LeadingAge Magazine · January-February 2017 • Volume 07 • Number 01

Historians, Teachers and Trail-Builders: These Are the People We Serve

January 19, 2017 | by The Members of LeadingAge

LeadingAge members share the stories of the outstanding people they work for and employ.

Paul Pecchenino
Paul Pecchenino

Paul Pecchenino

O’Connor Woods, Stockton, CA

If there’s one guy at the O’Connor Woods senior living community who might have the right tool for just about any kind of repair job, it’s Paul Pecchenino. A longtime “Mr. Fix-It,” Pecchenino is putting to use tools he didn’t want to part with after retiring, and some he’s accumulated from other residents.

Pecchenino opened his repair shop shortly after he and his wife moved into the community 24 years ago. Ever since, he’s been taking in residents’ broken items and repairing them for free. He’s fixed everything from lamps and clocks to figurines and purse straps. If there’s an item in need of repair, Pecchenino is the man to repair it.

Now in his 90s, Pecchenino says he hopes to never give up his fix-it shop at the community, because he knows how much he’s helped residents and staff. He gets joy from seeing them light up after an old heirloom they thought was broken is now working again.

- Chelsea March, public relations account executive, GlynnDevins


Joyce Anderson

Asbury Place, Maryville, TN

Joyce Anderson, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), recently celebrated 40 years of service with Asbury Place. Anderson, 65, loves her job and appreciates the family atmosphere.

Joyce Anderson
Joyce Anderson

“I love being here and taking care of the people we serve, who are like family to me,” Anderson said. “As long as the good Lord gives me health, I plan to stay.”

“We are proud that Asbury Place offers the type of environment where associates are happy to invest in their careers,” says Carolyn Pointer Neil, health care administrator and regional director of clinical services for Asbury Place. “Joyce is a devoted caregiver. We are fortunate to have her on our team and glad to recognize her commitment to us and those who call Asbury Place home.”

When she’s not working, Anderson enjoys cowboy movies, spending time with her 2 grandchildren and reading her Bible. Asbury Place celebrated Anderson’s long service by planting a tree on the Maryville campus in her honor and marking it with a plaque.

- Scott Bird, vice president, Moxley Carmichael


Residents Meet the CyberCycle Challenge

The Samarkand, Santa Barbara, CA, and Covenant Village of Turlock, Turlock, CA

Pedaling a combined 2,009 miles in one week’s time without ever leaving their fitness studios, residents at The Samarkand and Covenant Village of Turlock challenged their minds and bodies in their first-ever CyberCycle challenge.

The Amazing CyberSams, from The Samarkand, celebrate their Tour de CRC victory.


The competition, called “Tour de CRC,” challenged the 2 teams to log the most miles in one week using a CyberCycle, an interactive recumbent bike that uses virtual environments, video game features, group rides and the spirit of healthy competition to motivate riders. The Samarkand team, named the Amazing CyberSams, prevailed over Covenant Village of Turlock’s CyclePaths by 45 miles (1,027 miles vs. 982 miles).

Participants' ages ranged from 62 to 91. “The challenge brought out the competitive spirit in all of the residents,” says Dani Tervo-Shiffman, fitness coordinator at The Samarkand. “Our team rallied together, with residents coach Marv Branstrom, team manager Nancy Nielsen and staff members offering riding tips, encouragement and nutritional/fitness advice. It was a team win.”

CyclePaths team member Jeannine Beltz says “Riding the CyberCycle keeps your mind active, and it makes exercise fun.” For Branstrom, 78, the Amazing CyberSams’ go-to pinch rider, the CyberCycle brings out the riders’ competitive spirit, too. “You could feel the competitive juices flowing” during the competition," he says. “We look at where the other riders are and try to stay ahead.”

- Wendy D’Alessandro, Lynn Public Relations

Mr. Alvarez
Eugene Alvarez


Eugene Alvarez

Fleet Landing, Atlantic Beach, FL

Fleet Landing resident Eugene Alvarez, Ph.D., has recently published his eighth book, Parris Island: The Cradle of the Corps: A History of the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, 1562-2015.

