What prompts someone to consider moving to a retirement community – and what is it really like to live there? More than 150 prospective residents recently joined together on a Zoom call to hear from a panel of Covia community residents about their choice of community living.
“When my husband died, I was living alone in a new home that we had just remodeled. I was really alone,” said Sharon, a resident of Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa. “Friends encouraged me to come and visit the community and I found it so welcoming. There are so many things to do and people to see that it’s enriched my life so deeply.”
Many echoed the importance of engagement with others as a major plus of community living.
“I wanted to live near my children but wanted to be with peers, in a vibrant community,” said Judy, a San Francisco Towers resident.
“There’s a welcoming committee that arranged for us to meet others over meals,” said Chuck, a resident of St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. “It’s one way we started to understand the community. We have relationships with people we met when we first moved in.”
The supportive continuum of care was another key priority in evaluating a move to a community.
“One alternative for people is to stay at home and become increasingly incapacitated, and have to have family or someone hired to take care of you. The other alternative is a community with the opportunity to see people who model that transition — from being able to do so many things on your own to when you’re not able to do so much,” said Raymond, a resident of Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove. “It’s the last phase we don’t tend to think about for ourselves. That’s part of life. In a community like this, you have support and some role models that you wouldn’t have if you were on your own.”
Judy added that “With a background in critical care nursing, I very carefully evaluated the health care continuum. I’m very impressed with the way that Covia has really observed to the fullest all of the CDC recommendations during the pandemic.”
Staffing levels and quality of service in a community were a key criteria for many residents.
“Staff have been wonderful, especially during the pandemic. And we have wonderful resident health services staff; they’ve all bent over backwards to make life easier for us,” said Judy. “At first my family was very concerned when they saw the news [about the pandemic in congregate living] but you want to be in a place that is stringent and careful. My family has been very reassured by the staff competency and quality.”
Sharon commented that she appreciates that staff get to know residents individually. “The staff really take pride in the work they’re doing. The dining staff we see every day and each of more than 400 residents is greeted by name,” she said. “They are exceptionally competent. It’s an amazing variety of food. It’s one of the most nurturing places one could be, even more so in an epidemic.”
In addition to health care support, a community of peers and friends, and quality staff, every individual has unique priorities – and residents stressed the importance of knowing your own personal priorities.
“Take stock of the things you need and look at places through that lens,” advised Katie from Canterbury Woods. “I came and stayed overnight and discovered the distant sound of people moving about was reassuring to me.”
“For us, most of the places we looked at were remote and we wanted to be able to go out and get a cup of coffee on our own,” noted Richard.
Sharon, who like many residents retired from a demanding professional career, recommended considering how you might spend your time. “Look at the activities, performances and events that are available,” she advised. “Even during the pandemic, we have closed-circuit TV with exercise classes and performances and classes. I think it’s important to look at the daily life options you have.”
“We had criteria for physical facilities and architecture and we had geographic criteria,” said Peggy from Canterbury Woods. “But when we have lunch with people who are looking at our community as an option, my main message is ‘every retirement community has a culture, a people culture, that’s unique.’ I encourage people to have as much contact with people who live in a community and stay at the place for a couple of days so you can uncover who people are.”
All the residents on the panel agreed that it’s important to understand your personal priorities, do your research and visit communities of interest.
One of the residents summarized the process, saying, “I did my homework and so I was ready when it was time to make the choice.”
When Webster House resident Chet Frankenfield was growing up on the East Coast, he never dreamed that he would travel to Antarctica. His adventure started in 1956 when he was attending Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island and his commanding officer asked him if he would be interested in studying Aerology at the Postgraduate School in Monterey California. “All I heard was Monterey,” Frankenfield says; he didn’t even know what aerology was, but he jumped at the chance to go to California. He learned later that “it’s the Navy term for Meteorology” and when he got to Monterey he would be trained as a flight forecaster.
