PLH banquet celebrates silver linings of dementia Tuesday

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About 100 guests shared food and fellowship Tuesday night in Adel when the Perry Lutheran Homes Board of Directors hosted their third annual fundraising banquet in support of the 65-year-old elder-care nonprofit business. Photo courtesy PLH


ADEL, Iowa — The Perry Lutheran Homes Board of Directors hosted their third annual fundraising banquet Tuesday night at the Country Lane Lodge, with about 100 people sharing food and fellowship in support of the 65-year-old Perry elder-care business.

A social hour opened the evening’s pleasures, with a large billboard holding a prominent place in the hall, labeled “Every Three Minutes.” The board was covered with names, bringing forcefully to mind the fact that someone develops dementia every three minutes in the U.S.

Perry Lutheran Homes (PLH) Board Chairperson Curtis Carlson convened the dinner assembly, and the Rev. Mark Gerken offered a prayer before the meal. The Rev. Max Phillips, PLH CEO, afterward served as the program’s master of ceremonies.

The keynote address was delivered by Becky Orr Montgomery of Ankeny, the daughter of legendary Iowa State University men’s basketball coach Johnny Orr, who led the Cyclones from 1980 to 1994. Her talk was entitled, “Finding Silver Linings in Dementia.”

Orr Montgomery shared many stories, by turns humorous and heartbreaking, about her  mother, Romala “Romie” Lee Robinson Orr, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2001 and died in 2016. Orr Montgomery described how she and her three sisters — one of whom, Robin Orr, died in 2010 — accompanied their mother through her Alzheimer’s journey with patience and good humor.

Inspired by her care for her mother, Orr Montgomery founded Senior HomeFinder of Iowa, a free referral service that supports families as they navigate through the difficult and stressful process of determining the best senior community for their loved ones.

PLH Administrator and COO Melissa Gannon then led the crowd in an exercise simulating some of the physical and mental effects of dementia, including visual and tactile impairment and memory challenges. The results, both silly and sobering, harkened back to the every-three-minutes statistic.

Several special awards were also presented during the course of the evening. PLH CMA Inge Smothers was recognized for recently receiving the LeadingAge Iowa 2021 Caregiver of the Year Award, and Gannon was congratulated on receiving the LeadingAge Iowa 2021 Excellence in Leadership Award.

The third annual Serving Together our Elders in Perry (StepUP!) award, bestowed for outstanding service to area elders, was presented to Irwin Levorson of Adel who, following a stint in the U.S. Army, was for 30 years a postman in Adel, a longtime member of the Faith Lutheran Church and a fixture in the ranks of the Adel American Legion Post 464.

Wanda Levorson, the wife of Irwin, was a resident of the Perry Lutheran Homes, where she received “excellent care, and I just can’t say enough good things about the place,” said Irwin, who was an active and well known figure in the Adel community, often dressing in a clown suit to please the children.

Levorson recalled a lucid moment at the PLH when his wife grabbed his hands and with eyes wide said, “I know who you are, and I love you very, very much.” The StepUP! Award signifies the “critically important challenge to step up to honor the elder citizens in our community” and to become “increasingly more aware of and responsive to their needs,” Phillips said.

The audience watched a brief presentation and paid tribute to Levorson with a standing ovation.

The next presentation was of the third annual Exemplar Award, given in order “to honor an elder citizen who demonstrated to others a ‘life well lived’ through community impact,” according to Phillips. The winner exemplifies integrity, leadership, faithfulness to the community and commitment to family, he said.

The recipient of the third annual Exemplar Award was Juda Saemisch of Perry. Phillips introduced a brief video on the life of Saemisch, who has raised a family and built a successful Perry real estate business over 40 years in partnership with her son.

With the exemplary humility that characterizes Midwestern values, Saemisch accepted the Exemplar Award, saying her values have always been “hard work, determination and always doing what’s right.”

She said a verse from scripture, Romans 5:6, was important in her faith journey: “For while we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly,” and she commended the slogan, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

Her advice for the banqueters: “Always be honest and caring and loving, and believe in the Lord,” she said.

The room gave a standing ovation to Saemisch, who was accompanied at the event by her husband, Richard Saemisch, and her grandson, Gabe Saemisch, along with several family friends and business associates.

The Rev. Mark Gerken blessed the congregated banqueters in a solemn prayer to close the evening’s program.

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