Honoring the Rich Tradition of Volunteerism at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes

Dedicated volunteers by the hundreds routinely help out at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes in Chisago City, Minn., and last week the community honored them for their service with a lunch and award ceremony.

“The special people you care for can’t always thank you themselves, so as an organization, we’d like to say ‘Thank you’ for all you do!” said Mara Krinke, community outreach coordinator, in greeting the luncheon guests.

Ecumen Parmly LifePointes has about 350 active volunteers who have given more than 9,700 hours of service in the past year.

“Parmly’s rich history of 110 years can’t be talked about without mentioning the many contributions of volunteers,” said Executive Director Frank Robinson.  “Your dedication and gift of time is critical to making a difference in so many lives and supporting our mission of ‘creating home for older adults, wherever they choose to live.’”

The top award is the Phyllis Lindquist Volunteer of the Year Award, named for an outstanding volunteer and later resident who gave her time for 55 years and was the first Volunteer of the Year.  This year the award was given to four individuals: Jane Iverson, Virgi Johnson, Faye VanHorn and Jacob Frischmon.

Also, service awards were given from the President’s National Council of Service and Civic Participation, established in 2003 as a way to recognize the valuable contributions of volunteers and to encourage more people to serve.  Recipients received a service pin, a personalized certificate of appreciation and a letter from President Obama.

Lifetime Achievement service awards went to Karen Gustafson and Faye VanHorn for giving 4,000 or more hours in a lifetime.

Gold Award winners for 500 or more hours of service in a year were Jacob Frischmon, George Pokorny Sr., and Carmen Ihlenfeldt.

Silver Award winners for 250-499 hours were Richard Carlson, Anne Henzlik, Elaine Schumacher and Greg Whitney.

Bronze Award Winners for 100 to 249 hours were Faith Boston, Bob Butte, Nancy Butte, Gail Gaustad, Heidi Gieske, Jeanne Hajnasiewicz, Richard Helgreson, Eileen Hoffman, Jane Iverson, Shirley ‘Sunshine’ Mollan, Joan Peterson, Chuck Roberts, JoAnne Robertson, Harriet Ryberg, Roman Seidel and Donna Spreitzer.

Volunteer of the Year Winners (left to right) Jane Iverson, Vergi Johnson, Faye VanHorn, Jacob Frischmon

Ecumen Century Club: Honoring the Always Positive Pearl Nelson, 103

Pearl Shoquist Nelson, a resident at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes in Chicago City, turns 103 today.  She might celebrate a little, but mostly it will be like any other day.  You can bet she will be busy all day. She will do her word games and write in her journal.  She will read her daily devotional.  She will exercise.  She might crochet.  And she will surely take time to be thankful.

“There’s always something good,” says Pearl.

Her friend Pat Achman sums Pearl up this way: “She’s never cranky.  She’s always steady.  She never says anything negative about people.  Never a cross word.”

And consequently, Pearl has many friends, which is fortunate because she has no family.  She was orphaned when she was eight years old and had no siblings.  She married Elmer Nelson when she was 23, and he died when she was 71— 32 years ago.  They had no children.  But she does not dwell on the absence of family.

“The Lord made up for that,” Pearl says.  “There have been so many wonderful people in my life who have been so good to me. I’ve had a good life.  I’ve made the best of it.”

Pearl is a devout Lutheran.  About the only time she turns on her television is on Sunday morning, when she faithfully watches evangelist Charles Stanley, who happens to be a Baptist.  “I like him,” Pearl says with a wry smile, “because I can hear him.”

Pearl was born in Clinton, Minn., and grew up near Shafer, Minn. She was raised by her maternal grandparents. When she finished the eighth grade, she had to go to work — at first doing “odds and ends.”  Later she got a job as a telephone operator first in Center City, then in Lindstrom.  That job went away when the telephone company converted to the dial system, and she moved on to a job at the Lindstrom hospital, working in the central supply department. 

When she stopped working, she started volunteering — at the hospital where she used to work and at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes, when Elmer’s mother lived there.  In addition to being a selfless volunteer over the years, she also is a generous donor to Ecumen Parmly LifePointes, designating her regular donations to the memory care community.

“Pearl’s generous gifts over the years have made a huge difference in improving the quality of care at Parmly,” says Ecumen Development Director Amy Williams. “She is a very caring person who is committed to helping others.”

