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Haims column: Living with Parkinson’s and turning challenges into success

Life has a way of presenting us with many challenges. Those that face the challenges, those that have the fortitude and perseverance, experience success.

Over the years, I have had to take more than a couple of “profile” tests. Perhaps my first was with a college advisor who explained to me that such a test would help him, and me, better understand my personality traits and therefore be helpful in directing me to a college best suited to me and my goals. I took another when applying to the Air Force and another when purchasing Visiting Angels.

I have found a reoccurring question often found in these test — “tell me about your heroes.” Steadfastly, I have always responded that I do not have heroes. Rather, I have people I respect and admire. Consistently, all such people are those who have experienced adversity and turned challenges into success.

Life is a challenge

Challenges are a part of life. Without them, life would be meaningless, as we’d have little understanding of achievement and failure. Life would be complacent and boring.

Facing and living through life’s challenges and adversities provides us with experience that define our lives. The secret to our successes is rooted in our challenges, failures and adversities.

As with any ailment, people have the choice of letting the disease take over or fighting back. Fighting back against Parkinson’s is taking many people to places they may have never thought of. Some are attending yoga, Tai Chi, pool exercise programs, and even the boxing ring.

Recently, I assisted a few locals to a Parkinson’s therapy session at a somewhat unlikely place — a martial arts and boxing studio. If the paradox is not clear, let me illuminate. PD inhibits movement, and boxing is all about movement.

Research is showing that non-contact boxing is therapeutically beneficial for Parkinson’s patients — physically and mentally. Physically, boxing is proving to help balance, agility and hand-eye coordination. Mentally, boxing provides a stress release and is empowering. The sport teaches people to be mentally strong and overcome adversity. If nothing else, a right hook to a punching bag or strike mitt can curb anger and can be quite cathartic.

One gentleman in the group is just shy of his 90th birthday. I was informed that prior to his joining the boxing program, his family was distraught that they could not motivate him to get out of the chair. As I sat and watched him work out, I was quite impressed every time I heard the loud crack from his hands as he hit the hand pads of the instructor. Should I make it to be close to 90 years of age, I hope I move as deftly as he. He is inspirational and has turned formidable adversity into success.

Others in the group were in their 70s and 80s. Each had donned their red boxing gloves except for one who danced around the floor mats in bright pink gloves. Yes, women too participate.

Watching the camaraderie of this group and their united front to work through the difficulties this movement disorder presents them with is encouraging to me and should be encouraging to anyone who may be fighting a health ailment.

I admire each and every one of these people. They have not given up, nor do they whine and ask “why me.” While I am sure each has had their down moments, they have not thrown in the towel and given up. They have chosen to fight adversity.

My mother has Parkinson’s Disease (PD), as did my grandmother. It sucks. But does Parkinson’s suck more or less than cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), cardiovascular diseases, ALS, vision or hearing loss?

While many people living in our valley are pretty fit and try to be healthy, it won’t last forever. If we want to remain in the valley we love when life’s challenges present themselves, we must take action now to promote and develop resources that can help us stay here.

Within the past three months, I know of four long-time locals that have had to leave the valley they love because we do not have the resources needed to assist them. (I’m sure there are many more.)

There are organizations that are being proactive. Howard Head has developed a program called Brain & Balance. The program helps treat stroke patients, Parkinson’s patients, and those with impaired balance and proprioception concerns. Additionally, the Parkinson’s Association of the Rockies has brought Power Punch to both our community and Colorado.

We are all going to get old and experience challenges with our health. Get involved, donate, better utilize resources we already have, and think out of the box. These are things we can do to help build a community that will assist us in ensuring we can remain in the valley we love.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen and the surrounding areas. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is, www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.

Vail Veterans Program unites caregivers of injured combat vets

VAIL — Imagine walking into a room with two dozen best friends whom you’ve just met.

That’s life this week for a Vail Veterans Program Caregivers Reunion — all caregivers for combat veterans who were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. Just as heroic as those soldiers are the people who take care of them.

Their stories are as different as they are, yet they have so much in common, beginning with noble and towering sacrifice.

Love won’t wait

Pamela Frustaglio, for example, was engaged to a Marine deployed to the Middle East. An improvised explosive device injured him and seven others with one blast. He lost both legs above the knee. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But they were engaged to be married and had plans that wouldn’t wait. He’s a Marine to his very marrow, she’s a force of nature and they steadfastly refused to move their wedding date … nine months after he was hit. They didn’t have to. Frustaglio was a resplendent bride. After they said “I do,” he walked her back up the aisle, as he had promised.

Let’s backtrack to the day he was hit, a call every caregiver has received.

Frustaglio was in Portland, Oregon, living her life and waiting for him to come home. She was in a gym working out with a friend when, at about 9 p.m., her cell phone rang. She was never without it after he deployed. It was his parents calling at around midnight their time.

“I knew. As soon as I saw them pop up on the caller ID, I knew,” she said.

She took her friend’s hand and they sat together on a weight bench. Frustaglio thought to ask how her husband’s head was. As people often do when receiving news like this, his parents forgot to ask.

Humor is an excellent coping mechanism and his head, it turns out, is still attached. Her friends at this week’s Caregivers Reunion joke that their husbands are guys, so while their husbands’ heads are attached, whether they’re using them is a different question.

Life’s challenges and so much more

Everyone has challenges as we make our way through day-to-day life. These Caregivers’ lives are complicated further by caring for their families, plus a spouse who consumes attention and is injured at so many levels, plus the stress all of that causes.

“It can be isolating,” Frustaglio said.

Like all of us, they need their people around them.

First and foremost, the Vail Veterans Program’s caregivers retreats show them they’re not alone. Others are going through the same things.

A few years back, there was a group of eight caregivers whose husbands were hit by the same IED. They didn’t know each other all that well. Now they do.

“You feel like you’ve refound yourself,” Frustaglio said. “It’s such a gift.”

Their friends come with them

The caregivers share all kinds of coping ideas, ranging from meditation and a quiet walk in the woods to a Nerf gunfight.

While they’re in town they spend their mornings working through personal training that teaches them that they cannot change their external demands. We all have them. They have more of them.