Alvarez, a former Parris Island drill instructor, together with Leo Daugherty, Ph.D., a trained historian and a retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant, have written what can best be described as the complete and definitive history of Parris Island. The 730-page book explores in detail the rich Marine Corps history, traditions and tough physical and mental challenges that transform Parris Island recruits into Marines. The work also explores the historical significance of Parris Island in American history.

After fighting in the Korean War, Alvarez arrived home with orders that returned him to Camp Lejeune, the very base he had volunteered for the war to get away from. He says, “I still have Camp Lejeune flashbacks.” Allowed to apply for a transfer, Alvarez got his first request—a transfer to Parris Island.

After leaving the Marines in 1954, and following 2 years as a college student, Alvarez returned to Parris Island for his second tour as a drill instructor from 1956 to 1959. It was then that he developed a desire to become a college professor. Alvarez earned a B.A. in history from Jacksonville University, an M.A. from the University of Mississippi in 1962, and received his doctorate in history from the University of Georgia in 1966. He taught history at the collegiate level for 30 years before retiring in 1995 from what is now Middle Georgia State University, where he established the Eugene Alvarez Ph.D. Endowed Scholarship for former Marines pursuing their degree.

Alvarez’ books have all been historical and biological works. He says, “Being trained as an historian I would have trouble getting away from the bare facts and writing an historical novel or story.” This sounds very much like a quote from one of Alvarez’ first books, an authorized biography of actor and producer Jack Webb, star of the 1950’s television series Dragnet, written with co-author Daniel Moyer.

Dr. Alvarez has also served as a U.S. National Park Service lecturer, historian and ranger. He is a certified Taekwondo instructor with a 3rd-degree black belt. He enjoys playing the chromatic harmonica and has appeared on radio and television, in addition to performing on stage with several Central Florida harmonica groups. Alvarez himself sums it up best, “life for me is interesting—always interesting.”

- Robin Eikill, advancement/public relations coordinator, Fleet Landing


Carol Ruskin
Carol Ruskin (standing at right), helps PEP Housing residents learn the
ins and outs of iPads.

Carol Ruskin

PEP Housing, Petaluma, CA

PEP Housing rolled out technology training for seniors using iPads in January 2016. Carol Ruskin volunteered and has been in charge of teaching 160 residents from 6 communities how to use and navigate the world of iPads and learn basic computer skills. She has taken ownership of the curriculum development, trainings and the overall success of the project, and has also worked with local high school students to assist her during the trainings.

Ruskin’s dedication and patience have been exemplary. It takes a special kind of person to take on a project like this. When she teaches the classes she understands the complexities of learning at an advanced age, and despite her own vision issues, she has managed to find a way to open up the world of technology to many seniors living at PEP. Without Ruskin’s guidance, expertise and tenacity, many of the seniors would not have even attempted to learn something so scary and new.

Many of the residents have embraced the technology in a short time. One success is a gentleman who was not keeping in touch with family. After learning basics from Ruskin’s classes he was so very proud of himself because he “typed a letter to my daughter,” referring to an email that he wrote for the first time. Another resident downloaded the Ted Talk app to enrich his mind and learn new things. She has coaxed many of our residents out of their comfort zones by teaching the iPad project with patience and sensitivity.

- Vanessa Bergamo, community resource manager, PEP Housing


Dick Aplin

RiverWoods at Exeter, Exeter, NH

After raising a large family and retiring from a successful academic career, Dick Aplin moved to RiverWoods in 1997 with his wife, and over the course of his 19 years here, he has made perhaps a larger impact in our vibrant community than any other single resident.

Dick Aplin
Dick Aplin

In their early years at RiverWoods, you would find Aplin in the Lodge, where he was a dedicated caregiver to his wife Joanne until she died in 2005. He has served on the RiverWoods Resident Council for multiple terms, both as member and as chair.

Aplin has been a sounding board for administration and residents alike, offering invaluable insight into matters including strategic planning, innovation, governance and daily living in community. He has traveled to industry panel presentations and conferences nationwide. He’s worked collaboratively with residents and staff from other communities in order to best address the issues facing seniors and the retirement communities where they live.

