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Senior Living

Make Your Mark: Older Americans Month

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The month of May is recognized nationwide as Older Americans Month.

This year, we consider the contributions of our seniors in a new light as we live through the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is great concern about the health and well-being of this generation right now. At Castle Senior Living, we believe in a shared responsibility to protect those who live in our communities. Our older population is trying valiantly to safely wait it out like the rest of us under lockdown, shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders.

While it’s not recommended to casually visit our older relatives and friends right now, there are still many ways to show appreciation and concern for seniors during Older Americans Month:

  • Stay in touch – Call the older relatives and friends that you know. If available, use virtual means such as FaceTime or Skype to connect so they can hear and see you. Allow seniors to lead the conversation. What do they want to talk about? Ask them to share their memories from the past. Compile their thoughts in a journal and give it to them as a keepsake when the pandemic has subsided.
  • Provide assistance – Does your older relative or friend need medicine, groceries, or other necessary supplies? Arrange to pick up and drop off the items they need. Leave an extra homemade meal on a doorstep if someone lives alone. Look for the older people in your neighborhood who might not ask for help. Be sure to follow Castle Senior Living on social media to learn what you can do to provide support.
  • Use your talents – Adults and children are sewing masks for healthcare facilities that serve older Americans. Families are sending artwork and letters to seniors. Tap into your creative side. Find ways to help spread joy.

This year’s theme for Older American’s Month is “Make your Mark.” It’s an appropriate mission at this time to make a difference for seniors and their caregivers. Join Castle Senior Living in strengthening our senior communities while we await better days ahead.


Castle Senior Living welcomes new Director of Operations

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Diana Howell has been named director of operations at Castle Senior Living, which provides assisted living, independent living and memory care residences for older adults in communities throughout southeast Wisconsin.

For the past 12 years, Howell has been a leader in aging research and senior living, serving in numerous roles for assisted living providers, including director of memory care, area training specialist, and executive director. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner with experience in skilled nursing facilities as a dementia specialist.

Castle Senior Living President Kevin Kiefer says, “It’s with great pleasure that we announce Diana’s addition to the company. Her qualifications make her a great leader for our senior living community. She is dedicated to improving aging and senior health outcomes, and assisting their families as they navigate the complexities of the healthcare system.”

Howell has a Master of Science in Gerontology and Biological Anthropology from Purdue University and completed the course work for her Ph.D. in the same fields. She’s been a research scientist for several large-scale studies examining aging and health issues such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Social Health Life and Aging Project (NSHAP).

Grand Hills Castle: A Q&A with Thomas Wellman

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Thomas Wellman is the newest addition to the Grand Hills Castle as culinary manager overseeing our dining services. We sat down with him for a conversation on his background, why he enjoys working in senior living and his love of creating meals from scratch.


 So how did this love of cooking start for you?

At a fairly early age, my mom said that I couldn’t rely on someone else to take care of me for the rest of my life. So, she taught me how to clean, cook, and make my own lunch. I was intrigued by working with food and meal preparation. When I was 15, I had to get a job, so I started as a bus boy at a Pepino’s in Milwaukee.  From there, I also worked at Heinemann’s, Le Peep Café and spent a few years at the El Tovar Hotel Dining Room in Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Working in the hospitality industry trained me to show up on time, do the best job I could no matter what the wage and pay attention to details. Wiping down a table may be simple, but it adds to the whole experience for someone coming into a restaurant.


You eventually transitioned from restaurants to senior living facilities 15 years ago. Why?

The restaurant stints were grueling. I was burned out, so I left the business and worked at a spring factory to fill the time. A couple of years before the 2008 recession, I was laid off, so realizing cooking was indeed a passion of mine, I found a job as a cook at a 40-bed CBRF on Milwaukee’s east side. I worked my way up to the manager position. After 11 years, I was ready to move on. Someone who worked at Castle Senior Living told me about the culinary opportunity and they brought me on board.

I discovered senior living by taking a chance and I love it. As a cook, I like knowing what time the residents are eating meals. Plates are made to order, so I don’t have to cook all day long.


What are the qualities that you bring to this job?

