A Salute to Our Military Family!: Senior Care

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It’s not surprising that a community as steeped in tradition as Deer Meadows is currently planning a salute to our Military Veterans. Originally opened as the Baptist Home of Philadelphia in 1869, Deer Meadows has been serving seniors for 134 years. Few other facilities in the country can boast such a long and distinguished history, but rather than boasting about their own history, the staff at Deer Meadows is busy organizing an event that will celebrate the history of their Veteran residents, an event that they have affectionately termed “Salute to our Military Family!”

Despite the myriad changes in the quality and complexity of senior care options available today, Deer Meadow’s emphasis on the quality of their resident’s life has not wavered since the opening of the facility and remains the key to its success. The staff at Deer Meadows is responsive and attentive because they genuinely care about the residents and what they have to say. In an attempt to create a positive atmosphere and to provide high-quality, affordable care, Deer Meadows operates under a non-profit basis, allowing them to channel all of their profits back into facility improvements and added resident services. Deer Meadows is also a non-denominational facility, which welcomes residents from all religious backgrounds.

One of Deer Meadow’s slogans is “Respect Your Elders,” and they certainly have many residents worthy of respect. On May 18th, 2003, the residents and staff of Deer Meadows, local dignitaries, and members of the community will gather to show their respect for the Veteran members of the Deer Meadows family. Approximately 50 Veterans will be honored on this day, and the festivities will include the Friends of Philadelphia, a 75 person choir, which will be backed by a 40 piece band. They will be performing songs to represent all four branches of the military and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” David Christian, a retired Green Beret Captain and the most decorated veteran from the Vietnam War, will be the featured speaker. Representatives of the ROTC programs from five local high schools have been chosen to carry flags representing each branch of the military.

The entire program was the brainchild of Michael Jacobs, the new executive director of Deer Meadows, who had always wanted to organize a large celebration to honor veterans. According to Liz Harbison, the Public Relations & Marketing Director at Deer Meadows, the community’s goal for the event is to “really show appreciation for these exemplary men and women.” They are also attempting to preserve history, as she points out: “The era is quickly fading for these veterans and we wanted to preserve some of it.” With preservation in mind, the organizers of the event are currently conducting video interviews with the Veterans, which they will donate to the Smithsonian for the WWII display after the event. A program book including biographies and photographs of the veterans in uniform is also being prepared.

While compiling the program book for this upcoming event, the staff at Deer Meadows had the pleasure of learning more specifics about the service of their resident Veterans: “We have learned so much in the process. We have learned of 40 or 50 residents already who spent a part of their life in the service, and we were unaware of that before.” The staff also quickly realized that they could coordinate their very own museum display of war medals. Among military medals, the Purple Heart is by far the most prestigious. Frank Schwitters, a Deer Meadows Resident and Air Force Veteran, earned his purple heart during the Korean War, while serving as a driver for the base commander.

During a skirmish, he remained by the commander’s side and was injured by shrapnel, which lodged in his leg; he was rewarded for his bravery with a purple heart. Nevertheless, Mr. Schwitters remembers his time in the service affectionately. His move to off-base housing after his wedding is his fondest memory, and it is clear from his advice to young Americans that his marriage was the most important event in his life. “Always be good to your spouse and kids,” he advises. As an afterthought he adds, “You should get married!” After completing his service to his country, Frank returned home to live a full life with his wife and kids.

He decided to move to Deer Meadows because of the history his family has with the facility: “I am the 4th person in my family to live here. I have lived near here for 40 years and now all my children live near here also.” He is actively involved in the community and enjoys going to movies and playing bingo with the other residents. For him, Deer Meadows is a place to relax: “I have it much easier now and don’t have to worry about what will happen to me when I can no longer take care of myself.”

Norma Laverty, one of the female Veterans being honored at Deer Meadows, learned an invaluable lesson about sharing while serving as an Army Nurse during WWII. While stationed in England during the Christmas season, she gave a box of Hershey chocolates bought from the PX on the ship to some English children. She recounts the anecdote with fondness; “It was such a little thing to give, but it gave so much happiness to those children. Sugar had been rationed for quite some time and the younger children had never tasted chocolate. Their joy washed over me!” Watching the simple joys of these children helped instill in Ms. Laverty an intense sense of the importance of freedom and the joys of liberty. She offers an important reminder to those of us who have not had such experiences: “Remember you are privileged to live in the greatest country in the world.”

After two years and two months of service, she was awarded two Battle stars, one for central Europe and one for the Rhineland Campaign. She returned to the states where she served as a registered nurse, hospital floor manager, and filled the provost duty at a doctor’s office. She continues to volunteer and relishes teaching and learning from others. She has been especially involved in the planning of the Deer Meadow’s Veteran Salute event; she has even been actively interviewing other residents about their time in the service.

Early in his service as a 1st Class Gunner on the U.S.S. Colorado, Ivan Heim, also a Deer Meadow’s resident, met a man who invited him to a prayer meeting; this meeting helped Mr. Heim forge a connection with God and with his fellow soldiers. Not long after this, he was awarded the American Defense medal for his distinguished service during the Asiatic Conflict. After serving in the Navy for six years during WW II, he returned to the states and worked for Bell Telephone Company for 38 years. He retired from Verizon in 1985, and he and his wife, Lucretia, decided that they could no longer live on their own.

Lucretia had suffered two strokes and Ivan was acting as her caregiver. They now live in a beautiful apartment at Deer Meadows and have become very much a part of the Deer Meadows family. This has helped to improve the quality of life for Mr. Heim and his wife. Mr. Heim is pleased to relate that since their move they have “become a part of the Deer Meadows community. The staff here is truly wonderful and everyone helps in every way they can. We are very thankful and appreciate so much our good association.”

The people at Deer Meadows are also thankful to have the opportunity to associate with, and now to honor, these exceptional individuals. All of these distinguished veterans have one thing in common: their commitment to serving their country. They unhesitatingly fulfilled their patriotic duties with sincerity and intensity. In addition to their medals, the life lessons that they took away from these experiences have been their rewards. However, the staff at Deer Meadow’s is adding to their rewards with a celebration that is much deserved. As the planning continues for the “Salute to Our Military Family,” it is clear that this is just one special day among many during which the staff and administration of this unique and historic facility will honor its distinguished residents for the sacrifices they have made for us all.

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