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Partners in Living Well: The farm, family and community

Arna Rennan

I thought I was in touch with my roots, but to my surprise, I learned that my name should really be Utvik, not Rennan. Great grandfather passed away just before my grandfather was born. The widow and her son left behind were taken in by the large and prosperous Rennan farm. This was how things were done in the days before any welfare agencies existed. 

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The district of Trondelag, in Norway, is known for its very long, white farm houses. In them, the generation that runs the farm and is raising a family lives on the one side, while the aging parents live separate, but together on the other side. The grandchildren are always welcome. The son and daughter-in-law stop by to chop wood, deliver groceries or simply catch up on what’s new over a cup of coffee. It’s a small community made up of family members.

Perhaps it is only one generation ago that families stayed in relative proximity to one another and tended to each other’s needs. How mutually beneficial! What keeps seniors more young and vibrant than being with their grand children, and what of the teenage grandchild that gets an earful of unedited wisdom and humor from their grandparent?

These days, however, not all of our communities offer employment opportunities or the type of challenges our graduates are looking for – so they move away. This is an enormous “land of opportunity” with many choices. But once their working lives are behind them, people return to the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior to retire. This trend is born out in statistics that show that there is a larger population of seniors here than in other parts of Minnesota.

I was somewhat alarmed to learn that by the year 2050, the number of seniors will be double what it is now. That’s the natural result of health care advances and our ability to live longer. Policies are being made to adjust to the greater needs, but the primary goal is to keep people in their homes much longer. This leads to the question: How will the needs of seniors be met?

Today, we have community agencies that assist with supporting people’s choice to stay in their homes. These are non-profits with some government support. Generally speaking, we are not a culture that looks to government to provide us with solutions. Those funds are limited. Already today, and more so in the future, the answer to meeting the needs in our communities will be through volunteers.

I am so encouraged to learn that the Lake Superior School District now requires students to do some community service. I see it as seeds of hope for the future.

Volunteering isn’t just about “being nice.” It is soon to become an absolute necessity and I think there is a forgotten beauty in contributing to the well-being of our neighbors. The benefits are many, including providing volunteers –students and others -- with a deeper sense of purpose and value in our community. I hope we can make the shift to viewing our community as our own family.

Okay folks, here is a concrete opportunity to exercise your “care muscles.” The elevator at Harbor Point will be shut down for repairs as of Mar. 3. There are five flights of stairs and seven people are in need of help with laundry. There are also opportunities to deliver Meals on Wheels, commodities, and groceries. If you have the leg muscles and the heart, please contact Michelle Miller at R.S.V.P at 218-834-2280, ext. 108. Pay it forward. It takes a village.

Arna Rennan is the activity director for Socially Active Seniors. She writes the Partners in Living Well Column with Kirsten Cruikshank.