Category Archives: Resident Profiles

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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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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