One room, countless lessons: Advice from a one-room schoolhouse teacher

It was a place most of us saw on shows like “Little House on the Prairie,” but a Mondovi woman was a real-life “Miss Beadle.” 99-year-old Wilma Synstad was the woman at the chalkboard for kids who lived outside Nelson, Wisconsin during The Depression. “I was a good teacher,” she said with the confidence of a seasoned educator. “There wasn’t too much else to do. I was valedictorian of my class so it came naturally.”

Norwegian Valley School outside Nelson, Wis. Photo credit: Buffalo County Historical Society
Photo credit: Buffalo County Historical Society

She and I had a nice conversation in her room at American Lutheran Homes in Mondovi, where she will celebrate 100 years of life in October. I wanted to pick her brain about the teaching moments she experienced inside the four walls of her school. She said she loved being with the children, who ranged in age from six to 15. She had to manage lessons for more than a dozen students at different learning levels. “Well, it was what I did. I didn’t know any better,” she said.

She had to worry about their brains and their hands and feet. Back then; the teacher was also the maintenance crew in charge of heat. “We built our own fires, took care of our own fires, it was a challenge.” And the challenges of the depression era were great, but Wilma said her one-room schoolhouse was an escape for the kids. “We had to ignore it and teach them.” She kept them warm, listened to their worries, taught them what they needed to know and dreamed with them, too. “That they go on to bigger and better things,” she recalled.

When Wilma and I talked of today’s schools and the hustle and bustle, she said it “sounds exciting!” Her advice for teachers in 2015? That they put the children first and “treat them all equally, no teacher’s pets.” She went on to explain that the other children can feel it when there’s a preference. She said the students need to feel that their teacher cares for them. Wilma, we salute you and all the other teachers of today and yesterday. Thank you all for shaping the minds of millions.

Written by Grace Lutheran Communities staff writer


Grand Adventure: Saying yes to new things at age 99

Where do you see yourself at age 80?

Will you be living life to the fullest or letting it pass you by?

As I sat with 99-year-old Gertrude Hoch, I learned that adventures don’t stop after 8, 9 or even nearly 10 decades of life. Gertrude, who lives in the American Lutheran Homes community in Mondovi, is still seizing the day.2015-06-17 11.12.18

“We play bingo, we have a bean bag team and a Wii bowling league,” she said.

Gertrude will earn 100 candles on her birthday cake this fall, but she earned her adventure badge when she turned 80. “I went to visit my granddaughter in Phoenix. I had my first plane ride when I was 80 years old. They took me to the Grand Canyon. That was wonderful.”

grand canyon gertrudeBut she didn’t stop at just being a casual tourist at the national park. “We each had a little tent. We camped out. I was 80 years old and we camped out. That’s an adventure,” Gertrude laughed. She said she was cold in the tent but woke up feeling fine. She marveled at what she observed, but it wasn’t just the majestic rocks that were memorable. “Seeing all the people at the Grand Canyon, all the different nationalities. It’s just amazing.”

Having lived through the depression and now as a great-great-grandmother, Gertrude says she’s happiest when she is around her family and when she gets out to meet new people and chat with her friends in her long-term care community. “I take advantage of everything.” She says she doesn’t miss a chance to play cards and go on field trips. She hopes others will do the same, so they can keep a slice of adventure in their life, no matter how old they are. “Just go ahead and do it,” she says.

Written by Grace Lutheran Communities staff writer

Senior Americans Day 2015 – Resources and Information for Seniors

Senior Americans Day 2015, for adults 55+, will be held on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the W.R. Davies Center on the UW-Eau Claire Campus.

Choose from breakout sessions where you will learn about local history, cultural diversity, health and wellness, and creativity. Attend free health screenings and have a free photo taken in the photo booth. Enjoy a free lunch with your friends and peruse dozens of exhibit booths where you can pick up valuable information and register for door prizes.

Keynote speaker, Kari Berit, will present “Forget Less, Remember More.”