After he completed his yearlong training, Frankenfield moved back to the East Coast, where he was stationed in Patuxent River, Maryland. After a year in Maryland, a call went out for the next season in Antarctica. Frankenfield’s interest in Antarctica had been growing ever since he learned about the International Geophysical Year. As he notes, “it was one of the last places left on Earth that was not totally destroyed by tourists and was unexplored” and so he jumped at the chance.
The International Geophysical Year was a year and a half long worldwide study of the Earth that took place from July 1957 to December 1958. Most nations participated, building stations around the world, including in Antarctica. As Frankenfield notes, “this was the first time that they really included and had an extensive study of Antarctica,” including the effects of the massive ice cap on the rest of the world. His interest in Antarctica paid off and he was selected for the next season.
In Antarctica, Frankenfield had the opportunity to put his training to practical use, forecasting for flights between Christchurch, New Zealand and McMurdo station. Flight forecasting in Antarctica consisted of informing pilots of weather conditions, including wind speed and visibility, and telling them to turn back if conditions worsened. During the summer months, forecasts were also made for the helicopters and ski-equipped aircraft ferrying scientists, support personnel and supplies to research sites and outlying Antarctic stations.
After the runway, built on a frozen section of ice on McMurdo Sound, melted in early February, flights were discontinued. By mid-March, the last ship with the last of the summer personnel left; and the remaining 120 men began their seven months of isolation. Four of the months were in darkness, and the only personal communication with the rest of the world was by ham-radio.
Frankenfield maintained the McMurdo weather station 24 hours a day. He and his four-man wintering-over crew took weather readings and sent up weather balloons, which was quite an undertaking as it included blowing up the large balloon and tracking it so they could take hourly upper atmospheric readings.
He and his men decided on a strict twelve hours on, thirty-six hours off schedule, which Frankenfield says his men were not happy about at first but really appreciated by the end of the winter. Where other crews, such as some of the construction personnel who were tasked with rebuilding the runway come summer, had little to do over the winter, Frankenfield’s team’s steady schedule kept their minds working steadily with no time for boredom to set in.
Frankenfield worked the normal ten-hour seven day a week schedule. When he wasn’t working, he stayed busy by taking up a number of different hobbies from reading and playing chess to teaching math and learning oil painting. He even completed some, as he puts it, “fairly decent penguin pictures” though he gave them away to his fellow officers who wanted them for their kids.
McMurdo Station was only one mile from the abandoned hut of Robert Falcon Scott, the first British explorer to reach the pole, so Frankenfield explored the debris around the structure as the hut itself was filled with snow. He would look for any items from Scott’s stay and on one excursion, Frankenfield found two salt jars, which he kept as a souvenir for his sister. Years later when he visited the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch with his wife, he was surprised to find some of his salt jars on display.
But that wasn’t the biggest surprise from Frankenfield’s trip to Antarctica. About ten years ago, when he got a new iPad and tried Googling himself, he was surprised to learn that a glacier had been named after him without his knowledge. He wrote to the US Geological Survey and they confirmed that it was true, the Frankenfield Glacier was indeed named after him.
After his year in Antarctica and a short stint in New Zealand, Frankenfield had spent time aboard an icebreaker that was trying to penetrate the Bellingshausen Sea to reach a point of land that no ship had ever previously reached. Though the ship abandoned its goal when they received a distress signal from a Danish ship, they got close enough that Frankenfield and a couple of the crew were able to fly in and land. They set up a tiny weather station, which would inspire the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names to name the glacier after him.
After returning from Antarctica, Frankenfield got a job in computer programming. He was just out of the military and had no experience in the computer industry but during his interview at a company in Sunnyvale, he noticed a book about Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton on his interviewer’s desk. “We sat there and talked about Antarctica for an hour,” Frankenfield says “and I left and I knew I had the job.” He pursued work in computers for the next thirty years until he retired in the 1990s.