I am SERVSAFE certified, which means I’m skilled in restaurant requirements, rules and regulations and sanitation. I attended one year of culinary school and my goal is to return and obtain my certification in dietary management.


What do you enjoy most about working for Castle Senior Living?

It’s definitely a team atmosphere. Everyone is friendly and willing to help out. The residents are awesome and the management incredibly supportive. I think I have a bright and promising future here.

I lead a passionate, hard-working dining team right now. There’s room for growth with Castle Senior Living and that makes it an inviting place to work. It feels like home, which makes me think I should have been working here a long time ago.


Let’s talk about the trends in senior dining. Cafeteria-style food is not the norm any longer, correct?

I am all about 95% scratch cooking and more inspired dining, so one of my goals is to achieve that here. That means including ideas and suggestions from our residents on what they like to eat and what should be on the menu. In fact, the Castle Food Committee kicks off this month. I’ve tried this at other facilities and it was successful. It helps residents feel like they have a hand in making dining decisions.


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

It depends on the night. My wife and I are married almost six years with two grandkids who are nine and 12 and live with us. We’re often taking them to games, movies or other fun activities. My wife does more of the meal preparation at home than I do lately, and she’s an excellent cook. I golf a lot, summer, fall and even in winter.


If you were stranded on a desert island, what are the ingredients you’d want to have with you and what would you make?

I would be sure to have taco seasonings, strip steak, tortillas, and avocados. Life is always better with steak tacos!

The Importance of Taking Medications Properly

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The physical changes that older Americans undergo as they age influences how medications are absorbed into the body. It’s important to know the medicines that you are taking in order to benefit from them and be well.

Did you know the risk of drug interactions is high, especially among older adults? This can happen when two medicines consumed react against one another. Certain drugs sometimes have a bad effect on a medical condition and could cause more harm. Other times, there’s a bad response to drugs when eating or drinking, or taking drugs while drinking alcohol.

Drugs have side effects. While most reactions are minor, some remedies can seriously affect your health. Keep track of your medicines and how they make you feel. Follow this short checklist:

  • Stay in touch with health professionals – Write down a list of scheduled prescription and over-the-counter medicines and share it with them. Be sure to ask if the drugs are truly working well for you. You may not need to take them any longer or could possibly reduce the dosage.
  • Don’t stop taking drugs – Are you skipping doses because you have trouble swallowing tablets? Ask about crushing the pills or take a liquid medicine instead. Taking a drug four times a day? Perhaps there’s a medicine that you can take less often. Not remembering to take your medications? Your doctor can suggest ideas, such as a pill box or a calendar.

Castle Senior Living offers residents an in-depth, full-service medication management program. Our electronic medication administration record is directly linked to a local pharmacy, which coordinates the medicine, packaging and delivery. Once on site, a registered nurse oversees the management and distribution of the drugs. All Castle staff must complete a course to become state certified in medication administration. The medicines arrive individually packaged and clearly labeled with a name, date, and dosage information to help prevent errors from happening.

Medicines are necessary to treat illnesses or diseases in older adults. Staying properly medicated is crucial to improve overall mental health and physical well-being.

Meet the Resident – Helene Hagenmayer

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Helene Hagenmayer was retired and living in Palmyra and ready to start the next chapter in her life. She put her home up for sale, but it sold quickly. Helene was unexpectedly in-between a place to stay.

“I heard from a friend that someone’s mother was a resident at the Birchrock Castle Community,” Helene recalls. “It was close to where I wanted to be, so I put myself on the waiting list here.”

A resident of Birchrock’s Independent Living (the Birchrock Castle Community has Independent Living apartments, townhouses and Assisted Living) four years now, this 88-year old raves about the many conveniences here. She has access to a doctor, hospital, pharmacy, restaurants, shopping and even the YMCA, where she participates in a water aerobics class. She has a car and still drives herself.

“I didn’t have friends when I came here, but I have a lot of them now,” she says. “There are so many people here that you can meet in independent living. In the afternoons between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., some of us gather in the activity area with a cup of coffee and just talk. If someone has a problem, we’ll figure it out.”

