Jennie at the airport

Two Buckner Villas residents attend All Women Honor Flight

welcoming a veteran at the airport

What comes to mind when you think of Veterans Day? For some, it may be the image of a father or grandfather courageously fighting for freedom. Maybe it’s media portrayals of battle scenes from war movies and television shows. Perhaps you reminisce on your own memories of service— from basic training, to combat, to writing loved ones back home.


Or, do you envision a nurse working tirelessly to aid wounded soldiers in the operating room? How about a young woman from Toledo, Ohio, facilitating background investigations for security clearances? For Donna Whitworth and Jennie Rose of Buckner Villas in Austin, Texas, these were their realities. Humble servicewomen though they were, their impact and contribution to our nation is immeasurable.

 Donna Whitworth

Donna Whitworth spent most of her growing up in the Houston area and graduated from Baylor University’s nursing school. Coming from a military background, Whitworth always knew she wanted to serve her country, and after working two years as a nurse, she decided to enlist in the military. 


“My daddy had served in the Navy and I had grown up with movies like Strategic Air Command, so I decided to go with the Air Force. I entered as a First Lieutenant,” she said.

Whitworth was stationed at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California where she served as an operating room nurse during the Vietnam era. Because the United States had begun to withdraw overseas at the time, Whitworth served stateside for the duration of her service.

“I worked on active military personnel and their families and I had a great bunch of doctors to work with. I really enjoyed my time there and felt like I was making a contribution to my country,” she said.

Although Whitworth had a positive experience in the military, she admits that times have certainly changed for women in active service.

“Nurses were always appreciated and acknowledged by the doctors, but I think now women have so many more choices of what to do. So many jobs have opened up that were not available when I was there,” she said.

Just a few years earlier, a young Jennie Rose from Toledo, Ohio, had a similar fervor to serve her country that landed her in the United States Navy.

Jennie Rose

“I’d always envied people who could serve. Everyone in my family had served in the military somehow. As soon as I was old enough, I enlisted,” Rose said.

Rose was stationed at Great Lakes Communication Facility in Illinois where she ran background investigations for military personnel during the Korean War.

“I didn’t have what some might call an ‘exciting’ career,” she claimed. “But I enjoyed it and I met a lot of wonderful women who were doing the same thing.”  

Due to certain policies at the time and a denied request to be transferred to her husband’s base, Rose eventually stepped down from her position in the Navy; however, as the wife of a sailor, her military journey was far from over.

“My job in the Navy prepared me for a lot of things. By the time I married and started moving around with my husband, I already knew what it was like to travel from place to place” she said.

Because her husband was attached the National Security Agency, she and her family also had to be prepared for evacuation at any given time, particularly when they lived in Japan and Germany. Though stressful at times, Rose feels her experiences gave her a unique perspective.

“Having the opportunity to live in different places and experience different cultures, we lived a lifestyle of patriotism,” she said.

Years later, Whitworth and Rose both found themselves residents of Buckner Villas in Austin, Texas. It was there that they were presented with the opportunity to receive recognition for their service through Honor Flight Network, an organization that transports veterans from across the country to visit war memorials in Washington D.C.

Whitworth heard about the organization through Anna Gatti, fellow Buckner Villas resident and World War II veteran, who had previously attended an Honor Flight and insisted that Whitworth needed to go.

Rose was recommended by her daughter, a resident of Austin, Texas, who volunteers with Honor Flight Austin through an organization called Overseas Brats. As soon as the opportunity arose to travel on the All Women Honor Flight #54 last month, Whitworth and Rose knew they couldn’t turn it down.

From boarding the plane to landing in D.C., to returning home, the women veterans received a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the utmost appreciation from the community. Each veteran was even assigned a guardian, comprised of volunteers committed to assisting the women for the duration of the trip.

Austin resident, Ronna Robbins, attended the trip as a guardian and was paired with Rose. As someone who is not a veteran, she explained that traveling on the All Women Honor Flight was a humbling experience. 

“It was such an honor to give back and thank these women. They faced a lot of challenges when they served—low pay, no benefits, and sometimes poor housing. It’s an emotional experience to get to be a part of their bond, even for a little while,” she said.

Whitworth and Rose, like so many other women veterans—past and present—are a shining example of courage and patriotism. Thanks to organizations like Honor Flight Austin, their contributions don’t go unrecognized. When asked if they would recommend the Honor Flight to other veterans, the answer was a resounding, “yes!”

“It’s an experience you’ll never forget,” Whitworth said.

