Winnebago County’s first home for the aged has certainly come a long way over the past century. Learn about the home’s major accomplishments, and how it’s working to remain relevant into a new century.
The oldest thing at Highview in the Woodlands, 1000 Falcon Point Place, Rockton, Ill., is the idea behind it. The senior living facility, with assisted living apartments and an Alzheimer’s Disease/Dementia-Related Care Unit, has just celebrated its 110th year.
A year’s worth of planning went into an invitation-only event held in September, for about 150 people – residents, past and present board members, family members, former residents and dignitaries. The well-chosen theme was “A Legacy of Care.”
Most events took place in a huge outdoor tent. Guests walked down a canopied walkway into the tent, where the legacy theme was woven into every aspect of the event. When people entered, they saw tables with white linen tablecloths and vintage china, some pieces having been donated to Highview through the years by family members.
Each table had a fresh, colorful floral centerpiece. A band played music from the 1920s and beyond, and era-themed cuisine was served, including deviled eggs, chicken cordon bleu, green tomato pie, German potato salad, fresh salmon, cheese and crackers. Highview chefs created swan-shaped cream puffs and custard tarts for dessert.
Inside the building, a museum room had been set up, with three long banquet tables full of memorabilia, including pictures, articles, board minutes, letters and more. Letters of recognition for the anniversary were sent to Highview after being signed by President Barack Obama, U.S. Congressman Adam Kinzinger and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. The letters were framed and on display.
Highview got its start by filling an important need that, up until that time, had gone unmet, says Chief Executive Officer Carol M. Cox.
“The founders saw a need to take care of older people who needed help and had no assistance from anywhere else,” says Cox. “Highview is a ‘little jewel’ in the community. We’re smaller and we all love that. We’re very hands-on and there is so much warmth among the people who work and live here.”
In 1904, a group of people convened to discuss establishing a home for the aged in Winnebago County. A committee elected Marie St. John as the first board president and selected a site at 408 N. Horsman St. in Rockford. Rooms rented for $25 a month. In time, the association purchased the home for $6,500. In 1951, the name was changed to Winnebago Home for the Aged. A few years later, the organization outgrew its home.
Mr. and Mrs. Forest Lyddon donated land on Safford Road, and a larger home was built. In 1972, the name was changed to Highview Retirement Home. In 1979, the Board of Trustees saw the need for a health care center. A former resident, Cousie Fox, donated a large amount of money to help pay for a building addition. It was completed in 1985 and named the Cousie Fox Health Center.
In 1993, Highview Retirement Home added a special care program for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. In 1999, the current facility was built within the Woodlands subdivision in Rockton.
Cox has been CEO of Highview for 13 years and has a bachelor’s degree in business, with an emphasis on organizational science. She has more than 34 years of experience in acute, subacute and long-term care and is a licensed Nursing Home Administrator who is certified in multidisciplinary geriatrics for non-physicians as a dementia practitioner. She has worked in larger facilities, and has had a pivotal role in the current state-of-the-art home in Rockton. Prior to working at Highview, she developed a program for access to dental care in the long-term setting and established a dental care program for the developmentally disabled.
The picture of what it means to grow older is changing.
“More people are living to be more than 90 years old and they are more active and want a quality lifestyle,” says Cox. “The elderly today want to feel a part of a community with people their own age. They love to go out and enjoy people coming in to talk about history, art, travel, culture and other topics. They still crave socialization and, for that reason, we’re very focused on the arts here.”
For the most part, the industry is keeping pace with the changing face of what it means to grow old in America. The challenge is to meet the ever-changing needs. As baby boomers age, more changes will be needed to care for the elderly, as an even more educated, technology-savvy population moves into the golden years, says Cox.
Every apartment will have to have Internet availability and the arts will hold even greater importance to those who enjoy music, theater and dance. And apartments will have to be configured differently to allow for more advanced systems in the kitchen and bathroom, she predicts.
Still, some things will never change.
“The No. 1 priority always will be the service and care given to residents,” says Cox. “Secondly, the environment has to be warm, inviting, clean, appealing and well staffed.”