A lifelong crafter, Helene always loved to work and stay active. These days, she hosts a craft session at Birchrock’s Independent Living twice a month. Helene doesn’t consider herself an artist, but the canvases on the walls of her apartment show otherwise.

“I just like to putter around with paint,” she says.

Helene was born and raised in Stuttgart, Germany, then lived in Bern, Switzerland for eight years as a young adult.

“I was a milliner – that’s a person who makes hats,” she says, “so I first apprenticed in Germany and then worked in Switzerland. In those days, Marshall Fields had an exclusive boutique in Chicago, the 28 Shop, where they sold high-end clothing. They bought the hats that we made in Switzerland.

When she was 28-years old, one of Helene’s friends came back to Europe from living in the states, so Helene took her place. She applied for a green card and achieved her U.S. citizenship five years later.

“I really wanted to go to Australia, but I got a job as a manager at a dress shop north of Chicago and I loved it. I stayed with the husband and wife owners and never left. I never got around to getting married and having a family.”

Along the way, Helene picked up some furry children, and ventured into the world of dog training and competition. She’s been at it for thirty years now with plenty of awards to show for it.

“I don’t like dogs with nothing to do,” she says. “They have their time to play, but I also want them to behave.”

Her current dog, a standard poodle named Sealie, is not trained for competition yet. For now, she’s Helene’s pet.

“I like the breed’s personality. They are smart dogs, but laid back. And they don’t shed.”

This spring, when Helene takes her faithful companion out along the walkway of the Birchrock Castle Community, she hopes the 500 tulip, crocus, grape hyacinth, jonquil and narcissus bulbs that she planted with the help of some friends last fall are in full bloom.

“People with a walker can enjoy the flowers and there’s a bench along the path so they can rest when needed. We have a lovely spot of nature here, if the squirrels didn’t dig up the bulbs!”

Looking ahead to 2020: A Q&A with Kris Kiefer

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We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kris Kiefer, Vice President of Castle Senior Living, and ask him a few questions. Here is what he had to say.

As we begin 2020, what are your goals for Castle Senior Living in the New Year?

One of our objectives is further enhancing Castle’s memory care program. We’re already educating and training our staff, and providing a host of effective activities, but after conducting research on the latest therapy and care, we’re adding new initiatives to create a more in-depth and robust course for our patients. We have a subcommittee of our professional team now meeting twice a month to modify and innovate our program. We are dedicated to achieving this transformation by mid-year.

The healthcare industry is known for employee turnover, so we’re continuing to scale up our efforts and remain focused on that. If we keep improving employee satisfaction and morale along with elevating a strong company culture, it’s a shift toward retaining top talent at all of our facilities.

Another goal is to grow Castle, and you are targeting development at facilities in New Berlin and Mukwonago. What are you doing to transform the landscape of senior living there?

We celebrated our first anniversary of Grand Hills Castle in New Berlin last fall and continue to look ahead for this state-of-the-art facility. Our plan is to add 53 units to the RCAC in order to offer more options for independent living and assisted living. Construction will start later this summer/fall with the opening date set for 2021.

In March of 2018, we bought Birchrock Castle in Mukwonago and are on track to improve the overall program there this year. The goal is to add 20 CBRF units and update existing rooms to specialize in memory care and assisted living. With the expansion, we’ll add a nurse, cook, activity person and housekeeper as full-time staff. We hope to be moving dirt there late April/early May and open in January 2021.

With the needs of older Americans ever-evolving, how does Castle stand out and appeal to those looking for a place to call home?

We believe people should truly love where they live. We do that by building facilities with a family feel. Our residences are properly sized and allow you to know everyone by name. We also offer a variety of attractive services to accommodate any want or need – from custom care plans to lifestyle activities – all available in a real-home environment.

We’ve seen tremendous progress with residents after they move to Castle Senior Living. You can see how their overall health improves. Families approach us and thank us for the difference we’re making here. We recognize our Castle facilities as communities, and families and residents are taking notice of the value and benefits they have to offer.

Castle Senior Living has been serving communities in southeast Wisconsin for nearly thirty years. What do you consider among the greatest successes along the way?