Ever forget where you put your car keys? That’s normal. Forgetting what car keys are…not normal. What is the difference between normal aging and memory loss? Arm yourself with the facts about your brain and reduce your worries. We’ll explore how the human brain works and what it needs to stay healthy. And you’ll try Aerobics of the Mind and discover how fun, simple activities can help you think more clearly and forget less.

Kari Berit is a speaker in the field of aging and family caregiving. She speaks nationwide, addressing professionals and families who crave emotional support and a down-to-earth approach to the issues of family and professional caregiving.

Find out more about Senior Americans Day

Grace Lutheran Foundation is a Gold sponsor of this event.

Q & A with American Lutheran Homes’ Director of Human Resources

Human Resources Director Bryan Bessa shares the ins and outs of working in the healthcare field and with Grace Lutheran Foundation, which manages American Lutheran Homes.

What kind of background do you look for in an applicant?

Previous healthcare experience is always a plus! Unless it’s a licensed position, no prior training is required for many of the positions we have. Remember, having no experience is better than having poor previous work history! We offer a training program for our communities.

That’s convenient! How long is the program and what are the details on that?Bryan_Bessa

Community Based Residential Facility (CBRF) training is state mandated, meaning people have to come with it or get it within 90 days of employment. We offer all of the required trainings in house our trainers are current employees who work within our organization. We recently began offering these courses to the community and have worked with other assisted living facilities to offer this program. At American Lutheran Homes we also have the C.N.A. training program, which is a three-week course and sees the most participation and highest pass rates for the Chippewa Valley.

We also offer to reimburse those whom we hire after graduating from the training program 100 percent.

 When an individual comes in for an interview, what skill set and personality do you look for?

When I look for employees, there are basically three components that they are made up of: head, heart and hands. The head: do they have the ability to think critically or think on their feet? Do they get it and do they have the ability to learn? The hands: Do they have the technical ability? That’s the physical ability, to perform the task. And the final part is the heart. That is the one piece we can’t teach. If someone doesn’t know how to do something and there’s a knowledge gap, we can teach him or her. If they don’t have the drive, the want, the motivation or their heart isn’t in the right place…I can’t teach that. You either have it or you don’t.

It’s not always about what we want in an applicant; it’s about whether we are a good fit for each other. Being qualified and whether we like you is only half the equation; if it’s not a mutual likeness it won’t work in the end.

How should an applicant dress for an interview?

I don’t get too bogged down with how people look in an interview. Suits and ties aren’t the way people present themselves in this industry. It isn’t as much about as what you’re wearing as it is about the perception I’m getting. If someone says, “I just came from work” and they are wearing scrubs, I can live with that. If someone came from home and they are wearing jeans with holes, I get the perception that they don’t care about the interview and that forces me to assume they don’t care about themselves, much less about the job, their teammates or the customers we serve. Our customers and clients deserve our best everyday and it is our job to find the ones that we feel are committed.

 In general, what can someone expect working in the healthcare field?

It’s hard work. It’s hard work at all levels, regardless of your role. It can be physically, emotionally and mentally draining work. It is a fast-paced environment and each day is different. The trade off though is that it can be the most rewarding work. You can have a great interaction with a resident/client or family on a less-than-desirable day and it makes it all worth it.

What can someone expect working in one of the American Lutheran Homes communities?

The big thing is that we are a non-profit and we’re locally owned and operated. Those who work in our organization are caring for people who are from this community, perhaps people they know. The foundation genuinely cares about who you are as a person, not solely what you do for the company. We provide great care for our residents and their families, but we also provide the best care we can to our employees and their families. That’s equally important, because if we’re not taking care of the people who do the work in the organization, we can’t expect them to continue to do good work. And because we are non-profit, it’s not about making the shareholders rich; we are the shareholders! It’s about reinvesting money back into the company (through improving technology, programming, etc.) and our staff through competitive wages, benefits and an atmosphere they can thrive in .

Employment at American Lutheran Homes can mean so many other things besides working as a CNA. What other roles are there in the organization?

There are various opportunities within our communities!

  • Dietary related: dietary assistant, cook- prepares meals, sets tables, etc.
  • Activity related: activities coordinator – plans activities like games, Bingo, town excursions, exercise etc.
  • Housekeeping and laundry: cleans rooms, infection control, cleans commercial and personal laundry, etc. These people are very important because as people get older, typically, immune systems are compromised.
  • Maintenance: maintains buildings, repairs breakdowns, etc.

