Category Archives: Meet Merrill Gardens

Words From The Wise Video Series – Telling Our Resident’s Stories

When you look back at your life, what will have mattered most to you? What if we considered this possibility now?  We decided to ask the people who live at Merrill Gardens to share their wisdom with us and we are so pleased to introduce our Words from the Wise video series.  Through these interviews with residents, we celebrate their lifetime of experiences and the joy that’s possible at every stage of life.

Words from the Wise gives Merrill Gardens residents center stage as they share their insight with candor in our first video focusing on advice for young people.  These seniors speak from the heart as they share what really matters.

We’ve traveled to our communities for the past few months to bring this video series to life.  We asked lots of questions and it’s been truly enlightening.  Talking to people who who were born in the 1920’s and giving them an opportunity to reflect on their lives and share what they have learned is a privilege.  Its also been a whole lot of fun to set up our cameras, ask some questions and just see where it goes!

We hope these videos in some small way communicate the life stories and experiences of those who came before us. As they share their dearest thoughts and reflect on their lives, we can learn so much in return.  Its such an honor for us to share these stories.

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My advice is… pick the way you are going to go and don’t be deterred.  If its what you really want, stick up for it.. and do it.”  Leta Mertes, born in 1923






“I have always been a great advocate of paying it forward. I think if we help our fellow human beings and require that they help someone down the line, that would go a long way in curing the ills that we have… if people would just take a better attitude towards each other.”  Tom Tompkins, born in 1926


You meet people from all walks of life, and you learn a lot about yourself by meeting other people. They come from all over the world, the country and everything like that… each one has a story to tell.”  Joan and Vince Cangiano, born in 1926, married for 56 years                                                                                 For many of us, growing older is a scary thought and our society doesn’t always do a good job of honoring those who have come before us.  We want our video series to shine a new light on the joy that comes from reflecting back on a life well lived.  We think you will love getting to know the people we profile as much as we did!


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Getting to Know…Tony Victor

Our residents are some of the most important reasons Merrill Gardens is such a special place to live. So, we’d like to highlight a few of them in the upcoming months.

First up is Tony Victor who lives at our community in Huntsville, Alabama. Tony is a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Corps beginning in 1942 as a radio operator and gunner. He was shot down, taken captive, spent a month in a military hospital under German supervision and was eventually sent to Nuremburg’s prisoner of war camp. We could tell the whole story on his behalf, but we think you’d rather hear it from him.

Tony Victor - Merrill Gardens

After finishing my Bachelors degree at La Verne College, La Verne, California, I was drafted into the service of the US Air Corps on September 13, 1942. I trained in Chicago for radio operator and gunner. I was accepted for cadet training and pilot training. I was reassigned to 833 Bomb Squadron where I was radio operator and gunner. On my 19th mission we were shot down by a German Bf109.

I parachuted from my B-17 plane near Strasburg, Germany, and landed on my lower back in a pine tree. On January 21, 1945, a snowy, bitterly cold day, I was taken captive. I was four weeks in a military hospital under German supervision due to the back injury. Afterward, I was imprisoned in a “sweat box” in Frankfort on the Main. Some time elapsed before I was moved to Nuremburg’s prisoner of war camp.

We were taken there by rail cars. While traveling at night the US Black Widow bombers and radar fighters, thinking the personnel and cargo rail cars were German, bombed us during our trip. Nightly, in Nuremburg, there were bombing flights overhead by English Sterling and Lancaster planes which were bombing the Germans in this area. German anti-aircraft fire was returned. As Patton advanced into Germany, the Germans moved us deeper into Germany to Moosburg. After about three weeks there, Patton’s army released all the prisoners of war at Moosburg.

I was flown to Camp Lucky Strike in La Havre, France for hospital care and food to bolster my malnutrition. I was discharged from the service at Fort George Wright in Washington State. I returned to California and began a new life.

I married Marllys R. Aschenbrenner in 1947 and had 3 children, Margery, Ann and Robert. After 30+ years, I retired from a career as a Psychiatric Social Worker in 1978. I settled into retirement with my wife, Marllys, and we were married 50 years before her death in 1998. At age 98, October 29, 2014 I have 5 grandchildren, and 2 great grand children.

We join Tony’s family in wishing him a very happy 98th birthday! We also want to thank Tony for his service to our country.

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Teaching the Next Generation

With more than 25 communities in multiple states, you would think Merrill Gardens President and Chief Operating Officer Bill Pettit would already have his hands full. But Bill is not a man who likes to have even a few of his fingers idle for any length of time.

Under Bill’s supervision, Merrill Gardens is leading the new Senior Living Management Program at Washington State University’s Everett Campus. Bill will coordinate on-site training experiences for the WSU students in the Merrill Gardens Mountlake Terrace Community.

It’s a fantastic story, and the Everett Herald was kind enough to feature it last week. Thanks to Jim Davis for covering this, and thanks to everyone participating in the curriculum. Take a read through The Herald’s coverage of this truly one of a kind program.

