Violinists, Knitters and Lifelong Friends: These are the People We Serve
January 19, 2018 | by The Members of LeadingAge
Read about the remarkable people LeadingAge members serve and employ.
Read about the remarkable people LeadingAge members serve and employ.
St. Andrews Estates, Boca Raton, FL
“It was the best day of my retirement,” says Duane Webster, a 95-year-old World War II veteran.
All smiles, Webster saluted cheering spectators as he strapped himself into a fully restored vintage Boeing Stearman biplane from the 1940s. He and a co-pilot soared 1,000 feet into the sky at speeds of 85 miles per hour.
“It’s hard to explain,” the veteran told the Palm Beach Post, “But it was a thrill. A deep, deep thrill.”
Webster served as a navigator for the U.S. Marine Corps transportation squadron and flew missions over the Pacific Ocean during the war. He had not stepped aboard an aircraft like this since 1948.
Webster was one of 6 veterans at St. Andrews Estates who were honored by this complimentary “Dream Flight,” courtesy of Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation.
Additional Dream Flight recipients included Eugene Brogan, 87, U.S. Navy; Ed Skolkin, 88, U.S. Navy; Richard Milan, 85, U.S. Army; Jerry Owens, 77, U.S. Army; and Bob Delorenz, 81, a career pilot.
- Lisa Sileo, communications manager, Acts Retirement-Life Communities
The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, Fresno, CA
You will often find Maxine Spencer giving lessons and passing along her musical knowledge to younger generations.
Spencer picked up her first violin 83 years ago. Over the past 8 decades, she’s played with multiple symphonies and quartets and taught music to generations. She’s even performed for famous entertainers including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
Spencer plays with the Tulare County Symphony and a local Fresno string quartet. She’s the oldest in the crowd of performers, but says she continues to learn from each player.
If you ask Spencer why she continues to play, she says it’s simple: She enjoys making music, and it keeps her young. Scientists have found that playing an instrument improves the memory, hearing and self-esteem of seniors. She also says it’s a thrill to see younger generations pick up the skills that have brought so much joy to her life.
- Chelsea March, GlynnDevins
Carolina SeniorCare PACE, Lexington, NC
A generous man will prosper, he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)
Having a Master’s degree in recreational therapy may have helped Sibert Lewis land the position of life enrichment coordinator at Carolina SeniorCare, but his big heart is what sets him apart from others. Lewis brings an optimistic approach to his work, and his excitement is contagious among the participants and team members. He believes that empowering each individual is the key to helping them live a long, healthy and independent life.
Lewis learns each participant’s background, discovers the contributions they made to society, and utilizes the same attributes to embrace them as a whole person.
“Sibert has a way of creating an atmosphere where people want to do things. He knows how to maximize each participant’s skills and abilities,” says Thomas Chang, executive director at Carolina SeniorCare.
Whether it’s directing the choir, leading Bible study, reading poetry, or crocheting for an entry at the county fair, Lewis seems to find the “sweet spot” of each participant, giving them purpose. He has found his “sweet spot” too; and may he continue the art of giving.
- Joy Cline, chief marketing officer, United Church Homes and Services
Carroll Lutheran Village, Westminster, MD
John Staehlin received the Hoover Medal in Engineering on November 6 at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Honors Assembly in Tampa, FL. Staehlin was recognized for his lifetime achievement in finding customized engineering solutions to help people with disabilities achieve greater mobility and independence.
Staehlin had a long and distinguished career with Westinghouse and Northrop Grumman. He was the lead mechanical engineer on the Advanced Warning and Control System antenna for many years. He founded Volunteers for Medical Engineering in 1982 to create special-purpose assistive devices that have enabled hundreds of people with disabilities to achieve greater independence and an improved quality of life. The organization merged with Independence Through Computers to become V-LINC in 2010. Staehlin remains active with the group as an advisor and volunteer.
