As May draws to a close, I’d like to note that it was Older Americans Month.  This celebratory month was established by President Kennedy in 1963 to recognize the unique contributions made to our communities by adults over 65.  It was also intended to draw attention to the challenges older adults face navigating our increasingly fragmented society.

This year’s theme—“Connect, Create, Contribute”—seems particularly suited to our residents here at Immanuel.  In fact, their lives are in many ways structured around these three themes.  Living in community means living a connected life.  Residents spend a great deal of time with each other.  They eat together, play games together, and sit by the fire in the lobby to chat or just to read the newspaper in the company of another person.  They are deeply connected to each other, and these connections enhance their lives.

And residents create in various ways every day.  Sometimes, they create projects in structured activities (like crafts) led by the recreation department.  Many of them continue creative pursuits they began long before they ever moved in to Immanuel.  Even those who are no longer able to actively pursue their previous hobbies continue to appreciate and celebrate creative work by sharing it with their neighbors.  Others develop new ways to be creative as they take a beginning art class, participate in sing-a-longs, or volunteer to help reorganize the Buffalo Hill Terrace library.  One resident recently put together his first 3D jigsaw puzzle (a model of Notre Dame).  He had never done puzzles before moving into the Villas, but it’s such a popular pastime here that he embraced it wholeheartedly and found new pleasure in the activity.

The third facet of this year’s theme, contribute, is something we in the Foundation have seen residents do first-hand.  We could not have made our recent Estate Sale fundraising event happen without the assistance of numerous resident volunteers.  And our Foundation resident advisory committee helps out on a regular basis with everything from hands-on special projects to long-range planning.  Residents also contribute to Immanuel and to the wider community in a variety of ways.  One plays the piano for fellow residents at the Skilled Care Center on a regular basis. Another reads to visiting children.  Still others organize the Terrace library, serve on various departmental committees, and volunteer at the local hospital.

Because they live in a retirement community, Immanuel residents have ample, structured opportunities to connect, create, and contribute.  But most of us have older adults in our lives who don’t live in communities like this one, and it’s important that we remember that they, too, need to connect, create, and contribute in order to thrive.  Even though May is essentially over, let’s make sure to recognize and celebrate them, too!

It’s not very common to see a retirement community featured in a movie or television show, so whenever I see one, I think, “I have to write about that for the blog!”  So imagine my delight at watching the 2012 film Quartet.  The film is set in Beecham House, an independent and assisted living community for retired musicians in England.  As the residents rehearse for their annual benefit concert (like Immanuel, they fundraise to help cover their expenses), a new resident arrives.  Since this is a community for people with a history of performing on stage, much drama ensues, as you can probably imagine.

It turns out that the new arrival is opera singer Jean Horton, played by Maggie Smith.  Jean used to perform regularly with three other residents: Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins), and Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly).  She also used to be married to Reginald, though only very briefly.  Most of the plot consists of Reg, Cissy, and Wilf trying to convince Jean to perform with them in the quartet from Rigoletto, which she eventually agrees to do, to great acclaim.  There’s not a lot more to be said about the plot.  Old wounds are opened and partially healed, and there’s quite a bit of discussion about what it means to get older when one is a performer.

What interested me most about the film was Beecham House as a setting, especially as compared to an American retirement community like Immanuel.  Here are some things I noticed.

Ways in which Beecham House is different from Immanuel:

  • Their singalongs are better.  Like, a lot better.  I love our residents, and I love the joy they get from music, but I’m afraid we just can’t compete with a bunch of retired musicians.
  • The residents at Beecham House are way more dramatic than Immanuel residents.  The gossip and backstabbing in that place makes Immanuel look just plain dull!  This is a good thing for us.
  • Beecham House the building appears to be a converted estate house, while Immanuel is purpose-built.  While fancy molding and turret windows are very nice, so are elevators.  Beecham House residents need a chair lift that runs the length of the staircase if they can’t or don’t want to climb.
  • Everyone at Beecham House knows each other before they move in.  Seriously.  The musical world in Britain is apparently very small.  Smaller than the Flathead Valley small.  That means the gossip that accompanies Jean’s arrival comes from people who know her.  While some Immanuel residents of course knew each other before they moved in, there’s a lot of room for most of them to become who they want to be in this phase of their lives without past baggage.

Ways in which Beecham House is similar to Immanuel:

  • New residents are of great interest to the community.  While our residents don’t necessarily have history with their new neighbors, a lot of people are always very excited to see who is moving in, what their interests are, and how they’ll fit in.
  • There are no assigned seats in the dining room… but that doesn’t mean residents don’t become somewhat territorial about “their spots.”  When one resident of Beecham House comes down to breakfast and finds someone else in his chair, he gets quite irritated.  It’s possible I’ve seen this happen here.
  • Like residents at Immanuel, residents at Beecham House continue to pursue their passions.  Of course, the Beecham House residents are all passionate about music and Immanuel residents have much more diverse passions, but the film’s portrayal of aging as a vibrant period in residents’ lives was familiar to me from people I know.
  • Residents look out for each other.  When Ollie the clarinet player has heart troubles, other residents alert staff, make sure he’s taken care of, and worry over him after he’s taken to the hospital.  Later, when Cissy falls and winds up in the community’s infirmary, Jean, Wilf, and Reg all visit her and take great care to make sure she’s all right and not lonely.  Immanuel residents also always keep an eye on each other and often visit each other in the hospital or post-surgery rehab center.  This is one of the fabulous things about living in community.

