Connecting through music

Family was the main draw for Stan Stewart when he moved to Touchmark. “I wanted to live closer to my son,” he says. When he and his son first visited Touchmark, he was impressed with the different levels of care available.

“It seemed like a good fit.” Once settled, he quickly grew to appreciate the community of people seeking social connection, something lacking where he had previously lived. “There, the residents had all grown up together, attended the same high school, and spent their whole lives there. It was hard. I have a lot more friends at Touchmark. The people here are more likely to make friends.”

Stan and his son Christopher, who plays flute, guitar, and piano, share a deep love of music, and the father and son attracted a large audience when they played in the Touchmark lobby. “The place was packed!”

Music was the path to a new friendship with Harry Kramer, who heard Stan singing, and the two men started talking about music. Harry, who started piano lessons at age 5 and has played keyboards for 30 years, says he’s impressed with the quality and range of Stan’s voice.

“I often accompanied my wife when we played at dances. She was a big hit when she played an electric bass guitar. She got the standing ovations, and I got all the sitting ovations,” Harry jokes.

Stan enjoys Harry’s sense of humor and says it’s better to perform with him than alone. The two now regularly play together, often treating residents to lively, toe-tapping performances.

Generations of music
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Stan says his love of music grew from deep roots. His greatgrandfather played the fife in the Civil War. His grandfather played the flute. His father was in the military, so the family moved around a lot before settling in Modesto, California. “I learned how to play the guitar in college, but my true instrument is my voice.”

“I communicate with people through music,” he says, adding that he characterizes his music as more of an avocation than a full-time job. After studying economics at the University of California at Davis, Stan pursued a career in business that included insurance and estate planning, much of that time in Modesto.

Singing semiprofessionally
The road to performing in public started when he played some chords on a guitar at the insurance office where he worked. A coworker invited him to his house for band practice, and the other musicians asked him to sing with them for an Open Mic night.

“The next night I was the lead singer for a band.”

Stan says there are two kinds of music: country and western. “If it doesn’t tell a good story, I’m not interested in it.”

He often opened his shows with the Johnny Cash signature song Folsom Prison Blues. Stan croons the opening lines: “I hear the train a comin’. It’s rollin’ ‘round the bend. And I ain’t seen the sunshine since, I don’t know when.”

Travel time to gigs with bandmates was often spent singing so they were warmed up by the time they arrived. “Once we were done performing, we walked off the stage and divvied up the money.”

After entertaining for 10 years in Modesto, Stan now is part of a duet, having formed a friendship through a shared love of music. “Harry is very talented and knows many of the songs I like to sing. He’s got the talent, and I just sing along,”

Harry credits Stan with reviving his love of playing. Dealing with the grief of losing his wife of nearly 60 years was “the most horrible time.” He says the community of friends at Touchmark helped him to embrace the idea that “life is for the living.”

Today, Stan and Harry take pleasure sharing their musical talents with each other—and spreading the joy of music to others.

Stan and Harry

Meet Bill and Carolyn Hines

“Have fun, will travel” is their motto
Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a popular movie, but if you add a motorcycle, you get a good idea about how Carolyn and Bill Hines like to spend their time.

They fly across the country in their own plane. They drive their snazzy Subaru BRZ. They sail on Lake Hefner, and Bill tools around on his motorcycle. They have traveled in Europe, partly by train. They have also ridden the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado, and the White Pass Scenic Railway out of Skagway, Alaska.

Along with traveling, Carolyn (73) and Bill (74) are deeply committed to community service. Their long list of volunteer activities includes helping at the Oklahoma History Center, ushering at the Civic Center, and spending time with WhizKids, an after-school program connecting under-served Oklahoma City children with mentors to build reading skills, confidence, and moral character.

Each is active physically. They enjoy hiking; the couple have hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, spent the night at Phantom Ranch, and hiked back up the next day. They skied in Colorado and New Mexico for over 40 years. Carolyn has practiced yoga for many years.

They retired about a decade ago as longtime civil servants at Tinker AFB, he in human resources recruiting engineers and she as a program controller. “We’re native Oklahomans, and we wanted to remain in the Oklahoma City area, where our four children live,” says Carolyn.

Search leads to Parkview
The Hines had wanted to downsize for a while from their northwest Oklahoma City home and only became serious about it over the last two years. The couple wanted to make the decision as to where they would live before a health crisis might require their children to make it for them. “It’s part of planning for old age,” Bill says matter-of-factly.

