Birthdays for MapleCreek residents, 99 and 102

by John Elmore 9. January 2012 15:04

Ethel Evert called it her "rehearsal" for her 100th birthday. Ethel turned 99 on New Year's Day. A few days earlier, on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011, family and friends hosted a "99" party for her in the Life Enrichment Room of The Terraces at MapleCreek. Ethel cut the cake, and Cottages resident Elizabeth Druckey held the plates. When asked what she remembered about being a little girl, Ethel told about remembering a great fire at a brick factory within walking distance of their house. She and her father went to watch the action ."The draught horses the business used to haul bricks died in the fire. I think I was about six."

Ethel was an only child. "My parents were married 10 years when I came along, so I guess they were glad to have me." She remembers riding on the Interurban, a streetcar rail system that people could ride over great distances in West Michigan, going from Grand Rapids all the way to Kalamazoo, Holland and Muskegon. "We rode on a high trestle bridge up over the Grand River, and I was so scared," she said. "I also remember my Father taking me to the Fair, maybe in Comstock Park. We rode the Interurban for that, too."

Mrs. Lou Miller turned 102 on Friday, Jan. 6, 2012. In her mailbox was a letter of congratulations from Willard Scott of the "Today" show. The Terraces staff surprised Lou at lunch by entering the dining room clapping their hands, surrounding her table and singing "Happy Birthday" to her. Lou was deeply moved, but quickly recovered and began showing her usual good humor. In addition to a little cake, the staff gave her a can of beer for a little celebration on her own later. "I think first I'll put on my pajamas, get in bed, and then drink it," she joked.

Lou will tell you that the secret to long life is to always have a positive attitude. "I used to get up in the mornings, jabbering away and singing, and mother would say, 'Who put a nickel in you?' And I'd say, 'I don't know, Ma.' I guess I've always been this way." Her upbeat outlook on life has carried her through many difficult times in her life, including being widowed after 17 years of marriage and working and raising her children on her own, then caring for her dear aging mother. Still, she'll always say, "I guess I've had a good life. You take what the Lord gives you and do the best you can. But I really love it here. This really is the best place for me. Everyone is so friendly and kind and helpful, and they'll do anything for you."


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MapleCreek gets long-anticipated bus for Christmas

by John Elmore 27. December 2011 14:48

A beautiful new bus arrived at MapleCreek on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011, just in time for Christmas. It was at the top of the 2011 wish list for the senior living community.

The purchase of the bus from Holland Bus was made possible by a most generous family bequest from the late Don and Lovila Behrens, who lived their final years at MapleCreek, and their four daughters and their husbands.

Don had led fund-raising efforts for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan for 22 years, following a 36-year career in advertising. Lovela helped to start the first women’s auxiliary at MapleCreek soon after Lutheran Social Services purchased the property in late 1976. Back then, Don and Lovila would accompany and assist residents on day trips, so providing this bus has meaning for the family. “They were an inspiration,” said Doug Lachniet, director of major gifts and planned giving.

This vehicle will be a huge blessing for residents and staff, offering reliable transportation for shopping trips, outings around town, day trips, and rides between the living centers at MapleCreek. "My mother doesn't drive anymore," said a family member of a MapleCreek resident. "The bus is her link to the world, to her independence." 



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Girl with special needs gets ‘forever home’ for Christmas

by John Elmore 22. December 2011 15:43

Christmas is coming quickly. While buying and giving gifts is a focus for many this time of year, sometimes it’s a gift that can’t be purchased that means the most. This year, Brianna Droski, a special needs 4-year-old, has a new mom for Christmas, someone to love her and care for her no matter what.


Her grandmother, Deb Droski, 58, a former over-the-road truck driver, took in Brianna as a foster child in December 2009. With the help of Christopher Fisher, adoption case worker for Lutheran Adoption Service in Grand Rapids, Deb adopted the girl on Kent County Adoption Day, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, before Judge Daniel V. Zemaitus.


