LeadingAge Magazine · March/April 2013 • Volume 03 • Number 02
Garden Spot Village, New Holland, PA
When he retired after 35 years with a farm machinery manufacturer, Larry Knepper started his own business doing carpentry and remodeling. Twenty years later, he combined his project engineering and building skills to help organize a project to build a home for an Alabama family left homeless by tornadoes in 2011.

Knepper volunteered as project coordinator for a Mennonite Disaster Service Partnership Home Program project involving Garden Spot Village, Weaverland Mennonite Church and others in eastern Lancaster County, PA. On a September morning, volunteers built wall partitions in the parking lot of the retirement community, which were then trailered to the build site. Volunteer teams traveled to Alabama to complete construction on site. In the past, Knepper has helped rebuild dwellings for the Appalachian Service Project and has volunteered many hours to install trim in a local museum. Next, he would like to help build a home for a New York or New Jersey family affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“I’m certain we’d get even more participation” for a project that is just a few hours’ drive from Garden Spot Village, says Knepper. “I’d certainly be involved if we do it.” He also has an eye open for local projects that would give him and his neighbors a chance to roll up their sleeves to help others.

 - Scott Miller, chief marketing officer, Garden Spot Village

Mt. Miguel Covenant Village, Spring Valley, CA
To know Jane Mwangi is to meet love in action. Her journey spans continents and our assisted living staff and residents are privileged to be part of her remarkable story and to receive her care.

Mwangi, an LVN at Mt. Miguel since 2006, has a story that starts in her native Kenya. With her husband and one son, she relocated to the U.S. in 1998. Since then she has been blessed with four more children. As they grew older Ian, Shawn, Jake, Ryan, and Liza began asking questions about their African family and the country of their parents. The Mwangis knew one day, no matter how tight the budget would be, they had to make the trip back home. During their July 2012 vacation to Kenya there were many precious memories for the Mwangis, but Jane Mwangi’s particular dream was to visit Pumwani maternity hospital. (When she was a child growing up in the village of Karura, Mwangi’s grandmother was the unofficial midwife.)

In America Mwangi had been showered with gifts for her newborn children and she was reminded of all the mothers who go to the hospital in Kenya to deliver their babies and are given nothing to care for the child or themselves. The love for these women and children grew in her heart and it was her co-workers in assisted living who began bringing gifts for these babies. “You’ve got to know God is real, He is alive and still performing miracles,” says Mwangi. “All we have to do is open our hearts.”

When she went to the hospital with the baby clothes there were three women in particular whose need was greater than the others. These mothers had been there for weeks because they were unable to pay their medical bills. This was Jane’s deeply personal way to come full circle: “I always tell people how I came to the United States with $100 in my pocket and to see God use three times the amount to set three people free from the hospital. The joy on the faces of those women was priceless.”

The Mwangis returned to their American home in August, but as she explains, “I know God will make a way for me to continue this mission.”

- Catherine Sevier, resident services director, Mt. Miguel Covenant Village

Eskaton Village Carmichael, Carmichael, CA
“HONK IF YOU CARE.” The big red plastic nose on “Densmore the Clown” (a.k.a. Denise Wilson) begs to be honked, just as much as her broadly painted smile seeks reciprocation. The 73-year-old resident of Eskaton Village Carmichael has been clowning around for three decades, with appearances scheduled for some time to come.

“My focus now is mostly on entertaining developmentally disabled adults and participants in Alzheimer’s adult day centers,” Wilson explains. She earned the official “caring clown” recognition by completing an intensive training program at a prestigious Canadian clown camp. Though she’s well-versed in parades and parties, and balloon animals and ukulele sing-alongs, she says she experiences the greatest satisfaction with her craft when witnessing the therapeutic benefits of humor and laughter.

