A person doesn’t make it past the age of 65 without showing some resiliency. True to form, a group of Kenai senior citizens contacted Monday are taking the proper precautions to avoid contact with the new coronavirus, but they are doing their best to remain positive as changes sweep through their lives.
“Most of us in our lives have been through quite a few stages,” said Vivian Terry, 80, of the residents of Vintage Pointe. “Maybe not all of us are dealing with this positively, but for the most part, we’re dealing with it positively.”
Terry has lived in Alaska for about 15 years and has resided at Vintage Pointe, a 40-unit housing complex for independent seniors on the bluff in Kenai, for almost eight years.
“The people here are all over 60,” Terry said. “We’re pretty much limited to our apartments. We can go out to get the mail or to run errands, but we’re not to go out of the building to shop unless we absolutely need something.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those 65 and older are at a higher risk for severe illness arising from the new coronavirus.
Terry said this risk has dramatically changed the way daily life looks in Vintage Pointe, just as life has changed dramatically for Americans of all ages.
“A friend of mine a little bit older on this floor and I were talking, and in our lifetimes we hadn’t seen anything like it since World War II,” Terry said.
Terry said there are obvious differences between the coronavirus outbreak and World War II, but the similarity is the far-reaching effect.
“In a sense, the whole country is involved in this one way or the other and the whole country was involved in World War II, with the shortages from men going off to war and women working in factories,” Terry said.
Terry said Vintage Pointe is built to have a lot of congregation areas, but those areas are not being used. No card games, no bingo, no regular gathering for meals at the Kenai Senior Center, no monthly potluck in the kitchen. Residents of the three floors used to regularly mix, but not anymore.
“We recognize living as close as we do to one another that it’s in our best interest for all of us to stay away from each other and limit activities as much as possible,” Terry said. “That’s what we’re trying to do to keep each other healthy.”
Chuck Thornton, 87, and his wife, Janice, 88, have lived at Vintage Pointe for four years and have lived on the central Kenai Peninsula since 1996. The couple lives in a one-bedroom apartment, so Chuck said he can at least have social interaction with his wife. Chuck said he respects the way those who are living at Vintage Pointe alone are giving up all close social interaction for the good of everybody in the building.
Thornton agrees with Terry’s comparison to World War II.
“I can’t recall anything else so close to so many people as to what we’re facing now,” he said.
Thornton also agreed that Vintage Pointe is much different now. He said that a big group used to greet the mailman every day.
“Now there’s very seldom one or possibly two there, and if there are two, they’re 6 feet apart,” Thornton said. “There’s very strong obedience to the directives.”
Chuck and Janice also would go the Kenai Senior Center for daily meals, but now those meals are brought to them by the Kenai Senior Center staff.
“I think the leadership here at the senior center is phenomenal,” Thornton said. “They’ve been working themselves to the bone to ensure seniors in general, and we over here at Vintage Pointe, are well-cared for. They even arranged to bring us groceries if we make up a list.”
Kathy Romain is the director of the Kenai Senior Center, which has been closed since March 16 and remains closed due to health mandates from the governor forbidding public gathering for meals.
Romain said that until Monday, she and 10 others were working to provide services to seniors. Tomorrow, the staff goes to 70 percent of what it was and will mainly be focused on getting seniors meals. She said requests to the senior center for meals have gone up 40 percent in the last two weeks.
Terry Turner, 70, has been at Vintage Pointe for almost six years. She works at a tax office and still does her own cooking, so she is leaving the building more than most. As a nurse who retired from Veterans Affairs in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2006, Turner has experience in precautions against the spread of disease.
“It’s just the precautions we learned so many years ago as nurses,” she said. “You do it every day, but with something like this you’re so much more aware of it and very cautious.”
The threat of the new coronavirus also has changed things for seniors living in their homes.
Velda Geller, 84, moved to Kenai in 1967 and has remained ever since. She lives in a home by herself, but has plenty of family in the area and used to go to the Kenai Senior Center at least three times a week before it closed.
She lives right next to her granddaughter, Dawn Merritt, and husband, Scott, and great-grandchildren Benjamin, 13; Jacob, 10; Samuel, 8; Genevieve, 6; and Zachary, 4. Geller’s decision to quarantine herself means she can’t even visit closely with her neighbors. Geller’s groceries are left outside for her to come out and pick up.
“The only time I’ve really talked to them is when I see them out in the yard,” Geller said of the Merritts. “I holler at them.”
Geller serves as president of Kenai Senior Connection, the fundraising arm of the Kenai Senior Center. Senior Connection was to hold its March for Meals on March 20, but that has been postponed. Still, Geller counts her blessings.
“It hasn’t been so bad,” she said. “I’m just thankful that I’m well and I have a home to be in.”
Geller has kept herself busy by sorting through stuff accumulated by being in one place for 50 years, talking to friends and family on the phone, and by joining a group of women at the senior center sewing personal protective masks.
“I’m hoping and praying this will just go away,” she said. “I’m very proud of the state of Alaska, the borough and the city for trying to see ahead and not getting us in a mess like New York City. I’m very thankful we live in a small town and not in a city where the people are so close next door you can shake hands.”
Kit and Howard Hill, both 74, also live in their own home, also are Kenai Senior Center regulars, but also are mostly staying in due to the threat of the new coronavirus.
“My husband has health concerns, so it’s really imperative that he not get this,” said Kit, who came to the central peninsula with Howard in 2003. “We’re self-isolated. I’m the one that goes to the grocery store, but we have a lot of stores of food, not because of this, but because it’s the smart thing to do.”
Kit teaches sewing, quilting and other crafts at the senior center, so she’s part of the group sewing personal protective masks. She’s also filling time by walking her dog and learning to use Zoom in order to view church and do her job with WW, which was formerly Weight Watchers.
The Hills are more concerned with the health care professionals on the frontline fighting the new coronavirus than they are about any interruptions to their own lives. Both call those health care workers heroes and Howard suggested there should be some kind of national recognition for them.
“People are really putting their lives on the line and my heart really goes out to them and I thank them,” Kit said. “It’s just like the military and war. They have the medical knowledge. They know the risks more than we do. Yet they still go to work.”