I think there are a lot of success stories from our individual residents, whether they came from a failing situation in their home or apartment, or their family was not able to provide appropriate care. We help them with what they need.

On the business side, Castle grew organically and not too fast over the years, so that is good. Quality and customer service are always our priority. I’m proud of our accomplishments, Grand Hills is probably our greatest achievement so far because of the uniqueness of the property and building design. It all came together nicely. We are able to provide care for those with high acuity needs here. That is incredibly gratifying.

How do you like to spend your time away from work?

When I’m not fully involved in the business end, I love playing piano and singing for the residents. It’s why each Castle Senior Living facility is outfitted with a piano. My home life is quite busy with my wife and three children. We enjoy music, summers on the water near Brule, Wisconsin and winters in the snow, especially gliding across the Kiefer Ice Skating Rink.

It’s that time of year for resolutions. Is there a personal goal that you want to achieve in 2020?

I want to further enhance my skills on the piano. That is always on my goal list along with working out five days a week to stay in shape and enjoy family time. Big news for my wife and me this year? We have a baby number four on the way. All of our children are under five, so that’s a lot of little kids in one house, but we love it.

Approaching Difficult Conversation with Mom and Dad

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The holidays are upon us. It is likely that you are spending more time with your family and maybe even at your elderly parents’ house. While visiting you may notice concerning things like unpaid bills, dirty dishes or other signs of memory loss and need for support. But how do you start that conversation? Won’t your mom or dad become upset?  You can pretend that there aren’t any issues, but that doesn’t help your parent and only delays the inevitable.

Here are some tips for having that difficult conversation with mom or dad and overcoming objections to assisted living.

Educate Yourself

It is always good to go in prepared for a tough conversation.

  • Put together a list of your concerns and observations. For example, you may be concerned that their home is no longer a safe environment for them. Or perhaps they are making mistakes with their medication and that could lead to a dangerous results. Write all of these down.
  • Study how important environment is for older people. The environment is a strong factor when it comes to a senior’s quality of life. It impacts everything from mental health to physical safety to how long they will live.
  • Know the various senior housing options. Do some research and get some ideas of what might fit your mom and/or dad best. It can be tempting to downplay how much help they may need, but be objective as possible. Consider what they can afford.

Having this knowledge and learning about successful aging gives you more confidence and credibility. This isn’t making the decision for your parent, but just preparing yourself to be as helpful as possible for the talks and decisions that will need to be made.

Ongoing; Not One and Done

Beginning the conversation when your elderly parents still live safely at home allows you to talk about the future in a non-threatening, almost hypothetical, way. This results in a more gradual process than an event where your parent has been injured and the decision has to made very quickly. It also prevents the loved one from feeling ganged up on by their kids and this conversation is viewed more as a process where everyone’s opinions can be heard, but nothing needs to be acted on immediately.

Have the conversation in a casual and comfortable spot. A good example may be around the kitchen table. The focus being, “Let’s just have this conversation so we can be better prepared for the future.” And the key is to plan to talk again and again. While you or your siblings may want to wrap things up in one go, the reality is that this will be the first of a number of talks – unless your loved one is in imminent danger.

Tips for the Actual Conversation(s)

  • Talk face-to-face. This isn’t a conversation to have by phone if you can avoid it and certainly not via text. Pick a time when both you and your parent are relaxed and well-rested. And then ensure you can talk without interruption.
  • Utilize empathy, not sympathy. These are easy to be confused, but no parent wants their children to feel sorry for them. Use a calm, kind voice and demeanor to show that you care and that you’re trying to understand the fears/frustrations they may have. This can be a tough step to accept, but your listening to their concerns can be a great help.
  • Don’t rush the conversation. Your parent will probably need time to find the words they need to express how they’re feeling. And one of the biggest ways to ease the process is to come to an unpressured mutual agreement at this early stage.
  • Promise to keep your parent involved in decisions. No one wants to give up their decision making or independence, regardless of age. Consider having your loved one join you when touring various senior living communities. You can also visit friends and family who have already made the move. Having these first-hand experiences will help immensely when it comes to making a decision.

