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Culinary manager intends to make dining a delicious experience every day

By Senior Living

We recently sat down for a chat with Brian Bercher, the Culinary Manager at The Grand Hills Castle, and soon discovered that he can hold a conversation on pretty much anything – whether it’s creating from-scratch meals for residents, homemade food for rescue dogs or playing in an Irish band.

Brian Bercher is not afraid to admit it up front.

“I don’t cook at home. DoorDash is my private waiter,” he quips.

But in his lifelong role in fine dining as a sous-chef, executive chef, private chef and caterer, Brian is well-trained on cooking from scratch. Since January of this year, he’s been happy to bring his creativity to the daily menu at The Grand Hills Castle.

“I understand the regional meat-potatoes-gravy aspect here,” says Brian. “I want to make as much of our meals as homemade as possible. I’m a firm believer of supporting our community businesses, outsourcing local meat and produce. In fact, next week Monday, we’re preparing roast beef from a local supplier and I will season it myself.”

Brian, who began washing dishes in an authentic Japanese steakhouse when he was 17, has always been interested in food. He earned his culinary degree in between his living and working in restaurants, private kitchens and assisted living communities across the U.S. In addition to his position with The Grand Hills Castle, Brian runs a private chef business.

“Families hire me to cook their weekly meals, so that helps me stay in touch with family cooking and what they want to eat, as opposed to considering a five-star restaurant menu and creating a salmon souffle,” he adds. “In that way, I can reflect what the local wants and needs are much better to the Castle Senior Living community.”

In addition to his talents in the kitchen, Brian is a stage musician and plays bass guitar in the group, Ireland-the-band, which tours much of the East Coast on weekends. He’s involved in Greyhound Rescue and runs a retirement home with two dogs currently in residence. Homemade meals are also on their menu.

“I make my own dog food, usually about forty pounds of food a week. The meals are made with chicken liver, brown rice, sweet potato and carrots. There’s a meat, a grain, and a vegetable. The dogs get a well-balanced meal.”

Brian enjoys the freedom to create what the residents at The Grand Hills Castle want to eat. His goal is to develop a menu that is nutritionally sound and satisfying to the residents and their families.

“We are cooking for them in the same way that we cook for our families,” he says. “Our residents are like family, and we always want to do the best for them.”

Advance Directives – Visits with Von

By Senior Living, Visits with Von

What are Advance Directives?
Who needs them??

Did you know that nearly 70% of Americans do not have Advance Directives in place? Advance Directives refer to the different types of documents that allow for us to spell out what we want (and don’t want!) for our medical care. They allow us to choose someone to be our voice when we are unable to make decisions on our own behalf. Advance care planning benefits those you love because it relieves the emotional burden of someone having to make those decisions for you.

Join us as we review the different types of advance directives, why they are so important, and resources to be able to complete them.

Download the Flyer

Date: April 14, 2021

Time: 3:00 PM

Location: Virtual (via Zoom Meet)

RSVP: (You will be sent a link)

Yvonne Ward APSW, ACHP-SW

Hospice Executive Director

Yvonne Ward joined the Castle Senior Living family in 2020 and is an integral part of our soon-to-be-launched Hospice program. Yvonne (or Von as we like to call her) has over 11 years of professional experience in hospice, social work, and the healthcare industry. She is an Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker – certified in 2017 from the National Association of Social Workers. She received her Bachelor’s in Social Welfare with a Criminal Justice Certificate and her Master’s in Social Work with a Mental Health emphasis from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Her goal is to help people with their physical, mental, emotional and healthcare needs by providing resources, support, advocacy and education. Von is so passionate about the individuals and families under her care, that she once arranged for a hospice patient to fulfill a last wish to go skydiving and then proceeded to jump out of the plane with him for support!

Choosing the Right Senior Living Community

By Senior Living

How do you choose the correct senior living community?

Whether you are considering a future move to a life plan community or perhaps a relative or loved one is in need of care right away, it’s important to lay out a plan to choose the best senior living community for your wants, needs and budget.

Here are some first steps:

  • Determine the community – There are many options available – from independent and assisted living on to long-term nursing communities and 24-hour skilled care. The choice depends on whether the person needs minimal help with medications and meals, or suffers from diseases like Alzheimer’s and other illnesses that require more critical care. Be sure to check out the chart below that can provide some insight on the different types of communities.
  • Contemplate the right fit – When you look at the broad picture, consider which communities are licensed by the state. Perhaps you or your loved one will thrive in a small, more homelike setting or would prefer a larger senior living community. Money is also a factor, whether you can afford private pay or require financial assistance.
  • Study the reputation – Once there are locations to consider, research websites and social media platforms. Consider the community’s testimonials and client reviews, and ask friends who’ve been in similar situations for referrals.

