This is a web-exclusive article on the theme “Aging with Dignity.” For more stories on this theme, see the July issue of The Mennonite, available here.
Photo: Siegfried Wendt. Photo provided by Landis Communities.
Siegfried Wendt and his family experienced the upheaval and violence of World War II. Following the end of the conflict, he was able to flee Soviet-controlled areas and come to the United States, where he settled in Leola, Pennsylvania. He built up a small upholstery business and assisted others through his involvement with the local fire company just up the street from his shop.
As with many persons who are aging, Wendt encountered a health issue preventing him from being alone during the day. His children began looking for a place for him to go that would provide him with fun, structure and opportunities to relate to others. They found Adult Day Services (ADS) at Landis Homes, and Wendt began attending in 2012. Landis Homes is an affiliate of Landis Communities, located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
For the next six years, Wendt shared his warm, caring spirit with ADS clients and staff. Christy Carpenter, ADS manager at Landis Homes’ Eden West center says Wendt “has been a constant presence…We enjoyed his sense of humor, his gracious personality and his initiative to make new clients feel welcomed.”
ADS staff team member Leone Wagner remembers clearly how Wendt taught her about forgiveness. “He was someone who has experienced hunger and been a refugee,” she says. “He softly and nonjudgmentally educated us on being grateful by sharing his stories of going house-to-house asking for food, never wanting to steal, but hungry, while trying to help his mother, who had multiple sclerosis. Even though all he had was taken from him, Wendt has taught me what it means to forgive and to not live in a state of bitterness.”
Tina Eidemiller, Wendt’s daughter, was overwhelmed with the way Wendt’s personhood was honored during his time there. In an email to ADS staff, she wrote, “He has adopted many of the traits and characteristics encouraged at the center, including caring for others, and being generous with ones’ abilities and resources. You provide such a valuable outreach to the folks that attend, giving them purpose, a sense of community and joy at a time in their lives when this may be a struggle. You have been so encouraging to me personally, and to my family, as we tried to care for Dad the best we could, with the center providing a safe and much needed retreat for him and us.”
As often is the case, Wendt’s family caregivers began to struggle providing for him at home. But they were worried. Where was the money going to come from for his increased care? As a nurse, daughter Eidemiller was especially worried, she says, often praying for God to show a way in the times of increasing financial and physical need.
Because ADS is part of Landis Communities, ADS team members shared with the family about Welsh Mountain Home, affordable personal care accommodations located in nearby New Holland, Pennsylvania, also part of Landis Communities. The family was so happy to see the seamless nature of moving Wendt from their care at home to Welsh Mountain Home. Tina says she was sure God answered her prayers: “I prayed often over the past several years as we dealt with the reality of dwindling resources and his continued need for assistance. Everything seemed to fall into place so quickly and easily, literally overnight, with little to no effort.”
Wendt has quickly adapted to the new community. While he was sad to say goodbye to his friends and the staff at ADS, he says, he is glad to be part of the Welsh Mountain Home community. “It is great they are both part of the same organization,” he says.
Landis Communities president and CEO Larry Zook sees Wendt’s experience as a marker of what Landis Communities is striving to do. “We strive to treat every resident and client with dignity and respect for who they are as a child of God,” he says.
What is now Landis Communities began in the early 1960s when Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (now Eastern Mennonite Missions) began exploring how they might develop a community for retired mission workers, pastors and others. Landis Homes opened in 1964 with nine residents. In 2011, Landis Communities was created by Landis Homes in keeping with the challenge to provide care across a larger spectrum of needs, preferences and financial resources.
Larry Guengerich is director of communications and church relations at Landis Communities in Pennsylvania.
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