Ways to Start the Conversation

As with many difficult topics, the first step is the hardest. These conversation starters may help:

  • How is it living at home alone? Do you still feel safe? (You can mention specific safety concerns such as struggles in the bathtub or kitchen. Crime may be another fear they haven’t shared with you.)
  • Do you ever feel lonely? Why do you think that is? Would you like to spend more time with people your own age?
  • Talk to me about your feelings of driving. How has it changed from 20 years ago? Are you interested in other forms of getting around, so you don’t have to worry about getting where you need to go, car maintenance costs, traffic, parking, etc.?
  • How are your finances? What difficulties have you experienced with paying bills?
  • What aspects of caring for the house cause you stress?

Open-ended questions are always the best way to encourage people to talk. Your job is to just sit back and really listen to their answers.

Forgetfulness? Confusion? Mood Swings? – Alzheimer’s Disease

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Think of your family or circle of friends for a minute.

Chances are you know someone, perhaps more than a few people, who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia and one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. each year.

President Ronald Reagan declared November as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month almost 40 years ago. Since that time, the number of those afflicted has grown from two million to more than five million people today.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but scientific research is advancing. There is ongoing testing for potential links between certain illnesses and the risks of developing Alzheimer’s, and drugs that could be effective at slowing the progression.

According to, some of the disease’s symptoms include:

  • Forgetfulness – You might notice them asking the same questions or for information that’s been told to them many times. Can they follow simple directions or a short recipe?
  • Confusion – Alzheimer’s victims easily lose track of time. Are they unsure of where they are going or how they arrived somewhere
  • Mood shifts – When person’s mind is changing, so does their personality. Do they seem more suspicious or depressed?

“With some regard, we are already seeing younger people coming in to our facilities with advanced dementia in their 60s and 70s, and that is pretty alarming,” says Kris Kiefer, vice-president of Castle Senior Living. “Many older Americans are staying in their apartments and houses much longer, isolating themselves and not engaging. They are struggling in a sense to make their daily lives worthwhile.”

You can help someone with Alzheimer’s in the early stages of the disease by reassuring them, guiding them through a regular routine, and asking them to follow simple tasks. But with more advanced cases, moving to a qualified facility is the next step.

“It’s important for families and caregivers to get together and be the advocate, because there is a better quality of life for their loved one,” says Kiefer. “Assisted living and memory care programs are helpful. We’ve seen some tremendous improvements in residents’ overall health when they first move here. I’ve had families come up to me and thank us for making the difference.

“People are becoming more open about moving mom or dad into an assisted living community. Today’s facilities, offering the amenities of home and trained, certified staff, are coming into play and creating a caring, nurturing environment.”

If someone you know is exhibiting signs of memory loss, here’s more information about a confidential test offered by the National Memory Screening Program.

Friendship knows no boundary

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We love having Catherine, Max, Evie and Nora visit us! They were recently featured in the Waukesha Freeman for giving back to the community. Thanks for all the time you spend with us! The article is below or can also be found here in PDF format.

Waukesha family learns the importance of giving back

Last November, Catherine Obermann of Waukesha was thinking about how she could donate her time to help others and teach her three children why it’s important give back. She’s starting them off young. Max is 5, Evie is 3 and Nora is one year old.

“At the time, Nora was four months old so I wanted to figure out what to do with a newborn in the winter. There was a life care community close to my home in Waukesha, so I put in an application to see if they wanted volunteers. I got a phone call back from Grand Hills Castle in New Berlin, and they put me in contact with the activities coordinator. It was only 12 miles away.”

The distance is not exactly a quick trip to help a next-door neighbor. Still, Catherine says the weekly drive with her kids to visit residents every Wednesday is worth it.

“Life Enrichment Coordinator Jessica Haase introduced us to residents. All of us played with balloons and we talked that first day.

“It’s fun to bring the kids and residents together and watch them interact. No matter what age, people want the same thing. They want your attention and someone to love them,” she said.

Grand Hills Castle New Berlin opened in September 2018. The facility specializes in senior care for residents needing assisted living or memory care.