Their children appreciated their forethought and agreed moving to a retirement community was a “wise decision.”

So the search began. “We visited several,” says Carolyn. “Some were more like a hotel, where the people seemed to be very quiet and not as outgoing and welcoming as the people living in Touchmark. Others were welcoming, and the residents seemed to be having a good time, but the houses were not as nice as those in Parkview. But it was the people living at Touchmark who caught our attention.”

Bill agrees. “They were so friendly. Touchmark seemed to be the friendliest, had the most fun activities, and had really interesting people. Every time we sat down, someone was talking to us.”

Rescue dogs play a role in decision
They knew they wanted to choose their floor plan and build a home from scratch. Then there was Coco and Gidget to consider. They needed a fenced yard with room to run and play. “The nearby Coffee Creek neighborhood trails are wonderful,” says Carolyn. “We can walk the dogs almost every day. Parkview is perfect.” They also like how close Parkview’s gazebo is to their home. “It’s on the other side of our backyard, and is such a comfortable setting!”

The close proximity to the YMCA at Mitch Park was a plus for Carolyn, as well, who is highly committed to yoga classes there.

The parties also attracted the couple. Oktoberfest, with its German beer and pastries, was a favorite for Bill. “We never felt alone. Someone would always stop and ask where we were from,” he says.

“Touchmark’s a fun place,” says Carolyn. “It’s nice to not have to do the yard, to not have to get a cleaning lady. Everything is just kind of convenient and carefree.”

Whether taking a road trip, flying somewhere, or staying put in their new home, carefree and fun best describe these Parkview neighbors.

Rocket science—just one of her many passions

tafv-dorothysmithKeeping a sharp mind and an active lifestyle helps us feel more vibrant. Dorothy Smith’s extensive knowledge and seemingly endless energy are definitely key contributors to her enriched lifestyle. Her favorite subject? Science!

Dorothy’s lifetime love of learning, science, math, and travel has helped her lead a very interesting and full life. Her first job, right out of college, was with an oil company. She and her colleagues were brought contour maps, seismographs, and local data from an area. Their job was to combine the data and try to find oil.

“We made these maps that looked very similar to weather maps,” Dorothy remembers. “And then we’d try and make educated guesses on where oil could be. I liked that job a lot, because there was something exciting when you did all your calculations right.”

Dorothy worked that job while her soon-to-be husband fought in World War II. They had had plans of going to medical school together, but when the war ended, Dorothy had graduated. They were married, and he returned to school. So she started teaching math at a couple of universities until she found a job working at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Wisconsin. There, she worked with a small group of men and women doing calculations for an atomic scientist.

“There was a scientist working on Flame Theory for ramjets. We were the computers, since back then we didn’t have computers like now. We did all the paper calculations and statistics, basically backing up what he was trying to prove.”

Traveling the world
Dorothy also worked for many years with the Friendship Force International, an organization that strives to build a world of peace through adult foreign-exchange programs. She’d spend a week or so with a family, go to work with them, learn bits of their language, and experience life with them. She participated in trips to Colombia, Korea, Germany, Russia, China, Japan, up the Amazon, all over the US and Canada, and to nearly countless destinations all over the world. “I loved traveling. I’ve been to all seven continents, including Antarctica, and to every state and province in the US and Canada.”

These days, Dorothy likes to watch videos and take online courses on subjects in the medical science field. She “picks up a class or two” on anatomy, physiology, and neurology. “Just fun courses to keep my mind sharp!” She also enjoys learning about astronomy and watching the sun, moon, and stars from her deck.

“Before I moved to Touchmark, I would drag my lawn furniture out at all times in the middle of the night and gaze at the stars. My daughters actually got me a star for my 90th birthday. There’s a star named after me in the Orion constellation.”

In addition to continuing her learning, Dorothy stays involved with church groups and was recently awarded a Lifetime Service Award by the Friends of Hospice organization. She also enjoys “always finding something fun to do at Touchmark,” and going on outings with friends.

“I’ve had a great time getting settled in Touchmark. It’s such a nice, homey feeling here. I’ve recommended Touchmark to lots of people.”

Meet June Hunter

“No more worries!”

When June Hunter decided to move to a new home in a new city, she didn’t quite know what to expect. But one year later and happier than ever, she continues to live her life to the fullest.