At Highview, the staff of about 80 people includes licensed nurses, nurses’ aides, housekeepers, a social service worker, activities personnel and dietician services. Four chefs plan and prepare three meals a day.
“I tell our families it’s easier to care for residents when a place is small enough to be as ‘hands-on’ as we are. In larger facilities, you can’t be in every corner, but we’re in every corner all of the time. We know all of our residents, their family members and friends. We’re an extension of each person’s family and you can’t find that everywhere.”
Highview in the Woodlands also is unique because of its park-like setting in a residential area. Residents can see others coming and going and children playing, just as if they were living in a home of their own, she notes.
Because the facility is not corporately owned or even privately owned, all money coming into Highview stays there.
When choosing a facility for a loved one, people have many options, but there are always certain things to look for in order to ensure happiness.
“We’ve been around a long time, so we must be doing something right,” says Cox. “Senior living places are popping up all over the place, and although I encourage people to shop around, I also tell them if they love what they see and hear, that’s a first step toward making a good match.”
Highview goes a step further in caring for its community by using an individualized Montessori-based approach designed to stimulate residents’ memories through practical life activities.
“What we experience is an improved quality of life with what memory remains,” says Susan Hurley, director of Montessori programming at Highview. “It’s a pretty unique approach and a relatively new way of working with the elderly. It’s a well-researched and proven method for working with those with memory loss. The research started in 1995 and Montessori methods have been implemented slowly, on a national level. We’re on the cutting edge of working with our residents in this way.”
Gayle Haab, a Roscoe art teacher, was the recipient of the “Special Friend of Highview Award” at the anniversary celebration.
Her parents, the late John and Jo Shedd, both lived at Highview in their final years. There were many factors to consider when choosing Highview, she says. More than half of her 15 classmates from a small Roscoe grade school had a parent or relative living there, so there was a sense of community. She also has siblings living in the area and appreciates the sense of history here, since her family is from Roscoe and her mom worked at the Wagon Wheel. Highview is on property that was once an airstrip for the Wagon Wheel resort.
Since her mother’s death in 2013, Gayle and husband Dale, and her siblings, have donated money and many items to Highview, in her parents’ memory. Because her mom loved music, they donated a sound system. Her mom loved the outdoors, so a hand-carved Amish wind chime with her mother’s name on it hangs at Highview. The family also donated a rock garden.
Gayle and Dale designed and built the “Little Free Library,” a handmade wooden box outside the facility where residents, family, friends and neighbors can drop off a book or borrow one.
“We just wanted to do some things because they took such great care of my parents,” says Gayle. “We liked the smaller setting and the wonderful staff. We had such an awareness of everyone who lived there and their families. It was one big family, and we felt really loved and cared for. I just can’t say enough about the good care and the closeness we felt with everyone.”
Hurley was the curator of the museum room for Highview’s anniversary celebration.
“It was so interesting to see the items from the past and realize that not much has changed, as far as providing our residents with a very personal, home-like and warm environment,” says Hurley. “It was all very touching. So many people came and talked about their memories. I feel a lot of pride that I’m a part of this legacy – working for a company that’s so family-oriented.”
She adds that most referrals come from people living at Highview, either their own family members or friends who become familiar with the quality of care and want others to experience it, when someone they love needs assistance.
Hurley is originally from Chicago, but is now calling Rockford her home.
“I love the setting, the friendliness and the community involvement at Highview,” she says. “I feel I am really making a difference here. I hear from family members, staff and residents when they are pleased, and when I find what works, to open a door in someone’s life, it’s very rewarding.”
Highview helps residents to feel a sense of belonging, by making it possible for them to give back to the community in which they live. Residents are involved in helping a local food pantry, making and selling pink ribbons to raise money for the American Cancer Society, and making ‘Joy Bags’ for new cancer patients at local hospitals.
“We want to do more and more with community endeavors,” says Cox. “Part of the quality of life is to participate in volunteer efforts and give back. Our goal is to give residents a way to volunteer, if they enjoy doing that.”