Brianna has cerebral palsy. “Brianna looks like a normal little kid,” Deb Droski said. “When we go out to a restaurant, the waitress will ask her what she wants to eat, and we have to explain that she’s tube-fed.” Brianna really needs her new mother. She has the mental capacity of a baby, can’t swallow liquids, can’t walk or bear her weight, and may always need to wear diapers. “She can’t talk,” Deb said. “She makes noises, that’s her way of talking. It was hard at first, but I understand her pretty well now.”


Last January, Brianna started going to pre-school half days at Ken O’ Sha Park Elementary School. She also has therapy two or three times a week. While Deb was a bit worried about adopting her special needs grandchild at her age, she knew she needed Brianna as much as Brianna needed her. “God brought us together for a reason,” Deb said. “She has been my rock, and I have been hers.”


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MapleCreek Christmas chapel features senior ‘Living Nativity’

by John Elmore 22. December 2011 14:33

Trinity Chapel at The Terraces at MapleCreek was a packed house filled with residents, staff and family members for the annual all-campus Christmas Chapel on Dec. 21, 2011. “We counted 120 people in there,” said MapleCreek’s ordained chaplain, Rev. Rebecca Ebb-Speese, also known as Pastor Becky. “That’s about as many as we can hold.”

The program featured the playing and singing of Christmas carols, along with select Bible scripture readings. “We had nine scripture readers, all but one of them MapleCreek residents,” Pastor Becky said. “The Terraces choir had 10 staff and residents who sang ‘While By Our Sheep.’ Special music was provided by the Wellers -- George, whose mother Clare lives at The Terraces, on classical guitar, and his wife Jan on recorder. The Woods Chimes choir played a beautiful hand chimes rendition of ‘Silent Night.’ Sharon Munson, MapleCreek volunteer coordinator, played the Christmas carols on the piano as everyone sang.

This year Pastor Becky added a ‘Living Nativity’ to the Christmas service. Most living nativities in churches feature kids, but this one was made up of six MapleCreek residents from The Woods (memory care) and The Lodge (skilled nursing) portraying Mary, Joseph, two shepherds and two angels. “And Woods clinical manager Deedre Vriesman’s baby, Jade, was our Baby Jesus,” said Pastor Becky.

Toward the end of the service, battery-powered candles were distributed to everyone. They provided a wonderful glow in the darkened chapel as symbols of the hope we celebrate in the birth of Christ, the light of God that has come into the world.





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Hope Village resident shares holiday joy with her Christmas toys

by John Elmore 22. December 2011 09:33

Every year, Hope Village residents and staff look forward to a Christmastime tradition. That's when Freda Kirby, 93, puts her animated, musical Christmas toys on display around the lobby for all to use and enjoy.

"Although she is of the Jewish faith, Freda is always the first to share the joy of the season by doing this for us," said John DeMarsh, Hope Village marketing director. 

Freda came to Hope Village in Traverse City in 2001 from Ohio, where her late husband, Harold, had been a gifted nuclear research scientist known for his work with radioactive isotopes. Freda had been a school teacher. Harold and Freda never had children, but they loved their two nieces and nephew from Elk Rapids, Michigan, like they were their own kids.

Every Christmas since Freda's arrival at Hope Village, her nephew Kenny has given her one or two of these fun toys as a tribute to her beloved husband.

"Harold was known to spend hours explaining different scientific ideas to Kenny while Freda and Kenny's sisters were off shopping together," said DeMarsh. Freda's collection is growing, with more than a dozen fascinating toys to entertain all who touch them to start the movements and music.