- Stuart Greenbaum, vice president, public relations and brand management, Eskaton

Resurrection Home Health Services (now Presence Life Connections), Des Plaines, IL
While we get caught up in the stresses of our day-to-day responsibilities, we should never forget the ways we help people, and we should never forget that they notice and appreciate our work. One example was Constance McKean, a woman who had what should have been an uncomplicated surgery. However, what she referred to as her “stubborn wound” refused to heal. Through very diligent observation, wound care, changes of approach and frequent consultations with her physicians and surgeons, we finally healed this wound after two months, while allowing her to remain in her home. Her surgeon felt she may have needed a full second surgery to get to the root of the problem, which was avoided. Also, her further chemotherapy was dependent on this wound closure and so she could carry on. She sent a very nice thank-you note to our staff:

“Just a note of thanks and appreciation for the excellent professional service I received as a recovering patient … from the staff of nurses at Resurrection Health Care. Resurrection deserves high marks for the care of their patients—and hopefully will be funded to continue its good work for people in need.”

I have spoken with her several times since and “life is good” again. She has been able to resume her very active lifestyle with gusto.

- Nancy Spillo, R.N., wound and ostomy nurse, Resurrection Health Care

St. Ann’s Community, Rochester, NY
John VandenBrul recalls he was shaving as he glanced out his Navy ship’s porthole to see a plane flying by, about 10 feet away. As VandenBrul raised his hand and the pilot waved back, he caught sight of the plane’s tail end—and the torpedo that was attached. “When I saw the torpedo I thought, ‘Boy, we’re gonna be shelled,’” he recalled. Seconds later, he watched as the USS Arizona was hit and blew up. “I was 150 yards away from getting killed,” he said.

VandenBrul, a resident of St. Ann’s Community. was a Navy seaman in 1941, stationed aboard the unarmed hospital ship USS Solace during the attack on Pearl Harbor. For the rest of Dec. 7, 1941, VandenBrul manned the port’s incinerator where he burned medical waste. He also gave blood. The next day he was back in the ship’s office, creating a roster of all who were aboard the Arizona and making note of those who were killed or injured. He recalls that only one-third of the crew survived the attack.

Today VandenBrul often reminisces about his Navy days—especially the attack on Pearl Harbor. St. Ann’s visitors, nurses and residents alike listen as he teaches history simply by describing his life.

- Diane Braselton, community relations coordinator, St. Ann's Community

Piedmont Crossing Retirement Community, Thomasville, NC
Sarah Snell has always put serving the Lord at the forefront of everything she does. She spent 28 years doing international mission work in South Korea, Indonesia and Guam. Since Snell retired and moved to Piedmont Crossing in 2011 after serving as Chaplain at the retirement community for a number of years, her generosity and desire to help others hasn't slowed down one bit!

When she is not leading spiritual services, attending a meeting for the United Church Homes and Services Foundation Board of Trustees which she serves as secretary, or doing volunteer work for one of the many other boards she serves on, Snell can be found spreading God's glory everywhere! She visits those who are frail or sick in her community, offers spiritual support and counseling to residents and staff at Piedmont Crossing, provides pastoral care to anyone in need, and blesses boys and girls each year by locally organizing a Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child shoebox drive. Snell has recently taken on the role of arranging pastoral care services at Carolina SeniorCare, a PACE that is also part of the United Church Homes and Services organization.

People describe Snell as a faithful, loving and devoted Christian. Blair White, marketing director at Piedmont Crossing, says "Sarah always keeps everyone else's best interest at the center of everything she does. Like an angel on Earth, she has a very special way of touching your heart! Without a doubt, she is one of the most admirable people I know."

- Shaylyn Ladd, director of public relations, United Church Homes and Services

Kidron Bethel Village, North Newton, KS
In the 1990s Elvera Voth returned to her roots in Kansas, bringing the richness of her lifelong passion for music and a spirit of giving to her new home at Kidron Bethel Village in North Newton.

Voth enjoyed a distinguished 40-year career in music in Alaska, conducting groups including the Alaska Methodist University Chorale, University of Alaska Singers, and directing the Sunday afternoon concert series at the Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum. The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts dedicated Elvera Voth Hall, an 1,800-square-foot performance and rehearsal area, in 2003. She founded the Anchorage Opera Company and served as its artistic director while teaching at the University of Alaska. She founded the Alaska Chamber Singers in 1986, an “absolutely marvelous” choir that once traveled for two weeks in Siberia. She also established the Anchorage Boys’ Choir.