“I’m not just living a full life,” says June. “If you ask me, I feel like I’m living a full life-plus! And in a place that I’m proud to now call my home.”

With her grown daughters, their husbands, and her three grandchildren, June decided relocating near her family was important to her. It was through friends that she learned about Touchmark.

From Ontario to the prairies
Originally from Ontario, June lived there all of her life up until she met her husband, as he was attending his veterinarian studies at the University of Guelph.

“Harold was a prairie-boy at heart, so as soon as his studies were over, we decided to make the move to Regina, Saskatchewan.”

The couple moved to Saskatchewan in 1956, had two daughters, and worked together in their veterinary clinic.

“I have always liked to keep busy and was very involved in assisting with our business. I also served on the board of directors for the Regina Symphony and most of the committees at our church. Even now, I plan my day the night before, because I like knowing exactly what I am going to do the next day.”

After Harold passed away at a young age in 1982, June sold the family business and found work at a nursing home doing administrative work. After 10 years, she went to work in an Indian Artifacts Gallery for another 10 years.

“I have always loved art! In this job I was able to learn so many new things as I looked after collecting art pieces for the store. It was a marvelous experience.”

To this day, reading and art (especially painting) are what June does most in her spare time. “I can literally sit down in the morning, have the radio on in the background, and spend the rest of the day doing that. It’s very relaxing; it’s like therapy. It’s wonderful.”

Discovering new interests
June even found that by stepping out of her comfort zone, she wound up discovering one of her favorite hobbies—golf!

After a close friend encouraged her to take lessons, June was invited to join a women’s golf club.

“It’s a wonderful way to meet people. You enjoy the fresh air, and you can play it on your own or with others!”

Besides golfing and painting, June likes to listen to music and enjoys all of the musical guests who entertain at Touchmark.

“We just had a group in the other night that I just loved! I love the music of the ’50s and ’60s— Patsy Cline, Bing Crosby, and even some of the rock music that’s out there today.”

June has also been busy making new bridge friends within Touchmark, who meet twice a week to play cards. “More people should play bridge, because it really makes you think. You have to know where the cards are, and I like that it keeps your mind alert.”

Keeping busy is a priority for June. “I knit scarves and other little things while I’m watching TV; it’s a wonderful pastime.”

Settling into her new home
“Now that I’m here, I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I still like to cook, but I can go for meals if I want. My home is always clean, and between the office staff, medical staff, and cleaning staff, you’re just treated so well no matter who you are.”

With June’s personal motto being “you’re only as old as you feel,” she has been taking full advantage of the daily fitness classes Touchmark offers. “We do light aerobics, Pilates, stretching. For me, the program is just right.”

June is thankful the community offers the opportunity to “give back,” too.

“I’ve been able to volunteer in the Health Services Neighborhood here a few times now, helping to push some of the residents in wheelchairs around the community or on outings. It’s the little things they seem to enjoy, and I do, as well. I look forward to volunteering more of my time there.”

The best thing about living at Touchmark?

“No more worries,” exclaims June. “No more worrying about random things like caring for a home. This is the ultimate. You get a bit of everything all in one place. I feel so blessed.”

Catch them if you can

What’s the next adventure when you’ve already traveled to all seven continents, all 50 states, and have been to all Canadian provinces? Ask Fran and Ralph Brown!

The active couple moved to Bend, Oregon six years ago from the San Francisco area after visiting longtime friends and walking the River Trail. Ralph explains, “As we saw Touchmark, we asked, ‘What is that?’” After a tour on Saturday, they returned Sunday with friends and found their home.

Next month marks their 50th wedding anniversary. Ralph was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Fran was there on vacation. Ralph struck up a conversation with Fran (or vice versa!) at a swimming pool, and they went out for two-and-a-half weeks. Fran returned to Toronto, Canada; they reconnected in the San Francisco area at Christmas, got engaged, then Ralph departed for a nine-month deployment to the Far East.

On his return, they were married at Treasure Island in San Francisco and honeymooned on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Career in the service
Ralph grew up in San Francisco, served in the Navy for 30 years, and spent 12 years as a financial planner assisting military clients. He held a part-time job in Tiburon, California, at a small company managing a warehouse and driving a forklift. “I enjoyed that,” says Ralph. “Here at Touchmark, I have enjoyed being on the Resident Council and focusing on the buildings and grounds and providing input to management on behalf of the residents.”