They can change the way they react to them and how they handle the stress the demands create.

In between they have enough fun all the time and too much fun in spots: Spa treatments, snowmobiling, bowling, skiing. Frustaglio is from the upper Midwest and it didn’t take much muscle memory to remember how to crack open a snowmobile’s throttle.

“That was so much fun,” she said.

This is Frustaglio’s second caregivers retreat. When they were gathered for the final time during that first one, they were asked to describe their experience in one word.

“Serenity,” she said.

Like all families, life cycles happen to families of injured veterans.

“Sometimes things are going along wonderfully, and sometimes something happens and the bottom falls out,” Frustaglio said. “That’s life.”

That’s when she and the other caregivers hark back to the retreat’s lessons in resilience, serenity and lifetime friends and support.

“When we leave we take our friends with us,” she said.

Sports clinic brings disabled vets to Hot Springs Pool

As part of the annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village recently, participants were able to enjoy soaking time at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort after fun-packed days on the slopes.

After a long week of action on the slopes, these vets — from all branches of service — were able to relax, recover and reconnect with their peers at the Hot Springs.

“I look forward to this trip all year,” retired Marine Corpsman John Papi said. “It’s a reunion with my best friends in hot water. What could be better?”

The Department of Veterans Affairs puts on this clinic each spring, hosted in Snowmass Village. From March 31 to April 5, participants took part in skiing, sled hockey, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, fly fishing, curling, scuba diving, archery and soaking in the world’s largest hot springs pool.

For many veterans, the clinic is an opportunity to travel and get out of their comfort zones.

Maria Garcia and Alice Pursley, for example, met each other 30 years ago in the Army on their first and third tours. They’ve remained best friends and have decided to add this trip as another adventure together.

“As first-timers that live on the beach, it’s been so neat to try new things and play in the snow,” Garcia said. “The best part, though, is connecting with other veterans from around the country who have seen the world.”

The mission of the clinic, according to its website, is to “give disabled veterans an opportunity to develop winter sports skills and participate in challenging, adaptive workshops; in doing so, participants can see past physical or visual disabilities as obstacles to living active and rewarding lives.”

After pushing themselves and trying new things, the hope is that these veterans push toward improvements in physical wellbeing, mental health, self-esteem and community readjustment and re-entry.

This rings true for many clinic-goers. After becoming an amputee, Papi wanted to give back to his community and help others that are going through similar experiences.

“When I lost my leg,” Papi said, “I had a pretty easy time and transition. It’s not like that for everyone. I come here and use my knowledge and experience to help others who might be struggling.”

After pausing to splash his Airforce buddy, Papi continued, “I signed up for the military for a higher purpose, and programs like this one help to give back.”

Kevin Flohr, director of operations at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, said the resort is proud to be a part of the program and host the veterans.

“It’s our honor to have these special guests and support the Clinic and visiting veterans,” he said. “After their dedicated service to our country, supporting veterans injured in the line of duty is the least we can do.”

Savannah Nelson is communications coordinator for Resort Trends, Inc.

100 Club’s Hal Sundin of Glenwood recognized for helping to keep seniors active

The co-founder of the seniors 100 Club, Hal Sundin, received a proclamation from Glenwood Springs City Council Thursday evening and a subsequent standing ovation.

“Hal Sundin co-founded in 1990 the 100 Club, a social club whose aim was to enhance the health, lives and enjoyment of the citizens of Glenwood Springs,” Mayor Michael Gamba said in reading the proclamation before Sundin at Thursday’s council meeting.

“Because of Hal’s leadership, hundreds of Glenwood Springs’ senior citizens have remained physically active and healthy, mentally vibrant and active contributors to the health and well-being of the entire Glenwood Springs Community,” Gamba added.

Councilor Jim Ingraham, wearing his 100 Club shirt, led the standing ovation before offering a few words himself.

“I’d only been here a year, or less than a year, and I came out for a hike with all of you who are now my friends. I didn’t know anybody and it was a little intimidating the first day,” Ingraham said, addressing Sundin and numerous other 100 Club members who were present.

“One of the first guys to come up was Hal Sundin with the wildest things all over his hat,” Ingraham said, drawing laughter.

Ingraham, a volunteer forest ranger, said the impetus for his service was in fact Sundin.

According to the proclamation, Sundin volunteered his experience as a backcountry hiker and summiteer of all of Colorado’s “14’ers” (14,000-foot peaks), in addition to his expertise as a master naturalist to the 100 Club’s members, or any interested citizen for that matter.

“Hal is a guy that always has something to do. He always has something planned and that included other people,” Sundin’s neighbor, Bob Lutke, described of his close friend.

“Hal, one of his favorite sayings that I heard early on was he said, ‘you know, Bob, people go to Florida to die and they come to Colorado to live.”

Hal thanked all of those in attendance Thursday evening to honor his continued service in the community.

“I want to express my gratitude for being able to live in this community, the finest place in the world, for the last 30 years,” said Sundin, who is also a regular Glenwood Springs Post Independent opinion columnist. “And, I’ll keep on doing it for as long as I can.”

mabennett@postindependent.com

Science of living longer shared by Blue Zones speaker, panelists

The centuries-old search for the fountain of youth may finally be within your grasp.

The length of one’s life comes down to how active you are, your diet, keeping a sharp mind and even how much you socialize.

Nearly 100 Roaring Fork Valley residents came out for a panel discussion and to listen to guest speaker Tony Buettner of the “Blue Zones” at the Longevity Project event, presented by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent in the Morgridge Commons at Colorado Mountain College in downtown Glenwood Monday.

“How we live, what we eat, the decisions we make and how we stay fit factors in to our longevity,” panelist Jennifer Butterfield, MD, said.

Along with Dr. Butterfield, who is with Mount Sopris Plastic Surgery Center, panelists included Christopher George, MD with Glenwood Orthopedic Center; Jules Rosen, MD, chief medical officer of Mind Springs Health; and Judson Haims, owner of Visiting Angels.

Topics for the night included physical health, mental health, diet and social activity as people age into their senior years.