The biggest lesson that Frankenfield took away from his time in Antarctica was how to live with himself and to keep himself entertained. He was told by a psychiatrist during a pre-expedition interview that he was “going to be bored as hell” and so he became determined to keep busy. Along with the hobbies that he took up over the year, he learned how to be comfortable with himself and to be content in any setting. It’s a skill that he holds onto to this day along with all of the memories of his year in Antarctica.
The Village People, Spring Lake Village’s entrant in the Sonoma County Wine Country Games (commonly known as the Senior Games), won their first medal on May 31, 2019, taking third place in the bocce tournament. The team included Capt. Sue Guerra, Don Allison, Brenda and Butch Dippel, Pete Guerra, and Barbara Ware, all residents of Spring Lake Village, a Covia Life Plan Community in Santa Rosa.
The Sonoma County Wine Country Games, a program benefiting the Council on Aging, encourages healthy activity and social engagement for anyone 50+ through education, connections, and the spirited competition of sport, inspiring all to take an active role in determining the quality of their aging experience. Along with bocce, events include basketball, cycling, pickleball, tennis, volleyball and more.
In the bocce tournament, teams competed with each team playing three 50-minute games. If teams did not finish in 50 minutes, the existing score at the time was used. At the end of the three games, four teams were eliminated from competition based on number of games won and point count. The two remaining teams with the highest point count played each other for first and second place. The two other remaining teams played for third place.
In the first round, The Village People beat a team from Oakmont called Varenna #2, lost to Fountaingrove (another Oakmont Team), and beat the Collectiballs, a Santa Rosa league team, giving them enough points and wins to progress to the second round. After defeating Varenna #2 a second time, the Village People squared off against the Go Getters for their chance to win the bronze medal.
Congratulations to the Village People for their third place win!
Ruth Reznikoff and Laura Olson share the distinction of being one of the few mother/daughter pairs living in the same community. Ruth worked as a dietitian in San Diego and raised her family of three daughters. One of her girls, Laura, eventually settled in San Francisco with her husband, Stephen. In 2013, Ruth, then 96, wanted to be closer to her family and live in a place with more security. She moved to San Francisco and settled in at San Francisco Towers. Four years later, when Laura and Stephen retired, they also chose the Towers as their home.
Today, as she prepares to turn 102, Ruth still lives independently and remains very active in the San Francisco Towers community, serving on three committees. For Laura, living close to her mother has provided special moments and has even critical support. A few years ago, when Stephen had a bad accident and came home after three weeks in the hospital, he couldn’t be left alone. When Laura had to leave the house for critical errands, she was able to call her mom to come downstairs and be with Stephen. “It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly!” Laura said.
Originally published in Community Matters
“I’ve always been interested in the environment,” says Canterbury Woods resident Nancy Frost. “I was fortunate enough to spend my summers in a redwood forest. And how can you not be interested in the environment when you get to do that.”
For more than 30 years, Frost worked for the Government, first in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and then as one of the first employees of the Environmental Protection Agency when it was established in 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day.
After returning to California, Frost continued to work on environmental issues – a passion that did not stop when she moved to Canterbury Woods, a Covia Community. For the five years since she has lived here, Frost has provided resources and training to help her community “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.”
“When I moved here, there was a small program, which still exists, but there wasn’t an overall educational program for people about what items goes where,” Frost explains. “I was also the chair of the then Housekeeping Committee, now called the Environmental Services Committee. It’s our staff who pick up all of our trash and recyclables. And I could see from looking at what we were doing that there was a lot of confusion.”
Staff aren’t allowed to sort through recycle bins. “Somebody got injured by reaching in and there was a broken glass, so for the safety of our staff, they are not asked to do any sorting. So it’s really up to us as the individual residents,” Frost said.
Frost provides information to help residents know which items are recyclable and which are not. “I have many hats here, and one of them is called the Trash Lady. I will get calls and I will get notes: ‘where should I put this?’” She explains that the information on recycling changes regularly. “Since I’ve been here, we are under the third, going on fourth reiteration of what can be recycled because of what’s going on worldwide.”
