Gary and Mary Jo Rossignol are always eager to share a quick story about their parents’ years at Chesterwood Village and Birchwood Care Center. Even though time has passed since their residency, the impact of the array of activities and family-centered care will be imbedded in the Rossignols for years to come.
During the week, Gary is a realtor. On Saturdays he hosts the Rock & Roll Real Estate Hour on the oldies station WDJO. It’s during this forum that he invites guests who work with older adults to share stories. Gary is also known to slip in some yarns about his overly active mother’s days at Birchwood Care Center.
Mary Jo assists Gary with his real estate business and watches two of their five grandchildren four days a week. She has fond memories of her parents and in-laws living at the Hillandale facilities. She is quick to share stories about her family’s exploits.
“Gary’s mom was used to being super active and outgoing, explains Mary Jo. “My in-laws ran a TV repair shop for years. So it’s no surprise that she took over things at Birchwood!”
An 80-year-old widow when she arrived at Birchwood, Grace R. Dillon lived in assisted living. A super extrovert, she immediately went to work like Birchwood was another job. Grace mended fellow residents’ clothing and sewed whatever came her way. She was an integral part of the Birchwood bell ringers group, proud of her green cape-ringing attire. Somehow she still had time to make bracelets for residents and guests.
“There is no doubt that the activities kept my mother-in-law going,” believes Mary Jo. “The caring Birchwood personnel became like family. She was loved and got to do what she loves best. It was so touching how the staff members were always cheering her on.”
Meanwhile, Mary Jo’s parents, Mildred and Bob Schmidt, were both 84 when they moved to Chesterwood Village. Unfortunately, strokes and the effects of Parkinson’s were too much for Mildred. As Bob began his journey as a widower, he became forgetful.
“As dad began to wander and get into mischief, we found the perfect environment over at Birchwood,” Mary Jo explains. “Dad could walk the circular unit for hours. The area leaves no opportunities for straying.
“Dad worked for the rail road for many years. So the staff would have fun with him and ask about rail road accident reports. Soon after he ‘saw an accident’—an airplane on its usual route looking like it was heading straight for the facility. He yelled ‘everybody duck’ and sure enough, everyone dropped to the floor.”
“Then there was the time he thought he won $1 million in the lottery. He seemed to enjoy all the congratulations. That really got people talking for a while.
“The staff was excellent in dealing with dementia. They know how to ‘agree with dementia.’ That means that agreeing with a dementia patient rather than constantly correcting them will help the resident feel calm and happy rather than causing anger, confusion, agitation and acting out.”
Both Gary and Mary Jo often talk to people about their experiences at Birchwood whether it is on the radio or with people they meet in the community. “What a blessing for my mother-in-law and dad to get to be themselves at Birchwood,” Mary Jo concludes. “It made them still feel like a person, a human being.”