“A moderate amount of activity is helpful, doing something is better than nothing,” Dr. George said. “Staying active is certainly helpful in keeping up with bone and joint health.”

“The number one thing that helps people up here in the mountains, is they are physically fit,” Haims said. “People here in Colorado, when they have free time, what do they do, they go hiking or biking.”

A key point made during the discussion is that a person’s brain is a muscle as well, and it fatigues over time if not used. Not only do you need to stay physically active, but also mentally as well.

“There is one thing to keep in mind, what’s good for your heart, is good for your brain,” said Dr. Jules Rosen.

Rosen said he doesn’t consider Alzheimer’s a disease, but part of aging, and that it affects people at different times and different ages.

“If you can reduce your vascular disease, you can prevent your Alzheimer’s by years, maybe even decades,” Dr. Rosen said.

common threads

Guest speaker Tony Buettner, the senior vice president of business development at Blue Zones finished off the night speaking on his and brother Dan’s travels and research around the world on the secrets to a long life.

“Medical researchers believe the human body is built to live to a healthy age of 90,” Buettner said. “The problem here in the United States is, on average, people live to age 78 – we are leaving 12 good years on the table.”

One of the common threads in each of the so-called Blue Zones around the world where people live longer is a primarily plant-based diet, he said. Others include finding ways to de-stress and socialize with others who are also living a healthy lifestyle.

Whether it’s the diet, the lack of activity or isolation of the American lifestyle, as a whole this country isn’t living as long as others across the globe, he noted.

“Our work at Blue Zone is helping individuals, families, organization and even communities takes some of those good years back,” Buettner said

The age-old myth that ones longevity is genetic is only 20 percent of the truth.

In reality, 80 percent of how long you will live is tied to two things, your environment and lifestyle.

One of the many questions Buettner asked the crowd included the question of what are the two most dangerous years of life?

“The first year you’re born is the most dangerous; the second most dangerous is the year that we retire.” Buettner said. “It has to do with your sense of purpose, which is the reason you get up every morning.”

kmills@postindependent.com

Buettners’ ‘Blue Zones’ research reveals keys to longevity

Do you think Garfield County, Colorado, is the healthiest place to live?

Okinawa, Japan, has less cancer, heart disease and dementia than the U.S. And Okinawan women live longer than any other women in the world.

Sardinia, Italy, has the highest concentration of male centenarians — 10 times more per capita than the U.S.

Natives of Ikaria, Greece, are almost entirely free of dementia and the other chronic diseases that plague Americans.

Nicoya, Costa Rica, has lower rates of middle-age mortality.

Loma Linda, California’s 7th Day Adventists lead the entire country in longest life expectancy.

According to brothers Dan and Tony Buettner, the lives of the people in these five disparate parts of the world hold the secrets to longevity and good health.

In 2004, researcher and explorer Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and longevity experts to find the regions where people live much longer than average.

They discovered what they call “Blue Zones,” the five geographical areas where people live longest. Buettner’s findings first appeared in National Geographic’s November 2005 issue, “The Secrets of Living Longer.”

Buettner decided to put his findings to work. His Minnesota-based company, “Blue Zones,” works to instill the world’s best practices in longevity and well-being into peoples’ lives.

Dan’s brother, Tony Buettner, the company’s national spokesperson and vice president who is visiting Glenwood Springs to speak at the Post Independent’s Longevity Event Monday night, explains.

“Blue Zones distills why these populations live so long,” he said. “On average, they live 10 years longer.”

According to the Buettners, research on genetic determinants shows that longevity is tied to genes only by 20 percent. Lifestyle is 80 percent.

And around 68 percent of Americans are obese or diabetic.

Buettner’s research led him to what he calls The Nine Commonalities. “We call them the Power Nine lessons of living a longer, happy life,” he says.

The Power Nine

Move: These Blue Zone populations move naturally — their lifestyles and environments nudge them into physical motion. These people do not need to belong to gyms.

Reduce stress: Take a walk. Have dinner with family. Meditate.

Have a sense of purpose (plan de Vida — a life mission statement): Research shows that people that have a sense of purpose live seven years longer than those that don’t.

Drink in moderation: Sardinians drink only a couple of glasses of wine a day. A glass of goat’s milk wouldn’t hurt either.

Eat less red meat: Look at the Mediterranean diet — fruits, vegetables, beans and olive oil. What 95 percent of these populations consume is a plant-based whole grain diet.

Eat less: Okinawans tend to stop eating when their stomachs are about 80 percent full. The Blue Zoners rule: Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.

Families: Long-lived populations have a simple rule — put family first.

Faith: People attending a faith-based community four times a month live four to 14 years longer than those who don’t.

Be social: Have a laugh with friends. That laugh will reduce stress levels.

putting it into practice

The Buettners have taken their findings to American cities and towns.

“We work with organizations and communities to create community health initiatives that get people doing more of what the longest lived populations do,” says Tony Buettner. “We help people learn how to eat better; teach them what these populations eat.”

In 2009, the “Blue Zones” made its debut in Albert Lea, Minnesota, a town of 18,000 people. Around one-quarter of the adults, half the workplaces and nearly all kids in grades 3-8 participated.

“The community showed an 80 percent increase in walking and biking, 49 percent decrease in city workers’ healthcare claims, and a 4 percent reduction in smoking,” says Tony.

In 2010, the Blue Zones team visited three Southern California communities — Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach.

“Our work helped to lower their Body Mass Index by 14 percent, and their smoking by 30 percent,” says Tony. “In these beach cities, we helped those communities reduce childhood obesity by over 50 percent.

“There’s no silver bullet here, but our project drives awareness,” he said.

Super Seniors Pt. 4: Glenn Vawter voted top Super Senior by PI readers

Editor’s note: The Glenwood Springs Post Independent concludes its four-week-long series of Sunday profiles on the “Super Seniors” of Garfield County aged 80 and older who were nominated online by readers earlier this summer as part of our Longevity Project.

Glenn Vawter – Colorado bred, world traveled

Glenn Vawter was voted as the Glenwood Springs Post Independent’s top “Super Senior” in online voting by our readers this past summer.