“I watched people use the hand that they hadn’t used in 5 years,” he says. “Watched a lady, totally paralyzed, spell out “Oh boy!” with the blink of an eye. Watched a young child driving a bicycle down the sidewalk—we modified the bicycle so that she could use it and be supported.” Staehlin has hundreds of inventions and holds 33 patents. “I intend to keep on inventing as long as I’m able to do so,” he said. His work has inspired hundreds of engineers, engineering students and friends to join his work.
The Hoover Medal, founded in 1929, honors engineers who have advanced the well-being of humanity through both professional and humanitarian efforts. Staehlin is the 86th recipient and joins an elite group that includes Presidents Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and many others.
If you ask John when he plans to retire, he says, “When they close the casket. Actually, I’m donating my body to science, so not even then.”
For more on Staehlin’s work, see this brief video biography of his professional and service achievements.
- Lisa Albin, director of church and public relations, Carroll Lutheran Village
Edgewood Summit, Charleston, WV
For as long as Hazel Arnold can remember, she’s always had one true best friend. Hazel met Violet Casto in grade school, and now their friendship has spanned more than 80 years.
Growing up, the 2 women were not only classmates, they lived just a few houses down from one another. They shared memories of their high school graduation together. They married within 8 months of one another, and were maids of honor in each other’s weddings.
As they grew older, they were eventually separated by careers. But within a few years, they found themselves back in Charleston, living on the same street. The two families became even closer, traveling around the country together and sharing life’s experiences.
Now in their 90s, Hazel and Violet continue their friendship, living just feet away from each other at Edgewood Summit. The women say community living makes it easier to stay active and remain friends.
Research shows involvement in social activities and maintaining friendships like Hazel and Violet’s helps prevent cognitive decline and reduce mobility disabilities in older adults. The two agree with the findings, and say they make it a point to meet at least once a week to catch up on life events.
- Chelsea March, GlynnDevins
Westminster Village, Allentown, PA
There have been times in my life when I knew I was living inside a blessing—a chapter so unique I knew I’d always look back and say, “Wow, what a remarkable time.” I’m living in one of those chapters now.
Mom and I have always been best friends. She listened to all my tales, validating me when I was strong, supporting me when I faltered. Never judging.
Polio visited her when she was small, taking some strength away from one leg on its way out. The doctors told her she’d never walk again. Hoo-boy. They didn’t know my Mom. I don’t know how she managed it but she’s walking.
A fall landed her in the hospital 8 years ago. She knew it was time to move to Westminster Village, her choice made years ago when she volunteered. They have been wonderful years for her. She has aged as gracefully as anyone could.
She’s still quoting Shakespeare and Keats. She has a poem for every occasion and people look forward to hearing what she’ll come up with next. Her index finger goes up, the arm stretches out and up in a gesture of proclamation. Her eyes gleam with mischief, the head tilts and out comes the poem. I am often greeted first thing in the morning with a rendition of Omar Khayyam’s “Rhubaiyat” before she rolls out of bed.
Mom’s got some great stories, too, from her earlier life. Like when all the “boys” were at war and companies allowed women to have their jobs. She and my aunt were chemists for Esso (now Exxon). Tongue in cheek, they wrote a patent for plaid paint, explaining how the molecules would align in a certain way to create a plaid pattern after being brushed onto a surface. Their application made it all the way to the patent office before they had to finally ‘fess up and call it back.
Mom doesn’t cook or bake anymore. Her tools of the trade sit quietly in the cabinets. Her world has compressed, condensed, distilled down to the essentials. Bags of yarn sit unused, where once they made sweaters for grandchildren. Later, she knitted doll clothes for the Lemon Tree Bazaar. But the knitting has closed shop too.
Mom is still teaching me how to live, though. To see life from a wider horizon and never let the tough times win. I find myself asking, “How will I be when I am Mom’s age? What attitude will I choose when my body and mind are not what they used to be?” I gratefully receive the lessons my mother has to teach through the grace and beauty of her life. I am truly living inside a blessing.
- Kathy Ford, health center admissions & sales director, Westminster Village
Phoebe Berks Independent Living, Wernersville, PA
Ellie DeLong, a Phoebe Berks Independent Living apartment resident for the past 23 years, has a very personal reason to donate her talents to making prayer shawls.
