Voices from our Community

Meet Anita and Dave Cressman

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The first thing you notice about Anita and Dave Cressman is the way Anita looks at him. You can see the couple who married in 1966 and raised three sons, who now have added five grandchildren to the family. Dave was an environmental planner with his own consulting business. Anita started as a teacher, and then stayed at home to raise their three sons.

“I did a lot of volunteer work,” says Anita. “Then I was hired by Elaine Shantz, Parkwood’s CEO, who was the Manager at the Credit Union’s Waterloo branch at that time. I worked there part-time until I was 72.”

After Dave had his first stroke in 1999, the couple were advised to put their name in at Parkwood, just in case, and are grateful they did so. “Dave had a second stroke about four and half years ago. This led to significant changes. He couldn’t eat, walk or speak, but he was cognitively aware. He chose to have a feeding tube, which didn’t really surprise our family. He has always been a determined and optimistic man.”

“It took over a year, but Dave finally moved into Weber Woods at Parkwood,” says Anita. “We are both Mennonite and have always known about Parkwood, as well as people who live and work there. With the pandemic, I am realizing more and more what a wonderful place this is. There has always been a sense of community and caring.”

The surprising bonus for Anita is the Friendship Group, started by the wife of another resident a few years before Dave arrived. “We are a circle of friends and we used to meet every morning with our loved ones,” says Anita. “Due to the pandemic, we now Zoom every Saturday. That has been an amazing expe­rience in terms of the community and caring in that group.”

“Alan Cook, the chaplain, usually joins us. We have received so much support from him, regard­less of our personal beliefs. When we couldn’t go in, he would visit with our spouses. He has been an important part of kindness at Parkwood.”

When the new role of essential caregiver was created, Anita didn’t hesitate to sign up. “I think creating this new role has gone really well. The staff made me feel so welcome even though there is a lot on their plates.”

Last summer (2020), and again at Valentine’s this year (2021), the Friendship Group brought lunch for the staff. “All of us just want to say thank you to everyone,” says Anita. “The staff are incredibly caring, espe­cially when we couldn’t be there in person for our loved ones. Dave and I are so grateful to be at Parkwood.”

Meet Mary Schiedel

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If it’s the last Monday of the month, it’s book club day at Parkwood – a day when 12 eager readers gather to share their thoughts on the latest selection and enjoy a sense of community.

The members’ reading tastes range widely, from inspirational to entertaining, from thrillers to classics, from comedic to heart-breaking.

“We all read books we might not read otherwise,” says Mary Schiedel, who launched the club in 2009. “The book club has really liked Louise Penny. Some books are challenging, like the one we are reading now: My Secret Sister by Helen Edwards, a true life story. We also read The Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese. I found that very difficult. One book that stands out for me is My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen. It invited more personal sharing. Of course, once you have that, it brings the group closer.”

“We are a disciplined group,” says Mary. “We stick to one hour. We rate the book from one to ten and we each take a turn to say whether we enjoyed the book or not.”

“At the beginning, the members sometimes bought the books and shared them. It went on that way for quite a while,” says Mary. “Now, Mary Ann Brubacher, a volunteer, is leading the book club and gets books from the Library. I really ap­preciate how she has kept us going, particularly because I’m a great reader.”

Meeting in person became challenging in 2020 and the club made a switch to virtual in January 2021. “We really needed help,” says Mary. “Laura Gorman, a staff member, helped us to figure out how to use Zoom. We have several women from the Garden Homes in the club. Laura ran outside in the cold weather to the homes to help some of the members get on the call. She has really helped us out.”

“The book club is one of the activities that keeps my mind active,” says Mary. “I think it helps to have discussions where we really challenge each other and have different views on what we have read. More importantly, I have met more of the people who live here at Parkwood Suites. It has been community building and is an import­ant social connection for me. I know we all look forward to getting together again in person!”

Meet Sharon & Ron Grigsby

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If you look up the word ‘volunteer’ in the dictionary, the definition should include a photograph of Sharon and Ron Grigsby.

It’s hard to imagine how they find time to volunteer. In addition to raising two daughters, Sharon was a long-term care nurse and teaching assistant, and Ron had a career in sales and now serves his church as lay minister and pastor. “We’ve always believed in supporting others, whether helping out at the Red Cross or with community projects.” For Ron, it started when he was 18. “We lived in a small village and my dad and I noticed a man was working alone on his roof. We knew he wasn’t going to finish before the snow came, so we lent a hand. It felt good. Sharon shares this commitment and has been a volunteer for 25 years.”

Ron’s father passed away in 2012, and when his mother, Martha, had a stroke in 2016, Parkwood had a bed available. Ron recalls that it wasn’t their first choice. “It only took three days for us to realize that Parkwood was the best place for my mother. This home provides fellowship and makes everyone feel like family. There are so many quiet little spots that are just perfect for Mom – fireside rooms, lounges, the Café, the Sun Room – she loves it here.”

Once they were confident that Martha felt settled and safe, Sharon and Ron started to volunteer at Parkwood. “It’s the kind of place we felt we could contribute to and, at the same time, we can visit my mother. When the time comes, we want to live here, too.”