Pearl says she’s not sure about the secret of her longevity.  Clearly, she points out, it’s not genetic.  “Maybe it’s that I didn’t drink, and I didn’t smoke — never,” she says.  “But I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.”

Or maybe it has something to do with finding the good in everything and caring deeply about the welfare of other people.  Whatever it is, Ecumen honors you, Pearl Nelson.  Happy 103rd birthday!

Sewing Group at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes Threads the Needle for Charity

The talented and prolific women’s sewing group at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes Studios of Art in Chisago City, Minn., enthusiastically works together to produce handmade quilts, blankets and even dolls — all for charity.

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Anne Diekmann, Director of Nursing, Ecumen of Litchfield

Ecumen’s Christy Johnson Gets Very Serious About Fun and Games

You might think the life of an activity director at a senior community is all fun and games — not something that would come under the lens of government regulation.  But it does, and those professionals who help residents find fun and joy in their lives are now scrambling to figure out how to measure their work under provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.    

Christy Johnson, who directs activities at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes in Chisago City, Minn., was on Facebook one night recently and saw a cry for help coming from New Jersey:  Does anyone out there anywhere know how the new Affordable Care Act performance improvement regulations affect activity directors?

And, as a matter of fact, Christy is an expert on the subject. Quality Assurance & Performance Improvement (QAPI) programs for long-term care communities are an initiative of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). They are all about improving the quality of life and quality of care and services delivered in nursing homes.

The Affordable Care Act upped the ante, putting much more emphasis on the Performance Improvement aspect of the program. To help nursing homes understand the new approach, CMS commissioned a national collaborative effort with the University of Minnesota and Stratis Health, subject matter experts, consumer groups and nursing home stakeholders, to create helpful implementation tools.

Christy was part of that group — and the only activity director.  Performance improvement is generally the purview of nursing home administrators and nurses. But because of a change in leadership at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes while the initiative was underway, Christy got a seat at the table and was just one of 17 stakeholders from across the nation.  So she was on the ground floor, helping figure out how to implement the new approach.

She was honored to be part of that group, but she didn’t anticipate that one day she would get a chance to specifically help other activity directors a thousand miles away.  The Facebook query came from the New Jersey Tri-County Activity Coordinators (TAC) from Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties.  They were delighted to find Christy and asked her to please come to Camden, N.J., where they would be meeting.

Christy was delighted to go because she has a passion for the subject matter.  “Quality improvement makes me tick,” she says.

She loves the nitty-gritty process of gathering data, measuring, analyzing and looking for ways to make things better.  Yet she also loves the process of putting fun in lives of residents.  It’s an unlikely combination of interests but one that dovetails perfectly with the data-driven direction health care is taking.   

Christy not only knows how to do the activities, she also knows how to measure if they are getting the job done.  And that sums up what CMS wants to see in the years ahead.

The New Jersey presentation was very well received, and now Christy is back in Chisago City, where she started working for Ecumen in 2002.  When asked to sum up what her job is, she says: “I bring smiles.” (And she measures how well she’s doing it.)

Honoring Judith Johnson, Who Just Celebrated Her 104th Birthday at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes

Judith Swenson Johnson was born in North Branch, Minn. before the start of World War I.  She recently celebrated her 104th birthday at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes in Chisago City.  In a Chisago County Press article, the positive, forward-looking Judith tells reporter Denise Martin: “I just wonder what’s going to happen next.”   

Alzheimer's & Dementia Care: "Listening to Elderly Cuts Use of Costly Medications," Ecumen Awakenings Featured in Minneapolis Star Tribune

So many people across Ecumen have made Ecumen Awakenings possible and are contributing to the program's learnings and growth.  It is innovation that empowers and honors those with Alzheimer's and other types of dementia while underscoring our mission and vision. Saturday's front-page article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune features a long story on this great work. Thank you to everyone who makes Awakenings possible and to our colleagues and customers at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes who opened their lives and shared their experiences with the newspaper.

You can read the article by clicking here: Listening to elderly cuts use of costly medications

Or cut and paste the following url into your browser:


About Ecumen Awakenings:
Ecumen Awakenings™ is working to transform America’s culture of care for people living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias.  Awakenings improves lives and care experiences while achieving the optimum benefits and balance of non-pharmacological and biomedical approaches.  Offered by leading non-profit Ecumen, Awakenings is an empowering, collaborative approach to care that honors one’s individuality and abilities while enriching lives. 

