Karen McIlwain, 67, is not your typical Cedar Crest resident. She has shared a two-bedroom apartment with her father, George Wilson, since May 2014 – and the duo has become lively, enthusiastic stewards of the Cedar Crest lifestyle.
George, 90, first moved to the community from Winthrop, Iowa, in November 2013. Shingles had attacked his brain and the right side of his face, making him feel very foggy and weak. Cedar Crest’s nurses were worried that he wouldn’t even be able to walk to the dining room. Karen had extensive experience as a caregiver; her two previous husbands had died of tragic illnesses. Karen’s sister, Sandy, and her family had lived in Janesville for more than two decades – so it seemed like an ideal situation to have Karen join them all from Rolla, Missouri.
Karen has helped her father sustain life in the independent living setting. “Life at Cedar Crest has been especially great for my dad,” she notes. “He has adjusted wonderfully, and many people, including our minister, have commented on how much better he seems. Dad is more active, and the beauty of the grounds helps. There are many wonderful places to walk, and the sunsets are breathtaking! We knew, from our family’s research, that Cedar Crest was rated one of the top 10 in the nation for senior housing. I’m so glad that my dad and I are here.”
Karen and George enjoy gardening at Cedar Crest. They maintain two different plots, and Karen has introduced a new technique called lasagna gardening. Also known as “sheet composting,” lasagna gardening is great for the environment, because you use yard and kitchen waste and essentially compost it in place to make a new garden. Anything you’d put in a compost pile, you can put into a lasagna garden. Some of the layers of organic materials that Karen uses include grass clippings, grounds donated by a local coffee shop, and even droppings from a Cedar Crest resident’s pet rabbits!
Karen also coordinates weekly games of Mahjong with six residents who play regularly. Mahjong is a complex Chinese tile game that’s similar to rummy and is very popular in retirement communities in the south. A game of skill, strategy, calculation, and a degree of chance, Mahjong is great for helping keep the mind sharp.
In addition to being active at Cedar Crest, Karen is also physically active in her Janesville community. Karen has taught a variety of yoga styles for nearly 20 years. She now offers one class each week at the Janesville Athletic Club and two classes each week at First Lutheran Church. Karen is particularly adamant about teaching proper movement and the foundations of yoga, and she hopes to bring chair yoga to Cedar Crest at some point in the future for all residents to enjoy!