Born in Toronto, Canada, Fran was a physical education and swim instructor. She went back to school to get a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. “I taught Jazz Aerobic Calisthenics classes in Key West, New York, and other areas for Navy wives even before Jazzercise® became popular.” In addition to her fitness activities, Fran now enjoys attending Bible study groups, hiking, scrapbooking, and participating
in community projects.

World travelers
As osprey and eagles soar outside their window, they share favorite places they’ve traveled. “I’ve been to Africa three times, and I love the animals and wildlife habitat,” says Fran. Ralph says he prefers Chile and Antarctica. “They’re beautiful, quiet places with lots of good adventures.”

Ralph adds they really enjoy sharing their travel experiences with the Touchmark community. “For our most recent presentation on Namibia, over 100 people showed up.”

So, what’s next for Ralph and Fran? Off to Iceland and Greenland next summer, which will be their 13th trip overseas, and they always love visiting their grandkids in Spokane and San Diego.

“We love Touchmark! With all of our travel, we really appreciate how we can up-and-go and not worry about security,” says Fran. “The staff are lively, fun, and interactive, from the front desk to housekeeping to maintenance.” Ralph adds, “They are responsive, engaging, friendly, and they always know your name. Last year Fran was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Throughout the entire experience, I was so thankful for the incredible support when coming home to Touchmark.”

Both enjoy meeting new people at social hours in the lodges and sharing meals with friends in the dining room. “The food is very good,” says Fran. “They give a balanced portion, their salad bar is very fresh, and you should really try the tasty salmon.”

Ralph likes attending Current Events on Thursdays, when a group gathers to discuss the past week of events and what’s going on in the world. “There’s so much to do at Touchmark whether it’s concerts, Scottish dancers, playing Jeopardy every Friday to challenge our brain, playing bocce ball outside, or walking on the beautiful River Trail right outside our front door.”

“We also enjoy the various health lectures, like the one recently on how music has such an impact on memory,” says Fran.

Whether traveling or engaging in Touchmark’s many Life Enrichment/Wellness offerings, the Browns savor their very full, active life!

Meet Edwin Ternes

Enjoying freedom and good days

c32a2819Life has been good for Edwin Ternes since making Touchmark his home in December 2014. “Every day is a good day here,” he says.

For most of his life, Edwin farmed the land originally homesteaded by his grandfather. After his wife passed away in 2000, Edwin found that his days were spent working the farm and watching television. His sons felt he would benefit from being more social, and in fall 2014, they approached him with an idea.

“They asked me if I would try Touchmark, and they offered to pay for one month’s rent.” That December, Edwin moved to Touchmark for a short-term stay. He loved the lifestyle and his active social life at Touchmark! He wasn’t sure, though, if he had the financial means to move permanently. But he was in for a surprise. “I had long-term care insurance. I didn’t know whether it would cover me, but it did!”

A social butterfly

The abundance of social opportunities has been a welcome change from Edwin’s solitary life on the farm. He visits with neighbors while having breakfast and supper in the dining room and keeps himself busy with card games and community-planned activities throughout the day. “I don’t spend a lot of time in my home other than when I’m sleeping,” he says.

“If I want to be alone here, I can, but I like how I just walk out of my door, and I can be with people and do things I like to do. I used to watch way more TV than I do now, because that was my only entertainment. Now I have things I enjoy more.”

Edwin has been impressed with the Touchmark team members and his new neighbors and friends.

“The people who work here are like one big happy family who work together to take care of the residents. You can tell they want to be here. There are a lot of different activities they do for us, and they take us to a lot of different places on the bus.”

Edwin says the residents are like family. “We play a lot of cards; there’s always someone around to play with.” When he’s not playing cards with his neighbors, Edwin can be found participating in the many community events. “I like the beanbag toss; there’s Wii bowling; we have social hours with a few drinks; and sometimes there’s music. I’m not great with dancing, but I do a little of that, too.” Whatever the activity, Edwin is always game when it comes to getting in on the action, whether he’s a pro or a novice.

A little help when needed

Edwin has welcomed the reduced stress that comes with living at Touchmark. “There were a lot of hard things I had to do on the farm. I spent many years sitting on the tractor when it was windy and 30 below. But when you live through hard times, you appreciate when things get better. Now, they do my laundry here. Once a week they clean my apartment. They help with putting my socks on and doing different things that are hard for me to do … You aren’t going to hear any complaints from me!”