Earth Day gives Frost a chance to provide more focused information for the community with a display that is placed in Canterbury Woods’ main hall for three days, giving people information and updates on what can be put in recycling as well as other steps they can take to reduce their environmental footprint.
As she prepares for this year’s display, “One of the things I have spread out here in my usually neat living room is a whole bunch of papers,” she says. “I’m going to try to show from the tree to the process down the road. And paper can only be recycled four to six times, and after that, it’s trash. But that last reiteration – the paper napkins, the Kleenex – those are things that are designed to absorb moisture, and it’s why we can’t recycle it, even if it’s just water. They have had their last life. So when I prepare this, I try to educate folks on the Why so that they can make a decision when something new pops up. It’s not just, ‘This is what you do.’”
Her educational programs have made an impact. “As a community here in Pacific Grove, we are probably the top-notch community recycler. There are so many retirement homes and senior living homes, so we’re grouped in with many other communities and commercial establishments. We had a presentation last year that showed we’re the one that probably does the most and the best.”
Mary Lou Kelpe, Canterbury Woods’ Wellness Coordinator, has worked with Frost on Earth Day and other events that encourage the community to be mindful of how they can make a difference. Kelpe reports that, along with the Earth Day displays, “Nancy also went with our residents twice last year to tour our new recycling/waste management facility. We learned a lot about all the new recycling rules as a community.” Their trip is featured in the photo above.
Recycling is only one part of the community’s environmental efforts. Residents reuse items by selling them in the Canterbury Woods store. And Frost encourages reducing the amount of waste products by offering suggestions, such as using handkerchiefs instead of facial tissues and reusable water bottles instead of plastic. In the dining hall, residents can choose to get dinner to go in reusable, microwavable containers. “You can heat your food in it, you can refrigerate it if you’re not going to eat it right away, and you return and it gets washed and it gets used again,” Frost says.
Even if people aren’t interested from an environmental standpoint, Frost notes that these small changes add up to significant financial savings. “It’s cheaper to put something in the recycle bin than it is in the trash bin. If you use less of things, it’s cheaper than if you’re getting a new thing each time. For example, instead of taking the little white bags to take something home from the dining hall each day, how about a reusable bag that you bring? There are little things that each person can do that make a difference.”
One thing Frost tries to emphasize each year is that “It matters.” “Earth Day is one day a year when we can remind everybody that really every day is Earth Day.” Due in part to Frost’s annual Earth Day displays, “I think people think about what to do with things that they no longer want or use, along with the daily trash. I think there’s a pretty heightened awareness. And I think also it’s something that people think about much more than they thought about five years ago. But even then, they were more conscious than the average community. I’m proud of people wanting to make a difference.”
Canterbury Woods residents are making use of the campus facilities to back their traditional holiday recipes: cookies, truffles, and more. One of our residents has shared her personal creation: a recipe for raspberry-jalapeño pepper jelly.
Raspberry-Jalapeño Pepper Jelly
1 4-oz can diced jalapeño peppers, drained
1 medium-large red bell pepper, diced
1 ½ – 2 cups fresh raspberries
1 ½ cups white vinegar
6 cups sugar
1 packet Certo fruit pectin (there are two in each box)
Red food coloring (optional)
Place in blender the first three ingredients and blend until there are no large particles, adding a little of the vinegar if it’s too thick to blend well. Place in large pan with the rest of the vinegar and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring throughout. Add the sugar; bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the Certo and a little red food coloring, if desired (I do). Spoon the foam from the top. Pour into 7 or 8 half-pint jars, that have been sterilized by boiling. Cover with the sterilized sealing rings and tightly screw on the tops. You will hear them popping within an hour to make sure they are sealed. Don’t move for several hours. I serve with crackers and cream cheese.
Every Christmas residents at San Francisco Towers enjoy a beautiful Christmas Circus Wagon, on display in the Lounge during December. This is the story of how SFT residents brought the wagon into existence.
