By Alexander Germanis
From the pilgrims of New England to the settlers of the Wild West, every corner of this nation has been made into a home for not just the individual families who first put down roots there, but also for generations to come.
In Morton, Brandon Wood Retirement Center has become such a place — a place where, in many cases, generations of the same family have been proud to call it home.
Walking the walk
One of the longest-standing members of the Brandon Wood Retirement Center community is actually its administrator, Kaye Strauch. “Brandon Wood has been in operation 33 years, and I’ve been here over 32 of those years,” she says.
Even though that’s an impressive amount of time to dedicate to taking care of others, Kaye truly started her career way before her tenure at Brandon Wood.
“My parents owned and operated a nursing home when I was growing up,” she shares. “My mom was a nurse as well as the nursing home administrator. I was five when they purchased it, so that was how I grew up. After school, we went to help at the nursing home. That’s where my love for the adults came from.”
Eventually, her mother opened a new facility owned by the community, and again she brought her daughters along to work with her.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Kaye attended school in the evenings and eventually earned her nursing home administrator’s license. “I was there [at my mother’s nursing home] when Brandon Wood was being converted by the owners from being a motel and restaurant, and they transferred me over here in 1986.”
In those three decades, Kaye has developed a true mothering attitude toward those under her care. “I feel like they’re all mine, all these seniors,” she laughs warmly. “I try to watch out for them; I love them all.”
Every need met
With senior living options for the middle income bracket growing, Brandon Wood is right on the leading edge. Apartment sizes vary from studio apartments as large as 550 square feet to one and two-bedroom apartments up to 1,000 square feet. All utilities are included with only telephone, cable, and Internet being extra.
Just as an army marches on its stomach, it could be fair to say the hominess Brandon Wood exhibits revolves around meals as well. “We include two meals a day in our dining room,” Kaye says. “We actually prepare and serve three meals, and they have their choice of any two. That way, they can plan their day around the meals. So, they’re not tied down to be back here for meals or they happen to be out all day, they can make up those meals by the end of the month.”
Meals serve another function besides simply feeding the residents. “We use them to be accountable for each person. So, if they do not show up for a meal by the time of the main entrée, we will call them. If they do not answer the phone, we go check on them,” Kaye explains. “If they forget to fill out a menu, we will also call them in the morning for a menu. That’s how we know everybody is up and going and okay for the day.”
Brandon Wood also offers weekly housekeeping, daily pharmacy deliveries, grounds maintenance, three laundromats, and reserved parking for tenants. Plus, there is someone at the facility to respond to tenants’ needs throughout the night, so there is always someone looking out for them.
There is never a lack of things for residents to do either. Besides scheduled outings, residents also have the option to go shopping, go to the Brandon Wood’s beauty salon, get their nails done, get a therapeutic muscular massage, or attend a Silver Sneakers exercise class.
“We also have our own exercise program and activities,” Kaye adds. “We have a monthly activity schedule, an audiologist who comes in monthly, banking services twice a month, and assisted home care services; so, if someone needs a little bit of extra private care, it’s available for them.”
There’s also a gift shop/pantry for essential shopping needs, a library, activity room, game room, two main lounges, and a garden café.
“Residents have coffee available for them all day and refreshments or coffee hour in the afternoon,” Kaye says. “Plus we have a big entertainment community room and we host a monthly community event. On November 13th, we’re going to honor our veterans with a free luncheon here. We’ll have different VA presentations and music by the Accordion Club.”
“Musical entertainment is probably their favorite,” Kaye adds. “But they do love their Bingo, of course!”
Home for another generation
Nothing proves the quality of living at Brandon Wood better than the fact that several residents are the second generations of their families who have called Brandon Wood home.
Bob and Norma Witzig are second–generation “Woodsians.” When Bob’s mother needed a safer living arrangement, Brandon Wood became her home. “We knew it was the best arrangement for her as she had some falling issues,” Norma shares. “She had an adjustment to make. But, she also was getting prepared meals [and] she enjoyed the socializing and games.”
Although the experience Bob and Norma witnessed his mother having certainly influenced their decision to make their own transition when the time came for them, Norma said they had three other considerations: cost, location, and atmosphere.
The “ease of apartment living,” certainly factored in as well. While selling their home of 32 years was an adjustment, it was one they got used to quite quickly. “No caretaking of a property was a big weight from Bob’s shoulders,” Norma says. “I have more time for my hobbies and seeing friends now that I am not taking care of a four-bedroom house. No cleaning to do! And, we were able to bring our small dog with us.”
Norma also mentions the friendly staff, the security at night, the outside activities, musical programs, and, of course the beautiful surroundings of their new home.
Pride and responsibility
Bob and Norma are partially responsible for those beautiful surroundings so enjoyed at Brandon Wood. “They like to take care of our landscape right in front of our main entrance,” Kaye says. “When you pull up under our awning, you see all the beautiful landscape and flowers they take care of. Then you walk in our doors and we have an atrium with volcanic rock and a waterfall. People tell me they feel very much at home when they walk in. There’s a very peaceful feeling here.”
That peace stems from the feelings of ownership and pride the residents have of their home, says Kaye.
Another resident exhibits pride in her home by taking care of all the flowers and plants in the courtyard. Another markets Brandon Wood at every opportunity.
“It’s cute. He’s from Morton and knows most of the people who come through and look around,” Kaye laughs. “He just tells them all about us. All the residents tell people how nice it is and always welcome someone new to join their family.”
A quick look around the area will show there are many retirement communities in Central Illinois, all with their own unique qualities. Kaye is happy to say one thing Brandon Wood has over many other senior living facilities is its affordability.
Kaye is looking to make it even more affordable for different types of residents in the future as well. “We’re actually thinking about expanding to where we could take the active people who choose not to have meals or the housekeeping but still want that sense of security, the activities, and scheduled transportation. If someone fits that category in life, I’d welcome them here and adjust their rent accordingly. That should meet the needs of some people in a different category of income.”
For some, the affordability aspect may be enough to set Brandon Wood apart, but that’s still not enough for Kaye. A retirement community is, after all, only as good as the staff that runs it.
“The expertise and longevity of the staff here is almost unheard of these days,” she points out. “I have a very special staff. My dietary supervisor has been here over 31 years. My activity director was here with the property and just stayed on. My assistant in the office has been here for over 16 years.”
More important than the combined experience of the staff is the relationship the staff has with the seniors in their care. After all, a community is nothing without the people who live there. And those people — the residents of Brandon Wood Retirement Center — are special, Kaye says. “They deserve to have a home and people who care for them. And we truly do care for our seniors.”
Try us for the winter! Spend your winter vacation at Brandon Wood.
Call Kaye at 309-263-7341 for details and schedule your personal tour and complimentary lunch.