“Catherine and her kids add an intergenerational aspect to Grand Hills Castle,” says Jessica Haase. “Her children have developed really good relationships with the residents. It helps bring back memories of their own families when they were parents. The Obermanns add so much to our community.”

Catherine says the volunteer experience benefits the residents just as she hoped. Her kids are also learning by example. “There was a resident named Anita who has since passed away. We were with her every week for almost a year. One time, we were at the library and found a book and the person’s name was Anita. Evie would say, ‘At the nursing home.’ They know who and where they are going. That is great.”

Waukesha and New Berlin may only be a dozen miles apart, but friendship knows no boundary lines for the Obermanns. They are finding their friends from Grand Hills Castle all around the area.

“We were at the Milwaukee County Zoo before school started and it was Senior Day,” recalls Catherine. “All of a sudden, we spotted a couple of Grand Hills Castle residents there with one of their daughters and she recognized us.

“It’s such a small world that we can see each other outside their facility. We made a connection that day, too. It always puts a smile on their face and ours.”

Meet the Resident – Dale Dent

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This month, Dale Dent celebrates his one-year anniversary living at Birchrock Castle in Mukwonago.

We caught up with him on the patio to find out what he loves about his home and how he became a “caretaker” for the flowering and vegetable plants on the property.

Dale Dent has rarely met a plant that he didn’t like, or saved from premature demise.

While he spent a lengthy career as a machinist for Wisconsin Centrifugal and as a retail store owner in Easton, Dale Dent has been gardening all of his life. At Birchrock Castle, he’s the king of tomatoes, especially this year.

“I can’t believe how well they grow here,” says Dale. “The last three weeks of September, we harvested about 75 tomatoes. We all enjoy eating them fresh and in stews for dinner. With four pots left, there’s about 100 tomatoes that we hope to take in yet this fall.”

Dale took on this additional role one day while watching Birchrock Administrator Candy Mings caring for flowers on the back patio.

“I decided to help Candy, and she said, ‘You’ll get dirty,’ and I said, ‘I’ve been dirty all of my life,’” Dale recalls. “I look after about nine baskets of hanging petunias. I add plant food and water them.”

From three pots outside the door on the patio to gardens on at least a half-acre spread, Dale has produced all of his own vegetables and fruit trees everywhere he has lived.

This Michigan native grew up on a family farm, so he’s no stranger to hard work. Even at 87 years old, not much slows him down. The fall of the year reminds him of when he worked for a potato farmer and developed an incredible skill.

“You take a shovel, go underground and lift up two rows of potatoes. I picked them by the bushel by hand. I had the record there for putting 101 bushels in bags in one day. The farm had 80 acres of potatoes every year. That’s why I have a sore back now.”

While he likes to keep busy, Dale also appreciates the tranquil, wooded setting at Birchrock Castle and regularly enjoys conversations outside on sunny days. His wife of 67 years, Dorothy, has been a resident for three years now. In fact, he knew everyone on staff the first day he moved here. Dorothy is just down the hall from him, so they see each other every day.

“It’s just like home,” Dale says. “All of the people are nice and I don’t have to cook,” Dale says. “I love the food here. I haven’t had a bad meal since I arrived. They are professionals in the kitchen.

“The personality of the people here…well, they treat you like gold. I’m not exaggerating a bit. If you have a problem, they are right there to help.”

In fact, when Dale recently made a special request of one of Castle’s owners, it was fulfilled.

“Kris Kiefer (vice president of Castle Senior Living) was here one day to talk with Candy and I asked him to play the piano. He said, ‘I’d love to.’ He played five songs and sang, too. Kris can really play the piano well and has a good voice.”

When you meet Dale, you realize he’s not a man who reflects on the painful times of his life. His father died when Dale was young and he could only afford one year of college. When he looks back on the past, it’s with appreciation and joy.

“I’ve had a happy life. My wife and I never smoked. We had four children – two boys and two girls. Our oldest daughter died four years ago. The others all live close to here.”

His family, residents and staff are fortunate to witness the fruits of his labor on the grounds, and Dale is always happy to share bits of gardening advice.

“Pick off all dead flowers everyday so that the plant grows bigger and blooms again.”