A Miracle in Disguise

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Jerry Jefferson, member of Baptist Retirement Community in San Angelo, TX, shared a little bit of her story with us. 

The day that Jerry Jefferson went in for her regular mammogram 25 years ago looked like any other day. Little did she know, a miracle was in the works.

“Miracle” isn’t a word typically associated with a breast cancer diagnosis, but when her physician requested a follow-up mammogram revealing a lump in one of Jefferson’s breasts, a miracle is exactly what took place.

The decision was made to remove the small lump, which turned out benign; however, upon examining the tissue, Jefferson’s doctor found an additional spot which had evaded the mammogram. This time it was cancerous.

“I just praise God for the fact that I had the mammogram because it pointed to one thing and through that, something else was found,” said Jefferson, a member of Baptist Retirement Community in San Angelo. “I didn’t have to have treatment; instead I opted to have it removed through a mastectomy. I just wanted it gone.”

From the first mammogram until the mastectomy, the entire process spanned only a few weeks, but that didn’t make the experience any less unsettling for Jefferson. After all, no one is ever fully prepared to hear this kind of news.

“I was startled when my doctor called me, saying ‘we have a problem’,” she said. “Treatment has gotten so much better, but back then, reports were not always good.”

A 59-year-old at the time with two daughters, Jefferson credits her friends, faith and family to being strong sense of support throughout the surgery and recovery process.

“My husband was so supportive. His first words were, ‘honey that was no big thing anyway,’ and we laughed over that,” she said.

Anyone who has experienced or walked through Breast Cancer with a loved one can attest to the fact that there is no “easy” way. While everyone’s journey is different— each with its highs and lows— the thing that remains constant is the bravery of each woman who has fought the battle. That’s why we recognize women like Jerry Jefferson, who can now share her encouraging story of hope and restoration with others.

“I’m just very thankful,” she said. “I’ve had a close walk with the Lord the whole time- before and after. I think sometimes that makes things easier than if you don’t,” she said.

Her advice to women everywhere: “Be sure to have your mammograms.”

Parkway Place in Houston members bond through fitness

Donna Stadler moved to Parkway Place with her husband in 2010 and would see Jean Hartzell in the dining room and at Sunday vespers. Donna, 88, said they became better friends after her husband passed away and she moved to a smaller apartment two doors down from Jean, 93.

As the two women learned they both enjoyed staying fit, their friendship grew.

“She was an instructor for an exercise class, and I was a physical therapist,” Donna said. “So we had a lot of common interests in fitness and in the wellness center.”

Read more about Donna and Jean’s friendship in the Houston Chronicle.

Hurricane Harvey survivor declares ‘I am blessed’ after Parkway Place rallies around his family

In late August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall across southeast Texas, leaving a trail of damage, loss and destruction in its wake. For several days following the storm, flooding overtook much of the area, forcing many to abandon their homes and possessions.

Daniel Madison, a utility worker at Buckner Parkway Place, was one victim of Harvey’s wrath. With only the clothes on his back, his wife and a small bag, Madison found refuge somewhere most would never think to look: his place of employment.

“My wife and I stayed at Parkway Place for two months until we got back on our feet,” he said. “Everyone did what they could to make things easier for us and make us comfortable. I was blessed.”

The senior living community’s hospitality toward Madison was simply an added benefit. His motivation to be there, however, was not to seek his own comfort. It was to serve others.

“We were short-staffed. I was just trying to get over there to help and do what I could,” Daniel said. “I knew we were needed.”

Touched by the selflessness of staff members like Daniel, the Parkway Place community decided to act. They wanted to find a way to give back to the people who had given so generously of themselves during such difficult circumstances. Aaron Mendoza, a member of Parkway Place since 2009, worked with a few others to organize a fundraising effort.

“These employees go all-out to serve us, so we felt that it was our time to help them,” Aaron said.

The task was large and proved to be more challenging than expected.

“We had to have a lot of discussions about when to give the money, how much to ask for and where to deposit it. I was a believer that we needed to do it as quickly as we could. These people needed help now, not later,” Aaron said.

With determination and a little bit of problem-solving, everything came together. The members of Parkway Place raised over $20,000 to aid staff members who had lost everything to the storm.

“I’ve always felt, all my life, that it’s better to give than to receive. I try to help people wherever I can,” Aaron said.

A year later, Daniel and his wife, recipients of the fund, have a new apartment close to Parkway Place and are doing better than ever. Though the trials of Harvey will not be soon forgotten, the love and servant-heartedness shown among members and employees at Parkway Place is more powerful than any hurricane.

