Moving to a senior living community is a significant transition for most seniors. It may mean they have suffered the loss of a spouse or house or lifestyle. But some seniors use their new accommodations and new situation as a new lease on life. They reach out to their neighbors and neighborhood to make an impact. They embrace the opportunity to share gifts or talents with a new group of peers, whether that be a green thumb, an artistic talent, or just the gift of gab.
Irene Spicer has been passionate about gardening for as long as she can remember.
In her more than four years as a resident of Treyton Oak Towers, the 83-year-old has found a few ways to share her green thumb and love for nature with others in her community.
The gardening committee that Irene created when she came to Treyton Oak is in preparation mode now that spring has arrived. “When we started out, we were just maintaining the three gardens we have here, but then we decided it would be nice to add a butterfly garden,” Irene says. Last year, Irene and her six-person gardening committee tried that for the first time, but they watched as the butterflies came out of their cocoons and unfortunately, just flew away.
This year, Irene says they have made some adjustments to the plan, including enclosing all of the Treyton Oak garden spaces. “This winter, we read up on it and plan to make sure our spring plantings also include plenty of plants that attract butterflies.”
The butterfly garden has also attracted some very popular new residents — turtles. “People just line up in the hall to watch them,” Irene says. “We feed them and take good care of them. They go underground for the winter, but they come back.”
Bringing beauty to the surroundings has made a big impact on the whole community at Treyton Oak. Watching for the seasonal return of some regular visitors is something that brings joy to residents, Irene says. “We have a holly tree in one of our gardens, and every year we have a robin who comes to make her nest and have her babies there,” Irene says. “Everyone gets excited when the robin appears. It’s contagious.”
Irene, who before her retirement had volunteered as a hostess for the annual Old Louisville Garden Tour, says there is something magical about gardens. “There is just something about seeing a garden come to life, having been dormant for six months, and to see it bloom out again as if nothing’s happened. It’s like resurrection, Easter time, and springtime — things just start coming to life.”
The gardens have brought beauty and meaning to the lives of the community’s residents, who take advantage of the walking path around the property to enjoy the nature around them. “When you walk out into that garden, you forget you’re in a senior place; you just know you’re in a beautiful place. To me, that’s how it should be. We know that one of these days we’re going to be like some of these plants and we’re going to fade away, but right now we’re coming back every spring to go outside and get the garden going again.”
One of the first people you will talk to if you tour The Forum at Brookside is 84-year-old Jimmie York. Since he moved there in February 2017, he has made it his mission to be an enthusiastic ambassador of hospitality. “I’m a neighborly sort of person, so I meet with people who just moved in, orient them to the front desk, and how to get things done,” Jimmie says. One aspect of living at The Forum that Jimmie introduces to newcomers is the weekly worship service.
“We hold an ecumenical service for folks who can’t get to church on a Sunday. It’s an ongoing thing we have had with a volunteer chaplain for 20 years. The service does a lot toward helping our community maintain its spiritual balance. The whole idea is everybody has to have some spiritual ties, so we provide a service for folks to worship and to draw close to God in their own way. That’s something that’s important to us,” Jimmie says. One resident even attends through a phone hookup in her room so she can be a part of the service even though she is unable to be there in person.
The worship service provides another way for residents to connect with one another. “Something seniors have to learn sometimes is you have to work a little bit at being congenial with each other. We want to be treated pleasantly so we have to treat others pleasantly. Sometimes you have to initiate some conversation, or go out of your way to have lunch or dinner with someone you’ve never met before. That’s one of the things I’ve gotten a little better at since being here.”
Kathy Embry, sales director at The Forum, says Jimmie’s presence makes a real difference. “He is instrumental to our community — always friendly, always positive, and upbeat,” she says. “He’s always ready to greet newcomers and have dinner with them, and make them feel really good about moving to The Forum.”
Bringing an opportunity for creative expression to her community at The Altenheim, Annette Swann is a former art educator and artist. The 77-year-old has initiated several art projects in the last two and a half years since coming to the community, including a wall hanging project with the help of many residents.
According to Annette, the wall hanging was done in the tradition of block quilting, and Annette prepared kits with art supplies for staff, while residents participated during activity times at the facility.
“We created the piece using a basic Early American motif similar to a sunbonnet baby, a common quilting theme. More than a dozen residents contributed, and some staff as well. Even one of the employees’ sister, who is a shut-in, was able to do some blocks.”
The fabric wall hanging that emerged from the project is 3-foot by 5-foot with 18 individual rectangles and hangs on a dowel rod on the second floor outside Annette’s apartment. Its final home will likely be in the newly created activity center at The Altenheim.
Annette says the collaborative art project gave residents the opportunity to socialize and revisit artistic skills and expression. “Each person individualized their work. They decorated it, selected the colors they wanted to use, or added some things. They enjoyed reminiscing about similar activities they were more skilled at when they were younger,” she says.
Annette, who retired as an associate professor from the University of Northern Iowa, says the collaborative art project has had a positive impact and inspired other art projects in the senior community, such as rug hooking. “It has enabled me to lend my talents as an art educator to benefit others. It keeps me out of trouble and gives me the chance to keep my hand in.”
By Holly Hinson | Photos by Erika Doll