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Terraces residents show off their Christmas decorations

by John Elmore 15. December 2011 11:38

Residents in eight apartments at The Terraces at MapleCreek opened their doors for a few hours and showed off their holiday decorations with a Christmas Open House on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011. "I made lots of these Swedish-style straw ornaments," said Erma Sundbeck, who shared her technique. She also told of making the Christmas tree skirt with her mother in the 1940s or 1950s. Charlotte Bishop bragged about how her husband Bob had made all of the carved and painted Santa figures on display on their shelves. Bonnie Worley happily demonstrated all the animated, muscial holiday pieces in her collection, including one that dances and sings "Frosty the Snowman." She also explained the huge Bible on her table had belonged to her great-great grandfather. "That's over 150 years old," she said. Marian Lachniet told of her enjoyment of working with ceramics for years and pointed out many examples of her handiwork in the figures on display in her living room.

Jane Donk proudly toured visitors around to show off decorations reflecting their Dutch homeland traditions, including ice skates made by her daughter hanging on the front door, and figures of Sinterklaas and his white horse, who would arrive by boat in Amsterdam on Dec. 5. Children would leave wooden shoes by the fireplace and put out straw and a cookie for the horse. The next day, St. Nicholas Day, they would get presents. "We always did it that way in our home," Jane explained. "We gave presents on Dec. 6, not on Christmas Day. That day was for worship."

Lucille Whitaker had a tall rotating tree filled to the brim with pink and white ornaments, most of which she had made. Her goal was to make a Victorian-looking tree. Shirley Giles made her ornaments, many of them out of lace or hand-sewn and stuffed. "This is one of my favorites," she said, holding up a figure of a roughhouse boy with a carefully stitched black eye. The VanPerrises showed off a simpler decor, with handmade miniature trees, humorous seated figures representing themselves, and beautiful nativity figurines.

For photos of the wonderful Christmas decorations shared by the residents at The Terraces, visit the photo album posted to the MapleCreek Facebook page.  








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Operation Good Cheer brings presents for LSSM foster children

by John Elmore 3. December 2011 16:24

It's going to be a nice Christmas for 779 foster children statewide in the care of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, 102 of them in West Michigan. On Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, workers from LSSM's Grand Rapids office joined with staff from Catholic Charities to unload small planes delivering "Operation Good Cheer" gifts from Oakland County International Airport in Pontiac to Gerald R. Ford International Airport. A large number of wrapped presents arrived Friday night on a Steelcase corporate airplane.

Operation Good Cheer was started by a group of Ford Motor Company employees in 1971, when they pooled their money normally spent on Christmas cards and instead put it toward buying gifts for 66 children. Today, Operation Good Cheer is coordinated and sponsored by Child and Family Services of Michigan, Inc., based in Okemos. The program this year will benefit 4,589 children, teens and adults with disabilities who are in foster care, residential treatment, and group homes sponsored by 48 private child and family social service programs. Planes flew gifts to 17 airports, and trucks delivered to destinations closer to Pontiac.

PHOTO: L-R, LSSM's Grand Rapids staffers Joan Lutke and Angie Henry take presents from Herb, a pilot who flew them to Grand Rapids, assisted by Jonah, the son of program director Laura Mitchell.



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MapleCreek residents educate MSU medical school students

by John Elmore 18. November 2011 15:56

Dr. Betsy Neubig (seated) and 15 students from Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids visited MapleCreek on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 17, 2011. The field trip was arranged with the help and cooperation of Rosemarie (Sheffield) Wallace, the nurse in charge of the health clinic at The Terraces at MapleCreek. 

The purpose was to give the doctors-in-training an opportunity to meet with and interview MapleCreek residents about what it is like to be elderly and to learn about some of the health problems seniors experience as a result of aging.

This is not the first collaboration of MapleCreek and the MSU medical school. Last April, we told the story of Nadir Abdelrahman, MD, a native of Sudan, who was the first physician chosen to participate in the six-month Grand Rapids Geriatric Fellowship program of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, including time spent weekly seeing some of the residents at MapleCreek. Read that story again here:

Rosemarie is pleased to encourage the next generation of doctors and specialists in training, with the help of our MapleCreek residents.