“Parkway Place members are like God’s helpers. Without them, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. They took me in and they never looked back,” Daniel said.

Written by Caitlin Heffley, content editor for Buckner Retirement Services.

San Angelo seniors kick off summer with Pinewood Derby

Residents at Baptist Retirement Community recently kicked off the summer with cars, ice cream and childhood memories.

Residents came together for fun that included a pinewood derby race and homemade ice cream contest. Smiles and laughter filled the room as the experience reminded people of their youth.

“Many of our residents did Boy Scouts when they were younger and painted their own pinewood derby cars,” Baptist Retirement Marketing Director Erin Kelly told KSAN. “So we wanted to bring back some of those memories that they had.”

The celebration is one of many activities throughout the year at Baptist Retirement, a beautifully landscaped 100-acre Life Plan Community serving seniors throughout the Concho Valley. Baptist Retirement offers independent living, skilled or long-term nursing, memory care assisted living, personal assistance program and  outpatient therapy.

Residents have access to on-site amenities such as a pharmacy, health clinic, chapel, beauty salons, a restaurant and fitness centers. BRC opened “The Crest,” spring 2016, a memory care assisted living home on campus. The Crest, Sagecrest Alzheimer’s Care Center and the Green House® Homes at Sagecrest are designed to further enhance the continuum of care for those living with memory care impairment. Baptist Retirement Community offers more senior living and life-enriching options than anywhere else in the area.

Austin seniors celebrate National Fitness Month

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, and residents at Buckner Villas are as active as ever thanks to wellness director Julia Tavasoli.

Tavasoli leads the Austin senior living community in nontraditional, but popular, exercise classes such as Aqua Fit and Better Balance. Dozens of residents attend each class, including Jim Sadler, 94, and his wife Ann, 88.

“The classes offered here at Buckner Villas are unique because they keep each resident’s fitness level in mind and offer morning and afternoon classes to fit into our schedules,” said Sadler. “Plus, the classes are so enjoyable that sometimes we forget it’s a workout!”

Aqua Fit is a challenging aquatic class which includes cardio, strength and agility, while Better Balance is an aerobics class incorporating specialized fitness equipment, coordination, drills and balance poses to improve core and leg strength. Though designed specifically for seniors, these fitness classes aren’t for the faint of heart. Residents perform exercises found at most local gym classes, including frog jumps, jumping jacks, weight lifting, push-ups and cardio intervals.

“We want residents to find a class that brings them joy, and so far, that’s exactly what we’ve seen,” said Tavasoli. “It’s rewarding for me to see them benefit from the classes both physically and mentally, especially because these group classes add an element of socialization and accountability.”

Buckner Villas recently completed a $29.8 million expansion which allows the community to serve up to 138 additional seniors. Aqua Fit and Better Balance are part of the growing number of classes held in the wellness center at the senior living community.

Tavasoli consistently incorporates new classes to provide well-rounded fitness options. Studies show that working out regularly as you age reduces the risk for developing dementia, decreases the risk of stroke or heart attack, creates better bone density and gives seniors more confidence and independence.

Faith Focus: Seeing what you didn’t before

Last week, Buckner Senior Living and Cooper Aerobics announced a collaboration that will bring Cooper experts to the Ventana by Buckner campus in Dallas. In the process of the day, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Kenneth Cooper and learn more about what sets him apart.

Fifty years ago, Cooper wrote Aerobics, which introduced the world to the benefits of aerobic workouts. Prior to the book, many people were discouraged to exercise after the age of 40 as experts believed it would shorten a person’s lifespan.

When Cooper’s book not only contradicted the contemporary thought, but put forward the notion that regular exercise would actually prolong health and lives, he was called a crackpot. Potential patients were steered away from him. But he stuck it out and his theories have proven true.

He’s revolutionized what it means to be healthy as we age. He’s even proving it day after day personally, having run more than 38,000 miles at the age of 87. His concepts have helped popularize the notion of each person needing to walk 10,000 steps daily. He trained a World Cup team. He has promoted healthy living around the globe.

And all that has led people to live far different lives than they once believed possible.

That struck me as extremely similar to what we do through Buckner Family Pathways and Family Hope Centers: Change individual’s and families’ perceptions of themselves and empower them to live lives they didn’t think possible.

Like Cooper’s efforts, the work of changing someone’s long-held beliefs is difficult. But just like the good doctor, we have examples we can point to where lives have been transformed. Single parents who have graduated from college. Families that are strong and raising amazing young people. Cycles of poverty that have been broken.