This collaboration of the person, care professionals, physicians, pharmacists and loved ones often leads to reduction or elimination of antipsychotic medication use and prevents many people from moving to antipsychotics, which carry significant health risks for older adults.  “Awakenings” occur as behavioral symptoms decrease and one’s abilities and personality emerge.


Hula-ing the Winter Blues Away at Ecumen’s Vitalize! Wellness Centre

 As the ice cakes over Minnesota, imagine palm trees swaying in tropical breezes as graceful women perform hula dances in the warming sun.

Now come back to reality in the upper Midwest, where mighty oak trees are bending to the blustery Plains wind and the wind chill is sub-zero.  At least in Chisago City, Minn., you can see the hula performed. At the Vitalize! Wellness Centre at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes this traditional Hawaiian dance has practicing devotees, led by Edie Julik who developed a passion for hula when she was a child.

Edie, a former elementary school teacher, is used to dealing with the scoffers who think the very notion of dancing hula in this part of the country is a joke.  When she posts her notices of upcoming classes “people usually think it has something to do with the hula hoop,” she says.

But at the Vitalize! Wellness Centre, which caters to older adults, Edie has found women who understand hula the way she does — “for health, for fun and to feel beautiful.”  

For health, she says, it’s one of the best cognitive exercises you can do.  Yes, cognitive.

“There is a lot of brain work involved in hula,” Edie says.  “You can’t be thinking about what’s for dinner while doing the hula.  You have to be totally in the moment. No matter how many times you do it, there is no auto-pilot.”

The dance tells stories through graceful movements.  So students have to memorize the choreography. Doing the correct movements to the musical cues requires intense focus. 

There are numerous physical benefits as well.  Hula is low impact, Edie says, and under-utilized muscles are “gently awakened” by the dance. Muscle memory develops as the dances are repeated and learned. “Hula improves posture,” she says, “and it’s very good for the feet and the knees, as well as the whole body.”

In addition to the mental and physical benefits, Edie says doing the graceful movements of the hula “make you feel beautiful and happy.”  Hula dances mainly are about finding joy in love, beauty and nature.

Edie became interested in hula when she was nine years old.  She had a great-aunt living in Hawaii who she was planning to visit, but the trip fell through.  She offset her disappointment by learning about Hawaii and its traditions.  Then, when she was in her late 20s living in South Dakota, she met a hula teacher and found her passion, then set up her own dance studio.  Since then she has had three other teachers, and she has become a teacher to many more women.

“I couldn’t live if I couldn’t do this,” Edie says.  “This is more a passion than a hobby. When I’m teaching, I feel like I’m giving a gift to make people’s lives richer.”      

Edie’s class meets on Mondays at the Vitalize! Wellness Centre at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes in Chicago City, Minn.  A new 7-week session will start January 6, 2014 at a cost of $55.  The beginners’ class goes from 9:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., when beginners dance with intermediate students until 10:30.  Then from 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. is intermediate only.  To register call 651-257-7956 or stop by the Vitalize! Wellness Centre and fill out a registration form.


For more information on the Vitalize! Wellness Centre click hereVitalize! is an innovative senior wellness center serving Ecumen Parmly LifePointes residents and the broader Chisago Lakes community.  Programs, services and amenities are designed to support active aging through the six dimensions of individual well-being: physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, vocational, and social.  Vitality coaching is available to support holistic perspectives that integrate body, mind, heart and spirit.  Vitalize! is open seven days a week, with early morning to evening hours.  Call 651-257-7956 for more information on other classes and schedules.


Paying It Forward on Highway 8

 By the roadside on Highway 8 coming into Chisago City a green giant of a chair entices passers-by to come over, sit down and be swallowed up.  

It’s a people magnet—a perfect prop for a hammy photo to post on Facebook, which hundreds of people have done.  On the back of the chair is the slogan: “Life Is Great on Highway 8”--the theme of a program born from necessity and nurtured by an unbounded community spirit that keeps pulling people together in an ongoing saga of paying good deeds forward.

The Big Chair has roots extending throughout the community.  One place is about a half mile away, at Ecumen Parmly LifePointes in Chisago City.  There, in the Vitalize! Centre, is a fully outfitted woodshop, where every tool has been donated.  Often people moving out of their homes into Ecumen Parmly will donate those no-longer-needed power tools and band saws and drill presses.  And from these donations an exceptionally well-equipped woodshop has evolved.

