Trailblazers, Artists, Psychologists, and Athletes: These are the People We Serve
July 12, 2019 | by The Members of LeadingAge
LeadingAge members tell the stories of remarkable people they work for—and with—every day.
LeadingAge members tell the stories of remarkable people they work for—and with—every day.
Kavod Senior Life, Denver, CO
Breaking through barriers has been the life story of Clothilde “Clo” Sydnor, one of the vibrant residents at Kavod Senior Life.
Born in Pike County, MO, Sydnor grew up during times of segregation and felt the effects of rampant discrimination. She was treated like an invisible child at school, was required to use the back door in public establishments, and had to sit in a special area of the local theater, which had no access to get out in case of emergency—a “deathtrap,” as she calls it.
Fortunately, Sydnor’s grandmother was instrumental in providing her with a good education, a stable home, and a keen ability to recognize her strengths and skills. As she grew older, she was bold in pursuing opportunities where she could make a difference, and became the first African American nurse’s aide in her community, and later, a phlebotomist.
When her family moved to Colorado, Sydnor was the first woman and person of color to operate heavy machinery at the company where she worked, building notable Colorado landmarks. She was also the first woman to join the union and even drove semi-trucks. While working, Sydnor not only raised her own 4 children but served as a foster mom to 36 additional youths.
Despite the hardships she has endured, Sydnor remains an optimistic, grateful, kind, and giving person. She has lived at Kavod since 2005, and loves the location as well as its quiet and safe environment. She enjoys the other residents and, as no surprise, the intergenerational programs that involve young people. She believes in teaching youth about doing the right thing, making good decisions, and getting an education so that everyone has an opportunity to better the world.
Sydnor’s outlook and ability to rise above are qualities that make her an instrumental part of Kavod’s diverse community.
Christie Ziegler, director, communications & marketing, Kavod Senior Life
Rolling Green Village, Greenville, SC
Tom Jones likes knowing he can take a piece of wood that would have otherwise been cut up or discarded and turn it into an object that produces beautiful music. For the last 45 years, Tom has been crafting mountain dulcimers by hand.
Jones has built upwards of 40 dulcimers, each requiring around 20 hours of labor. Over the years, he’s created these unique instruments from different shapes and textures of wood. The first one he created, in the 1970s, was made out of a wooden door.
“I’d read enough to know that I needed 1/8-inch wood to make the sound box of the dulcimer, and that was the skin of that hollow-core door,” Jones says. “I took the skin off the door and then took some of the harder wood to make the fretboard and the tuner and so forth.”
He says the craftsmanship really intrigues him, and he enjoys how the dulcimers can vary in tone depending on which materials are used.
To this day, Jones dotes on the musical instruments that he keeps inside his apartment home at Rolling Green Village. While he stays busy making his dulcimers, he also enjoys getting involved in other activities that Rolling Green Village offers, such as the popular Genealogy Club.
Most recently Jones created and donated a dulcimer for the community’s 30th anniversary celebration. It includes the tree of life in the sound hole of the instrument. Tom is also planning to donate some of his dulcimers to the community.
“It would be wonderful if the memory care patients who have dementia could use them,” he says. “It’s such a simple instrument, it’s easy to get other people involved with it.”
Chelsea Wilson, GlynnDevins
Village On The Isle, Venice, FL
In television crime dramas, the forensic psychologist plays a key role in the courtroom scenes; giving pivotal testimony that influences the decision of the judge or jury about an accused person’s competency to stand trial and to understand the nature of the charges against him.
These scenes offer a small glimpse into the life of these learned professionals, but they don’t tell the whole story. Carl Bauer, a former clinical forensic psychologist and a resident of Village On The Isle, shared his professional background in a recent interview.
After receiving his B.S. at Syracuse University, Bauer earned his equivalent doctorate degree in psychology and linguistics from Heidelberg University in Germany. He had been working as a clinical psychologist in a Pennsylvania mental hospital when he received a call from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) asking him if he would consider moving to Washington, DC, to serve as a clinical forensic psychologist.
Working many days a week in a maximum-security facility, Bauer would evaluate inmates accused of mostly felony crimes. He says it was his professional role to evaluate and to come to a diagnosis, and sometime later, be called to court to testify as to the mental status of the patient. Bauer would spend an average of 3 hours on the stand.
More serious cases were those with a diagnosis that upheld the inmate’s inability at the time of the offense to intend to commit the crime. These were true insanity determinations. Here is an interesting fact: Only clinical forensic psychologists are allowed to give their opinion on the witness stand. All other witnesses can only testify as to the facts of the case.
In 1987, Bauer married his wife, Alicia, and the pair has enjoyed traveling around the world and volunteering locally for the Venice Historical Society. Carl and Alicia’s zest for life is depicted in the many photos of the couple in their period costumes.
Christine Clyne, director of human resources, Village On The Isle
Center Communities of Brookline (Hebrew SeniorLife), Brookline, MA
What’s in a name? Imagine answering phone lines; accepting deliveries; coordinating work orders from 3 sites; and assisting residents, staff, and families needing everything from stamps to meal orders to medical transport—or just help putting on a coat.