In Bill and Martha Steen’s Christmas tree ornament collection was a circus wagon ornament. Bill decided it would be a special treat to build such a wagon as a Christmas decoration for The Towers. Bill approached Dick Brain with his idea, along with a sketch for a table to implement his project. Dick made a mockup showing Bill how he proposed fabricating the table and its accessories. With Bill’s approval of the mockup Dick proceeded with precise drawings and wiring diagrams for the wagon. Fabrication started in September 2005, with the wagon completed and installed in the main Lounge just before Thanksgiving.
The wagon was fabricated from a 8’ x 4’ plywood sheet, metal folding legs and dimensional lumber and moldings. Finishing items were the wheels, finials, side curtains, acrylic widows and electrical service equipment and wiring. The miniature amusement park rides were purchased from Gump’s. The wheels were based on those shown in an old photograph of a cart. The wheels and finials were made by a specialty cabinet shop in Windsor.
Dick Brain and Roger Cutler fabricated the wagon and painted the table. Marcia Cutler painted the columns, wheels, finials and moldings. In addition, she and Roger glued small human figures to their poker chip bases and then painted the chips to match the table. Hope Streeter made the side curtains, which are held to the table molding with Velcro strips.
Custom storage boxes for the figures, trees, vehicles, buildings, etc. were fabricated from cardboard paper boxes. Storage containers for the rides and the various wagon parts were fabricated from plywood and dimension lumber, with casters for transport. It was mandatory that all these rolling storage containers had to fit through regular and elevator doors in the building. Dick prepared assembly and dis-assembly instructions for setting up and removal of the wagon.
The Christmas Circus Wagon display includes amusement park rides with moving parts, houses and other buildings, vehicles, people, trees, animals, a moving train, lights and music. You can see a video of the Christmas Circus Wagon on San Francisco Towers Facebook page.
The wagon was ready for viewing Christmas 2005, and has since been enjoyed every holiday season by the residents, families and other visitors to The Towers. The 2018 Circus Wagon is dedicated to Dick Brain, a tribute to his many years of dedicated service to so many San Francisco Towers activities.
This essay by Webster House resident Jim Lyons originally appeared in the December 2018 Webster House Newsletter.
It is money grubbing time again. Buy, buy, buy, and then buy more. For those of us who stress about what to buy, discombobulation can smash our frames of mind. Mettle is challenged. Yet it need not be that way. Here are some ways of giving that are guaranteed to please and leave your purse or wallet untouched. Rank and randy commercialism be damned! Embrace the wonders of giving simply. Curiously they are worth more than money could ever buy. They are fun for you too.
First. Make two phone calls per day to friends or family that you have not spoken with for a long time. This is personal and profound. It is not a mass-produced card. The personal touch is rarely practiced in this era of electronic babble. You too will be enveloped in the warmth and surprise of the call. If you don’t know the person’s phone number, it is easy to find and free. Ask me and I’ll teach you how to do it.
Second. Write three short hand-written notes daily for 30 days. The message need not be long. Just one sentence or phrase – just like on the $2 cards. Example: “I appreciate hearing your cheerful voice when I call. Thanks.” It’s the personal touch that does the trick. Such touches are scarce these days. A written note takes a minute or so to write. By the end of 30 days you will have brought some warmth into the lives of nearly 100 people! That’s a quiet antidote to the current climate where insults, blame saying, arrogance, and egotism seem to flourish unchallenged.
Third. Here’s some gifts for close friends and family. Write a simple story about an earlier experience, perhaps shared or perhaps not. Each of our apartments is full of things with stories. I’ve given some in my family treasured seasonal decorations along with stories about what our family was like when we used the decoration. I described some of the traditions and the circumstances of that earlier time. Scooter wrote a story about her family and the world during the year before each of her kids was born. Whew! What a treasure.
Think simple giving. That may just be our way to put the human spirit back into the holidays and to penetrate those thick bastions of religious traditions and beliefs.