Tip: Look for the ways a community shows compassion to residents, supports their needs, and keeps them engaged in activities for a well-rounded senior living experience.

Once a list of needs and wants is completed, continue your preparation with the following:

  • Develop a list of questions – These could involve the cleanliness of the community, the floor plan’s ease of use, safety measures (door locks, lighting, handrails), meal plans, social activities and more. Be sure to ask how the residence stands out from similar communities in your chosen location.
  • Schedule a tour – In-person visits are available at some communities, though some are continuing with virtual tours during the pandemic. Contact the places you’re considering for the latest guidelines.

Bottom line, trust your instincts. If the community feels like the place you or a loved one would consider their new home, then you’re well on your way. Please contact us if you have additional questions or want more information about making the best choices for senior living. We’d love to help and our team is fantastic at supporting people as they go about making this difficult decision – whether the final choice is Castle Senior Living or not.

The Four Primary Senior Residence Options

Community Based
Residential Facility
Adult Family Home AFH
(3-4 bed)
Residential Care
Complex RCAC
Nursing Home
Residence Type Serves a variety of needs, and may include dementia and other conditions of aging Serves a variety of needs, and may include dementia and other conditions of aging Independent living. Does NOT serve incompetent, Alzheimer’s, or dementia populations Most require 24-hour care due to physical or mental conditions
Number of
From 5-257 beds, usually 20+ Up to 4, usually a residential-style home Independent living complex; at least 5 apartments 5 or more
RN on staff Not required Not required Not required Yes
Hours of nursing care Up to 3 hrs/wk Up to 7 hrs/wk N/A 24 hours
General level of care Provides room and board and assistance. Most often admit and provide services to:

  • People of advanced age
  • Dementia
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Mental health
  • Physical disabilities
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Terminally ill/Hospice
Care, treatment or services are above the level of room and board; should not require care above intermediate level of nursing care Provide up to 28 hours of care/week:

  • Supportive services
  • Personal assistance
  • Health services
  • Emergency assistance

Services must be part of tenant’s service agreement

Complete care, room and board
24-hour caregivers Yes Caregivers may live on-site Emergency Assistance if needed Yes
Minimum Age
18 years 18 years Adult Adult

Caring for the Caregiver – Visits with Von

By Senior Living, Visits with Von

Are you a caregiver? Feeling blue? Feeling stressed?


Whether you are a professional caregiver or a caregiver for a family member, taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity. We need to take care of ourselves so that we can care for others.

Come join us for an interactive discussion where we will review what caregiver stress and burnout is, signs of caregiver stress and burnout and finally discuss some helpful strategies for dealing with it.

Castle Senior Living is proud to present the first session of “Visits with Von.” This monthly event is hosted by our Hospice Executive Director, Yvonne Ward, and our goal is to provide insights into Hospice and Senior Care to those with questions or loved ones who may be in need.

Download the Flyer

Date: March 10, 2021

Time: 3:00 PM

Location: Virtual (via Zoom Meet)

RSVP: (You will be sent a link)

Yvonne Ward APSW, ACHP-SW

Hospice Executive Director

Yvonne Ward joined the Castle Senior Living family in 2020 and is an integral part of our soon-to-be-launched Hospice program. Yvonne (or Von as we like to call her) has over 11 years of professional experience in hospice, social work, and the healthcare industry. She is an Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker – certified in 2017 from the National Association of Social Workers. She received her Bachelor’s in Social Welfare with a Criminal Justice Certificate and her Master’s in Social Work with a Mental Health emphasis from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Her goal is to help people with their physical, mental, emotional and healthcare needs by providing resources, support, advocacy and education. Von is so passionate about the individuals and families under her care, that she once arranged for a hospice patient to fulfill a last wish to go skydiving and then proceeded to jump out of the plane with him for support!

Meet the Resident – Bonnie Sommer

By Senior Living

We are pleased to welcome Bonnie Sommer, who joined the Castle Senior Living Family as a resident of Victorian Castle.

Bonnie says she’s “an open book” and can carry on a conversation with just about anyone. Here’s what we learned about her during a recent visit.


There were several big “firsts” for Bonnie Sommer in 2020. She turned 80-years-old in May and arrived at Victorian Castle around Christmas.