This is ground central at The Marilyn and André Danesh Family Residences on the Center Communities campus. The person coordinating these myriad tasks, and addressing many of the needs of 520 residents, is the receptionist at the front desk, Patience Ortiz. Everything in Ortiz’ day reminds her of the quality she aims to embody in her work-life; and answering to “Patience” reminds her to reset when the day becomes loaded with responsibilities, serving the needs of so many others.
Ortiz’ background prepared her well for this essential position. At the age of 12 (her first job), she served as a Hispanic peer HIV/AIDS educator for teens and older Latina women. She spent a year with Boston’s CITY YEAR, working on a physical labor team at a homeless shelter base. A position in food service at Hebrew SeniorLife led to an opportunity to join HSL’s Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research as a clerk, then as a research assistant, before being recruited to join the staff for her current position.
“When I think about it, everything I’ve done since I was 12 was connected with older adults,” Ortiz notes. Residents find her warmth, kindness, and genuine interest in excelling in her role as daunting … and say to her daily, “I don’t know how you do it all!” Ortiz exemplifies “Go Beyond,” one of Hebrew SeniorLife’s cultural beliefs, as she reminds us that with diligence and patience in our work, we can all make our communities better.
Laura Baber, outreach and program coordinator, Center Communities of Brookline
Azalea Trace, Pensacola, FL
At 83, George Goggans decided to run a half marathon.
“I don’t really like to run but anytime I ran, I was always glad that I did. I’ve done some 5Ks but never this magnitude,” he says, about the 13.1-mile challenge. “I wanted to see if I could do it.”
Azalea Trace fitness trainer Maryjo Loucks encouraged him to try Pensacola’s Rock ‘n Fly Half Marathon in March. She helped him follow a training plan and even ran the entire race by his side. “Maryjo insisted on running with me to make sure I stayed hydrated. She’s made such a difference [with fitness] in our community; so enthusiastic and caring,” Goggans says.
Loucks monitored Goggans’ heart rate and even took photos at each mile marker to reassure his wife that he was okay. He crossed the finish line in just under 3:21 and placed first in his age group. He was also the most senior participant by a decade.
Feeling his fittest at 83, Goggans has come a long way. He didn’t start exercising until he was 50, after being a heavy smoker most of his life. He and his wife enjoy taking fitness classes together since moving into their Azalea Trace apartment in 2017. They prefer yoga and resistance band workouts to build strength, flexibility, and improve balance.
“It’s even helped my golf game,” Goggans jokes.
Lisa Sileo, communications manager, Acts Retirement-Life Communities
Royal Oaks Retirement Community, Sun City, AZ
"Write what you know" is what writers are told when they venture into penning the great American novel. Royal Oaks resident Lyn Griffiths must not have heard that advice when, in 2003, she had an idea for a book that has now sent her around the globe to research countries and history of which she had no inkling. She and her husband Chris moved to Royal Oaks in 2007, giving her an abundance of free time to research and write books.
With a working title of When the Mail Comes, Griffiths' book is set in Hong Kong in the 1860s and centers on the family of an American trade consul, caught up in multiple levels of conflict and change.
A stickler for getting things right, Griffiths went on a 3-month odyssey to research the book, spending a lot of time in Hong Kong. She says she got hooked on travel as a child, when her family lived in Paris for a year.
A few years later, Griffiths continued her research by taking a 3-month cruise (which included many days with armed guards on board due to the threat of pirates) to trace the route her book's characters will take in the novel. The trip took her to England, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and Singapore.
Griffiths’ Hong Kong novel is still being written, and she says, "I have 8 books in various stages right now.” One of her books, Captivation Waltz, has already been published under her pen name, Polly Vogler Renwick.
When pushed for a completion date for When the Mail Comes, Griffiths artfully dodged the subject: "I really dig the process of writing. Having the book published will be icing on the cake, but the fun for me is the twists and turns it takes in my head. It's such a kick to be the first one to hear the whole story.”
Editor’s note: This is a condensed version of a longer story—full of fascinating anecdotes—available on the Royal Oaks website.
Vicki Ullery, marketing director, Royal Oaks Retirement Community
Three Pillars Senior Living Communities, Dousman, WI
Martin Murk, a native of Wisconsin and current resident at Three Pillars’ Village on the Square independent living, has a creative gift meant to be shared.
As a young man he studied at the Layton School of Art and set out as a freelance artist after college. An avid outdoorsman, his passion for Wisconsin wildlife went hand in hand with a natural knack for painting it.
In 1977, Murk won the Federal Duck Stamp Competition, which opened additional doors that led to his numerous achievements and honors. He went on to win Wisconsin’s 1979 Trout Stamp and the 1980 Wisconsin Duck Stamp Contest. He designed Wisconsin’s first Great Lakes Salmon and Trout Stamp in 1982 and won the 1989 Inland Trout Stamp contest. To date, he’s been Artist of the Year for several organizations, and his works have been exhibited nationally in galleries and museums such as the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, the Milwaukee Public Museum, and more.