A Colorado native who was born in Denver, and raised in McCoy, Colorado through eighth grade, his family moved to Glenwood Springs so he could attend high school.

After graduation, he attended and graduated from Colorado School of Mines, receiving his degree in petroleum engineering. While at Mines, he was in the Army Reserves. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1978.

Glenn loves to travel. He has over a million miles on United Airlines. He has been to Europe, New Zealand, Australia, India, Nepal, Egypt, Israel, and China (in the 1970s) to name a few.

Some of Glenn’s hobbies are fishing, hiking, snowshoeing, rock hounding, traveling, photography, and four-wheeling in the back country.

Glenn volunteers for Rotary, the Elks Lodge, the Glenwood Springs Historical Society, and his church. Giving Halloween tours in the old cemetery is one his favorite volunteer jobs.

Glenn has lived all over the country, but Colorado is his pride and joy, writes his nominator. “He is an ambassador for all of Colorado, offering assistance and information to visitors and friends alike. Glenn is a true asset to our community.”

Ruth Barber – Skydiving octogenarian

How many seniors go sky diving for their 81st birthday? That’s how Ruth Barber celebrated this summer in Moab.

Ruth stays active by walking her little dog, Gilbert, a couple of miles every day, and she still mows her big lawn at her West Glenwood home. Keeping fit no doubt helped her beat cancer a few years ago, and having good genes from her pioneer family helps, too.

Ruth volunteers for LIFT-UP, Chat & Chew, and the Lions Club, and is active with the Walk & Talk cancer survivor group at Valley View.

Ruth and her late husband, Roy, traveled the world, and Ruth still enjoys seeing new places. In the past couple of years, she’s driven to South Dakota and New Mexico, and she’s flown to Hawaii and Florida. Here in Glenwood Springs, she went paragliding in 2016 and rode a Segway through town for her 80th birthday last year.

“Ruth is active, fit, helpful, funny and a good friend to many. She’s a high-flying perfect example of a Super Senior!,” writes her nominator.

Judy Fester – Aging with style

Judy Fester, also known as “Nana the Great,” is a face widely recognized around Glenwood Springs.

She is a frequent flyer on the Traveler to various Chat & Chews, Valley View Knitters Club, and the Elks.

Judy is also a delegate for the senior coalition, traveling to monthly meetings all over the Western Slope. Most people will recognize her from the local live music events.

“She is always up there dancing with her oxygen and walker, having a blast,” says her nominator. “I believe she is a poster child for aging well … with style.”

Ed Grange – Fit to serve others

Ed Grange turned 90 on April 12, 2018, and celebrated by skiing with family in Aspen (happy to finally receive his much anticipated “free lunch”).

Ed grew up on a ranch in Basalt and married Lorraine, a local gal from Aspen. They raised five children in Glenwood Springs, and he has eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren with another due in December.

“I believe that dad’s good health and longevity can be attributed to several things,” writes one of his children, who nominated him as a “Super Senior.”

“He has a strong faith and walks every morning to attend his church, St. Stephen’s. He volunteers regularly at church events and is a member of Knight’s of Columbus.”

Ed worked for many years as General Manager of Holy Cross Energy and only retired fully just a few years ago.

“He still misses it. He lives independently in his home, mows his own lawn, grows raspberries, makes jam for family and friends, and volunteers at the Glenwood Frontier Museum,” the nominator continues.

Ed also enjoys walking, skiing, and keeping his family cabins in Fulford in good repair for everyone to use.

“At the heart of Ed’s good health is an attitude of service toward others … he is always available to help a neighbor in need and consistently puts others above himself.”

Ed wears a Fit Bit to make sure he meets his daily “steps” goal and often times stops at City Market to put together a healthy salad for lunch, attempting to include a variety of colors for the best nutrition.

Ed has also worked diligently to keep up with technology and utilizes his computer (he’s even on Facebook) and tablet every day.

“So, his secret to good health is multifaceted … faith, service to others, attention to healthy eating, daily physical activity and maybe more than anything, staying connected to and involved with family and friends. He is my mentor and my hero.”

Viola Huber – A ‘wandering’ inspiration

At 83 years of age, Viola Huber definitely falls into the category of an active senior, according to her nominator.

Two days a week, Viola volunteers at Valley View Hospital and on Wednesdays she hikes all around the Roaring Fork Valley with the wonderful Wednesday Wanderers.

When she isn’t out and about hiking, volunteering at VVH, or walking with friends and/or family, she is working diligently at her sewing machine.

Viola is a master seamstress and creates beautiful quilts, children’s books, clothing, wall hangings and more. Another hobby that she keeps busy with is counted cross stitch; making hand-stitched Christmas cards to give out to friends and family every year.

Viola is an avid reader and works on crossword puzzles daily. Viola is also an amazing mother and grandmother and is an inspiration.

Arlene Law – Artistry is her passion

Arlene Law of Glenwood Springs is the “biggest Bronco fan!,” proclaims her nominator for Super Senior.

In addition to that, Arlene has been a longtime artist in the community, having shown her own paintings and provided venues for others to show and sell their artwork over the years.

Arlene was a charter member of the Glenwood Springs Art Guild and a Master Signature member of the Western Colorado Watercolor Society (WCWS). According to an April 2016 story in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Law’s art has enjoyed wide acclaim on both the local and national level.

She started out like most artists, drawing for her own enjoyment.

“I’ve drawn pictures since I was a little girl,” she said in that 2016 article. “My friend Joan always had paper at her house. So I would go to her house a couple times a week and just sit and draw, often (getting inspiration from) out of comic books.”

Law was one of the founders of the former Fall Arts Festival, a juried annual art show that ran for more than 50 years up until a few years ago.

Today, Law is one of the driving forces behind local art co-ops like the Cooper Corner Art Gallery in Glenwood Springs.

Lt. Col. Dick Merritt – Helping his fellow vets

Lt. Col. Dick Merritt is currently the safety officer at the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt, rides his bike daily, plays golf with his wife, and is very active in the community.

In 1966, Merritt began serving in the Vietnam War as a member of the Marine Corps. He is now in his early 80s.

