By Rick Banas of BMA Management, Ltd.
“I knew I had to do something,” Winona “Noni” Slifer told me as we sat in her apartment at Heritage Woods of Sterling.
She was one of several residents of the affordable assisted living community in Sterling, Illinois, that I had the pleasure of chatting with earlier this month about their lives and their decisions to move to Heritage Woods.
Winona “Noni” Slifer
Noni talked about growing up on a farm down south of Springfield, Illinois, and moving up to Sterling after high school.
Her father was up in the area working for International Harvester and introduced Noni to her husband. They were married for 65 years before he passed away. “My Dad brought him down to get peaches,” she said, and “this is the peach he got.”
He was an auto mechanic, while Noni worked for many years for a department store in town and then for WalMart as a “people greeter.”
Both her husband and her brother served in the military during WWII. Noni worked in a bay in an ordinance plant, assembling 75-millimeter shells. Her husband served with the Army in the Philippines. Her brother was killed in Europe. He had just crossed the Rhine with General Patton when they ran into heavy artillery fire.
Noni made the decision to move into Heritage Woods of Sterling about a year ago. Because of arthritis and a bad hip, it “got to where I couldn’t do my own work.”
Her son suggested the possibility of remodeling the house but “I didn’t want the responsibility.”
But she’s not ready for a nursing home.
She came with her son and daughter-in-law to see what Heritage Woods had to offer. “I liked it, and they liked it” so she moved into a studio apartment on the second floor.
Of her move, she notes “I couldn’t ask for anything more. It is a lovely place to be and everybody is very friendly.”
She especially likes how clean Heritage Woods is. In fact, she told me, my granddaughter came to visit from Alabama. “I am mighty proud of her.” Kristen is Vice President of Clinical Services for Hearing Care Solutions, a Colorado-based company. She also has worked for the company in California and Texas.
With her work, she has had the opportunity to visit quite a few places, and “this is the cleanest one I have ever been in,” she told me.
As we were finishing our conversation, I asked Noni about the cardinal figurines that decorate her window sill. She also has a cardinal clock and a cardinal calendar hanging on the wall in the kitchenette. Growing up in central Illinois, she says, she is a St. Louis Cardinal fan – a member of the Cardinal nation. But, she noted, her husband was a Cubs fan so now “I have to be for both teams.”
Helen Conway is one of the first residents of Heritage Woods of Sterling. She moved into her apartment on the first day that the community was open for occupancy even though when she first visited the affordable assisted living community she had no notion that she would be moving.
She was living just up the street, a couple of blocks away. “I was not ready,” she says, until she came to an Open House. “I got half way through and signed up.”
Helen grew up in Harmon, Illinois, about 12 miles southeast of Sterling. The town was so small “if you took a breath, you’d miss it.”
She attended a country school where everyone from first through sixth grade sat together. Very often, “you were the only one” at your grade level. “By the time you got to sixth grade, you knew the lessons because you had heard them so many times before.”
She graduated from Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, with a double major in business and vocal music. She taught business and music courses in the area and directed choirs for 62 years.
Her first chance to direct a choir came well before she graduated from Clarke. “I took a year of business school before I went to college,” she says. While in business school, a nun who taught music became ill. The nun taught Helen what she needed to know so Helen could direct an all boys choir that sang Gregorian chant.
Helen’s husband, John P. Conway, graduated from Loras College in Dubuque, with a degree in accounting. He served as Vice President of Finance for Northwestern Steel & Wire in Sterling.
Helen and John met on a blind date when John was in the Navy. She said she told the person setting up the blind date that “he better be able to dance and hold a conversation.” He was able to do both.
As for the move to Heritage Woods, Helen says that both she and her children are very happy.
First and foremost, she appreciates the help that is available from the CNAs. “They are our lifeline,” she says.
With her next birthday being her 90th, she also talked about how she values not living alone and the “wonderful feeling” that comes from not having to worry “if my money should ever run out.”
“I would be in a nursing home right now if it were not for Heritage Woods,” she said, adding that “you have to make it your home.”
As we talked, Helen also shared an interesting observation. “You spend the first 50 years of your life collecting stuff.” Then you spend your time trying to get rid of it to people who don’t want it. There is “a real freedom” that comes from getting “rid of stuff.”
Rita was born and raised in Sterling and has lived at Heritage Woods since January.
She moved in after having lived with one of her daughters and her daughter’s husband for a year.
“They took good care of me,” Rita said, but they needed their privacy. She had moved in with them after suffering a heart attack.
She talked about how she was living down on Liberty St. in the historic district of Savannah, Georgia. She and her husband had moved down there after he had retired. “I was just two blocks from the Cathedral” so every day she would go to noon Mass. When she was having the heart attack, she walked across the street to her doctor’s office.
Rita met her husband through her dentist. He was born and raised on a farm. Since he spoke Mandarin, he spent WWII in China as an interpreter for US Army Intelligence. He graduated from Knox College in Galesburg with the degree in literature, went to work for a loan and finance company, and went on to become an Executive Vice President with First National Bank of Sterling.
“My husband’s grandmother gave us a month in Florida as a wedding gift,” she says. “Can you imagine a girl from Sterling going down to Florida for a month. We stayed in a little hotel in St. Petersburg called the 5th Avenue.”
On their way down to Florida, they stopped in Savannah and fell in love with the area.
Rita heard about Heritage Woods from a friend and says that “I am perfectly happy here.”
The food is what she likes the best. “I don’t want to cook anymore,” she told me. “The food is good, and I don’t have to cook it or do the dishes.”
She adds that “we could not get along without the CNAs.” They are “assisted living”, and “they have compassion.”
Fern was getting along just fine living alone at home until April 24, 2010. The Rock Falls native who is now 97 years of age was driving, going out to lunch and playing cards virtually every day.
Then, things suddenly changed. She fell and broke her leg. Her leg healed, but she was no longer able to manage a house so she moved into an apartment at Heritage Woods.
“I am comfortable and thankful to have my mind,” she told me. “Whatever goes on, I am usually down to attend it. There are some wonderful people here that you can socialize with. It is good to be with people.”
She talked with me about how she treasures her family and how life has changed.
“People are too busy now and making money is too much of a priority. My mother was always there for me.”
Her mother was a school teacher, and “we spent our time in the evening doing homework.” She had two older brothers. One brother was a musician who played piano. From the time he was 17 until he was 72, her played with Big Bands that performed in the area. Her other brother was a Doctor of Divinity with the Evangelical Churches.
She married her husband at the age of 21. They met at a local dance.
She worked as a part-time floral designer, responsible for as many as 15 weddings in one weekend.
She talked about how she travelled with her husband to such foreign lands as Morocco, Greece and Turkey as well as Hawaii and Acapulco and how they retired to Marco Island in Florida and then to Sun City in Arizona.
She says that her daughter was so glad that she decided to make the move to Heritage Woods.
The whole family was together just recently for a wedding at the new gazebo on the Rock River. In addition to her daughter and her daughter’s husband, who was a history professor at Sauk Valley Community College, Fern has three grandchildren, nine great grandchildren and eight great, great grandchildren.
“I live for them,” she says as she showed me pictures.
We invite you to take a few minutes and watch the Heritage Woods of Sterling Community video below ↓.
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“BMA Management, Ltd. is the #1 provider of affordable assisted living in Illinois
and we are in the top twenty providers in the United States of America.”
Tags: Affordable Assisted Lifestyle Community, Clarke College, Fern Harshman, Helen Conway, Heritage Woods of Sterling, Knox College, Loras College, Rita Beatty, St. Louis Cardinal, Winona “Noni” Slifer