A regular group from all around the area comes to the woodshop and uses these donated tools to make all sorts of wooden wonders, which they in turn donate, never seeming to have trouble finding a good cause.

During the summer of 2012 the entire Chisago Lakes area was having a bad time. Road construction was so disruptive that it scared off the vital tourist traffic to the local businesses all along the Highway 8 Corridor, including Chisago City, Lindstrom, Center City, Shafer and Taylors Falls.  Some businesses were so hard-hit they had to close.

The Chisago Lakes Area Community Foundation didn’t want 2013 to be a replay of that awful summer of 2012.  So they imported a clever idea from out East designed to draw tourists back.  The idea was to have local businesses sponsor the construction of Adirondack-like chairs, have the chairs beautifully painted by local artists and sold at a silent auction, with proceeds going to the Foundation, which would in turn use the money for further community building.  The businesses would pay $200 to put a sponsored chair in their store, which would cover the cost of materials.  The catch was that you had to come into the store to place a bid on its chair. 

There was general agreement that the idea had legs, but who would make the chairs? The Foundation committee was having this discussion when Roger Trivette, who kind of looks (and acts) like Santa Claus, raised his hand.  How about this: he would design the chairs and get his buddies over at the Ecumen Parmly woodshop to help make and assemble them. 

So the woodshop volunteers made most of the chairs, the local artists painted them in ways that charmed and captivated, people came into the stores to see all the chairs and make their bids, and by the time this was all over, the Foundation raised more than $20,000 on 37 chairs.  The oversized chair by the road in Chisago City is a monument to this program, and the other cities along the corridor each have a “Big Chair” too. Facebook is full of pictures of happy kids climbing on the giant chairs--giving their testimony to life being great on Highway 8.

Of course, the program was never really about the money.  It was about attracting people back to local stores.  So the Foundation invested the money and is using the interest to make ongoing grants back to the community to continue the good work.

And the story keeps going….

Remember the folks over at Ecumen Parmly’s Vitalize! Centre who made most of the chairs?  They applied for a $500 grant from the Foundation.  And got it.  With the grant money, the woodshop crew went back to work on community projects.

The chairs project was just part of the woodshop group’s routine of giving their time and talents to the community.  Two years ago, they made birdhouses for the Birdhouse Ball, an event held to raise money for the material to make bunk beds at Camp Ojiketa.  With the proceeds from the Birdhouse Ball, the woodshop went back to work making bunk beds for the camp.  Then somebody had this idea to take ugly old chairs that nobody wanted, and refurbish them, and sell them.  So the woodshop went back to work again.   They’ve worked on projects for tenants of Parmly LifePointes, repaired furniture for the nursing home, worked on projects for Camp Triumph, and coach one another on each project they have built.  And come Monday, they will gather in the woodshop at the Vitalize! Centre, and get back to work, yet again.

And a similar story keeps going all over the community, with people pitching in to pay more good deeds forward—making sure life stays great on Highway 8. 


[To see more chairs go here to the Foundation’s Highway 8 website.  And if you would like to become involved in community programs, donate, or just learn more, go to or call the Parmly Vitalize! Center at 651-257-7957.]

He Was a Most Unforgettable Man-- by Ecumen Blogger Jim Klobuchar

A lady in the state of Georgia writes to me two or three times a year, asking after my health and speculating on the depth of the expected snowdrifts in Minnesota in the winter.

This is mostly a ruse. Our talk invariably turns to Africa. What she wants is to turn back the calendar nearly 25 years to a dicey trek we and four others made through the great African Rift in the heart of the lion country in Tanzania.

But fundamentally she wants to remember David Simonson. I can’t blame her. So do I. David Simonson is impossible to forget. He was a Lutheran preacher built like a football tackle—although he actually played fullback for the Concordia College team in Moorhead, Minnesota, which did him no good in Africa because they play rugby there. So the young missionary played rugby on his day off. And some days in his little church he preached his sermons to the Maasai warriors leaning on a crutch because he got banged up the day before in a scrum.

He arrived in Africa with his wife and infant children in the middle of the Mau Mau revolution in the 1960s. His commitment was to bring, to the not easily convinced Maasai, his God and what medicine and guidance he could manage. Over the years he overcame their skepticism by the thousands. Yet he never measured his service by numbers of conversions. Their trust in him was more important. There was the day early in his ministry when he was called by his superiors to fill in for the veteran missionary hundreds of miles to the south who had to be flown near death to a hospital in Arusha. Simonson arrived in a dusty Land Rover, young, a stranger to the resident Maasai and willing to get acquainted.