We have tons of opportunities where employees can work – not only in direct care, but support roles as well – and grow throughout the company. One of the benefits of having multiple communities is that there may not be a position open in the building you’re in, but there’s a chance there is one in another of our buildings.

We also try to pull some of those growth barriers out of the way. For those who are aspiring nurses, we offer tuition payments of up to $1,000 each semester for up to three semesters.

What have you loved about working with American Lutheran Homes? 

Money is never the first question; it is “what do we need to do for this resident in this situation.” The financial picture is important, but we never let it supersede our mission to take care of our residents. That is what care giving is about! We have a large percentage of staff who have a long history with our company. That goes a long way with stability and trust and it translates to more personalized and efficient care for our residents.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Even if someone goes into the healthcare field and decides it’s not for them, it’s still great experience to have. It creates a greater understanding and appreciation for what these people do and benefits the community overall. Our employees are some of the most compassionate, selfless individuals on this planet. If Winston Churchill was correct when he said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I would say that our caregivers have some of the best lives ever lived!

Interview conducted by Stokes+HERZOG Marketing, P.R. and Advertising

MUSIC & MEMORY Benefits People with Dementia

MUSIC & MEMORY℠ is a non-profit program that can help improve the quality of life for seniors with dementia. Care professionals receive training that teaches how personalized playlists can be played on iPods or other devices that can enable those struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

Both American Lutheran Homes communities in Mondovi and Menomonie are certified to participate in the program.

More About Music and Memory

Some care facilities are able to receive grant money that helps with setting up the program. According to Karen Park, activity director at Grace Lutheran Foundation’s Syverson Lutheran Home, there are two sources for assistance available in the state of Wisconsin. The first is the national MUSIC & MEMORY℠ program, which was started by Dan Kohen and provides training for certification and help with funding for care facilities. The second is the Wisconsin Music & Memory initiative offered by Wisconsin Health services in Madison that provides grants to care facilities.

MUSIC & MEMORY℠  webinars provide training on:

  • The benefits of personalized music.
  • Research on personalized music as a therapeutic tool.
  • How to reduce the use of certain medications.
  • Tools to measure the success of the program.
  • How to create a customized play list.
  • How to get family and staff involved in the process.

Karen Park is in the process of creating a webinar that will be used by MUSIC & MEMORY℠ in training caregivers who are interested in participating in the program.

Resources for Family

For family members caring for loved ones at home, the MUSIC & MEMORY℠ website has free resource guides available to help them incorporate Music & Memory into their at home care.

Community News

A news article featuring the benefits of MUSIC & MEMORY ran in March in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram. Read the story in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram 

Top 23 Questions to Ask When Choosing an Assisted Living Facility

Assisted living residences also may be called residential care facilities, adult congregate living facilities, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), personal care homes, retirement homes for adults, or community residences. A unique transition from independent living without care, assisted living communities help seniors enjoy an improved quality of life with independence and care combined.

Click here to read more

Veterans Honored on Special Day

Menomonie – Veterans who live at American Lutheran Homes Menomonie and Mondovi and staff members who work there were honored by human reIMG_9480sources director and Marine Corps veteran Bryan Bessa.

Bessa spent Veteran’s Day traveling to the facilities in his dress blue uniform to meet veterans and give them special flag pins.

“As a veteran, I think it’s important to have a program like this because so many members of our senior population were involved in the war effort as veterans and supporters during world war two. We want to make sure those veterans are recognized”, Bessa said.

Statistics show about 640 world war two veterans pass away every day.

Bessa said, “We’re running out of time to ensure their legacy and remember their sacrifices.”

Sgt. Bryan Bessa served in the U.S. Marine Corps between 2002 and 2010 and was deployed twice to Iraq while on active duty.

“What we experienced doesn’t compare to what some of those men and women experienced. They sacrificed so much and it feels good to see the smiles on their faces when they’re recognized”, Bessa said.