Okay, so it’s probably not fair to compare a British community for retired musicians to a Montana community for people from all walks of life.  But it’s always instructive to look at how places like this are portrayed in the media.  Overall, I think Beecham House makes communities look pretty good.  The film offers a nuanced picture of aging, and it certainly doesn’t portray it as inherently negative.

I want to note one more thing here: Underlying the plot of Quartet is the notion that if the Annual Gala is not a success, Beecham House will close.  The performance is a fundraiser, and all the residents take part not only to show off their still-strong skills but also to help their community.  Though our situation is fortunately much less critical, our residents, too, take pride in helping their community.  Some of them give of their financial resources over and above the fees they pay to live here.  Others contribute time—we are very grateful to the volunteers who help with all sorts of Foundation projects.  Most of all, they give of themselves and their myriad talents, making sure that Immanuel will remain strong.

Today, I want to recognize a group of people without whom most nonprofits couldn’t do our work: volunteers.  Volunteers give of their time and talents for no compensation other than the warm feelings they get from helping further a cause they care about, and they make a huge difference.  They’re on my mind because of an event we have coming up, so it seems like a great moment to tell you about some of the wonderful volunteers we’ve been working with.

This weekend, the Immanuel Foundation will host our first-ever estate sale.  We’ve been busy for months, collecting hundreds of items—from furniture to dishes to jewelry—from residents of Immanuel Lutheran Communities and our valley.  Over the past few days, we’ve been moving the items from storage, pricing them, and beginning setup for the sale.  To do this, we’ve needed help.  This event would not be possible without a large group of dedicated volunteers who care about the success of the sale because they care about the community we serve.

Some of these volunteers live right here at Immanuel.  Over the past couple of days, I’ve gotten to spend more time with the lovely Shelby Thompson and Mark Norley.  Along with a few others, Shelby and Mark have been almost as committed to the success of this sale as we staff are.  They’ve cleaned furniture, polished silver, priced items, and provided insight into the mechanics of running a second-hand sale.  Shelby even came up with the idea of calling it an Estate Sale.  Both have also donated generously of their lifetimes’ worth of experience—and objects.  Their involvement began last fall as donors and has continued tirelessly (Shelby’s husband, Fred, will also be joining us a volunteer starting today).

Other resident volunteers include Mary Duryee, Glenna Small, B.J. Carlson, Barbara Gould, Susanne Beck, and too many more to list here by name.  Running an estate sale is tiring, sometimes grubby work, but our volunteers help keep it fun as they help us get the work done.

It’s not only residents who have given so generously of their time.  Our board members—in particular Gini Ogle, Margie Simpson, Debbie Snyder, and Jim Heim have also taken a great deal of time out of their busy schedules to make this event a success.  Jim spent much of Wednesday hauling items from our storage units to the Gateway Community Center and even the town dump, and we very much appreciate his willingness, his stamina, and his pickup truck.  Gini, Margie, and Debbie have been champion pricers.  In fact, Gini, along with Mark, helped priced dozens of artworks weeks ago, making the past few days move much more quickly.

Immanuel staff, too, have made room in their very full workdays to help out, and even more of them are giving up part or all of their Saturday to work the checkout station, greet guests, and keep an eye on the sale areas.  If you come buy a piece of furniture, you might find that our CEO, Jason Cronk, helps you carry it out to your car.  Rae Workman, the Buffalo Hill Terrace concierge, will be helping as well, as will Hannah Brown, Carla Wilton, Taryn Waldenberg, Kathy Buffington, and a host of other employees from the C-suite to the front lines.  We know how hard they work during their regular days, and we very much appreciate their willingness to give part of their time to fundraising for our Lodge Day Service program.

And our families and friends are also helping when they can.  Every volunteer makes a big difference in the lives of the community we serve.  And that goes for most organizations.  If you volunteer for any organization, thank you.  And thank you, thank you, thank you to our volunteers!  When we say we couldn’t have done it without you, we mean it!  Your love for our community shows every day!

As spring swings into full gear in the Flathead Valley, Terrace resident Lorraine Ondov can often be found riding her adult-size tricycle around the neighborhood.  Lorraine has been interested in bike riding since she was a young teen.  She would borrow a friend’s bike and ride around her childhood neighborhood, and she enjoyed it so much that she asked for a bike of her one.  She was promised one for her fourteenth birthday, but in the end her parents couldn’t afford it.

Lorraine grew up, married, and started a family of her own.  While she’s always been focused on health and exercise, she didn’t get a bicycle until she turned fifty.  That year, her family decided it was time, and they bought her the bicycle for her birthday.  She enjoyed it so much that she kept it—and rode it regularly—for the next 41 years.