Lutheran Adoption Service: Siblings get a “forever family”

by John Elmore 10. November 2011 16:12

November is National Adoption Month, when public attention is called to the thousands of children in need of a permanent family relationship.  For siblings Shawn, 6, and Varieanna, 4, Nov. 7, 2011, was a special day. Their adoption by their foster mother, Denise Kingbury, was finalized that day in Allegan County Courthouse with the help of Lutheran Adoption Service (


“Denise extraordinary with the kids,” said Ashley Oosterbaan, foster care caseworker in Grand Rapids for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. “Their behavior is monitored by having conversations about good choices versus bad choices. They are required to apologize to each other and ask forgiveness after every childhood altercation. There is a lot of love and laughing and goofiness all around.” 


Kingsbury adopted her older daughter, Nakiya, almost 9, in Fairfax, Virginia nearly six years ago. Shawn and Varieanna have been in her care for four years, since Varieanna was a three-month-old “failure to thrive” infant. Over this time, they have grown and blossomed.  “They love their biological mom – their ‘tummy mommy’ – very much, and she loves them very much,” Oosterbaan said. “But after three years it was decided that she just did not have the ability to adequately care for them. They are very excited to be in their ‘forever home.’”


Kalamazoo Lutheran Adoption Service caseworker Amber Shustha-Chambers said, "Denise is such a sincere, genuine and loving person. The kids can be kids with her and there is clearly a strong bond with her. They have waited a long time for this adoption to be completed."


More foster and adoptive parents are needed. Is this for you? Find out at and Lutheran Adoption Service is a collaborative of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan and Lutheran Child and Family Service of Michigan.



Dinner, dancing and donating marks West Michigan LSSM Gala

by John Elmore 9. November 2011 09:20

It was an evening to remember Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011, with a lovely setting, beautiful decorations, lively jazz music, food and the wine, and a silent auction. About 100 people filled the Dexter Ballroom at St. Cecilia Music Center in downtown Grand Rapids for the West Michigan LSSM “Light Up the Night” Legacy Gala. Several couples enjoyed the after-dinner dancing, including special guest Suzanne Geha and her husband Rick Merpi (PHOTO). 

Close to a thousand dollars was raised in the silent auction, with items ranging from sports tickets, gift cards and gift baskets to guitar lessons and a golf getaway at the Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City. Martha’s Catering provided  the hors d’oeuvres and a selection of wines and served up a choice of three delicious dinner entrees. Wonderful big band jazz music was performed throughout the evening by the Midtown Horns and Rhythm, an ensemble made up of members of the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra.

Mark Stutrud, president of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, pointed out that “what we do is not so much ‘service’ as it is walking alongside someone and sharing in life.” Suzanne "Suzi" Geha, career broadcast journalist and community advocate, shared her childhood memories of walking to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School at two ELCA churches in greater Detroit. She praised Lutheran Social Services of Michigan for its mission and work in serving the helpless and the needy.

“Sometimes we think it’s the job of the government to care for the poor, the orphans and the widows, the elderly and the most vulnerable,” she said. “We Christians know whose job it really is. Christ Himself told us.” She spoke of the great value of volunteerism, which in America is valued at about $180 billion in time given per year. Michigan is ranked 8th nationally in time donated. Suzanne expressed her admiration for those who volunteer in our West Michigan community and in particular for the programs of Lutheran Social Services. Quoting an unknown author, she added, “Volunteers are not paid -- not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

Special thanks go to our sponsors who made this special night possible: Lacks Enterprises - Gala Sponsor;  All Med Medical Supply – Jazz Orchestra Sponsor; Scot M Fay CFP, Wealth Advisor, with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans – St. Cecilia Venue Sponsor; Elzinga & Volkers – Hors d ‘Oeuvres Sponsor;  Faith Lutheran Church (Grand Rapids)  - Table Sponsor; Area Agency on Aging – Table Sponsor; Pat Cornelisse, Cornelisse Design Associates – Partner Sponsor; Martha Blandford – Donor Sponsor; and Curt Schaap – Donor Sponsor.



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