The toll of the coronavirus pandemic has fallen hardest on the city’s elderly population. Clusters of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities account for nearly 1 in 5 known cases in Minneapolis and 85% of the city’s deaths. Assisted living facilities and nursing homes have been locked down by mayoral order, with residents asked to stay in their rooms much of the time and in-person visits from families prohibited. How do seniors feel about this new reality? We visited four residents of the Jones-Harrison senior home on Cedar Lake and asked them to share their stories.
George Day, 93, a long-term care resident, likes to tell and hear stories.
Day was born in Superior, Nebraska — a tiny town known for its assortment of well-preserved Victorian houses. His grandfather arrived in Superior in 1879, shortly after the town was founded. “He was an itinerant traveling dentist trained in Philadelphia,” Day says. “He found the early settlers’ oral hygiene not very attractive, so he went into business and was very successful in that.”
Day became a literature professor and taught at the University of Northern Iowa for three decades. A fan of Willa Cather and Herman Melville, he’s been listening to the “Moby-Dick” audiobook during quarantine. “I’ve read and taught it many times, and now I will hear it for the first time,” he says.
Day’s daughter, Georgianna, lives a half block from Jones-Harrison and has been bringing him ginger ale and Coca-Cola during the pandemic. “She can never come in to see me anymore,” he says. “Now we get together a little bit on Zoom, which I used to scoff at and now I love.”
On the pandemic: “This is the most devastating atmosphere of my lifetime. I lived through the Dust Bowl, the Depression, World War II and Vietnam — but this affects everyone. No one is immune from it. The virus is no respecter of persons and everybody’s affected — physically, mentally, economically. It makes me realize how spoiled we’ve been.”
What he’s holding: “These are some cards from a former student [Robbie Steinbach], who’s an artist. She keeps in touch with me, and she claims she created these just for me. I’m not sure what this photograph is of, but I keep it at my desk. There are some nice words to me on the back.”
Dolly Hickman, 89, a long-term care resident, says she’s lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years.
“It’s home no matter what,” she says. “It’s so convenient to everything. I lived by Lake & Hennepin, so I had all that shopping and fun things to do.”
In her colorful life, she’s worked for City Pages and as a volunteer tour guide at the governor’s mansion. She once served as an extra on a movie in Mexico, and she’s still active in the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis. She’s been married twice — “I only had two, though you’d think I had a million,” she says — but enjoys the single life. “I kind of like to be on my own,” she says. “I think it is easier.”
She’s wearing a tiara she was awarded at a Jones-Harrison party before the lockdown. “I got the crown because you can absolutely see that I’d be the queen anyway,” she says. “They do a lot of nice things here.”
On the pandemic: “This will not last forever, we hope. I feel that some things are out of our hands; we have to do what they think is best for us. I don’t think it turned out the way [the politicians] hoped it would.”
What she’s holding: “I brought a little glass lady who looks just exactly like my little girl, Pamela, when she was this age, with the same hairdo and everything else. It was a gift from someone in my family.”
Anne Klein, 86, an assisted living tenant, fondly remembers her youth growing up in Kenwood by Lake of
“I was only a couple of blocks from the lake,” she says. “We’d use the lake by walking around it, by skating on it in the winter and by swimming in it. So it was a real benefit!”
Her father was a figure skater and she taught Klein and her siblings the sport. “I’m the only one who stuck with it,” she says, and later she served on the board of the U.S. Figure Skating Association as vice president for the Midwest region.
Klein also dabbled in theater and moved west with her husband before returning to Minnesota. “I had three children,” she says. “The boys both went out to Utah to ski and they never came home, but my daughter lives here.”
On the pandemic: “I think the reason we survive so well here is because of the people who work here. I chose this place because I felt the people here really wanted to help, and I still feel that way. Someday we will get out. I am lucky because I am able to walk and so many people can’t. These long hallways are wonderful.”
What she’s holding: “This was given to me in 2009 as a special recognition for those of us who had served on various skating committees for so many years. It was a thank you from the U.S. Figure Skating Association. It’s very nice and I love it.”
Margaret Lowe, 91, an assisted living tenant, was born in Minneapolis but spent more than six decades of her life in Alaska.
She worked as a classroom special education teacher in Anchorage, and in the early 1960s she pushed for legislation mandating that students with mental disabilities be allowed in public schools. Lowe went on to play a formative role in building the state’s special needs programming and services, eventually serving as commissioner of Alaska’s Health and Social Services department.
Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff, who previously led the Anchorage school district, has called Lowe “the godmother of special education in Alaska.”
On the pandemic: “We don’t see any people live. That’s certainly been a very big loss, and I feel it very strongly. I had a birthday about a week ago and I had a Zoom party with my children all over the United States. It was a nice substitute, but it certainly wasn’t like being in person with people.”
What she’s holding: “About three years ago I was enrolled in an art class here at Jones-Harrison with Teresa Cox, and this is the collage I made. I was actually wearing jeans and a sweatshirt when this picture was taken. I had the opportunity to dress myself however I wanted and make up the type of creative scenery. It’s all done by cutting paper and glueing. Part of the background is cut out of pages from National Geographic. We had freedom, but we had to use a lot of color and shapes. I think it turned out to have a good sense of humor about it.”