“It was such a fast move from where I was to here,” Bonnie recalls. “I was not happy at my other place, and my family and I were concerned that my former senior living community would close without warning. I was living day to day wondering if I’d have to move.

“My youngest son, Bob, did some research and found Victorian Castle. This place is wonderful. The people here are so friendly and helpful. My son wanted me to be close to him and it worked out. You turn a corner from his house and you’re here.”

Bonnie, who was born in Chicago and the oldest of three siblings, grew up in the Milwaukee area. She recalls her early life as an adventure with her father serving in the U.S. Army.

“In my time, mothers didn’t work. But, when my dad was away from home in the military, my mother took a job at a laundromat and raised us kids.

“We all had to look out for each other. You just have to keep working at it, even when things get hard.”

Bonnie attended Bay View High School, where she met Bill Sommer, who became her high school sweetheart. They later married and had three children, Bill, Sandy and Bob.

“Bill was in the U.S. Coast Guard and I was going to nursing school, but I was told that I had too much compassion to be a nurse so I had to find something else to do. I was disappointed at first, but we settled here. Bill was in the Coast Guard part-time and worked as a laborer at different factories. I worked at a drug store part-time and at various jobs in food service. I always enjoyed cooking.”

When we asked Bonnie what she loves most about Victorian Castle, she said, “The people. One of the residents here is a good friend. We hit it off so well that we watch football games together. I never watched football with my late husband, but my friend and I have the same kind of interests. If I had trouble with my TV, he would come and fix it for me.”

Bonnie appreciates the staff who stop by to talk with her. The people here take care of residents in good times and bad, she says, and you won’t go through any challenges alone.

“If I had a chance to move, I wouldn’t. I’m a queen and living in my castle now.”

A Look Ahead: What 2021 will look like for Castle Senior Living

By Senior Living

We shifted and forged ahead through an unusual year, accelerating our focus on the health and safety of residents and employees. Our team and the entire Castle Senior Living community accomplishes incredible things when we work together. Castle Senior Living Vice-President and Owner Kris Kiefer says we’re on the path to achieve even more in 2021.

What are you most proud of at Castle Senior Living as we leave 2020 behind?
I am so impressed with our team. We brought on some dynamic people like Diana Howell, Mitch Reuter, Samantha Brenner-Carr, Meghan Sullivan and others to support our team strengthen our fight against COVID-19. 2020 was a definitely a year for us to excel in leadership, and I saw firsthand how we focused and stayed together. There was a tremendous communication exchange between our COVID-19 committee, the state and local health departments, the residents and families, and I credit the direction of our team for that.

We have been a strong leader in the fight against COVID-19 and implementing preventative measures. We created additional positions to help support the care staff and allow for uninterrupted time off, if needed. New protocols were implemented for cleaning, visiting, dining, and activities that help maintain resident satisfaction while improving health safeguards.

There are no restrictions on admissions at Castle Senior Living. New people are moving in and it’s been a smooth and successful transition integrating them into our communities.

How have the past nine months led you as an owner of Castle Senior Living to adjust the focus of your business looking ahead to 2021 and beyond?
The time helped us discover what really matters. To us, it’s treating others like family and providing exceptional care. We realize that a lot can change in a year, and recognized that it is important to slow down and show those around you that you love and care about them.

Could you share some of your goals for Castle Senior Living in 2021?
There are several exciting activities. We are creating a Medicare-Certified Hospice service at our company. This will enhance the quality of care for residents nearing end-of-life. We hope to be certified by the end of this year. Additionally, we recently completed our ‘Smile to Remember’ Memory Care program, which will be implemented in the coming months. And we are pursuing expansion opportunities in the Milwaukee area to provide better living environments for seniors.

Tell us a bit more about “A Smile to Remember.” What will this program mean for families and residents in need of additional support?
When we first shared our goals of the program, we received nothing but positive feedback from our residents’ families. They understood that it was Castle Senior Living’s priority to focus on dementia care. Our program really puts things in perspective and outlines how to improve care for residents with dementia. We integrated this into our orientation and training throughout 2020 to make sure everything was laid out in detail because we want to be the experts in the field. This is not just a one-time thing, but part of ongoing training that we can follow. Our priority is to make sure residents have the best experience and best outcomes from what we put together.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2021?
I believe it involves overcoming the fear factor of COVID-19. It’s our job to continuously reassure people that we abide by safety measures to protect against all viruses and bacteria. Community living for older Americans is a tremendous benefit – from the social aspect, quality of dining and health oversight.