One of Aplin's most recent and admirable achievements came close on the heels of a huge personal loss. His second wife, Peggy, died in 2015. This clearly hit him hard, and the senior team tapped him for a daunting task: to create, recruit and develop a RiverWoods business management program to help frontline managers, who generally had little to no college education, become better prepared to be managers. The twist was that this program would be delivered by RiverWoods residents who were experienced in their fields. Aplin spent hundreds of hours recruiting potential faculty, crafting a curriculum, convening meetings and recruiting potential staff and students.

Dick Aplin doesn’t take the easy road: He doesn’t merely take up space. He is passionate about this way of life, and is committed to always working to make it better. He sets his own bar very high and inspires a similar passion for high performance with just about everyone he meets. One of the traits that makes him such a strong leader is that he does all of this without an overbearing ego and with a high dose of humor.

- Ben French, marketing manager, RiverWoods at Exeter


Dominga Marquez

The New Jewish Home, New York, NY

Dominga Marquez, a resident at The New Jewish Home, Manhattan Division, is a leader and vital contributor to both The New Jewish Home community and the surrounding neighborhood.

Dominga Marquez
Dominga Marquez

As a founder of the "Hand in Hand" volunteer committee, Marquez mobilizes residents and clients to participate in craft sales, bake sales and flower sales that raise money for charity. Her reach expands outside of our walls through her work with our corporate manager of environmental responsibility. She coordinates volunteers for The New Jewish Home's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) that is open to our employees and to residents of the surrounding neighborhood. She works with high school students and other residents to distribute weekly vegetable, fruit and flower shares to participants.

Marquez teaches a weekly Spanish class to residents and family members and serves as an active member of the "Our Home Life" resident newsletter editorial committee. Because of her leadership skills she has earned the respect of her fellow residents and was recently elected president of The New Jewish Home, Manhattan Resident Council.

Marquez continually looks for ways to get involved in resident life. She is an inspiration to her fellow residents and a model of self-directed care and leadership. She spends a significant amount of time working with the therapeutic recreation staff on new projects and programs, and finds ways for residents to get involved in daily activities. She encourages volunteering, teaching, and partnering with different groups of volunteers; is engaged in raising money for charity; and helps to provide opportunities for our neighbors to engage with residents.

- Katie Katz, manager, capital campaign, The New Jewish Home


Residents’ Adventure Club Enjoys Ziplining

Otterbein Lebanon, Lebanon, OH

What a day, what an adventure! Ten residents took to the treetops at Ozone Zipline Adventures at Camp Kern for their first zip line experience. The residents make up the Otterbein Adventure Club, a newly founded group for thrill-seeking residents.

Otterbein Adventurers
Otterbein Lebanon residents John Kinsinger, Pam McBride, Ann Gilton and Pat Jones prepare to zip.


The group did the “Sample Course” which included 5 zip lines. After climbing several stories to a platform, each rider is strapped into a harness and hooked onto a cable, then steps off the platform and rides the cable to another platform. The lines were navigated by all and each one presented a different challenge. The group commented that one of the most difficult parts was the first step off the platform into thin air. Fortunately, the Camp Kern employees were professional helpers and ensured the group had a fun and safe day.

“We were told by our lead guide that we were the only senior group he had ever known to come through Ozone and zip line,” says Activity Coordinator Stacy Black.

“There were nothing but smiles at the end of the last line,” says resident Rhea Vezmar, “Many in the group said they would do it again. I am one of those.”

- Samantha Burnett, marketing & communications project manager, Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices

Jim Trail
Jim Trail


Jim Trail

Seabury, Bloomfield, CT

The irony of Jim Trail’s last name is not lost on him.

Trail has made a lot of large and small contributions to Seabury but his greatest one by far is the creation of our trail system. In 2005, he and 11 other residents began meeting about the possibility of creating a trail system on our 66-acre campus. The property includes wetlands and acres of dense, wooded forests, which turn beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow in the splendid New England fall foliage season.

