The Passions Project evolved through photographer Heidi Wagner’s work with seniors in Boulder, Colorado. As she got to know the people in the community where she worked, Heidi realized that they continued to pursue passions and interests that brought them joy. At the same time, she noticed that these passions were not recognized by the community at large and that aging was seen as an inactive, uninteresting period of life. Heidi started The Passions Project to communicate that “This stage of life is not necessarily about looking back at one’s life as something that’s passed, but instead as an exciting time filled with vitality and wellness, where each day has purpose and meaning.” Immanuel Lutheran Communities will display the photos across campus beginning this fall, providing residents, visitors, and the public with the opportunity to view the many ways in which seniors continue to live life to the fullest. According to Heidi, “When you see someone doing what they love to do, you no longer see their age, you see their passion.” Immanuel’s residents are passionate about all kinds of things, and the Foundation wanted to showcase and share those passions as part of our attempt to redefine aging for the twenty-first century. In August of 2018, Heidi visited Immanuel Lutheran Communities and photographed nineteen residents from across campus engaged in activities from quilting to cycling to pet care. Below, you can view the photos and learn more about the residents pictured. The photos now hang near the main lobby of Buffalo Hill Terrace.
Susan Allison has loved spending time with children since she was one herself. When she was young girl, she assisted her grandmother in the church nursery, and she immediately found joy in looking after those younger than herself. Later, when she had a son of her own, Susan started reading to him. She has many fond memories of time spent sharing books with him and with her nephew. Now that she lives in the Immanuel Skilled Care Center, Susan finds any opportunity she can to read to kids. Sometimes, kids visit her and when she can, she volunteers at the nearby daycare center. Susan finds purpose in reading. “I feel like I’m doing good and helping children learn about things when I read to them,” she told the team.
Delsie Brooks has been painting for most of her adult life. She is mostly self-taught, though she once took a one-week class. “It’s a natural gift and I’m grateful for it,” Delsie told the team when we interviewed her during her photo shoot. While Delsie has drawn from the time she could hold a pencil as a child, she began painting in earnest when her own children were young. She paints primarily in oils. Her art has won awards and she once sold enough paintings to take herself and her husband on a European vacation. In this photo, you can see two of Delsie’s most prized paintings—they still hang on her wall at the Immanuel Skilled Care Center. While she is no longer able to paint, Delsie stills speaks about her work with passion. “I just had to paint and that was the way it was,” she says.
While she had done some fine thread crocheting in the past, Virginia Hull started crocheting in earnest in about 1980. She wasn’t sure whether she would easily be able to transition from thread work to yarn work, so she took a night class to learn how. Her first projects were blankets she made for her seven grandchildren when they graduated from high school. Over the last four decades, she’s made at least fifty blankets, including a king-size bedspread. One of her most prized projects is a blanket she crocheted for her own mother; she now uses it herself. On the day of her photo shoot, she was crocheting a lap blanket in vivid red, white, and blue. When asked what she likes best about crocheting, Virginia replies, “It’s relaxing, but it keeps me busy and keeps my mind working.”
When the volunteer in charge of the Buffalo Hill Terrace Library needed to take a break last year, Marilyn Knutson stepped in to fill the gap. Helping out in the library was a natural step for Marilyn, as the role combines her joint passions for books and helping others. Marilyn’s first job in a library was early in her career, when she was offered a job working half-time as a PE teacher and half-time as a librarian. To help her do the library part of her job effectively, she took courses in the evenings. She’s applied her knowledge at the Terrace library, too. Since taking over, she has completely reorganized the books. When asked what her favorite thing about working in the library is, Marilyn replies, “I like recommending a book to a reader.”
Ken Larson learned to play piano when he was growing up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He credits his parents for his love of music. His mother was a schoolteacher who played the piano for pleasure, and his father was a barber who sang—in barbershop quartets, in fact. They enrolled their son in piano lessons with a woman from Cornwall, England, and Ken’s lifelong passion for music was born. He has sung in a barbershop chorus, but he loves playing the piano the most. These days, he plays mostly in nursing homes because he sees the joy residents get out of his music. In addition to solo performances, Ken plays with a group called Razzamatazz, which performs around Valley. His favorite music is from the 1920s; he loves Walter Donaldson, Irving Berlin, and Gus Khan.
Gail Long started collecting stamps when her first grandson was born in 1980. She wanted to have a hobby they could share and a collection she could pass on. She soon developed a true passion for the stamps. These days, she focuses on collecting “duck stamps,” specially-designed stamps for hunting licenses. She has many different ones, from different years and even from other countries. While stamp collecting might seem like a solitary hobby, for Gail, it’s social. She’s a member of the Glacier Stamp Club, a “family-type group” of collectors from around the Flathead Valley. “You have no idea how interesting and knowledgeable the members of the club are, and I thoroughly enjoy it,” she enthused during her interview. Stamp collecting might be declining in popularity, Gail admits, but she and her Glacier group plan to keep at it.