When living alone, Edwin ate a diet of convenience rather than sound nutrition. Now he doesn’t have to worry about shopping or cooking as he enjoys nutritious chef-prepared meals twice daily. “I am eating healthier than I was living by myself.”

A very good year

“I’ve said to quite a few people that this was one of my better years in my life,” he says. “When you live on a farm, there are always a lot of worries about making it work. Now I’m free from all that.”

The new lifestyle, reduced stress, and nutritious diet have positively affected Edwin’s well-being. “This past year, I’ve had no health problems, and I didn’t have to work! What more can anybody ask for?”

Still working—and living at Touchmark

Eric Ericson, 80, still gets up and leaves for work at 6 am every weekday morning and commutes to St. Anthony Hospital, where he has worked for two decades and serves as Director of Accounting.

“I love what I do, and they love what I do for them. I will continue working as long as I am in good health. I don’t have a hobby, so if I were to retire, I really wouldn’t have anything to do. I’m not an idle type of person. I need to be busy.”
Eric and his wife Sharon recently moved into their single-family Parkview home. Sharon, 73, retired about five years ago from Francis Tuttle Technology Center, where she taught Medical Office Technology.

She laughs and says they were ready to move “because Eric was tired of making sure the yard was taken care of, the pool, that sort of thing.” Actually, both say they were ready to downsize from their Oklahoma City home of more than 4,000 square feet to their new home, which is just under 2,000.
Once they made the decision to move, the couple went comparison-shopping throughout the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, sizing up different retirement communities.

“Parkview came out on top for a lot of reasons.”
Eric says there were three reasons they chose Touchmark. “One is the staff was just absolutely supportive, informative, and friendly. The way they treated us was just exceptional.”
Economically, the move was a sound financial decision, he adds. Another appealing aspect was how the Parkview neighborhood looks. “It really feels like it’s part of the larger Coffee Creek housing addition,” says Eric. “The appearance makes it look like you are just in a normal neighborhood.” They both enjoy the close proximity to the larger Touchmark community where they can dine and participate in social activities.

Neighbors welcomed Sharon and Eric to Parkview long before they moved into their home. “The neighbors just across the street came over and introduced themselves,” smiles Sharon. “Then we met several while we were eating at Touchmark as guests, so we knew the names of several neighbors. The whole concept is incredible.” Eric agrees. “We love the neighbors we’ve already met. They’re very friendly.”

They are active members of the River of Life Church where Sharon plays the piano and keyboard, and Eric sings on the worship team.

In remaining on the job long past age 65, Eric says he’s following the lead of his late father, who also moved into a retirement community before he retired. “My goal is to easily live to 100. I may not work until then, but who knows. If things are going well, and I’m in good health, why not work until 90!”

Meet Juanita Ryan

Savoring good food, books, and friends
dsc_8868Since moving to Touchmark in 2013, Juanita Ryan has fully embraced the Touchmark lifestyle. Her days are filled with meaningful pursuits, healthy living, and enriching relationships—interests nurtured over decades.

Raised on a farm in Milroy, Minnesota, Juanita helped her mother with household chores while her father tended the crops of grain. “But I always wanted to be a nurse, ever since I was a little girl,” she says. This desire was fueled after discovering the Sue Barton series of books. The main character, Sue Barton, was to aspiring nurses what Nancy Drew was to budding detectives. “I loved that series of books.”

While attending Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Juanita met her husband Bob. Even though she moved on to Deaconess Nursing School, the couple kept in touch. After just a few months following their graduation and marriage in 1952, Bob was drafted to serve in the Korean War. “While he served overseas, I started my nursing career.”

Upon his return two years later, the Ryans started a family. Juanita continued working as a nurse part time while raising their son and two daughters. “I especially loved working in home health and adult daycare. It was so fantastic and rewarding to help families.” She retired in 1992 after 40 years of serving patients and their families. Her love of nursing rubbed off on both of her daughters. Today, both work in nursing.

Montana moves
Seeking a drier climate, the Ryans moved to Seeley Lake, Montana. “Bob was a pilot, and we loved traveling around in our small planes, including one he built.” In 2000, they moved to Helena to be closer to medical care.