Soon after the group’s earliest meetings with the town wetlands commission and parks and recreation department to gain approval of the project, committee work parties led by Trail were out in the fields of shoulder-high grasses forging their way through grape vines and brush. The first trail opened to residents in 2006. Today Seabury boasts 9 hiking trails and 5 bridges (all constructed by our trails committee) providing a safe outdoor environment for the resident community, staff and the greater community to use for physical activity, environmental wellness and to celebrate the impressive spiritual beauty in nature.

Trail has worked over the past 3 years to widen the trails so an all-terrain vehicle can transport residents with mobility issues. We have a large celebration every June on National Trails Day for our residents and outside community members. The day includes long and short hikes, trail rides in our "Love Bug" for those folks with difficulty walking or living in our memory support building and a meditation hike.

Trail has lived at Seabury for 11 years. In that time, he has been the treasurer of our resident association and a resident board member. In most recent years he has lead the Seabury Communications Committee, working closely with the staff IT team to expand the use of the new resident portal, which has simplified many common administrative procedures like submitting transportation requests, dining room reservations and work orders. It serves as a bulletin board for monthly menus, new library books, committee minutes, in-house movie offerings and more. He has been a strong leader and innovator in our community and the greater surrounding community.

- Heather Stanton, director of resident services, Seabury

Jerry Nanfelt
Jerry Nanfelt


Jerry Nanfelt

Shell Point Retirement Community, Fort Myers, FL

During her 9 years as a Shell Point resident, Jerry Nanfelt has served in a variety of leadership roles within the community. Most notably, Nanfelt created and launched the innovative Concierge Program. This team of 42 volunteers assists staff on each floor and serves the diverse needs of residents at the Larsen Pavilion.

“During my 16 years at Shell Point, I have not met many people who know just the way things should work from the get-go quite the way Jerry did,” says Teri Kollath, Shell Point’s manager of the Larsen Pavilion Auxiliary. “Her contributions are priceless.” But according to Nanfelt, she’s the one who truly benefits. “I can’t think of anything that I do in my life that is more satisfying than what I do during my Thursday morning concierge shifts.”

Not only does Jerry personally embody Shell Point Retirement Community’s core values of caring, serving and satisfying others, but she also inspires these qualities in those who witness her heart for others. When the Concierge Program was launched, she coordinated the first floor with a team of 25 volunteers who worked 4 hours a day. Later, the service was expanded to the memory care unit on the second floor and to the third floor, where long-term residents live. Today, more than 40 Shell Point residents serve as part of the concierge program. “Our most important duty is to build relationships, and someday I might be there, needing care,” Nanfelt says.

- Sarah Nadal, PR and events specialist, Shell Point Retirement Community


David Sutter

Wesley Commons, Greenwood, SC

Dave Sutter is a quiet, thoughtful, intelligent and talented person who continually chooses to actively seek ways to improve the community and, more importantly, see them through to completion. He is an outstanding volunteer who does not seek attention or recognition for his service; however, his contributions have helped to not only carry out the mission of Wesley Commons, but improve the quality of life of his friends and neighbors.

David Sutter
Dave Sutter

As an active member and president of the Woodworkers Club, Sutter has put time and effort into building things that improve our organization, such as bookshelves, culinary props and more. He is an avid shuffleboard player and has taken efforts to maintain the shuffleboard court. He has been an active member of the Project Committee, working to collect surveys; with the collected feedback from residents, he takes initiative to get the recommended projects started (e.g., painting, lighting or structural improvements) completed.

Through his involvement with the Fitness Advisory Team, Sutter has used his analytical and technical skills as an engineer to create detailed blueprints for repositioning the weight room equipment to make best use of the space while maintaining compliance with safety regulations and handicap accessibility.

He has assisted the Activity and Wellness departments with an annual event, “the Summer Games.” He also serves on the Dining Committee, where his service includes building wooden holders for comment cards as well as salt and pepper shakers. Dave also formats the data gathered from the comment cards, sorting 500-plus comment cards each month and analyzing the data.

Dave Sutter's participation and leadership in a variety of areas has helped further the mission of Wesley Commons by enriching lives. His leadership by example, combined with his passion for continuous improvement, has inspired others to participate in activities and volunteer roles at Wesley Commons.

- Tiffany Keyes, wellness manager, Wesley Commons


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.