As reported in the Aspen Times in June 2016, Merritt has worked with others to develop the Huts for Vets program, which helps vets with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by taking them on backcountry trips.

Other volunteer efforts have included participation in the winter sports clinic for disabled veterans, work with the Aspen Institute and Colorado Mountain College to focus on veterans’ issues, completing the We Honor Veterans Volunteer Training program by Hospice of the Valley, and being instrumental in the Roaring Fork Veterans History Project that began in 2007 and memorializes the stories of local servicemen and women.

Merritt’s volunteer work has been recognized by numerous Roaring Fork Valley governments and organizations. He has spoken to several student groups about his military experience and veterans issues, and has been active with the Smiling Goat Ranch’s Go Autism walk in Carbondale, which helped generate awareness about autism and PTSD.

Bob Millette – Slopes and rivers call

Bob Millette is 85 years old and is very active.

You can find him several times each week at the athletic club and fly fishing on the Colorado or Roaring Fork rivers.

He also loves traveling, fishing and birdwatching in Mexico and Oregon. In the winter, you can find him on the slopes with the 100 Club or his family.

He went on safari to Tanzania two years ago, and the guides treated him with honor as “grandfather.” He continues to be active for important environmental and political causes.

“Bob is definitely an active super senior,” writes his nominator.

Jean Mullenax – Holding down the Thrift Shop

Jean Mullenax is 86 years old and runs the Rifle Thrift shop, located at 102 East Avenue in Rifle.

Jean shows compassion every day in her work; the profits from the Thrift Store all go towards creating scholarships for students. Her age doesn’t stop her from the hardships of her work, including heavy lifting, sorting through donations, and transporting unneeded items to the recycling plant and dump.

All of her extra time goes towards caring for her husband, who has had multiple back surgeries recently.

“In my opinion, her gracious heart is willing to do anything for anyone,” writes her nominator. “Whether at home or at work, Jean Mullenax puts 100 percent into her work. I highly recommend going and spending time with this loving woman.”

Longevity Project — Part 4: Financial planning is one key to aging well

Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final installment in our four-part Longevity Project, looking at the keys to living a long life and issues around aging in Garfield County. Additional parts appeared Aug. 29, Sept. 5 and Sept. 12.

Will I outlive my savings? Will I have a golden retirement? Will I ever be able to retire at all? These are the questions that keep many Americans awake at night.

Colorado has the third-fastest rate of growth in the 65-plus age group, as the baby boomer generation continues to age into the retirement years. Boomers made up 25 percent of the state’s population just three years ago, and the number of those age 65 and up is expected to grow by 77 percent to nearly 1.3 million by 2030.

Garfield County is a big part of that growth, with its attractive outdoors lifestyle and relatively convenient access to health care and other services for the senior population.

According to the most-recent projections from the state Demographer’s Office, the rate of growth in that 65-plus age group in Garfield County was expected to be 74 percent between 2015 and 2025, the biggest rate of growth for any age group.

And, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Garfield County has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the state, yielding an average of 74.9 years per person.

Glenwood Springs has an average life expectancy of 78.3 years; Rifle 79.8 years; and pockets of the county, including Carbondale and Parachute, over 85 years of average life expectancy, according to an interactive map on the CDPHE website showing life expectancy statistics across the state.

That trend toward an aging population raises a host of issues, from people aging out of the labor force, to housing, transportation and health challenges, to placing downward pressure on household incomes and public finances.

Key among those concerns raised by state officials in looking at that trend is whether people have an adequate aging plan, especially when it comes to finances.

tale of 2 households

We asked two sets of local seniors to describe their retirement years. Both are in their 70s. Both live in Garfield County. Both are civically active. One couple is fully retired. The other still has to earn a living.

Ted and Sheryl Doll’s professional roots were with IBM in Chicago. The company had lots of perks — stock options, full pensions, 401ks.

“I started at IBM in the late ’60s,” says Sheryl, now 71. “I worked for 25 years. Ted and I rode a wave of prosperity. There were some downturns, but there were two of us working. Those are the reasons we were able to put money aside.”

The couple bought a condo in Chicago. Sheryl retired from IBM in 1992. Ted, 76, retired in 1996. They took jobs at Texas Christian University, and the Dolls bought a $300,000 home with a pool.

In 2011, they landed in Glenwood Springs with the proceeds from their sale of the Texas home.

“The condo here was a bargain,” says Sheryl. “We paid around $255,000.”

The Doll’s riverfront retirement condo is mortgage-free. In 2015, the couple invested in a rental property in Moab. “We paid $220,000,” says Ted. “We paid cash. No mortgages.”

The Dolls describe themselves as frugal.

“Anything extra, every raise was invested,” Ted added. “We are still in that mode of saving.”

Their lives in retirement are enviably full and satisfying. They give their time to the Kiwanis Club and Literacy Outreach. Their thriftiness allows the retired couple to attend concerts in Aspen, golf three times a week, ski Snowmass and travel.

“You name it, we’ve been there,” says Ted.

“That’s a minority,” says lifelong Garfield County resident John Martin, who sits as one of the three elected county commissioners and also operates a produce farm in Delta County with his wife, Nancy, who sells their goods at farmers markets around the region.

“They’re the success stories, but they’re not the people who have always lived here,” Martin said. “My situation? Been married 50 years. In 1969, my starting wage in Glenwood was $1.35 an hour. I worked 12-16 hours a day. In 1972, my poor little house was only $12,000, but it still took a mortgage and a second. It took me about five years to pay off the second.”

Martin, 70, worked first in construction, then law enforcement for 25 years before being elected as a county commissioner in 1996.

“There was no pension plan. The only thing we had was what we put aside,” says Martin. “After three bouts of cancer, because insurance never covered it, that nest egg is completely gone.

“Riding horses is my mental exercise,” he says of one of his favorite pastimes. “My physical exercise is farming and driving trucks. My only regret is that I don’t dance enough. My wife would just appreciate the heck out of me if I’d take time off just to dance a little bit.”

