Artists, Attorneys, and Gardeners: These are the People We Serve
November 15, 2019 | by The Members of LeadingAge
Learn about more of the fascinating people our members work for and with.
Learn about more of the fascinating people our members work for and with.
Westlake Christian Terrace (Christian Church Homes), Oakland, CA
Early in his life, Charles Blackwell looked forward to an exciting future as an art student, but tragedy struck when a major concussion he suffered during a hiking accident left him partially blind at the age of 20.
“My whole life flipped over,” says Blackwell. “I went from being a young man full of hope and aspirations to thinking I was an invalid. My life just fell apart.”
Battling depression, he was lost until he met folks at a Christian commune who helped him regain his confidence and rebuild a positive perspective. In time, he returned to college and his passion for art.
As a working artist, Charles has maintained a very modest lifestyle. He lived in an apartment located in an economically depressed area of Oakland. At times, he heard gunfire outside his window. He states, “I had drug dealers on one side and a neighbor running an illegal recycling business on the other side. With loud parties, boisterous fights, and metal crushing late into the night, I was very stressed out.” He felt isolated and afraid.
Then Charles met a Christian Church Homes (CCH) community manager who encouraged him to apply for a place at her community.
Today, Charles’ life is very different. He attends town hall meetings, socializes with community members and participates in campus art exhibits. He has produced art for various organizations, including Lighthouse for the Blind and the Chicago Guild for the Blind. In February 2015, he displayed 27 pieces at the main office of East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) in Oakland.
Charles says, “I was able to get away from the violence to a place I can feel safe, speak with my neighbors and make friends. Westlake has a true sense of community. Being here has changed my life for the better.”
For more about Charles Blackwell, see this video:
Iris Murillo, Director of Marketing, CCH
Longhorn Village, Austin, TX
What’s the secret to a successful marriage and a happy life? For John Henderson, he’ll tell you it’s all about living life in moderation and being cordial to your spouse. John and his wife, Charlotte, would know all about this, as they’re now the oldest living married couple on the planet, according to Guinness World Records.
The Austin couple have a combined age of 211 years: John is 106 and Charlotte is 105 years old. On Dec. 15, they’ll celebrate 80 years of blissful marriage.
It was 1934 when this pair met one another in a class at the University of Texas. Charlotte was studying to become a teacher, while John was busy playing as a guard for the football team. Their love for one another and the Longhorns has remained indestructible ever since.
The couple was married during the Great Depression, and recall spending only $7 on their hotel room on their honeymoon.
Today, John also holds the title of the oldest living former UT football player. He’s attended at least one Longhorn football game each year for the past 84 consecutive years.
Chelsea Wilson, GlynnDevins
Kavod Senior Life, Denver, CO
Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) is a nationally replicated program helping to build bridges between generations and address cognitive barriers through abstract art. Fourteen residents from Kavod Senior Life, mostly from assisted living, and 10 young adults participated in this program on the Kavod campus over 8 weeks to create “failure free” art.
“I never knew I was an artist!” exclaimed one resident. Others have continued to enjoy sharing and displaying the pieces they created.
The event, held in July, featured powerful art pieces created by older adults with cognitive challenges, aided by teens. Both artists and helpers were present to talk about the power of intergenerational connections and feature this amazing artwork.
Research shows that volunteers develop more empathy and affection for people living with dementia while older adults show signs of engagement and pleasure due to their participation in OMA.
Christie Ziegler, director of communications and marketing, Kavod Senior Life
NewBridge on the Charles (Hebrew SeniorLife), Dedham, MA
Jay Fialkow has been an extraordinary resident of NewBridge on the Charles since 2009. Known as the “Mayor of NewBridge,” Fialkow seeks out opportunities to make a difference in the lives of fellow community members. He initiated the concept of a “Gratitude Committee” to remind residents that each day at NewBridge presents a reason to celebrate. His committee presented its first Gratitude award to NewBridge Director of Security Victor Furtado at an independent living community meeting. This committee inspires residents with its “gratitude reminders” sent on the resident blog!
Fialkow served as chairman of the finance committee for 3 years, and, according to his colleagues, was instrumental in improving the important relationship between management and committee members through ongoing communication and productive dialogue.
Fialkow cares deeply about mutual cooperation and works towards this goal in all his endeavors. His numerous acts of kindness reflect his positive energy; his encouraging, friendly manner exemplifies someone who practices what they preach. His goal of pleasing residents impacted food committee policies, and he continues to support changes in menu choices that can benefit a larger segment of the community. His generous donation of the NewBridge bus—named “Everybody Loves Jane” in honor of his late wife—serves as a constant reminder of the power of one individual’s ability to make a difference.
Sheila Waxman, director of independent living, NewBridge on the Charles
Carroll Lutheran Village, Westminster, MD
Yvonne Aasen was disappointed with her 4th-place finish in the 85-89-year-old division for the 5K in the National Senior Games, which wrapped in Albuquerque, NM, on June 25.