Visitation is an issue that’s hurting the industry right now with restrictions on who can see our residents. When those constraints are lifted, it will definitely help to welcome back visitors on a regular basis.

It’s that time of year for resolutions. Is there a personal goal that you want to achieve in 2021?
For me, it’s all about staying healthy, improving my personal health and fitness, and spending time with my wife and four children.

I hope to play piano more for our residents, something that I haven’t been able to do since last March. I want to get back into the communities and take some personal song requests. That would be terrific.

Caregiver marks 10th anniversary with Castle Senior Living

By Senior LivingNo Comments

Congratulations to LaDonna Savage, a third shift caregiver at Emerald Castle, who celebrated her tenth work anniversary with us earlier this year! LaDonna says caring for others is her way of life as she manages two full-time jobs while looking after her family and grandchildren. She recently spent some time with us and shared how her dedication for helping people led her to the Castle Senior Living family.

Tell us about your journey to become a caregiver?

My mom got sick in 2000, so I started looking into how to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or caregiver. I quit my job managing a fast-food restaurant and went into caregiving with no experience. I always served people and my community in a different way. Helping the disabled and the sick is my way of giving back.

I’m always taking care of someone. I have a husband, nine grandchildren with the nine children I had growing up in our home. I’ve also work full-time, second shift for residents at a developmentally disabled facility for 15 years along with my Castle Senior Living position. These are the people I see and serve every day.

What do you enjoy most about working for Castle Senior living at the Emerald Castle community?

I’d have to say it’s the one-on-one time and the care for residents. I look forward to seeing them each day, especially the ones that stay up when I start my shift at 11:00 pm. They call me the ‘third shift cleaning lady.’ I cook, clean, do the laundry and prep for the next day. Some residents want food, a cup of coffee or some just like to talk to me. The residents know you. You have to be sincere, have patience and compassion. It comes from the heart.

I’m glad to be a part of the team and a great company. It’s not just a job here. There’s incredible support and compassion for employees. During the time I’ve worked for Castle Senior Living, I had two house fires and our family lost everything. They were there with donations and time off until I was ready to come back. When you lose everything, it’s nice to know you have family. When my mom died in 2015, their support was beautiful. No one ever knows how far the love goes outside your family. When I returned to work, the support and love from co-workers was there.

What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned on the job in the past year?

With the pandemic, we learned to be safer and it’s important to continue to do so. As workers, we are going outside of the building. We don’t want this crisis coming into our doors.

I have a lot of patience – more than I ever thought. I learned it is my destiny to help others, to love and support them.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I like having my hair done. That’s my downtime and own time. Just for me.

Tell us something interesting about yourself that other people might not know.

The people here say I’m funny, amazing, and honest. I don’t hold back. My supervisor says I tell it like it is. Honesty is the best way. Anyone that knows me understands that no matter what I say, I never mean any harm.

What to look for when checking in on elderly relatives during the holidays

By Senior LivingNo Comments

Christmas and the New Year are those major family occasions where you may be spending more time with your elderly parents and relatives. This year is quite different with in-person visits discouraged and stay-at-home pleas from government officials to help curb the spread of COVID-19, especially as we head into the winter season.

If you are in contact with older adults these days, whether virtually or in-person, pay close attention to how they are doing and what they could be revealing to you. There are subtle signs to watch for that could indicate a possible decline in their abilities:

  • Withdrawing from normal activities – When a person is no longer showing interest in hobbies or tasks such as housecleaning and paying bills on time.
  • Unsteady on their feet and overall slowing down – A loved one’s movements are becoming delayed, which is unlike their usual pace, and they admit to falling at home.
  • Appetite and weight loss – For someone who once loved to cook and eat, little to no appetite and a visual weight loss are concerns that should be addressed.
  • Sleep – A change in routine where someone is sleeping more during the day and awake at night.

Investigate by asking questions of your loved one to possibly learn why this may be happening. If this does not generate much of a response or lead to any significant conclusions, a doctor’s visit is the next recommended step.

Discussing these issues is never an easy task for children of elderly parents. If you find yourself in this situation, consider the guidelines from a blog we posted this time last year, Approaching Difficult Conversations with Mom and Dad. And know that the team here at Castle Senior Living is always open to provide insight and resources if you have questions or concerns.

Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness advances research and a patient’s quality of life

By Senior LivingNo Comments

In August, results of a groundbreaking study led by a team of scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center was released that may provide genetic clues into the cognitive resilience of the human brain – that’s the organ’s ability to protect itself against disease and improve the chances of recovering from injury. Experts say this medical research could now help scientists discover new ways of developing treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia and a leading cause of death among older Americans in the U.S. We’ve noted more than one thousand November days of “National Alzheimer’s Disease Month” in our country since President Ronald Reagan – himself later a victim of the disease – signed a proclamation declaring it so in 1986.

Taking the time to recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s is important on so many levels:

  • It’s a progressive disease where patients become worse over time, falling away from routines.
  • When the disease is fully developed, patients aren’t sure where they are or may be unable to talk.
  • Based on overall health, some may live as little as eight years, while others can survive up to 20 years with the disease.

At Castle Senior Living, our memory care program is a top objective. This year, we launched an enhanced approach called, “A Smile to Remember.”

We recognize that a smile is the universal sign for happiness. Studies show that patients with advanced dementia can reciprocate the feeling of a genuine smile, which helps lower their blood pressure, feelings of anxiety, and improve their mood. Our Dementia Care Practitioner and team of medical experts designed this program to transform the way people think about dementia. It allows our team to build happy, healthy relationships with residents, develop person-centered approaches that are custom to them, including proper nutrition, therapy and involvement in an engaging and continuous learning environment.

“A Smile to Remember” is our unique program for memory care, where our goal is to inspire those with dementia to live an active and meaningful lifestyle in our communities. Please contact us if you have questions or would like more information about our program.

Meet the Residents – Curtis and Claire Semmler

By Senior LivingNo Comments

When husband and wife, Curtis and Claire Semmler, moved into Birchrock Castle two years ago this November, the experience was not what they expected.

“When we first found out about this place, they told us there were only two rooms open,” recalls Curtis. “We had to move quickly and moved in two weeks to get here. I thought it (Birchrock Castle) was like nursing homes (of the past), but it wasn’t.”

The retired couple – Curtis is 68 and Claire is 66 – had been living in a nice apartment in Waukesha at the time, but recognized they needed more support in their daily lives. Birchrock Castle’s Assisted Living was the best choice for them.

“We had a meeting with Candy Mings, Birchrock’s administrator, and others from Castle, including my sister, Karen,” Claire remembers. “In the apartment, Curtis and I didn’t get much help. We always asked visiting agents, but they would say they couldn’t make it. Our case manager recommended Birchrock Castle, so here we are.”

“I wanted a place with people our own age,” says Curtis. “Here, we can go outside and walk around the house on the patio. We put on our sunglasses and enjoy the outdoor flowers and Dale Dent’s tomatoes.

Claire chimed in, “Dale is our neighbor across the hall and has a great sense of humor.” Read our blog about Dale in Castle’s Meet the Resident.

“We do as much as we can on our own here. If we need help, we ask. I can get dressed, but I need help with the shower. We have a lot of nice friends, terrific caregivers and Jolene is a wonderful cook.”

The Semmler’s also had medical concerns to consider when looking for a new home. Claire is on oxygen because of a bad bout with pneumonia a couple of years ago. Curtis recovered from a throat cancer diagnosis in April 2017 and remains cancer free. The two married thirty years ago in May. Theirs is a sweet love story.

“I worked at the training center in Waukesha,” Claire recalls. “I saw Curtis and he saw me, right Curt? And we saw each other and that was it. I said that’s the guy for me.

“We don’t have kids, but we’re still like kids. I love my honey,” she says.

The two also worked in retail, most notably at the Pick ‘n Save in Waukesha. It’s a place Birchrock Castle Administrator Candy Mings recalls frequenting as a young woman.

“I grew up in Waukesha and I used to shop there with my mom in high school,” says Candy. “Thirty years later, I went to Curtis’ apartment and I still remembered him working there. His hair was darker at that time,” she quips.

Since coming to Birchrock Castle, Curtis and Claire heap heavy praise on the activity team for their many fun games, projects and exercise sessions to keep them active. Claire says she and Curtis both eat healthier now and have lost weight. They both agree that Castle Senior Living is helping them live a better life.

“My room is nice and comfortable,” says Claire. “If I want it peaceful for a while, I go there. We just got a new refrigerator. I wanted a purple one, so Candy found it for me online. Curtis also got a new recliner and a TV.

“We love Candy and all the caregivers here. They work hard. If you need them, they’re right there for you. This place is big, so you can get around better.”