Clearly, the Dolls had a head start on a comfortable retirement — jobs at a massive company with massive benefits, and their own good financial planning. Those wages and benefits that allowed them to retire to Utopia, Garfield County.

But those benefits were not available to many people who lived their lives in Garfield County, Martin said.

“Those that lived here didn’t have that,” says Martin, who is now in his sixth term as a county commissioner. “They worked two or three jobs just to take care of things.”

Expensive place to age

Garfield County is expensive, but the winter sports, the fishing, the hiking, the biking and the generally healthy living environment make it an attractive place for people to stay, and migrate to, well into their 70s, 80s and 90s. The county has an irresistible magnetic pull on the less well-off, as well as the well-to-do.

“The aging population has been challenged to save enough money to retire,” says Karen Brown, Chair of Colorado’s Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging. “In the old days, you retired and maybe lived a couple of years — two, five, maybe 10 years, where Social Security, plus your savings, might have been enough to cover things.

“Now, older people are living 10, 20, 30 years beyond retirement,” Brown said. “And they never anticipated they’d be living that long, so their savings are not cutting it. The stats show about half the over-65 population in the country has saved nothing — zero.”

The average Colorado income is $41,000.

“It’s hard to save money,” says Brown. “It’s not that people are not good at budgeting. They are challenged to have enough money to budget properly.”

Although Martin has a high-profile elected position as a defender of the resources and interests of the Western Slope, and seems to be immensely enjoying his Colorado lifestyle, he sees his circumstances exactly the same as many other seniors.

“People in my generation are doing what I’m doing,” he laments. “Multi-generational households, more than one job, everybody’s employed, and yet we still don’t have the abilities to recreate, to vacation, to have the nice amenities that people think we should have.”

Martin sums it up, “There is no retirement. My last vacation was 25 years ago. You will work until you cannot work anymore, probably until you die …”

Super Seniors Part 3: Meet another batch of Garfield County’s busy seniors

Editor’s note: Each Sunday through Sept. 23, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent will run profiles on the “Super Seniors” of Garfield County aged 80 and older who were nominated online by readers earlier this summer as part of our Longevity Project.

Karl Oelke — Keyed on community

Engaged in community, positive, physically active, disciplined, family-centric — all words and phrases that describe Karl Oelke of Glenwood Springs.

Karl is a very active 81-year old who leads a highly-disciplined, energetic life. He is a life-long learner and a life-long doer who leads by example, says his nominator.

Karl is a West Point graduate who served his country for 31 years both active and reserve, notably during the Vietnam conflict. He completed a Ph.D. in English, and he taught at West Point for four years. After leaving active duty and joining the Army Reserves, he taught at a two-year college for 29 years.

Karl and his wife Sue came to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2006 to retire to this beautiful locale and join friends from their earliest military days.

Karl is an involved community member. He joined the Kiwanis Club in 2008 and served in various leadership positions, including president from 2012 to 2013. He worked with the Glenwood Springs High School Key Club for seven years, inspiring high school students to develop leadership and volunteerism, in addition to their academic goals. He led the Kiwanis Scholarship Committee that awarded scholarships to graduating seniors from Glenwood Springs and Basalt High Schools. Currently, he is Club Secretary, one of two non-dues-paying positions owing to its demanding workload. Along with his other responsibilities, Karl is in charge of jokes at the weekly Kiwanis meetings; he always brings a laugh.

In another demanding position, Karl currently serves as Clerk to Session in the First Presbyterian Church in Glenwood Springs. This position is central to the running of the church. In the past, he was a Ruling Elder, one of the leaders of the church. He also is serving on the search committee for a new pastor. Karl is an avid student of the Bible and leads a Bible study discussion every Wednesday evening during the academic year.

Karl enjoys exercise and sports. He loves skiing and is highly competitive, and he tries to best his ski buddies for the most number of runs per day and the most number of days skied each season. Every year he skis one week with his West Point friends. They used to visit a different ski area every year, vowing never to ski the same place twice, until they came to Snowmass. After one disappointing year at Park City, Utah, they now ski only at Snowmass. During the summer, Karl bikes with friends and walks his dog, Pepper, daily.

Karl is a devoted family man. He temporarily put on hold his outdoor activities to care for his wife of 59 years, who recently passed. His loving sons and grandson, who attended the memorial service, are a testament to the strong family ties.

June Herrell — Living life in full

Jeanne (June) Herrell just turned 87 in early September.

“June is a vibrant, vivacious, vital woman who has dedicated her life to helping others,” writes her nominator. “She is a big believer in ‘body, mind and soul.’”

June plays ping-pong at least once a week, works out with a personal Pilates trainer once a week, walks the Glenwood Springs bike path whenever weather and her schedule permit, and exercises with stretching and core work every night before bed.

She also walks several miles every Wednesday in her capacity as a volunteer at the Cancer Center in Valley View Hospital and loves to play air hockey when she can find a table.

To exercise her mind, June loves board games, particularly Scrabble, reading novels, magazines and Bible studies, traveling locally, nationally and internationally, and trying to beat the contestants on Jeopardy.

When it comes to body and mind, June’s standard quote is, ‘Use it or lose it, Honey!’

June is a strong Christian and credits God and her faith with her health and longevity. She is active in her church and helps with their program to feed the homeless in Carbondale each month.

She is a decades-long member of the PEO, a women’s philanthropic group dedicated to helping young women, and has been active throughout her life in faith-based charitable groups.

“June is also ridiculously modest and will be very surprised to find out she is even in a contest for Super Seniors,” her nominator notes. “Everyone surrounding her would be shocked if she wasn’t nominated.”

“It is not the world around you, or what is going on in your life, it is up to you to decide every single day whether to be happy or sad,” says June herself.

Howard Stapleton — Just try to keep up

Howard Stapleton does it all. He drives a bus for RFTA. He loves pickleball, skiing and playing tennis with his lovely bride Margo.

“Howard weight trains with me at Midland Fitness to keep up with all of his activities,” said Vincent Caprio, Howard’s trainer.

Betty Bendetti — taking care of our veterans

Watching 4-foot-9 Betty Bendetti in action as she volunteers for the Veterans Community Living Center at Rifle reminds you why your mom always said not to judge a book by its cover, writes Betty’s nominator.