These days, Lorraine rides an adult-sized tricycle.  She got it for herself as a treat because she missed her bicycle, and her kids thought the trike would be safer.  It has added stability, and she still gets all the benefits of riding her bike.  And what are those benefits?  First of all, Lorraine gets regular exercise in an outdoor environment.  The health benefits have been obvious; Lorraine was able to go off her diabetes medication because of her diet and exercise routine, of which riding her bike is a major part.  She especially enjoys getting her exercise outside. “You can stop and look at the scenery or the birds,” she said as she explained why she enjoys bike-riding in particular.  There are also psychological benefits in having the freedom to go farther afield than she probably could on foot.  “It’s very good mentally, too, to be able to spread your wings,” Lorraine explained during her Passions Project interview.

Lorraine has found that community living helps her spread her wings.  For one thing, Buffalo Hill Terrace is located in a safe neighborhood with minimal traffic and roads that form a convenient loop that takes Lorraine about 30-40 minutes to ride.  The community also helps her keep in shape during the long Montana winters.  In addition to a stationary bike in the fitness center, the recreation department has bike pedals so residents can “ride” through various locations while watching videos during regular “cycling adventures” sessions.  Lorraine exercises in other ways, as well.  Through connections she made at Buffalo Hill Terrace, she was able to participate in a 5K walk/run last summer—and she was the oldest one there!

Lorraine bikes, walks, and goes to exercise class because staying fit is important to her and because she enjoys these activities.  “I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can,” Lorraine says.  “You’ve got to enjoy what you have now, because one day you know you won’t be able to.”

Lorraine signed up for the Passions Project because she loves to bike, and it turns out that her photo session made just a little difference in how she does it.  During her interview before the photo shoot, Heidi Wagner, the photographer, asked her if her trike had a name.  At the time, it didn’t.  A few weeks later, though, she called me.  “I’ve thought of a name,” she said.  “My bike is now named Trixie.”

Lorraine met Trixie the trike rather late in her life, and Trixie is only her second cycle.  But her passion for cycling began before she even had a bike of her own, something she recalled during her photo session.  As she reflected on her history with the activity, she said, “When I think of the gal who was 14 years old and then finally got her dream—and to follow it all the way through, that’s pretty special.”  It is indeed special, and we look forward to seeing Lorraine and Trixie for a long time to come.

On Saturday, May 18, from 8am-2pm, the Immanuel Foundation will host an Estate Sale at the Gateway Community Center (1203 US 2 W in Kalispell).  You’re invited to join us, and feel free to bring your friends!  We have a wide variety of items ranging from furniture to small appliances to jewelry, and all proceeds will help us extend our Lodge Day Service program to low-income families in the area.

All of the items we’ll be selling have been donated by residents of our valley.  In fact, many of them come from past, present, or future residents of Immanuel Lutheran Communities. Sometimes, when residents pass away, their family members aren’t quite sure what to do with all the things they leave behind.  When they donate them to the estate sale, we coordinate transportation and storage, so family members don’t have to worry about that when they’re also dealing with loss and with the sheer amount of work there is to do when someone passes.  Also, as residents move into the Villas, they often don’t have room to keep everything meaningful to them.  A lot of time their kids or other loved ones don’t want their stuff (or the residents don’t have close family who would naturally want it).  So, residents give their items to us because they know we’ll use the proceeds well.

We’ve gotten a few items that have particularly special stories behind them, and I thought I’d share some of those stories with you today.  After all, when you buy an object at an estate sale or secondhand store, you buy an object with history.  Most of the time, we never know the history, but some donors have shared the stories of their objects with us, and I’d like to share a few of those stories with you.

One resident gave us a painting of a parrot that she and her husband bought on a cruise ship.  The artist painted it over the course of the cruise and then, toward the end, there was a silent auction and the resident and her husband won.  The painting is a special memento of the trip and of their life together, but she doesn’t have a place for it in her new home at the Villas.  So, she gave it to us.  “I want you to have it because this is my home,” she told us.

Another couple gave us two significant objects.  One is an ice cream bowl that belonged to her grandparents.  It’s a special object that’s been handed down through generations, but they didn’t have room for it in their new home and they would prefer it be used than that it sit wrapped up in storage.  The second object of theirs is a spittoon from the courthouse in Great Falls.  We’re not quite sure how they came to have it, but they don’t have a place for it anymore and they want its proceeds to go to a good cause.

A third resident, who’s donated quite a few items, gave us a couple of pictures he painted himself as well as some other personally significant items.  He’s a retired art teacher and a working artist as well as an art collector.  He’s traveled a lot, so he’s amassed quite the collection of art, objects and experiences.  We have some fabric from France that he bought on his travels as well as assorted books and objects that reflect where he’s been and what he’s done.  Again, he just doesn’t have room to keep all of these things in his apartment, so by donating them to the sale he helps benefit his community at the same time he finds homes for his stuff.

When you come to the estate sale, you’ll have the chance to see all of these items and more.  I hope you’ll stop by!