In retirement, Murk and his wife Vera moved to Three Pillars’ Village on the Square in April 2017. They settled into their new home and it didn’t take long to get acquainted with their new space and neighbors. They quickly made new friends and began building relationships for this rich chapter of their lives.
“I realized there must be something about artists that attracts them to each other,” Murk recalls fondly. It was impossible not to notice how many of their new neighbors were artists, as well. From painters to woodworkers, knitters, crafters, and even egg decorators—Martin was naturally drawn to them.
In 2018, the community’s interior design committee began a refresh of the main entrance area. There was an opportunity to put up a new piece of artwork over the lobby fireplace, which would be the focal point of the space and one of the first things seen upon entering the building.
The residents and staff knew just who to ask, and Murk generously took on the project of creating a custom piece to welcome all who enter the building. With a nod to our local wildlife, his idea was to weave majestic animals throughout the branches of a tall tree. He put his ideas to a sketch pad and soon, the magic began. Martin wanted to bring a bit of the outdoors in, and he did so masterfully for all to enjoy.
Kelsey Pangborn, customer experience manager, Three Pillars Senior Living Communities
Stein Assisted Living (The Oscar & Ella Wilf Campus For Senior Living), Somerset, NJ
Roberta Harkavy is a wonderful combination of intelligence, dedication, and fun. She has made an incredible impact on the residents and staff at Stein Assisted Living since she moved here in 2012.
On any given day you can find Harkavy immersed in trivia events, word games, and discussion groups. She is an incredibly smart lady, often guiding and correcting the facilitators of knowledge-based activities.
She attended Hunter College in New York City, where she obtained a degree in English and a minor in education. She went on to teach for many years and still maintains her love of knowledge today. A lifelong learner, you will often find Harkavy watching documentaries.
One of Harkavy’s greatest attributes is her willingness to give back. She aims to bring joy to the people around her through a warm greeting or a visit to another’s dining room table. As she visits, she collects each resident’s used soda cans to make sure they are properly recycled. She scours the monthly newsletter to find each resident’s birthday. You can count on them finding birthday cards in their mailboxes with handwritten notes from Harkavy. And every Tuesday morning, we hear her leading a nostalgic sing along for our residents on the memory care unit. The way she spreads joy and happiness to others is nothing short of inspiring.
Although Harkavy has physical limitations, she is an excellent writer and speaker. Every year Stein Assisted Living receives a toast from her at our New Year’s Eve party. She has also served as the emcee for concerts performed for and by our residents.
Most notably, Harkavy is an avid writer of poetry. Her works have been published by the New Authors Journal and featured in our monthly newsletter. She recalls writing poetry in her youth to relieve tension in times of stress. The habit continued well beyond her childhood, as we have the pleasure of enjoying her creativity in Stein’s poetry club. Through these works we get a glimpse of Roberta’s wit, commitment to spreading joy, and positive outlook on life.
Here is one of her poems:
by Roberta Harkavy
Caitlin Kern, recreation coordinator, Stein Assisted Living
Covenant Living of Turlock, Turlock, CA
Richard Winkler, a resident at Covenant Village of Turlock, says he’s always been a competitive person, and that paid off for him as he recently won a CyberCycle competition. He pedaled 1,118.3 miles to earn the top spot. Winkler, who is 90 years old, admits it wasn’t easy, as the competition was down to the wire against a woman in her 60s from Pennsylvania.
“In order for me to keep my mileage and distance going, I had to cycle all night long for 2 nights,” says Winkler.
The CyberCycle Madness Competition started with more than 1,100 riders from across the country, of all ages. Each rider cycled for 48 hours each week over the course of 4 weeks; the goal was to get in as many miles as possible within the 48 hours. Winkler says he took 4th place overall last year, and he was determined to improve this year.
Riders are able to see the distances their competitors rode, and so Winkler knew what he needed to do to win.
“It really was neck and neck in the competition, and I guess I finally outmaneuvered her in total mileage,” says Winkler. “I really didn’t have much energy left, but I did what I needed to do to win this year.”
When he’s not pedaling away on the CyberCycle, Winkler says he participates in water aerobics and other fitness classes.
Randy Eilts, director of public relations & communications, Covenant Living Communities and Services
Westminster Village at Allentown, Allentown, PA
Ron Harmony and his daughter, Beth, attended our Caregiver College in early 2018 to learn tips on how to care for Ron’s wife, Bobbi, who has dementia. He was in denial and very hesitant to accept help from anyone. He wanted to do everything himself and was feeling the stress.
After getting to know us, Harmony enrolled Bobbi in the day program, but was still skeptical that he was doing the right thing. Soon he learned to trust us and felt the relief of having some time to himself while we cared for Bobbi 3 days a week.
Ron and Beth began to attend our monthly support group, and several people commented that his stress level was visibly reduced. He then asked himself, “What if something happens to me? Where will Bobbi go?” This resulted in the 2 of them moving to the independent living apartments at Westminster Village, to give Bobbi the opportunity to move into skilled nursing, should the need arise.
For now, Bobbi continues to attend the day program and Ron has brought 2 friends to the support group.
Kelly Hartnett, service liaison, Westminster Village Adult Day Services
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.