Volunteering at Parkwood has become a Grigsby family tradition and now it’s a three-generation family affair. Their youngest granddaughter has been an elf at Christmas and assists in the Café once a month. Her name tag identifies her as the Café Supervisor. Their 15-year-old granddaughter also helps with barbeques.

“We believe that volunteering is a privilege. With all of the negative things that are going on in the world, it gives you the opportunity to show that people still have the capacity to care for others. People need support and, when you help, you become a better person.”

Meet Albert Willms (1926-2022)

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Equipped with two languages – German and Russian – Albert left post-war Europe, spending five years in Paraguay prior to arriving in Canada when he was 27. He met and married Betty Fast, a Canadian Mennonite, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Betty taught Albert how to speak English and to drive a car. Together, they had four children.

“It sounds intimidating when you look back, but it seemed fairly obvious what choices to make,” said Albert. “I took a job as a brick layer’s helper at first. I wasn’t picky. I’ve had various experiences. Some weren’t my first choice but I learned what I didn’t want. I moved next to General Motors, which had better pay. However, they went on strike and I went back to brick laying. A year later the owner asked me to look after the business because he wanted to go to university. So I did. However, the next year I decided I should go to university myself.”

“In view of my age, I took what I needed so I could improve my English. I took honours English and German as my easy course. At that time, there was a huge need for teachers. I had family responsibilities, so I took a job teaching English and German in Peterborough. By then, we had three small kids and were expecting our fourth. I was able to finish my degree part-time.”

After four years, Albert and his family moved to Hamilton and he continued teaching at Parkside High School in Dundas. When he retired at 60, he learned to cook, as he enjoyed fresh food. He was particularly skilled at making pizza and lasagna, as well as his own ‘dry’ cottage cheese (glomz), pie, borscht and vareneki (pirogi). He used the whey from the cottage cheese to make his signature ‘Whey Better Bread’.

When Albert’s wife passed in 2003, he continued to live in their house for nearly 10 years, then made the decision to move to a retirement community. He had friends in the garden homes at Parkwood and in 2012 he made his move to the top floor of the Parkwood Suites Retirement Residence.

“In my life, there were three times, all before I came to Canada, that I thought I was going to die,” said Albert. “I’m 94 now. I have learned that life is precarious and precious. And you appreciate that, if you have had risk. Canada is a wonderful country and I appreciate the life I have here.”

Albert was easily recognizable at Parkwood – he was the one riding his bike, every day, weather permitting, wearing a bright yellow safety vest and white helmet. He also enjoyed aquafit and reading, and was so impressed with Parkwood’s Kindness initiative that he sent each of his grandchildren a Christmas card with a message reminding them of the importance of kindness.

“The staff at Parkwood are excellent,” said Albert. “Very friendly. There’s a saying: ‘It is nice to be important, but more important to be nice’. I think you could say the same thing about kindness. It is important to be kind.”

Note: This interview took place in 2021, a year prior to Albert Willms’ passing

Howard Gimbel (1921 – 2020) – A Life Remembered

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Like many Parkwood residents, Howard Gimbel’s early days began on a farm, working hard, enjoying an active and physical life, built on a foundation of strong community and church values.

Born on November 10, 1921 in Breslau, Howard was taught early on that people help one another. He lived up to these expectations throughout his life.

Howard enjoyed a varied career, most of it spent driving, which he loved. During WWII, Howard worked at the Dominion Woolen Mills in Hespeler, sending his wages to the Red Cross. He then went to work for Silverwood Dairies as a milk man, driving a horse-drawn wagon at first, then transitioning to a milk truck. This was followed by a career working for Stafford Foods, covering a territory for the food distributor. In the last five years of his career, he worked for the Mennonite Foundation (now known as ‘Abundance’) as a financial consultant and served on the Board for Mennonite Mutual Aid.

Howard was generous with his time outside of work. He loved sports, especially baseball. He umpired into his eighties and also volunteered as a timekeeper and statistician in the Mennonite Hockey league in Elmira. He volunteered with Big Brothers and enjoyed gardening.

He also loved to sing, blessed with a good tenor voice. He especially enjoyed singing hymns, as well as reciting poetry, which he recalled with ease from elementary school. He had a poem for every month of the year.

When he retired, he continued to volunteer as a driver for the Cancer Society. He particularly enjoyed driving into Toronto so he could have a good long chat with clients.

Howard and his wife, Carol, married in 1946, and had two daughters. The couple were the first residents to move into Parkwood’s retirement home in 2009. They were joined in the Parkwood community by three other family members. Howard and Carol enjoyed going out for drives into their 90s, until Carol passed in 2014 in her 94th year. The day before Howard passed, six years later, in May 2020, he was still able to recite the Lord’s Prayer and the twenty-third psalm with Parkwood’s chaplain.

“My father was very personable,” says Phyllis Roth, daughter. “He was a caring and giving person, yet had a hard time receiving that back. Independence was so much a part of his life and he had to surrender so much. He would tell the staff at Parkwood ‘I can do it’ and they would agree to let him do as much as he could. It was important to him. It was one of the reasons he adored most of the staff. Another reason was their kindness. When they could, they would take the time to listen to his stories, which he loved to tell.” “His life was underpinned by the values of honesty and integrity. It was important that he show it to others, and he expected that back. I know he found those values and more at Parkwood.”