When her granddaughter was 16, the teenager was treated at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia for 8 months while fighting leukemia. DeLong stayed with her in the hospital 4 days a week and saw firsthand what comfort a gift like a blanket could do for those with the disease.
Some years later, a Phoebe Berks employee initiated a program where residents could donate their knitting and crocheting talents to make blankets for cancer patients at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Reading. DeLong participated that first year and every year since.
She went to the hospital to help distribute the blankets several times and saw how needed they were and how the patients would curl up in them. “I really think it gives them hope and improves their outlook,” DeLong reflects.
Each year, about 50 shawls are made by members of the Phoebe Berks Knitting Group and other Phoebe Berks Village residents. They are blessed by the chaplain in a special service and then packaged with a small notecard that includes a prayer and the name of the person who made them.
The shawls that will be donated in 2017 were made by:
- Trina Johnson-Brady, community relations specialist, Phoebe Ministries
Robineau Residence (CJE SeniorLife), Skokie, IL
As a NorthShore University HealthSystem employee and Robineau Residence volunteer, Naomi Pollack took advantage of the former’s Sharing Spirit Volunteer Awards, to nominate her work at a nonprofit. She won a $500 donation for Robineau Residence, which was presented at a ceremony on October 30. Robineau Residence is an independent group living residence that features 24 private rooms and baths arranged in 6 suites around a living room and breakfast nook.
Pollack is a registered physical therapist and a geriatric certified specialist. She works in NorthShore’s Home Health Division, providing rehabilitation services to patients who are homebound.
The award meant a lot to her because it benefited Robineau Residence, her mother’s home for 3 years. “These were meaningful, extremely happy and fulfilling years of her life,” says Pollack. “After being there for just 2 weeks, my mother said, ‘Had I known how happy I would be … I would have made the move earlier!’” Pollack says that volunteering at Robineau was her chance to say a small “thank you.”
In her letter of support for Pollack, Dorothy Levant, Robineau Residence manager, wrote that “Naomi has provided book reviews, lectures on fall prevention, evening board games, monthly floral arranging classes (which she funds herself), and much more.” Levant added: “This short note cannot do justice to her tremendous contributions.”
Pollack’s application statement rings true: “While my efforts enrich and inspire the lives of others, my life is doubly enriched by the opportunity to share my talents and benefit others.”
- Mary Keen, marketing and communications manager, CJE SeniorLife
Three Pillars Senior Living Communities, Dousman, WI
The Chagnons’ story is one of happy times, hard work, and following their dreams, which has led to their retirement at Three Pillars’ Senior Living Communities’ MasonWoods community in Cecil, WI. Bob, originally from Rhinelander, WI, and Mary Alice, from North Dakota, met in Peoria, IL, in 1963 when life serendipitously placed them both there for a weekend. They got married, had 2 magnificent daughters, and recently celebrated 50 years of marriage.
As newlyweds, Bob and Mary Alice lived in Clintonville, WI, and later settled in Kiel, WI, to raise their girls. She worked for a chiropractor and later for a bank, and he was a high school band director for 43 years.
Along with music, another passion of Bob’s is photography, and if you’ve seen his work, you know his incredible talent. He’s had many opportunities to practice his beloved art, and just before retirement, became particularly active by seizing an opportunity to combine his knowledge of photography with his Masonic ties as official photographer for Order of the Eastern Star from 2007 to 2015.
They just moved a few items at first into their MasonWoods home, thinking it could be their “cabin up north” for part-time residence, but they gradually began spending just a little more time there and moving just a few more items in. They realized it was less expensive than keeping a house and an idyllic destination for them. Mary Alice was voted in as MasonWoods community secretary and floor representative and, as they joined in more activities, they fell more in love with the place every day. Nine months later, they made the decision that MasonWoods was home for good, and sold their place in Kiel.
Looking back, Bob and Mary Alice remember their first residence in Clintonville, and chuckle to think what their young selves would have thought of retiring on a lake! For them, living here is about more than a roof over their heads. It’s about being part of a community.
- Kelsey Pangborn, communication strategist, Three Pillars
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.