“One day, we called and talked with Touchmark—we had talked with them before. We learned there was a cottage available. Within the month, we had moved. Our kids were tickled to death we were living at Touchmark.”

Less than a year after moving, Bob’s declining health led to a move into Touchmark’s assisted living neighborhood. “It was so wonderful that when something like that happened, we could move right to assisted living. My husband and I had been married 61 years when he died. We had a good life.”

Today, Juanita enjoys her third-floor apartment. “I have a lovely view of the hills to the southwest. I have a lot of friends, and everything is good. And when you’d like to talk with someone, you can just go have a cup of coffee at the coffee shop, and talk and visit.”

Tasting the Full Life
For the past year, Juanita has served on the Resident Council as food liaison. Residents come to her with any issues, specific dietary requirements, or comments about the food. Serving in this role has made Juanita even more conscious of what she eats. “I have never eaten so many vegetables as I have since I came here!”

Juanita appreciates how responsive Chef Chris Bullard is to residents’ suggestions. “I talk with Chris at least once a week. He’s very good. He listens. For example, everyone was so tickled when we got the salad bar. And for those who don’t like standing in line, we’ve made it clear that all they have to do is ask a server, who will get them cottage cheese and fruit or a salad. Our servers are really good, and it works well.”

In addition to the taste and quality of the food, presentation is important. “Last night was so exceptional,” she enthuses. “I had to go tell him that right away!” Juanita is friends with the previous food liaison and says the two always eat at the same table. “We talk continuously about food!”

In addition to serving Touchmark residents through her role on the Resident Council, Juanita also facilitates the Touchmark book club. “I read with talking books. I can sew and read at the same time!”

Other pursuits include going on outings, visiting with friends, and participating in Gentle Yoga classes. “The yoga class is so good for people like me who need to keep limber!” Church activities also remain a large part of Juanita’s life, and she appreciates the transportation to appointments. And whenever she’s at home, she loves to cuddle up with her 12-year-old cat, Blackie.

“I’m very content, and I’m not moving anymore!”

Resident Feature: Love and life—before and after dementia

When Alice Kulak married Geoff, her high school sweetheart, 57 years ago, she knew life would be anything but boring.

Alice, 78, kept an active schedule volunteering with the Junior League of Edmonton, serving on the board of directors of the Art Gallery of Alberta, and sitting on the executive board of the Chamber Music Society. She worked part-time and anchored the home front for her husband and two daughters, but Geoff, now 79, led the parade!

Geoff was a prominent, well-regarded engineer with an international reputation for his specialty in steel structures.

“It was an adventure,” remembers Alice. “He was ambitious and bright, and we lived for periods of time in places as diverse as the US, Brazil, South Africa, Switzerland, and Norway where Geoff lectured and did research.”

Geoff taught for 25 years in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Alberta, retiring in 1994. He sat on many technical committees in Canada and the US. In 1996, he cochaired with lawyer Ken McKenzie the Royal Commission that investigated the rollercoaster accident at West Edmonton Mall that resulted in three deaths.

Geoff wrote the engineering textbook Limit States Design in Structural Steel, which is still used at the undergraduate level in 95% of Canadian universities. To honor him, the Steel Fabricators of Alberta created a $30,000 annual scholarship fund in his name.

Dealing with “the diagnosis”

Over four years ago, Geoff was diagnosed as having entry-level dementia. The couple’s once fast-paced and busy lifestyle shifted to more of a shuffle. The change has affected both Alice and Geoff equally.

“There’s a lot of pain and grief as you see a life slipping away; seeing your loved one losing his presence. Geoff feels frustrated as well. He realizes he is losing ground, and it bewilders him.”

The Kulaks moved to Touchmark as the couple realized the two-story home they were living in had become more house and garden than they could handle. Alice, Geoff, and their two daughters felt it was the right time to make the move as Geoff’s dementia was becoming more defined.

“We definitely enjoy the maintenance-free lifestyle here at Touchmark. When we need someone to fix something, it happens very quickly.” Touchmark’s various levels of care services also appealed to the couple.

“Everything has changed in the last two-and-a-half years. I now feel the responsibility of being a caregiver rather than a companion. I take care of Geoff and the household, but I now also handle all of the things Geoff used to deal with like our investments and taxes. All of this, while trying to grieve the husband I am losing.”

Helping hands

Two times a week for four hours, Alice has help through Home Care Services as well as from Touchmark’s assisted living staff to give her some time for herself.

