Strength Through Support

What is it like to move a spouse into memory care? How do you manage the aches and pains that come with aging?

These are topics that are discussed thoughtfully and candidly in the weekly Men’s Group at Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge.

“Men who have gone through some of these scenarios that often come with aging may find it hard to talk about,” group leader Ron Mach says. “But in our group, there’s likely someone who’s been through a similar experience who understands.”

Ron and his wife, Carol, have called Prairie Ridge home more than 20 years. Ron spent his career as a Lutheran pastor, with his last full-time position working for the ELCA bishop in the synod office.

“When we moved, our goal was to get rid of everything that prevented us from carefree travel, and our house was number one,” Ron says.

Fast forward 20 years, and Ron has become an integral part of the culture at Prairie Ridge. He started the weekly Men’s Group about 10 years ago, on the recommendation of a fellow resident who had started a Women’s Group. In addition to the Men’s Group, Ron coordinates a resident golf league throughout the warmer months and preaches and fills in for pastors if needed.

The Men’s Group met monthly at first, but eventually became a weekly fixture. Around 20 men typically attend each meeting, with a few filling in for Ron as facilitator on occasion.

When the group started, they established a rule that they would not get into religion or politics. While the men now have discussions that cover both topics, they uphold a strict policy that there will never be an intent to persuade or convert. Instead, the group serves as a forum in which all opinions are welcome.

“My responsibility is to continue to draw men in through whatever I’m reading or whatever is going on in the news,” Ron says.

He provides the opportunity for a monthly check-in at meetings by asking the group if there’s anything they’re celebrating or struggling with. Men may choose to share or not, but it’s a safe place for them to open up, and he instructs the group that what’s said there, stays there.

My responsibility is to continue to draw men in through whatever I'm reading or whatever is going on in the news.

Although he chooses weekly topics largely from a list he created working with the prior leader of the Women’s Group, he is keenly responsive to what the group needs or wants to talk about.

“If I hear that somebody is having an issue, I’ll start there, and then kind of feel my way through the meeting,” Ron says.

The growth and active membership of the Men’s Group is rewarding for Ron. “I love hearing the men's stories and seeing the connection between them. It's incredible the kinds of backgrounds and gifts these men have brought to our community.”

In one recent session, Ron asked the men to bring two photos: one of their wedding day, and one other picture. The topics for the day included describing your wedding day, sharing why you’re still married (if applicable), and explaining what your kids learned from your marriage. The topics generated so much conversation that they didn’t get to the third question, but Ron assures them they’ll return to it.

Prairie Ridge is also home to a Women’s Group. Led by Jeanie Sieling for the past couple of years, the women meet monthly.

Jeanie and her husband, Jerry, have called Prairie Ridge home for three years, having moved there from Fitchburg.

Jeanie spent her career in politics, serving on the Fitchburg town board, which then became the city council, and served two terms as Fitchburg Mayor before becoming Director of Planning and Development prior to her retirement. In addition to her professional career, she has always been an active volunteer, leading small groups at church and serving as a volunteer coordinator with the library.

“I enjoy leading groups, so when I was asked to head the Women’s Group here, I agreed to it,” Jeanie says.

Like the Men’s Group, the women’s discussions center on a predetermined topic. The group usually consists of 12 to 15 women.

These groups are what helps build the framework of community and really help people get to know each other better

Jeanie looks for input from the women in the group as to what they would like to discuss, learn, or hear more about. She often asks speakers from the Oakwood staff to come and meet with the group.

Popular topics in the Women’s Group have included sharing memories of their fathers in honor of Father’s Day, discussing Christmas or holiday memories and traditions, and having Savanna Anderson, Prairie Ridge Exercise and Fitness Specialist, teach the group about calming practices such as yoga and meditation.

In addition to Women’s Group, Jeanie stays busy on campus as an alternate for her floor rep, and she has organized a women’s coffee group for her floor.

“I can’t express how much we love it here," Jeanie shares. “It’s just wonderful. It’s that sense of fellowship and community.”

Stemming from her career and life experiences, building community is very important to Jeanie. The Women’s Group offers a chance for all the women who attend to share opinions and memories, which Jeanie believes is important.

“These groups are what helps build the framework of community and really help people get to know each other better.”

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