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The Buckets Continue! Watch the Next Merrill Gardens Communities Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has taken the country by ice storm, with the latest estimate that $15.6 MILLION has been raised to fight ALS.

The Merrill Gardens corporate office took up the challenge last week, when President Tana Gall convinced her team to take the plunge. Within 24 hours, Merrill Gardens Tacoma stepped up and enjoyed their very own ice bath.

This week, the challenge lives on at Merrill Gardens, with Creekside, Northgate Plaza and University all participating in the frosty fundraiser!


Northgate Plaza:


Which one is your favorite so far?

Next up this week: Bankers Hill, Santa Maria and Albertville. Wee-hoo!

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Merrill Gardens Tacoma Accepts the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge!

Well THAT didn’t take long.

Yesterday, we watched Merrill Gardens President Tana Gall and her team get doused with buckets of ice water, as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Tana then passed along the challenge to Merrill Gardens Tacoma, University and Renton.

Well, less than 24 hours later, Krista Solomon and her team from Merrill Gardens Tacoma stared that challenge straight in the eye.

You’re up Creekside!

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Merrill Gardens Takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

You’ve probably seen it in your Facebook feed. Maybe you’ve even had the guts to do it.

The “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” is a public awareness campaign to raise money to combat the incurable, degenerative disease ALS. The challenge is simple — your friend nominates you to participate via social media. Then you either donate $100 to the ALS Association, the nation’s largest ALS charity, or you take a video of yourself (or someone else) dumping a bucket of ice cold water on your head. Your reward – you get to nominate someone else for the cold shower.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Merrill Gardens President Tana Gall gathered the team. Do they look like they are having fun or what?

Is the fundraiser working nationally? Well last year the ALS Association raised $22,000 during this 2 week period. This year – $1.35 million! That’s a lot of buckets. In fact, the Merrill Gardens corporate team not only took the challenge but made a nice donation as well!

“We’ve seen an explosion in donations in the past week,” said Erin Fleming the group’s associate director. “89 percent of those funds will go directly to research and educational programs — including ground-breaking stem cell and gene silencing research that could provide the first therapy for the disease. “

The challenge has reached everyone, with NFL teams taking a break from training camp to get doused – many of them challenged by the NFL commissioner himself. Here‘s the head coach of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks taking part.

Nice work Team Merrill Gardens. Now it’s up to the teams at Merrill Gardens University, Tacoma and Renton to take the bucket and run with it. Good luck!

If you’ve accepted the challenge yourself, visit our Facebook Page and drop us a link to your video.

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Follow What’s Happenning at Merrill Gardens

From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, Merrill Gardens residents are busy inside, outside and everywhere in between.

Keep up to date on our favorite photos from events and activities from all our communities by following our Facebook Page. And if you have your own photos from a Merrill Gardens event, post them and we’ll include them in our album.



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Love is in the Air at Merrill Gardens

It’s a traditional love story straight from the 1950’s, being played out today in 2014.

Lillian and Ron - 2013 Senior PromOur stars tonight are Lillian and Ron, residents of Merrill Gardens in the lovely town of Santa Maria, California. Our young lovers may now need to live in different buildings in the community. But physical proximity cannot keep them apart.

Rain, shine, snow or fog, the two lovebirds have every Friday dedicated for a date with each other. If you sit in the lobby of the Garden House (our living area for residents who need supportive care) you’ll see Ron romantically picking up Lillian from her apartment. They’ll walk side by side to the dining room, so that she can play the piano for a dedicated audience of one. Some days Ron will share her talents with the rest of the community, and they’ll head to the Baby Grand Piano in the lobby. There, she’ll delight the room with musical ability only overshadowed by the smile on her face.

Lillian and Ron - Wedding PhotoAfter that, the couple will often do what they’ve been doing for decades – celebrating with each other at Happy Hour and toasting the day. Their affection is contagious, and brightens up the room.

The love and loyalty Ron and Lillian share are inspirational to residents and team members alike. We salute Lillian and Ron for making Merrill Gardens a special place to live.

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We Celebrate the Most Inspiring Senior of the Year, Luella Shell

A wise man once said, “You’re never too old to win.”  Well the axiom has been proven by Merrill Gardens resident and 99 year old super-senior, Luella Shell.

Luella Shell - Most Inspiring Senior - Merrill GardensLuella didn’t just win a local spelling bee. She was named by as the Most Inspiring Senior, in the Best Senior Living Awards 2014. In this national competition, Luella won with a whopping 31% more votes than the second place contender.

A resident at Merrill Gardens of Santa Maria, CA, Luella is an inspiration to everyone she meets.  With a constant smile on her face, she’s likely to take you on your next adventure with her by clicking her feet together and saying “Let’s Go”.

The General Manager of the Santa Maria community, Audie Sherberg, says this about the dynamo, “Luella is an ongoing inspiration to our residents and team members alike.  She is the true example of celebrating life to its fullest!”

In addition to her love for dancing, she is always creating opportunities for Merrill Gardens residents to get more involved with the community. Two special events started by Luella are the Funky Fashion Show and Talent Show.

