By Alexander Germanis
Gracing nearly every state in the nation stands the stately oak tree. A symbol of strength, majesty, and endurance, the oak is even recognized as the official national tree of the United States.
The reasons for this are myriad. The oak provides shade and prevents erosion. Its leaves have anti-carcinogenic properties and its wood is used for building homes as well as for making barrels to age fine wine and spirits.
To be like an oak is to be long of life, strong of character, and of never-ending purpose. Standing in Morton is a home embodying all those characteristics: Brandon Wood Retirement Center.
Brandon Wood owes its nearly 36 years of operation to more than just being a conveniently located retirement center in Central Illinois. “The longevity, dedication, and caring attitude of my staff is what makes Brandon Wood home and a family to our seniors,” explains Director Kaye Strauch. “Our original ownership calls daily to check on operations; they truly care and are an active part of day-to-day life at Brandon Wood.”
That care is extended on an individual basis to each tenant and member of the staff. “We are a family, which I feel sets Brandon Wood apart from other senior communities,” Kaye continues. “I am proud we have been able to maintain and provide a caring home to our tenants for the past 35 years.”
Its milestone 35th year being interrupted by COVID, Kaye says Brandon Wood’s anniversary open house has simply been delayed as a result. She fully intends to proceed with plans when the state has passed through its reopening phases.
But that doesn’t mean the Brandon Wood residents did not still get to celebrate in other ways. “We have a tenant who plays the guitar and sings who traveled through the building, providing entertainment to our tenants,” Kaye shares. “A family provided us with race cars that gave us lots of fun and laughter, racing through the common areas of the building.”
Replacing the normal afternoon coffee hour gathering in the garden room, refreshments were delivered to residents to their rooms. And on Christmas party day, fruit baskets and pastries were delivered in the morning with Trefzger’s Bakery providing snacks and cookies in the afternoon.
Without its branches a tree is little more than a stick in the ground. Spreading throughout Brandon Wood, maintaining it, and taking care of its residents is an incomparable staff of dedicated individuals, some of whom have been working there for decades.
Dietary Supervisor Julie McAvoy started as a waitress in 1987, soon becoming a cook and then later taking on her current role. From meal planning to placing orders to training staff, Julie is driven by her love of the people at Brandon Wood. “Our residents and our staff help motivate me. I don’t want to let either down,” she says. “We have a great bunch of people here.”
Such a team is not common among senior living communities, indicates Administrative Assistant Susan Heath. Entering her 19th year at Brandon Wood, Susan indicates that in order to do well in senior living, one cannot just check in and out of the job. “It takes a special type of person who not only enjoys what they are doing here, but also has a caring heart,” she says. “I believe the owners and director have played an enormous part in the longevity of Brandon Wood. Kaye has been our director for over 35 years and always makes it her mission to teach any new hires how to connect with the other staff and all of the tenants.”
Making those connections brings blessings, Julie believes. “Through this job I have met many people I would have never known, all of whom have lived long lives,” she shares. “Their wisdom and experiences help me learn more; they all have a story uniquely their own. We have had a lot of special people live here.”
Susan agrees: “We are just a big, loving family; you honestly don’t see that at many places anymore. You tend to build a special bond with each and every person living in our small community. I truly feel honored to be a part of the staff at Brandon Wood. Our tenants move in knowing this will still feel like home.”
A tree’s true beauty shows forth in its colorful leaves—similar in initial appearance, but upon closer inspection, each exquisitely and intricately unique.
Brandon Wood’s reason for being is, of course, its residents. Long-timers and recent move-ins with varied interests and backgrounds make the community a medley of personalities and experiences, but they all find common ground at Brandon Wood.
Some, like a pair of friends who call themselves the “Happy Campers,” have been calling Brandon Wood home for years. Charlie met his best friend, Roger, when the former moved to Brandon Wood eight years ago. Both from Morton, they had nevertheless never met before becoming Brandon Woodsmen. The Happy Campers instantly hit it off and cite the same reasons for loving their new home: “The good environment, staff, and fellow tenants make it a great place to live in our retirement years,” they share. “We enjoy the activities and good food.”
Mary Ann also made friends on one of her first days after moving in during June of last year. Hailing from Wisconsin, Mary Ann lost her husband and endured seven years of loneliness before finally moving down to Brandon Wood—her loneliness now, thankfully, a thing of the past. “I love it here,” she says. “It’s a beautiful setting everywhere you look. Life is better here and there’s always something to do here if you look for it.”
An Ever-Spreading Canopy
Although the circumstances springing them forth may differ, leaves on the tree of Brandon Wood continue to sprout.
At the height of the pandemic last year, Mary and her husband, Virgil, had been taking care of a big house and several acres when Virgil severely broke his arm. Overnight it became clear to them the house and the land had become a little more than they were willing to deal with. The time had come to finally sit back and let others take care of them for once.
Since their arrival, Mary says it’s been like living with family. “We’ve got friends and of course Kaye is wonderful,” she beams. “I don’t know how they do it but they hire the best people—people who are so caring. We just don’t have any bad people here. That makes a difference.”
Choosing Brandon Wood was not just a toss at a dartboard, Mary insists. Having visited in earlier years as part of a church singing group, she fell in the love with the community, the setting, and the people. The decision, after that, was an easy one.
The food has certainly not hurt things either, Mary shares, laughing heartily. “I have not missed cooking at all. They cook better than I ever could. I’ll always praise this place!”
Stronger, Bigger, Better
Kaye, her staff, and the residents can collectively attest to how much Brandon Wood has been a sturdy, strong oak of the Morton community for nearly 36 years. But it’s an oak that is still growing and will continue to grow for many more years to come. Because like the oak used to make barrels and the wine stored within them, Brandon Wood and the men and women who call it home are only getting better with age.
Brandon Wood Retirement Center is located at 730 West Jefferson Street in Morton, Illinois. Call us at (309) 263-7341 or visit us on the web at www.brandonwoodretirementcommunity.com.
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