On his second day, two of the tribal elders came to his cabin while he was cooking his dinner. They noticed he had a shotgun in the Land Rover. They told him in their mixed Maasai and Swahili language that a lion had been threatening their compound. It had killed some of their cows. They had spears. But they were afraid for their children and worried that their spears could not stop the lion that night. From experience they knew the lion would return. They asked the young preacher if he could help.

Seeking the trust of troubled natives, the young preacher was not going to tell them “no.” He had hunted pheasant and deer in Minnesota and the Dakotas. A rogue lion was something else. Simonson drove his Rover to the edge of the high savannah near the settlement. With night falling he heard the lion advancing, and then saw him emerge hugely from the high grass. He turned on the Rover’s headlights and dismounted, trembling but ready. The lion crouched to leap. Simonson fired once, twice. The lion fell dead.

And the next morning in the village there were more church-going Maasai.

But Simonson never saw it in that light. In the years ahead he became a friend and tutor, and somehow a kind of co-warrior, a brother, with the Maasai in their search for something better in life.

They had been nomadic and their treatment of their women had been uniformly wretched and aboriginal. With his wife, Eunice, a nurse who became a revered mother figure to thousands of Maasai women, Simonson became a man of trust and ultimate respect among the Maasai elders. Years later the Maasai gave them the ultimate badge of respect from these hitherto uncompromising warriors—a plot of Maasai land for their new home, high above the Tanzanian plain, within sight of their revered mountain, Kilimanjaro.

Dave Simonson died two years ago in the land he’d come to love. Hundreds of the Maasa walked from miles away to attend his service.

He was not an easy man in an argument. His quarrels with his superiors over the distribution of funds once landed him in exile from the major city of Arusha to the far northern village of Lolionda. Simonson didn’t waste a lot of time brooding. He compensated for his lack of transportation by striking up a friendship with the local Sikhs, a group well-schooled in the versatility of money. His new friends found a second-hand Land Rover that Simonson—no mean mechanic—made road-ready in two weeks.

And so my friend in Georgia, Donna, wanted once more to remember the walk she and five others of us made with Dave Simonson in 1988. Over his more than 50 years of service in Tanzania, Simonson had built thousands of one-room school houses for the Maasai children with money raised primarily by his fundraising appeals in Minnesota, Colorado and other states. He was relentless. Until he arrived, the Maasai kids had to read their lessons under rocks and in their smoke-filled bomas. His final stewardship was the construction of a modern middle school for Maasai girls, many of whom today—lifted from their solitary role of child-bearing in a polygamous household—are teaching and working other meaningful jobs, some of them already advancing professionally.

So he had invited us in 1988 to join him in his walk. He organized it once every three years to dramatize the need for additional funds. I was invited not only as a friend but as a daily newspaper columnist, who predictably could find enough there for a daily story, or three or four. The African Rift is a great 4,000-mile cleavage in the earth running from what is now Syria to South Africa. Donna was invited as a longtime friend of Africa. Then one night the six of us sat beneath a conflagration of stars in the Africa sky, listening to a CD player and the great chords of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. The memory still lifts me back to Africa each time I hear it.

But the next day the Reverend roused us at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast, then a moment of grace, and we were off into the high savannah. Our head lamps speared the darkness. An hour into it we heard the roar of a lion 300 yards away. A lion that close sounds like a freight train rolling through an echo chamber. It is a sound that cuts through your bones and spins your stomach. I have heard 10-ton boulders falling from a mountain wall overhead, and I’ve heard lightning bolts splitting trees in the Minnesota wilderness. I will take the freight trains and lightning bolts before the sound of a roaring lion in the African bush. The reverend ahead of us, not averse to a little showmanship, was wearing his wide and customary Australian hat with two revolvers on his hips. “Reverend,” I said, “do you really think those revolvers will stop a lion?” The reverend considered this without breaking stride. “Probably not,” he said. “So,” I said, “what then?” Without breaking stride, Simsonson said, “I’ve always believed that the Lord will take care of me.” I considered this solution carefully. “Great,” I said, “What about us?”

The reverend turned benignly. “It’s a slam dunk,” he said. “If the lion was serious, we wouldn’t have heard him.”

“Donna,” I told my friend a few days ago, “I can still hear the lion. He may have been lucky. The jungle telegraph probably told him this was one guy you don’t mess with.”