“My goal now is to keep my health and my spirits up for Geoff. I exercise using the treadmill, bike, medicine ball, and weights for 35-45 minutes a day. The staff are great with Geoff, so during my breaks I go play bridge. I love going for lunch with my friends and going to church or reading.”

The respite care has been a benefit to the couple’s relationship, as well. “I’ve realized that I need time for myself. And Geoff welcomes the caregivers coming in. We’re together all of the time, so I’ve realized that he, too, wants relief from me.”

Memory care opening

With a new memory care neighborhood opened at Touchmark this March, more care options became available for families like the Kulaks.

“Geoff is on the waiting list, has had an interview with the nurses, and has been assessed for what his care needs would be. I know the quality of life for both of us would go up by having him there, but I still feel conflicted. I worry if I’ve done everything I can for him on my own,”

This is a conflict faced by many in the same situation. While it’s not an easy choice to make, Alice is comforted knowing there is quality memory care support coming available just a few doors away from her.

“Realizing I can’t do everything I want to do with him on my own and knowing that he could have quality care, and I could still be close by and involved—that gives me some peace of mind.”

Tips for other caregivers

While Alice realizes she isn’t alone in dealing with the demands of being a full-time caregiver, she also realizes just how fortunate she is to have help. She has friends who have gone through the same situation who have helped her, and now Alice shares her own personal story as a resource for others.

“My tips for other caregivers are these: get yourself into circumstances you can handle; get involved in your community; and ask for help! It’s important not to isolate yourself. Our family mantra is, ‘Keep Dad comfortable and loved,’ and having the help of my family and the extra care for Geoff have made my life—and his—a little easier.”

Resident Feature: Shari’s zest for life

May is Older Americans Month, and the minute you meet Shari (on left in photo), you realize she’s a woman full of life with boundless energy—someone who likes to make a difference in people’s lives. “I enjoy getting involved in a community and meeting people. I’ve done that everywhere I’ve lived,” says the Minneapolis Minnesota native who moved to Touchmark 13 months ago from her longtime home in Venice, Florida.

An outdoor enthusiast, Shari spends as much time working in her yard or walking as she can. She and her companion and best friend Lady, a 9-year-old papillion, are frequently seen playing Frisbee and going for walks. “My daughter found this cottage for me, and the corner lot is a blessing, I have a great yard, lots of open space, and great natural light coming in to my home. It has worked out perfectly.”

Community engagement

A former marketing manager for a chamber of commerce, Shari joined the Helena Chamber of Commerce right away. She takes every opportunity to attend the Chamber’s Lunch and Learn programs and other opportunities to learn more about Helena. She also joined the Elite Travel Group at a local bank and looks forward to their many local outings and educational lectures.

“I’m an avid supporter of the arts and purchased Helena Symphony season tickets,” she says, noting she also enjoys volunteering as an usher. In addition to joining a church, she has been taking a yearlong leadership course to keep herself engaged.

She is hoping to use her experience teaching English as a second language by volunteering with the Lewis and Clark Literacy Council. “I’ve reached out to several organizations to let them know I would be happy to help. I enjoy teaching and sharing my experiences with others.” Shari spent two summers teaching English to high school and first-year college teachers in China. “We primarily taught methodology. It was an amazing experience.”

Making her mark at Touchmark

With a skill for negotiation and a desire to improve her community, Shari accepted a position as the cottage representative on Touchmark’s Resident Council. She is also working with Touchmark staff to reduce how fast cars drive through the retirement community. “New 10 mph signs have been installed at the entrance, and we’re working on more ‘SLOW’ signs.”

Interest in mahjong is growing after Shari introduced the game. “We need two more full-time people to join us, and then we’ll have two strong teams.” In addition to mahjong, Shari participates in the Helena Duplicate Bridge Club as well as one at Touchmark.

Another of Shari’s keen interests is cooking and entertaining. She’s looking forward to hosting coffees and other social gatherings for her cottage neighbors. Last Christmas, she hosted a Tom & Jerry party for all the cottagers. “Super group and great fun!”

“Shari embraces all seven dimensions of wellness,” says Life Enrichment/Wellness Director Nanette Whitman-Holmes. “She demonstrates each day how older adults lead active, full lives.”

Read about more Touchmark residents and how they embody the {FULL} Life!