My friend Wenona led a very interesting life. It started in Crested Butte, where her father was a foreman for the Colorado Fuel & Iron coal mine. At Western State College she was a chemistry (I think — some science) major who would break into the buildings at night to study.
While on a date with some young man, she was induced to go flying (literally; like in an airplane) by the man who became her husband, and off she went, formal ballgown and all. She may have been the only female aerial photographer in the country, a job that took her to the northernmost point of Alaska for six long months.
And then she came to work at the Gunnison Country Times, where she fed all of us at our frequent potlucks and took extra care of me. She bought me a crockpot (I still have it) and battery-operated wool socks (I don’t think I still have them, but you never know) in an effort to keep my feet warm under that cold corner desk.
A stroke sent her to what we then called the nursing home, which I believe is now formally the Gunnison Valley Health Senior Care Center. She had aphasia, which means that no matter what she intended to say, it came out as “Yes.”
Because this was frustrating on both ends — she knew what she wanted to say, and my guesses were frequently wrong — I started visiting her at dinnertime, so that I could keep up a running commentary about or with other folks in the room.
I met a man who turned out to be my brother-in-law’s great-uncle Marty, and there was a woman about my age (I think she had multiple sclerosis) who gave me invaluable advice about potting plants. I think about her every time I line the bottom of a pot with stones.
But all that was many years ago. Earlier this year, Lynn and I visited our friend Ed, who spent his last months there, but I really haven’t had much occasion — which I imagine is true for many of us — to visit the senior center.
A new facility has been planned for a long time, and it is just about to come into Being. Prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, public tours were offered last Tuesday. I decided to go.
I thought, at the outset, that I was just going to go see a new building. What I didn’t realize is that I was a going as a person in the midst of his own construction project — and there I was, giving finishes and fixtures the gimlet eye.
It’s a really beautiful building that is predicated on an entirely different philosophy than the one that drove construction of the old building. As our tour guide explained, this building is planned around resident needs rather than staff convenience, the reverse of the old building.
So almost everyone will get their own room, and current residents were allowed to select the rooms to which they will move. Every room comes with two windows, a nice big one and then another, higher up, for a ton of natural light. The rooms come furnished, but if people want to bring in their own furniture, that’s allowed.
The rooms are set up in three “pods,” and as our tour guide described it, the entrance to each pod is like the front door to a complete house, each with its own dining area, pantry, kitchen, and two living areas, one with a giant gas fireplace and TV, and another, overlooking a big window, for more quiet activities like reading or craftwork. The pod for folks with memory issues holds 12; the two others can host 18 or 19. Each pod gets a team of four caretakers and a resident cat or dog.
Now, if you can believe it, at a senior facility in the middle of a workday, my fellow tourees (tourists?) skewed older and female. What I thought was interesting, as we were passing all these improvements (oh, you can even do your own laundry, if you want, in the new laundry rooms), was the one thing attracting all their attention and admiration was the artwork present on all the walls (residents will provide their own artwork and photos in their rooms).
Allan and Francie Ivy own the Open Your Eyes Gallery, and they’ve done gorgeous large-format prints of their own photos. Matt Berglund (signature on his photos: “it’s a Berglund!”) also contributed photos, all of which are of places and livestock in Gunnison County.
But while others were focused (ha) on the photos, I was examining fireplaces, kitchen appliances, wall surfaces and food storage. (Another philosophical change, which I imagine will be quite welcome: the main facility kitchen will provide food to a pantry in each pod, and residents can pick the time and the food they want to eat. There’s also the in-pod kitchen that residents can use themselves. When I used to visit Wenona, it seemed like the entire day was spent shuffling residents to and from the dining hall.)
Our tour (last one of the day) got rushed at the end because someone was waiting impatiently to “shock” the water system. (I’ll have to define that for you next spring, when we get to that at our new house.) We had already passed numerous projects still in progress, with wires hanging down and fresh paint on walls. I believe the plan was to move folks in this weekend, but I don’t know if that is still on track.
I did speak with Tammy Scott, who heads the GVH Foundation, on the way out. She was a bit concerned that residents, who currently have roommates, might have trouble with a new routine and their own space, but we both agreed that this seemed to be a much more welcoming and homey facility.
I also saw, but didn’t speak with, my Someday neighbor Mary, who turns out to be the new director of the senior care center. All I knew was that she had a job with GVH and that Oz, who doesn’t usually pursue playtime with other dogs, loves running around with her dog Sahara.
Upon completion of that tour, since I was in the neighborhood, I drove around the area for a self-tour, because Lynn and I had looked at several lots in that vicinity. Many of what were vacant lots two summers ago now have houses on them, and it seems so crowded (and one of the new houses barely has windows — how can people do that?).
While it will be really weird for me not to live within city limits, and it turns out country living is more expensive than the city life (although one of those lots was the same price as we paid for a full acre), I have to say, I’m quite happy with the lot we selected.
Now, because my journalistic skills are rusty, it didn’t occur to me to take any photos while on my tour(s), so you’ll have to settle for this link, which hasn’t been updated since September. It’s kind of like my blog about our construction project, only a lot less wordy.