By Lori Lovely
November brings a change of season that often triggers reflection, especially as the holidays approach. At Thanksgiving, we pause to reflect on our good fortune and express our gratitude, but many of the staff and residents at Brandon Wood convey their gratitude all year long.
In 2008, Glenda Lawler and her husband were dealing with health issues, so she began researching facilities; she was willing to walk away from her home and the community in which she had been involved for years in order to have more support and be near family. “I wanted to be closer to my family,” she recalls. “I was thankful to find Brandon Wood.”
Reading about the long-term staff members impressed her. “I liked the steady leadership here.” Several of those staff members are still at Brandon Wood, eight years after Lawler moved in, and they have continued to impress her with their concern and care for all the residents. “They make it comfortable and safe.”
Under the same ownership for 31 years, Brandon Wood has many long-time employees. Kaye Strauch, director, has been there 30 years. The facility’s dietary supervisor has been there almost as long, and the activity director has been there even longer.
What Lawler didn’t know when she and her husband decided to move 150 miles north to become residents at Brandon Wood was that many residents have also been there a long time. The average stay is 6.75 years, compared with an industry average of 2 to 2½ years. Strauch says she’s even begun seeing second-generation families.
Making the move
It was a big change, but Lawler said she felt relief that first winter when she realized they didn’t have to shovel snow, nor did they have to mow or clean gutters in other seasons.
She lost her husband last year, but considers herself lucky to have made friends at Brandon Wood. “My tablemates Virginia and Cassie make meals fun!” she says with a robust laugh. “Virginia is a character; she has a lot of energy and likes to interact. I’m not shy. When Cassie joined us, we would chit-chat and jest.”
Things get pretty lively, Strauch observes. “It’s a party at meal times. There’s a lot of laughter.” Mealtime is more than just laughs; it has become a crucial check system. “If a resident doesn’t show up, we call their room to check on them.”
For the trio known as the Cotton Top Club, meals are meant for fun. “Sometimes we party too loud, but they haven’t kicked us out yet!” Lawler laughs. She thinks they get away with it because they eat in a garden room, not the dining room, in order to accommodate her wheelchair. Both dining areas overlook the atrium’s waterfall.
The rent includes two meals a day, which are ordered from the menu a day in advance. By including two meals instead of three, residents feel freer to go out into the community to pursue activities — although residents may opt for three meals a day for an additional charge if they prefer.
Newcomer Cassie Kessling arrived about three months ago. “It’s a big change, but the ladies I eat with are nice. That made it easy for me. Everyone is accommodating; the people are wonderful. I’m thankful to be here.”
Socializing makes residents happier and gives them a reason to get up in the morning, Strauch believes. “We try to improve the quality of their lives.” Keeping them busy with activities, entertainment, and outings provides opportunities to socialize, exercise, and enjoy life. Organized outings with transportation provided take them on shopping trips two times a week, to band concerts, plays and musicals, and to the gambling boat.
However, they don’t need to leave the grounds to experience a wide variety of planned group outings, educational programs, and social events that offer residents plenty of opportunities to be active and social. In-facility activities range from exercise, cards and bingo, to music groups that come in four to six times a week.
Activities are very important, Lawler agrees. An active woman who enjoys scrapbooking, she says she’s rarely bored. She particularly likes the music programs and “spirited Farkle games,” while Kessling enjoys the weekly silver shakers — exercises, weekly church service, and Bingo. “They give me the opportunity to do things I couldn’t do if I didn’t live here: bus rides to plays at the high school, restaurants, and cook-outs on the lake every fall.”
She also appreciates the weekly house cleaning service and the onsite beauty shop “so I don’t have to leave to get my hair done,” Kessling says. In addition, Brandon Wood provides laundry facilities, a library, gift shop, and activity room.
Support services include monthly health screenings, prescription delivery, and 24-hour security, ensuring the safety and well-being of all residents. Home health care companies are available to provide additional services on a daily basis.
As Strauch explains, living at Brandon Wood takes away the risks and the stress of living alone. The recently redecorated facility provides a colorful, cheerful, homey atmosphere that blends privacy and social life.
The two-story building houses just 69 apartments. Strauch considers Brandon Wood’s small setting an advantage. “It’s more personable. We truly care and treat all residents as individuals.”
The one and two-bedroom apartments and studios feature kitchenettes, walk-in closets, and full bathrooms with safety bars. Some feature private patios with flowerbeds and planters, with access to an outdoor courtyard. Others are balcony apartments.
Hesitant to leave her home of 50 years, Kessling moved into a one-bedroom apartment after transitioning from the hospital to a nursing home for therapy. “My children arranged it,” she says. “They brought my furniture and fixed it up so it felt like home when I arrived.”
Since she moved in, Kessling says her health has improved. “They have given me a life,” she states. “It was meant to be. I’m happy. I’m thankful to be here.”
In addition to a few church friends she already knew, Kessling has made new friends since moving in. “We’re the ‘ice cream girls.’ We love sports and have fun, acting silly. It’s important to have fun.”
Caring, support, and friendships contribute to a longer, healthier life, Strauch believes. She observes that residents like to gather in the two comfortable lounge areas to socialize.
“It’s safe and comfortable, and there’s always someone to talk to,” Lawler says. “It’s one big family here. I’m content. I have a new life and new friends. What’s the difference what four walls you look at? I’m thankful for Brandon Wood.”
For more information, contact Brandon Wood Retirement Community at 309-263-7341, or visit them at 730 W. Jefferson Street, Morton, IL.
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