“At 93 years old, she remains fiercely dedicated, full of energy, and embodies the kind of ‘don’t take no baloney’ attitude that has become increasingly rare nowadays,” she says.

“Betty Bendetti loans her heart to the facility’s residents, strength to those in need of care, and voice to those no longer capable of advocating for themselves.”

Growing up on Hunter Mesa in Rifle, then Betty Bradley attended a one-room schoolhouse with her brother and just one other classmate. Following her graduation from Rifle High School in 1942, she married, had three sons, two daughters and worked at various Rifle businesses for some time.

It wasn’t until reaching the ripe young age of 70 when Betty made her grand entrance into the healthcare industry. By 75, she had earned her Certified Nursing Assistant License, and continued building a career with the VCLC at Rifle that would span almost two decades.

Now in her retirement, Betty volunteers at the facility during special events and twice weekly as part of a two-woman team; serving ice cream to residents with her friend Candyce Lowery of Silt.

“Regardless of how much time passes, Betty Bendetti remains true to her allegiance and friendships with the heroes from WWII, Korea and Vietnam who fought for our great country and its freedoms.”

Sonny Fernandez — Retirement? No way

According to this nominator:

You will not find a bigger-hearted guy, or one who is more willing to give you the shirt off of his back than Sonny Fernandez.

If you need it, he will help you out in a thousand different ways. We are lucky enough to have Sonny’s full-time help here at our Green Zone Metal Recycling business in Silt. He not only works full time for us, breaking down metals every day, he is also a faithful provider of cheerful attitudes and inappropriate jokes.

Furthermore, Sonny cannot be outworked by even the youngest, most energetic employees in our business. His work ethic is second to none.

In addition to full-time employment, Sonny also regularly helps his neighbors with their gardens and yard work, takes care of stray animals, participates in local schoolhouse dances and senior lunches, and volunteers his time to help anyone in need.

Sonny is a Silt native who grew up mastering the hard work of farming, and sheep and cattle ranching. He is a rich resource for local history, and one who could sit and tell you stories for hours. He is currently working on a book that will contain many of his stories, and much of this history.

Sonny also served 20-plus years in the U.S. Navy as a sonar technician. We cannot think of a more worthy candidate for this Super Senior award, or for any super citizen award for that matter. This valley is extremely blessed to have an upstanding citizen like Sonny.

Lindel Silvertooth — heart of a lion

Lindel Silvertooth knows no strangers, according to his nominator. He has been president of Glenwood Springs Lions Club twice. He also was District Governor for Western Colorado.

Among Lindel’s attributes, this nominator lists:

• Great friendships, coffee sessions

• Racquetball three or four times a week

• Walks 10,000 steps a day (5 miles)

• Rides a bicycle two or three times a week

• Learning to play pickleball

• Swims 1/4 mile two or three times a week

• Eats 90 percent fruits and vegetables

• Attends church

• Reads to elementary children (former principal)

• Helps with the Extended Table meals at the Methodist Church, and delivers meals each month at the Manor apartments.

• Is a positive influence on everyone he meets.

Bob and Jane Lucas — no slowing them down

Bob and Jane Lucas have been active in Carbondale for many years. Jane is in her 80s and Bob is in his 90s now.

They still ski and hike. They often can be seen at the Carbondale Recreation Center. They are very active with Spring Gulch and have invested a lot of time and energy in the cross country ski area.

“Bob and Jane are a phenomenal couple,” writes their nominator.

The accompanying photo from the Glenwood Post Independent newspaper dated Nov. 17, 2011 shows Bob and Jane Lucas working on the Spring Gulch ski system.

Longevity Project — Part 3: Aging in place preferred by most Garfield County seniors

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a four-part Longevity Project series by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent looking at the keys to living a long life and issues around aging in Garfield County. Additional parts will appear each Wednesday through Sept. 19.

Working as a caregiver has always been an easy task for Veronica Marquez.

She took on an informal caregiver role when she was just 12 years old, to assist her mother, who had neuropathy and diabetes.

That was almost 25 years ago, she says, and since then she’s formed strong bonds with many of her clients.

Peregrine Senior Living employee Courtney Madden encourages resident Evelyn Martinez during a morning yoga session at the senior living center in Glenwood Springs.

“You have to have the heart for it, because you have to put yourself in their shoes,” she said.

“When I come to this age, I’d rather stay at home than a nursing home,” she added.

Many would agree with Marquez’s sentiments. In fact, 90 percent of seniors would prefer to stay at home as they age, according to a 2017 article by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) on the costs of aging in place.

Even if daily assistance and health concerns are an issue, most would still prefer to “age in place,” according to the AARP article.

STAYING PUT

Research shows seniors tend to live longer and age more comfortably when they remain in their own homes.

Patients generally outnumber staff in nursing homes, which can affect overall care, and facilities struggle to retain staff, especially in rural areas.

Seniors receive individualized care in their own home and form bonds with their caregivers who, over time, develop a deeper understanding of their patients’ ailments, behaviors and overall health.

By 2020, about 40 percent of Americans will die in a nursing home — compared to just 25 percent eight years ago — even though it’s still one of those most underutilized forms of long-term senior care, according to a 2010 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Death in nursing homes is most likely to occur directly after a person is admitted, within the first year of their stay, according to the study.

Infections are common in long-term care settings and are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in nursing homes. Residents live in a confined setting, participate in activities in groups, and infections can spread quickly and easily in these kinds of environments, according to Infectious Disease Clinics of North America.

Cognitively impaired residents may not understand basic hygiene and the elderly become more susceptible to infections.

“I think that’s always the goal, is to keep patients in their home in a safe environment, as long as cognitive ability is not impaired,” said Sandy Hurley, chief nursing officer at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

Over the next 10 years, “We’re looking at expanding tele-health capability [by] maybe having an office visit with a patient in their own home instead of coming into the doctor’s office,” she said.

By 2035, one in three households [in comparison to today’s one in five] will be headed by someone aged 65 or older, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Like Hurley, officials in other districts are looking for ways to develop innovative independent living communities so seniors can age on their own, according to the Joint Center at Harvard.