The impossible is possible – even in your life.

Do you believe it?

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. –Matthew 17:20

Five ways to pray for senior adults

Thursday, May 3, is the National Day of Prayer. Here are five ways you can pray for senior adults.

1. People

Pray that senior adults are surrounded by people who love and encourage them. Whether from friends in the same life stage or everyday relationships like the grocer and banker, simple conversations often make all the difference in a senior’s quality of life.

2. Purpose

Pray that seniors have a clearly defined sense of purpose. Senior adults need to know they still add value. For some, this purpose comes from volunteering. For others, it comes from family and friends. Pray that seniors find what they love and have opportunity to pursue it.

3. Peace

Pray that seniors have the peace they need to handle change. Change is a regular part of life for senior adults, be it in personal physical health, a loved one’s health or in friendships. Pray they find comfort in friends and family, but also find peace and strength in the Lord.

4. Plans

Pray that seniors and their families have the necessary wisdom to make long-term care decisions should the need arise. It can often be difficult to have conversations planning for potential future needs, but having a plan in advance makes any future transition easier.

5. Positivity

Pray that senior adults have a positive outlook on life. A sense of positivity can have a dramatic impact on all areas of wellness—physical, mental, social, emotional and even spiritual. Pray that they see the good things in life, and that this positivity motivates them to maximize every moment.

For additional prayer resources, visit the chaplain at your local Buckner senior living community.

Volunteering: “just the natural thing” for one Beaumont senior

senior man accepting volunteering award

91-year-old Calder Woods resident John Templeton is known around the Beaumont senior living community for his helpful, can-do attitude.

During any given week, you’ll find him leading the Calder Woods sing-along, helping Chaplain Fontenot during church services, facilitating Wednesday’s intercessory prayer session, counseling during the Alzheimer’s caregiver support group, providing entertainment during Thursday’s social hour or just lending a hand to a neighbor in need.

Simply put, Templeton is a one-stop-shop for Calder Woods volunteer efforts and an easy choice for Calder Woods’ 2018 Volunteer of the Year.

“Ever since he moved to Calder Woods, Mr. Templeton has been an integral part of this community,” said Ben Mazarra, executive director of Calder Woods. “He proves that moving to a senior living community isn’t about slowing down, but about getting involved and doing your part to help the community thrive. Recognizing him as our Volunteer of the Year was a true honor.”

For Templeton, though, volunteering is natural.

“It almost seems routine to me,” he said. “I just love people and like to see them happy. It’s so rewarding when I can do something for someone. I don’t have any hesitation about helping when I can.”

Templeton moved to Calder Woods with his now-late wife in 2009 after a longtime career at Texaco. He and his wife were married 65 years and spent much of their time in early retirement volunteering at the local hospital. It was his upbringing, Templeton said, that taught him to give back.

“Being involved in church life really motivated me to be aware of other people and find ways to assist their needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as talking to them and encouraging them. I’ve been blessed with good health, especially as a 91-year-old! My legs are still good, and I can just pop up and help someone whenever they need.”

The Buckner “pig-me-up”

Meet Max.

Max is a four-month-old, 22-pound therapy pig, affectionately known as the unofficial Buckner Hospice mascot.

Max began visiting Buckner Hospice patients in March when he and owner Nicole McPherson, Buckner Hospice administrator, earned their companion animal certification. The pig now also visits residents at Parkway Place senior living community, and plans to soon make trips to each Buckner community.

“The joy on these residents’ faces when they see Max is almost indescribable!” said Susan Phelps, executive director of Parkway Place. “Animals have a unique way of bringing out a childlike joy in senior adults, and to see them get so excited is truly heartwarming.”

Therapy pigs have proven to be a unique source of joy and comfort for senior living residents. As with any therapy animal, research shows they can help reduce anxiety and lessen symptoms of depression, particularly for seniors who have a history of working with or being around animals.

McPherson received Max as a gift when he was three weeks old and weighed just five pounds. Since then, she’s been training him as a therapy pig. He lives inside her family’s home, in a kennel, like any other household pet.

“He’s just like a dog, but smarter,” laughed McPherson. “He can sit, spin, kiss and shake hands. He’s quite the pig!”

McPherson keeps Max on a strict diet of fruits, vegetables and, as a special treat, Cheerios. She walks him in her neighborhood—on a leash—nearly every day. While he’s still growing, her goal is to keep him at a trim 50 to 60 pounds.

“The name Max means ‘one of a kind,’” McPherson said, “and Max is truly that to everyone who meets him, especially these senior adults.”

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