseling, event planning, coordinating trips and creating and providing a calendar of events!
She is also civic-minded, and has been part of the Committee on Aging for the Town of Rhinebeck to find ways to better use local resources for Arbor Ridge residents’ benefit.
Smith believes she can serve others best by being able to empathize and truly see each resident’s perspective on a situation. She is a good listener and believes sometimes people just need to vent and have someone understand where they are coming from. Many times, such a resident just wants to be heard, even if their problem can’t be fixed.
Smith’s job is her second home. Her youngest daughter loves to visit Arbor Ridge, where she says she “feels so popular.”
Megan finds her job “very rewarding in so many ways I cannot even begin to count. It’s an amazing team [and] a supportive and encouraging CEO that has ‘grown’ me to what I am today. I couldn’t ask for anything more!”
Brian Zeidan, director of development, The Community at Brookmeade
Three Pillars Senior Living Communities, Dousman, WI
Stan and Mary Ann Jagow have always found joy in giving back to others. In every phase of their life, they’ve never ceased to find time to give of their time, talent and treasure to humbly brighten someone else’s day. Why do they do it? “Why not?” they say.
The Jagows have volunteered to set up and run a shelter for women involved in domestic violence, served in numerous Masonic volunteer committees and positions, coached sports, started a senior community down south, put in hours as teachers and pastors, contributed their musical skills in various settings, and gone above and beyond in extraordinary ways. They started their own personalized laundry and dry cleaning business, raised 4 tremendous children, and between it all, somehow managed to make the most of every moment of free time, enjoying boating and creating happy memories as a family.
Now, settled into Three Pillars in their second retirement, have the Jagows kicked back and relaxed? Well, if you call serving on volunteer committees, resident council, starting and directing a choir, and making appearances as a clown at festivals and parades “relaxed,” then, yes. While they no longer work full time, they have a way of continuing to seek opportunities to give back. Their daughter, Jeni, affectionately comments, “It’s what keeps them so vibrant.”
Stan Jagow will tell you, “The way I see it, God puts you where he wants and needs you. As you have the extra time, you give it. If you have the extra $5, you share it. If you have something to contribute, look at the big picture.”
Another Three Pillars resident who goes the extra mile is Janet Zganjar. Her apartment is immaculately decorated with attractive furnishings and décor, telling a story of her rich life experiences.
Zganjar has never been one to remain stationary. As a young woman, she and her husband Henry and their 4 children got much joy out of starting up new community programs, being active in service organizations, and continuously seeking ways to do more in their home town of Mequon, WI. She initiated a relationship with the local skilled nursing community, where she and the kids would put on programs to brighten the residents’ day, or simply make rounds with a favorite snack. She became a Eucharistic minister to bring communion to those who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to receive it, and joined the Glendale Women’s Club which presented copious opportunities for organizing and participating in events, projects and service ventures.
Personally and professionally, Janet constantly sought to progress, as well. Her experience included real estate, ceramics, photography, upholstering, baking, sewing and event planning, to name a few. One day she would be set up at a school, taking student photos for the year ahead, and the next she was home, sewing the finishing touches on an elaborate handmade wedding gown.
At Three Pillars, she’s completely in her element. She joins in on just about everything, even planning special murder mystery dinners for the community with the help of her daughters—now a treasured annual tradition for residents. It’s no surprise that Janet also actively serves as a dining committee member, gift shop volunteer, napkin folder, manicurist for spa days at assisted living, and leader of a formal monthly “Today and Yesterday” discussion group.
Her children don’t miss a beat in volunteering at Three Pillars, either, and they’re all loved by many, recognized as a very special family.
Kelsey Pangborn, communication strategist, Three Pillars
Saint Mary’s Home of Erie, Erie, PA
The Residents at Saint Mary’s East celebrated Easter with an Easter Bonnet and Hat Parade. Employees and residents designed and decorated Easter-themed bonnets and hats for the campus wide parade.
This activity was a wonderful time for employees to celebrate the Easter season with residents and their family members. “The residents had fun making their bonnets and hats. They also took pride in making extra ones for those who could not make their own,” says Gayle Meyer, residential activity coordinator.
The parade, which brought smiles to everyone’s faces, had employees and residents represented from each area at Saint Mary’s and included some vintage costumes provided through the Erie Playhouse. This event was a prime example of our mission of “fostering an atmosphere of community,” says Sister Phyllis McCracken, president/CEO.
Anthony Allegretto, director of marketing and development, Saint Mary’s Home of Erie
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.