In 1996 Voth was chorus master for the Kansas City Lyric Opera and used a blend of those members and some from local church choirs to practice and perform with minimum-security inmates from the east unit of the nearby Lansing Correctional Facility.

“I found the real love of my life in working with inmates,” Voth said. “You really get the feeling that maybe you are doing some good. How dare we incarcerate people and not give them anything to do!”

Now retired from conducting, Voth remains true to her philosophy for people her age who don’t have enough to do or don’t know what to do: “Go help somebody.”

For many more details about Voth’s interesting life in music and her accomplishments, even in retirement, click here. Kansas Public Television produced a terrific video about her as well:

- Susan Garofalo, advertising & public relations manager, Kidron Bethel Village



Concordia Village, Lutheran Senior Services, Springfield, IL
Lutheran Senior Services has dedicated itself to helping older adults live life to the fullest. That means different things for different people. For Margaret Miller, living life to the fullest means a 140-mile-per-hour thrill ride.

Since celebrating her 80th birthday with her first-ever skydive, Miller has set out on a new adventure every year, from motorcycling to hot air ballooning to (gasp!) getting her first tattoo! We’re privileged to take care of the little details of life so people like Margaret can do all the things they’ve always dreamt of doing.

Here is video of Miller’s amazing skydive:

- Luke Smith, communications and media director, Lutheran Senior Services



Foulkeways at Gwynedd, Gwynedd, PA
From the time he was 12 and living in Vienna, retired physician, Dr. Gustav “Gus” Beck, spent his summers in Normandy, France. He had inherited his father’s intellectual curiosity and his days by the sea were spent collecting fossils and shells and all types of interesting dried, abandoned and petrified sea life.

As Hitler rose to power, Beck’s parents were forced to leave their homeland and move to America. Gus Beck had come a few years earlier, when he was 18. His parents ultimately settled in Gloversville, NY, at the southern tip of the Adirondacks, a perfect location for father and son to continue to add to their collection of fossils and rocks.

Today, Beck, age 92, lives with his wife, Rita, a retired biologist, at Gwynedd House, and his collections adorn the shelves outside his living quarters, spilling onto neighboring shelves for all to enjoy.

Beck’s “Sea Critters and Rock Fossils” were collected between 1932 and 1974 in Normandy and the U.S. Beck and his sons, Andrew, an environmental scientist and research biologist, now deceased, and Edward, a psychologist, spent many memorable moments together, adding to the collection now on display. Today’s collection reflects the memories of meaningful times, shared together, and the wonder and excitement of discovery.

- Nancy Nolan, director of marketing & PR, Foulkeways at Gwynedd

T.F. Williams Court Apartments, Savannah, GA
Sylvia Brooks has been a resident at Williams Court Apartments since November of 2003. Brooks is an energetic, caring, and compassionate senior who spends her time helping other seniors.

Each morning she can be found at the front entrance waiting patiently for the Meals on Wheels delivery van. Brooks delivers hot meals to the other seniors in the building. When asked why she likes delivering meals Brooks said she delivers meals because she sees a need and she does not want anyone to be hungry.

While delivering meals, Brooks looks out for the well being of each senior and offers to help them with other tasks. If the task is too much for her to handle she seeks the help of the staff. Brooks is an inspiration to other seniors and the Williams Court staff. Her motto in life is to help others.

- Gloria Culbreth, service coordinator, T.F. Williams Court Apartments

LeadingAge Ohio
To celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2012, LeadingAge Ohio interviewed a number of its members, residents and others to create a “video birthday card.” It’s a nice tribute to the seniors served by Ohio members and a look at the histories and motivations of the providers who serve them. The video below is hosted at YouTube. It is also available at the LeadingAge Ohio website.

- Timothy White, director of communications and public relations, LeadingAge Ohio