Since she was twelve years old, Donna Mallery has practiced the piano whenever she had time. She still makes her way nearly every day to the piano in the dining area near her room at the Immanuel Skilled Care Center. “I just want to go over and play and enjoy myself,” Donna explains. “It’s part of my life.” Donna was one of eleven children in a musical family—they would all sing together, and many of them studied the piano. Donna was the only one who took her piano lessons seriously, and she continued to study music when she went to college. At college, she met her minister husband, and wherever they were posted, they used music in their ministry. When she gathers with her extended family of over 100, there is always music. The gatherings commonly include sing-a-longs and even recording sessions.
Toby has been in Martha Maurer’s life for longer than her husband, David. Martha and David dated when they were in high school, but both married other people. When both found themselves single again, they reconnected after 57 years apart. By the time they married, Toby was firmly entrenched in Martha’s life. Martha was not Toby’s first owner. He had been rescued by one of her neighbors, but he kept digging his way into Martha’s yard. After a few visits, both Martha and her neighbor decided he would be more comfortable if he just stayed at Martha’s house. When Martha lost her first husband shortly thereafter, he kept her company. That didn’t stop David and Toby from becoming fast friends, and now all three are really family!
Lois McClaren can be seen nearly every morning walking around the neighborhood near Buffalo Hill Terrace. These morning walks are an extension of her long-term passion for exercise and the outdoors. Lois attends nearly all of the exercise classes offered at the Terrace and swims every week. Her favorite way to exercise is to hike. Now, she usually walks around the neighborhood, but she also enjoys occasional outings to area parks. Lois and her husband, Bill, used to hike often with friends and with their four children, and Ptarmigan Tunnel in Glacier National Park was her favorite trail. They also participated in 5K races and went to the Senior Olympics. When asked what she finds so enjoyable about exercise, Lois replies, “You might hurt or be tired, but once it’s over you just want to go do it again. It’s really a high.”
Mark Norley has been involved in the local art scene for most the twenty-five years he’s lived in Kalispell. He has a degree in design from Montana State University and spent most of his career teaching art in California. Mark always enjoyed traveling and came to Montana nearly every summer before moving back upon his retirement. He’s now involved with the Hockaday Museum, the Conrad Mansion, and the Museum at Central School and is chair of the Architectural Review Committee for Kalispell. Mark paints mostly in watercolor, and he has exhibited at the Hockaday. His favorite artists to look at include the California Impressionists and abstract expressionists, including his former teacher Sam Francis. Mark states that painting is “sometimes relaxing and sometimes really fun, but it’s hard work!”
Lorraine Ondov learned to cycle as a child on a friend’s bike, and she immediately fell in love with the feeling of freedom it gave her. While she was promised her own bike for her fourteenth birthday, her parents weren’t able to buy it. In the end, Lorraine didn’t get a bicycle until her fiftieth birthday. She’s been an avid cycler ever since—she’s even ridden partway up Going to the Sun Road. These days, Lorraine rides an adult-sized tricycle called Trixie, and her route mostly takes her around the neighborhood near her Buffalo Hill Terrace home. Bike riding still gives her a sense of freedom and excitement. “When I think of the gal who was fourteen years old and then finally got her dream—and to follow it all the way through, that’s pretty special,” Lorraine mused during her photo session.
Clyde Pederson made his first woodcarvings when he was in high school. However, it wasn’t until much later, after he retired from his work as a farmer, that he took up the hobby in earnest. When he and his wife, Jeanine, were camped at an RV park, they came across a fellow camper who was carving small boots. Clyde was inspired to take up his own knife and chisel, and a passion was born. Clyde never took a class in woodcarving. Instead, he used books. He even learned the intricate art of bark carving from a book. However, it’s sometimes difficult to use pictures as examples. “You can’t duplicate a [bark] carving because the bark dictates what you can do,” Clyde told us during his photo session. “You have to be creative.” Clyde certainly is creative—as the carvings in his apartment of everything from wildlife to cartoon characters attest!
Upon entering Shirley Pryor’s room at the Immanuel Skilled Care Center, visitors are immediately struck by three beautiful paintings hanging on her walls. These paintings are Shirley’s own work, the remnants of a lifelong passion for art. When asked how she started painting, Shirley replies, “I just always liked to draw” and goes on to note that she started drawing as soon as she could hold a pencil. This love of drawing morphed into a love of and career in painting. Shirley taught art for thirty years. She also sold dozens of paintings and, between sales and teaching, supported herself and her three children with the proceeds of her art. Most of her work is in oils, but she painted occasionally in watercolors or pastels. While she enjoyed painting still lifes and landscapes, Shirley is most proud of a full-length portrait she once painted of her daughter.