“The overwhelming success of both events impacted the entire community,” recounts Sherberg. The emotions, laughter and joy were wonderful to see.  Clearly it was an experience that touched the emotions and hearts of everyone involved!”

When she’s not dancing or coming up with new activity ideas, you may find her in the kitchen making cookies. Is there anything this woman can’t do?

We congratulate Luella for being recognized for her inspiring ways and we are so happy that she chose to make Merrill Gardens her home!

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Meet Merrill Gardens – Hiker in Chief Corneil Vacirca

We’re rounding out Fit and Fun Month at Merrill Gardens with a profile of one of our Fittest and Most Fun team members, Corneil Vacirca. We sat down and had a conversation about hiking and the outdoors.

1) Hi Corneil. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Merrill Gardens?
I am the Director of Sales. My mission is to help educate, equip and encourage our community sales teams so that they can help more people understand how great life can be when they choose to move into one of our communities. I help develop programs so our team members can focus on building relationships with our future residents and their families, and walk them through what they need to know when making this very important life decision.

Corneil Hikiing2) A little bird told us you are an outdoor and hiking enthusiast. What drew you to this activity?
Sometimes keeping all of the balls in the air can get a little overwhelming. For me, spending time in the outdoors is the ultimate escape! No phones, no computers, no deadlines. Just me and the beauty of God’s creation and a great physical challenge! My husband is a fisheries biologist for the US Forest Service who lives and breathes the outdoors. He took me for my first real hikes. (If he ever tells you the destination is “just over that ridge” prepare to hike for at least 3 more hours!). I fell for him and the outdoors in one fell swoop! It’s been a 20+ year love affair with both that’s still going strong!

3) Do you have a favorite place in Seattle to hike?
I actually make my home in Wenatchee and spend most of the work week in Seattle. So the only “hike” I’ve done in Seattle is in Ravenna Park, which is lovely. But in Wenatchee, I love hiking the Wenatchee Foothills Trail. The Sage Hills trailhead is less than a mile from my front door, so it is great for a quick trail run or an easy hike. The wildflowers are amazing in the springtime!

4) If someone wanted to get started with some easy hiking, where would you suggest they start?
Start in your own neighborhood! Especially here in Seattle, there are great walking trails all around. If you’d like to get away from the city and more deeply into nature, the great thing about Seattle is that you can drive 30-45 minutes in any direction and be able to find a trailhead. The Washington Trails Association has a great website and if you click on the “Find a Hike” button, your possibilities are endless!

Corneil Camping5) What’s the toughest hike, mountain, marathon, etc.. that you tackled and completed?
I’ve been an avid day-hiker for many years, but last year I graduated to multi-night backpacking trips. Our best (and longest) trip of the summer was a three day/night trip in Central Washington (Leavenworth/Chelan area) from Phelps Creek Basin, through Spider Meadows and over Spider Gap, through Lyman Lakes, Heart Lake and to Holden Village. It was a total of about 21 miles.

6) Ever seen a scary animal on the trail? I saw a bear camping on the Rogue River years ago and almost paddled home. (I was camping, not the bear.)
Fortunately I haven’t run into any scary animals on a trail. But we did see pretty fresh bear track on the trail near Heart Lake last summer. We did have a camping trip many years ago when a bear thrashed around our campsite looking for food. He destroyed a foam cooler and broke into a regular cooler. We learned that lesson the hard way – now we tie up all of the food in a tree!

7) What’s the right thing to do if I see a bear on the Burke-Gilman trail?
Don’t run! Hopefully you are prepared and have bear spray, just in case.

8) Besides bear spray, is there a piece of hiking equipment or clothing that we all should own?
Proper fitting hiking shoes can make or break your hike! (If you read Wild by Cheryl Strayed you get a very vivid picture of not having the proper footwear – ouch!). If the feet aren’t happy – the hiker isn’t happy!

9) What are some other outdoor activities you enjoy?
I enjoy running (especially when I’m able to visit our communities in Southern California and run along the beach!), swimming, snorkeling and biking. I tried paddle boarding last summer and that was awesome! Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee had a free outdoor yoga class last summer and that was great – though don’t know if that technically qualifies! 🙂

10) In a city where the weather is so unpredictable, how do you get outdoors during some of those “less sunny” months?
I grew up in the high desert of New Mexico, so I wasn’t sure how I’d adjust to Seattle’s weather, but I have to say it is really not that bad (don’t worry, I won’t tell the rest of the world!). Give it an hour or two and it usually changes up! And it is hard to beat a sunny day in Seattle – there is no better city to enjoy on a gorgeous sunny day!

Corneil Mountain 11) What’s your favorite part of being outdoors?
I love the sounds and the colors. Hearing the wind rustle through the trees, the water running over the rocks of a stream, the squirrels squeals warning their fellow creatures that we’re coming and the sound of my boots hitting the dirt, just makes me happy. When the blue of the sky meets the green of the trees and the grey of the mountains spotted with white snow all reflected in the crystal clear mirror of a glacial lake… it is my paradise and instant “ohm” for me!

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