Judson Haims, owner of Visiting Angels, is very aware of the fact that living in our mountain towns as a senior citizen can be challenging. Medical specialists and service providers are in short supply, he said.

“Until our communities provide a greater breadth of service to our elderly, we will fill the gap by providing personal care, medication reminders, assist with socialization, provide transportation to medical appointments and running errands, and above all – advocate be a voice on their behalf,” Haims said.

Peregrine Senior Living resident Bud Selsor participates in a morning yoga session with other residents at the senior living facility in Glenwood Springs.

Assisting the elder population in having the option to remain safely living at home is what Visiting Angels does. Unfortunately, one of the most frequent reasons elderly persons are forced to leave their home is due to falls, he said. Second to falls, many elders must leave their home due to challenges in managing their health and adhering to the medical regimen their medical providers have suggested they follow.

Haims and his office staff spend considerable time making sure their clients personal, social, and health needs are met with the same level of care that they would provide to their own loved ones.

“By communicating with our client’s medical providers, pharmacists, and family, we make sure our client’s have every opportunity possible to remain independent and at home,” Haims said.

home can mean alone

Marquez has provided care to Rosemarie Romeo for three months. Romeo, 77, lives in an independent living community called “Sunny Side,” in Glenwood Springs, and describes it as a place where “you’re responsible for your own apartment, everything except for the maintenance of the building,” she said.

Sean Naylor/ Post Independent

The minimum age requirement is 62. There are 44 apartments total, and at the entrance there are few steps and a ramp for those who need it. The salary cap is $40,000 a year, Romeo said. She waited three years before finally securing an apartment, she said.

“I think having your own independence is so important,” she said.

“In nursing homes, the meals are at certain times in the day and you don’t have the choice of, ‘what do I want for breakfast?’” she added.

Living alone presents additional challenges, said Zona Hays, 84, of Glenwood Springs. One of her friends eats one banana for breakfast every day and some rarely get out of bed, she said.

“Living alone is on the one hand liberating because you can do whatever you want, but it isn’t good because you don’t have anyone to share anything with,” Hays said.

Seniors who live alone in Northwest Colorado reported dissatisfaction with availability of long-term care options, quality of life, and mental health, according to a survey conducted by the area’s Agency on Aging.

Less than 25 percent of the respondents receive help on a daily basis, according to the study, and Hispanic seniors had more trouble finding a reliable family member or friend in times of need.

Hispanic seniors reported more incidents with physical health, locating and understanding social services, and had a much higher rate of falls, according to the survey.

“People who tend to live alone can be at higher risk for institutionalization because they may not have the same support,” said Lee Tyson of the National Research Center, which conducted the survey.

“If someone’s at higher risk for institutionalization, they tend to live alone, they tend to have a lower income, and often times, they are racial minorities, and are older,” she added.

county assistance

Peregrine residents Bodie Collins, left, and Bill McKinnley participate in a hula dance during Hawaiian happy hour party at the senior living facility in Glenwood Springs.

The Garfield County Department of Human Services runs a program that helps families decide what living situation is best for an elderly relative. Judy Martin, manager of senior services for the county, said there are funds that can pay for in-home health care if the person needs it.

Martin says many of the elderly who live alone will travel to different meal sites to maintain interaction and avoid isolation.

“Isolation is a huge risk factor for elderly people,” said Karen Brown, chair of the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging in Denver.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky noted that the new Peregrine Senior Living facility in Glenwood Springs is expanding to include a new dementia section. And, a bond issue was passed by the Grand River Hospital District in Rifle for memory and long-term care to help address the need.

Marquez’s mother broke her ankle one day at home and sought care at Glenwood Springs Health Care, a local nursing home. She says her mother had bed sores, dry mouth, a stomach infection, and a severe urinary tract infection during her five-month stay at the facility. She says she called the state health department and no one ever called back.

Ruth Barber, 81, of Rifle, says she hopes to see the county develop more independent living communities. She’s lived alone for nine years, following her husband’s death, and wishes for more senior housing projects.

“There’s several in Grand Junction, but a lot of us don’t want to move there,” she said.

She tries to keep herself busy by taking long walks with her Havanese Poodle, Gilbert. She eats well at local meal sites, attends a cancer support group, and serves food to those in need, she said.

She says the key to aging well while living alone is staying active, busy, and taking care of one’s self because, “if you don’t, nobody else will,” she said.

About this series

The Longevity Project explores the trend toward an older population in Garfield County as the baby boomer generation ages, and the various outlets to continue living a long, active life.

Aug. 29: Garfield County’s population is aging, and many are staying active well into their 80s and even 90s. But there are a host of challenges — health, financial and otherwise — that come with an aging population.

Sept. 5: Is 70, or even 80, the new 50? Garfield County’s seniors are out there skiing, hiking, riding, and volunteering in the community.

Sept. 12: Many seniors would prefer to stay at home for as long as they can as they age, and research shows they live longer if they do.

Sept. 19: What happens if your savings lasts only into your 70s? A look at the financial realities of an aging population that’s living longer than ever.

super seniors

Each Sunday through Sept. 23, the Post Independent is also featuring a series of “Super Seniors” profiles, as nominated by our readers earlier this summer. Look for the next installment on Sunday, Sept. 16.

The Longevity Event

Why do Garfield County and Colorado’s mountain resort areas in general have among the highest life expectancy in the country? Speaker Tony Buettner, with the Blue Zones Project, provides science-based answers on Monday, Sept. 24, during the Glenwood Springs Post Independent’s “The Longevity Project” event at Morgridge Commons/Colorado Mountain College (above the Glenwood Springs Library). Doors open at 5 p.m.; program starts at 6 p.m.

The program line up includes an interview panel of guests at 6, followed by Buettner’s talk at 7 p.m.

Buettner is the senior vice president of business development at Blue Zones, a Minnesota-based team that puts the research of National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner into action in communities across the country. Dan Buettner is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way,” and “The Blue Zones Solution.”

Tickets are $25, including food and beverage, and can be purchased online here.