This is a season when many faiths celebrate the good in us all. A leader of the Hasidic Jews observed: “Everyday life is hallowed, and each of us is responsible for the bit of existence that has been entrusted to our care.” Let’s keep the traditions of giving centered on people.
On Thursday, October 18th, residents and staff throughout Covia participated in the Great ShakeOut, an earthquake safety drill. From Santa Rosa to Southern California, Covia took time to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” and then gathered to review and reflect.
“An earthquake drill like the Great ShakeOut is an example of staff and residents increasing their safety awareness by practicing what they have learned,” says Grant Edelstone, Senior Director of Risk Management. “When a person drops, covers and holds on and then responds to a simulated fire or burst pipe or power outage, they increase their readiness for an actual earthquake.”
Even before the event, people were getting prepared. Covia’s Resident Service Coordinators working in Senior Affordable Housing communities throughout California assisted Housing Administrators with a pre-drill information meeting. Topics discussed included an explanation of the Great Shakeout and what was to be expected as well as evacuation options and routes. San Francisco Towers offered an Emergency Preparedness Department Update in advance of the drill and invited residents to prepare in advance by scouting out the safest place to be in their apartment in case of an earthquake.
San Francisco Towers, which was built after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, has participated in the drill for years. Executive Director Christina Spence says, “We participate so residents and staff are prepared for the likely event of an earthquake that impacts our community.” The drill at the Towers involved more than Covia staff and residents, Spence reports. “Our California Department of Public Health Life Safety surveyor showed up right at 10:18. She ‘dropped, covered and held’ right along with us!”
Sadie Bracy, Housing Administrator at Jennings Court in Santa Rosa says, “We made noise with pots and pans and flickered the lights to simulate an earthquake. Two residents actually got on the floor under the table! Then we talked about the potential impacts of an earthquake afterword. We also talked about the safety of the building and installing the seismic gas shut off valve for more safety of Jennings Court.”
At Support Services, Covia’s administrative offices in Walnut Creek, an announcement over the PA alerted everyone in the building to the start of the drill. Afterwards, staff received a demo on go-bags and the locations of safety equipment and exits. “Last year during the fire [in Santa Rosa], I heard more than one resident say they’d been told to prepare a go-bag, but they didn’t think they’d actually need it,” says Laura Darling, a member of the Covia Safety Committee. “You don’t know you’ll need it until you do.”
Covia also prepared for the safety of seniors who would be unable to move themselves in the case of an emergency. At Webster House Health Center in Palo Alto, everyone participated in the drill. “All 3 floors participated along with vendors and home health agencies in the community during the drill. We had families and volunteers participating too,” says Assistant Executive Director Linda Hibbs. “I was stationed on 4th floor and the staff actively participated and moved the residents to a safe location.”
Hibbs continues, “After the drill was over we discussed why we have drills, what to do in a drill and how did the staff and residents think the drill had gone. The residents said thank you to the staff for practicing the drill and including them too. A few residents said they were happy that Webster House cared enough about them to practice if an earthquake happened and included residents in the drill.”
These drills are valuable preparation, Edelstone explains. “When there is a real earthquake, staff may react faster without thinking because of their practice. It can help them whether at home, work or traveling. Similarly, regular fire, disaster, active shooter and other drills increase safety readiness.”
And drills are just one part of building a culture of safety at Covia. “Covia has a commitment to safety in all levels of the organization,” says Edelstone. “Covia promotes a safety culture. This culture of safety’s goal is to achieve consistently safe operations that minimized adverse events. It represents a blame-free environment where everyone is able to report mistakes or errors or near misses or safety hazards, without fear of reprimand or punishment. A culture of safety encourages staff collaboration to solve safety problems. It strives to prevent or reduce errors and improve overall quality.”
Sadie Bracy at Jennings Court says, “A culture of safety means we anticipate that there will be an emergency at one point and we prepare ahead of time for it. That we take keeping our residents safe very seriously. And that we are constantly trying to improve our emergency responses.”