Marlene Rutherford has been dancing since was about three years old. She first learned from her parents and then began taking tap and ballet lessons when she was five. She has since done many different kinds of dance, including Hula and Arabian dance. Line dancing has been Marlene’s primary genre since she was about 50. And it’s taken her far. In the 1996 Senior Olympics, she participated in the Advanced Line Dance category and won three gold medals. She also won a silver for choreography. Her favorite dance is probably the waltz; she very much enjoys the opportunity for “skirt work,” or choreography using the woman’s skirt. Marlene has always danced and she plans to keep dancing for as long as she can. “I love music and movement,” Marlene says. “It’s inborn.”
Buffalo Hill Terrace resident Marvin Schultz has always enjoyed playing games. He plays everything from card games to board games to chess—at least when he can find worthy opponents. Games were a part of his life growing up. His family would play canasta every Christmas, and his older brother, Merlyn, taught him to play chess. Eventually, Marvin even got good enough to beat Merlyn. Marvin doesn’t memorize move sequences; he plays “one move at a time,” and is not terribly defensive—he’s okay losing pieces if it works to his advantage. Though he certainly has a competitive streak, Marvin plays chess and all games purely for pleasure. He explains, “To me games should be fun and relaxing. If you get all uptight about losing, don’t play.”
When we first talked to Bob Stellar about the Passions Project, he showed us a scrapbook with pictures of the many classic cars he’s restored in his life. For a while, his auto restoration work was a business—people would pay Bob to restore their cars to working order. He would also go to car shows to see what other restorers were doing. While he’s worked on many different makes and models, Bob liked restoring Mercuries the best. Here, you can see Bob in the front seat of a 1960s Camaro, ready to go for a ride!
During their 64-year marriage, Villas residents Fred and Shelby Thompson have been to all seven continents. But when we talked to them about their passions, they spent a lot of time talking about their two homes: Alabama, where they spent their childhoods and working lives, and West Glacier, where they still have a home near Glacier National Park. They also make stained-glass wall hangings, ornaments, and other art pieces, and their work has been featured in businesses around the Valley. In the piece pictured here, you can see a pink camellia—the state flower of Alabama—and Glacier Park’s Lake McDonald, symbolizing the two places dearest to their hearts. As he reflects on the couple’s adventures, Fred reflects, “We’re getting old and we know it, but we look back and we don’t have any regrets.”
Bonnie Upton loves helping people. She volunteers in myriad ways, including playing the piano at nursing homes around the Valley, at the Kalispell Senior Center, and at church. While Bonnie has loved music since she was very young and has always enjoyed being of service, she really committed to volunteering after her first husband passed away from Alzheimer’s. “Joy became my byword,” she explains as she tells her story. One thing Bonnie does to bring joy to others is read to residents of the Immanuel Skilled Care Center. She is currently reading Jan Karon novels to her group, who certainly seem to enjoy them. “Everybody needs some joy in their life,” Bonnie goes on to say—and she certainly brings it!
A large, bright patchwork quilt hangs on the wall of Lola Vulles’s apartment at Buffalo Hill Terrace. It’s not one of her own creations, but it nonetheless exemplifies Lola’s passion for quilting. This prized quilt was made by Lola’s late daughter-in-law, Rhonda, who shared her keen interest. At one point, Lola tried to teach Rhonda how to quilt, but Rhonda had so much natural talent that she didn’t need much teaching. Lola’s taught others, though. She once had a business where she made and sold quilts and taught quilting. These days, she works collaboratively with a group from her church that makes quilts to send overseas. “They call me scrappy Lola, because I’m the one that works with the little pieces,” she shares with a smile.
About Heidi Wagner: For 25 years, Boulder-based photographer Heidi Wagner has used her camera to look closely at extraordinary people of all ages. Since 2013, The Passions Project has been the central focus of her work. Through the Passions project, Heidi shares the beauty and vitality she sees in people who are aging.
The Immanuel Foundation would like to thank the following individuals for helping make The Passions Project a success:
Pam Andrews — The Immanuel Skilled Care Center Nursing Team
Hannah Brown — Josh Brown — Carla Davis — Bob Morrow
Eleanor Olson — Deb Walton — Ashley Weiss, Annamarie Hopkins, and Mandey Weiss
At the Immanuel Foundation, we believe that every senior living in Montana has the right to a safe, secure home in an engaging and supportive community. We work every day to make that vision a reality and your financial support is crucial.