We continue to observe Older Americans Month and the 2019 theme, “Connect, Create, Contribute.” Today we introduce you to PHS residents who are contributing their leadership to their communities as they create lifelong learning opportunities that help their neighbors remain connected to each other and a world of ideas in current events, fine arts and spirituality.
Great Decisions at Avalon Square
Vern Herman takes it upon himself to invite residents at Avalon Square in Waukesha, Wisconsin, to consider the world beyond their walls. A retired neurosurgeon who has lived at Avalon Square for over 15 years, Vern understands how important it is for the human mind at any age to stay aware of and engaged in what is happening in the world. “We were looking for a way to keep up to date and start a conversation among residents about current events,” he said
For the past several years, Vern has organized and led “Great Decisions”, a video and discussion program on world affairs developed by the Foreign Policy Association. The program invites participants to read the “Great Decisions Briefing Book,” then gather with other residents to view a DVD on the topic and share in discussion on one of eight critical U.S. foreign policy challenges each year. The program is attended regularly by up to 40 residents.
In past years, Vern recruited residents to share in the session leadership. This year, they invited Dr. Scott Hendricks, Associate Professor of History at nearby Carroll University, to lead the sessions. Dr. Hendricks’ experience as a teacher and his academic background in European and Middle East history has helped the group take deeper dives into the topics and materials.
Vern has seen firsthand the benefits of “Great Decisions” at Avalon Square. “It’s a way of helping people ‘stay in the game’ no matter their age, to learn and talk about big things in the world and think about how they may connect with their lives,” he said. “Not only is it a good brain exercise, it’s also a good social opportunity as well. After meetings as we’re heading back to our apartments, I always hear people in conversation about what they heard and saw,” he said.
Great Music Series at Boutwells Landing
Bea Isaak is known as a champion of great music at Boutwells Landing in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota. As a retired music educator, she is well versed in how music stimulates and grows the mind. Her passion and understanding inspired residents and friends of Boutwells Landing to raise funds to purchase a 7’ Steinway grand piano for the community and to fund the “Great Music Series.” Now in its second year, the series brings high quality classical music performances to Boutwells Landing.
Bea’s neighbor, Elaine Carlson, was touched by Bea’s enthusiasm and together they formed a team of residents to plan and promote the series. Elaine’s skill as a retired non-profit community administrator, coupled with Bea’s knowledge of classical music make them and their 8-member committee a force for fine arts at Boutwells Landing. “We don’t make any decisions on our own,” said Bea, “We always bring ideas to the committee.” She noted how important it has been to have musicians on the committee as well as people, like Elaine and others who have business experience in order for the program to be successful.
The series has filled the Town Center auditorium by featuring such performers as the Ebony Ivory & Spruce Trio, well-known Twin Cities concert pianist Charles Kemper and student ensembles from the St. Paul Conservatory of Music. On May 20, 2019, the series will feature a performance by OboeBass!, a professional husband-wife musical duo. “So many people here appreciate music but it’s difficult to travel out,” Elaine said. “So this series brings great music here to us,” she said.
This year, they have enjoyed 7 concerts and plans are underway for the 2020 series. The visiting musicians present an educational component to their performances so that the audience can understand and relate to the music they hear. Bea and Elaine tell how the appreciation for and expectation to have good music has risen at Boutwells Landing. “People don’t have to resign to a lesser quality performance because they now live in a retirement community,” said Bea. She advocates that, classical to country, residents benefit most from the highest quality performance in any musical style.
“Music can reach people where words fail,” said Elaine who shared. “I’ve seen people, even those with dementia, who are tapping toes and moving to the music.” Bea agreed saying, “The value of music for people who are aging has been proven. Why wouldn’t we bring the best here?”
“Great music touches all of us,” she said. “I’m proud to be a part of bringing these works to Boutwells Landing,” said Bea.
Bible Study at Folkestone
Almost since the day the doors opened at Folkestone in Wayzata, Minnesota, Al Quie who lives at The Commons assisted living, has been opening the Bible and inviting other residents to engage in its stories and ideas. He started the Bible Study as a way to bring his neighbors together. “Everyone was new,” he said. The bible study which still meets every Monday afternoon in the Town Center conference room, became a place for people to make friends and build a trusting and spiritually supportive community.
If Al’s name sounds familiar, it’s likely because he represented Minnesota in the U.S House of Representatives from 1958-1979 and as the Governor of Minnesota from 1989-1993. A lifelong Lutheran and former politician, Al brings his knowledge of scripture along with his skill and desire to encourage people with differing perspectives together to explore important ideas and grow in heart mind and spirit.
“I like to get folks together to learn and grow from each other,” he said. Studying the Bible together, “brings us a truth that goes back in time more than anything else,” he explained. “People are very hesitant to let go of their beliefs,” he said. Even when there are different points of view he encourages those gathered to listen with respect. “It’s very important to consider spiritual ideas from the ‘other side,’ It’s a form of love,” he said.
Over the years, Al has seen his efforts pay off as he witnesses people grown in confidence about what they are reading in the Bible and grow in friendship with each other. “There’s a hunger for relationships and to understand and be understood,” he said. His Lutheran tradition reminds him of a keystone of the Reformation: that each believer has the privilege and responsibility to interpret scripture for themselves, rather than be told what to believe. “It’s actually fun to see someone gain a new understanding of a bible passage,” he said.
Al feels especially satisfied when he see’s people who, although they may not agree on a spiritual point, make it a priority to pray together and then even head to dinner together after the study session. He’s heard conversations begun in the study spill over into social and meal times as friends continue to ponder a passage together. “This helps foster the Christian culture at Folkestone by upholding two important values, love and truth,” he said. “After all, there’s no age limit to spiritual growth.”
The Benefit of Lifelong Learning
Lifelong learning is all about the ways to keep the mind, body, and spirit stimulated, challenged, and fully engaged as we age. Studies show that keeping brains stimulated helps older adults retain mental alertness and social connections. The brain’s physical anatomy actually responds to enriching mental activities. Scientists have discovered that the brain, even an aging brain, can grow new connections and pathways when challenged and stimulated.
The residents who participate in lifelong learning opportunities will simply tell you its fun and meaningful to learn something new and helps them continue to grow intellectually, socially and spiritually.