“If I’d have had a kick at the end, I would have had a bronze,” Aasen says with a grin. This experienced Senior Games participant still brought home a gold medal for the 4x100M relay, and ribbons for 4th place in the 5K, 5th place in the 800M, and 6th place in the 400M.
It’s impressive she was there at all, after undergoing angioplasty to clear a blocked artery in her left leg on June 11. With travel arrangements in place months in advance, “I decided I’d go and just do the best I could,” she said.
Yvonne brought home 4 gold medals in the 2017 National Senior Games in Birmingham, AL, and at age 87, is already training for the 2021 games in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Aasen’s regimen includes weight training in the gym 3 times a week, and running or walking 2 or 3 times a week. She also walks on campus instead of taking the shuttle.
If you ask her what she would do if she couldn’t run, she’ll say, “I’d walk.” That determination is the secret ingredient in her training regimen.
Lisa Albin, director of communications and public relations, Carroll Lutheran Village
St. Ann’s Community at Chapel Oaks, Rochester, NY
Anthony Palermo continues to serve the community he helped launch. Now a resident of St. Ann’s Community at Chapel Oaks, he is passionate about bringing people together.
Palermo recently gave a talk to share his story of being a young prosecutor in one of the most important spy trials of the 20th century. He is the lone surviving member of the legal team that prosecuted KGB agent Rudolf Abel on charges of espionage in 1957. The case was depicted in Spielberg's film Bridge of Spies, which starred Tom Hanks as Abel's defense attorney Jim Donovan.
Palermo was just 27 years old when he was assigned to the 4-person legal team prosecuting Abel, the highest-ranking foreign spy ever convicted in the U.S. (Abel was later exchanged for U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers, who had been captured by the Soviets.)
Palermo recalls the climate at the time: “The Russians were beating us in space. They had launched Sputnik, and America was worried.” Spy satellites and the threat of nuclear war were on everyone's minds and the Cold War was in full swing.
Abel's arrest, Palermo says, “uncovered a treasure trove of incriminating stuff,” including hollowed-out pencils and trick coins that could contain secret messages. Despite being represented with great integrity by Donovan, Abel was found guilty—a victory for young Tony and the defense team.
Palermo went on to a long and celebrated career as an attorney, including the U.S. Attorney's Office in Rochester and many years with the law firm Woods Oviatt Gilman, where at age 89, he continues to consult. He also spent 25 years on the St. Ann's Community Board, and retains the title of Board Member Emeritus.
“It was during my tenure on the board that the idea for Chapel Oaks was launched,” he says, referring to the independent living community where he now lives. “It was in keeping with St. Ann's mission of not only meeting the needs of seniors and their families, but anticipating their needs in the future. I'm so proud to be here and to have been part of the original vision for Chapel Oaks.”
Jennifer Aiezza, marketing manager, St. Ann's Community
Lenbrook, Atlanta, GA
When English-born Jackie Durant moved to Lenbrook in 2013, she had been gardening all her life. She inherited her mother’s love for creating beauty, and grew flowers and plants wherever she lived: Bristol, Scotland, and later the Cotswolds.
She then brought her passion to Atlanta, where she, her husband and their 2 sons moved in 1986, supposedly just for 3 years. She loved their house in Druid Hills with its 1.5-acre garden, where she expanded her skills to adapt to Georgia’s hot weather and red clay, and also built a mountain garden at their home at Lake Burton.
Durant decided to remain in Atlanta after her husband died—although she enjoys her 6-week visits to England twice a year—and learned about Lenbrook from a friend who had already moved here.
As a gardener, she was drawn to Lenbrook’s courtyard, and was inspired by the opportunities she saw.
“I eyed this barren space that used to be an old putting green. Nobody used it anymore, but I had some ideas about what we could do with this and other areas. When I suggested starting a garden club, the leadership team […] gave me the go-ahead right away,” she says.
One major feature Jackie and the club created is an herb wall featuring basil, dill, sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, pineapple sage, mint, and more. Lenbrook’s chefs have also started growing tomatoes, peppers, and chard. “Our chefs use everything we grow,” she says, “since we don’t use pesticides, and our residents love to stop and visit this special section that appeals to all the senses!”
The garden club has grown to 14 members, and has seeded many new friendships. Since most of the gardening is done in large pots and raised planters, even people with physical limitations get to play in the dirt, and accomplish a lot as a result.
“Just think about the effect that being in nature has on your day-to-day life,” Durant says. “We live better lives surrounded by natural beauty.”
Jackie says she often encourages her plants: “Now you grow!” And that is how she sees her move to Lenbrook. “You have to make the move with the right frame of mind. You have to accept where you are in your life and then create your own possibilities, and grow!”
Rochelle Valsaint, manager, brand and communications, Lenbrook
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.