A Lifetime of Love

Our communities are fortunate to be home for many couples who are living their married years to the fullest. It is truly an honor to experience these years with the Eigstis and Hieberts. This article was recently published in the Hesston Record. We are proud of our residents and inspired by their commitment to one another!


As they continue their love story, it is not uncommon to see Orlin and Ina Eigsti strolling hand in hand around the Schowalter Villa community and the beautiful Dyck Arboretum, which is adjacent to their home. Ray and Elsie Hiebert can often be found chatting with friends over a meal and a warm cup of coffee in the Harvest Dining Room.

Eigstis (left) and Hieberts discussing experiences from their combined 133 years of marriage

The two Schowalter Villa couples collectively represent 133 years of successful marriage. There are no better teachers for a few lessons on love.

Ray and Elsie Hiebert met while Elsie was in nursing school. She was training at a hospital and Ray was her patient.

“He asked me if I would go out with him and I said yes,” said Elsie. “But I didn’t want to get married until I passed my state boards.”

Ray and Elsie Hiebert, 1952

Around Valentine’s Day 64 years ago, Elsie received a strand of pearls from Ray. The necklace adorned her neck on March 14, 1952 as they were married at Emmaus Mennonite Church with several hundred guests in attendance. Elsie admitted she was a little nervous; she wanted everything to go smoothly on that special day.

“I made my own wedding dress. That is all I did before the wedding, but my mother took care of the food part,” said Elsie. “We had a nice day, but some family from Goessel couldn’t come because it was icy.”

Orlin and Ina Eigsti were married in their future farm house on Feb. 22, 1948 at the age of 21 and 19. The couple met when they were in high school. At first, Orlin, who was a senior at the time, was interested in Ina’s older sister. Then, he saw Ina at an assembly.

Orlin and Ina Eigsti, 1948

“She came in and I saw her and I said to myself, ‘Oh, I believe she is something,’” Orlin said with a smile. “Then her church had some revival meetings so I went up there, but not necessarily to hear the preacher. I finally got up enough nerve to ask her if she would like to go home and have a treat or something and she said yes.”

The Eigstis and Hieberts both lived on farms at some point in the marriages. On the farm, they worked and cleaned together. They said that is where the solid foundations of their marriages were built.

“We did a lot together that first year. She helped me outside on the farm so I said I would help her with her dishes inside. One time some people drove in. She told me, ‘Put your towel down quick,’” said Orlin. “Back then, it was considered lazy if a woman had to have help from her husband. So I put that towel down and went in the other room so they wouldn’t see I was helping with the supper dishes.”

Ina and Orlin Eigsti, 2017

Before tying the knot, the Eigstis said it is important for couples to discuss future plans such as church, children and family boundaries.

For those who have already married, the Hieberts advise traveling together.

“The highlight of our life was traveling. We went to Mexico, Canada, Europe and China,” said Ray. “Definitely travel with your spouse after retirement.”

Both couples say the secret to making a marriage last is being respectful of one another, learning to apologize and talking out issues when they arise.

“Learn to say you’re sorry, give a kiss and move on,” said Ina.

Kenya Trip Highlights from the Neufelds

At Bluestem Communities, we are privileged to have residents who are actively engaged and living life to the very fullest. Loretta and Gaylen Neufeld’s trip to Africa demonstrates their desire to continue to grow their minds and breadth of experience in their retirement years. I hope you enjoy their photos and stories as much as I did. They are an inspiration and a true gift to our community.

The following article was written by Gaylen Neufeld.

My wife, Loretta, myself, and our daughter, Brenda from Tucson, left the 24th of December for a trip to Kenya. There, we visited our son and family (son, Doug; wife, Cristina, sons Alex (9th grade) and Evan (7th grade)) who are in Nairobi working with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Doug works with the evaluation of sand dams in the rural areas and Cristina with the accounting practices in the schools supported by MCC. Doug is on leave from Eastern Mennonite University where he is professor of biology and Cristina is on leave from Parkview Credit Union in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

The boys attend Rosslyn Academy, an international school in Nairobi. The family is serving a two year commitment and will be returning this summer. They are an outdoors family and have extensive camping and exploration experience of Kenya’s national parks. We enjoyed spending time with them, after one and half years, and to see how our grandsons have grown and matured. We also were able to meet with some of their co-workers and friends. We had accommodations in Nairobi at the beautiful Amani Gardens and Inn, formerly the Mennonite Guesthouse.

Kenya is a land of contrasts with many modern buildings but also extreme poverty. It also has a program of conservation for wildlife, many species of which are declining in numbers throughout Africa due to poaching, loss of habitat, and the pressures of an increasing population.

The highlight was a visit to two national parks, really game parks. These were Amboselli National Park which lies in the “shadow” of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and a game park which lies just north of Amboselli, West Tsavo National Park. Doug and his family took us on our own private safari, using a four-wheel drive Land Cruiser. In both parks, we were able to observe elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, zebra, lions, and numerous other animals in their natural habitat. These parks also contain an impressive variety of colorful birds. A total of five days were spent observing the wildlife with early morning and late afternoon forays. Both game parks had guesthouses which we used for accommodations.

In addition to the safari trip, we also visited an elephant orphanage outside Nairobi, the Karen Blixen House (the subject of the Out Of Africa movie), the Nairobi United Nations headquarters, and a tour of a tea plantation. A visit to an observation point allowed us to view the beautiful Rift Valley which runs north and south for a couple hundred miles and is about 20 miles wide. In addition to being a fertile agricultural area, it also holds the sites where many of the fossils were found that describe the birth of human civilization.

Another side trip took us to a coastal resort north of Mombasa and near Malindi. Here we visited a national museum, made a trip to the Vasco de Gama monument, toured Swahili ruins which date to the 1400s, and could experience the beauty of the Indian Ocean. A memorable experience was to eat lunch in a Swahili restaurant in Malindi.

After two weeks, we left Nairobi on the 8th of January and returned to Hesston and Tucson, exhausted but exhilarated by our experiences.

Peace, Love, & Joy Replace Fear

Last holiday season I shared that I had heard people expressing fear, concern, and doubt instead of hope, peace, joy, and love. I challenged you to confidently face that fear with the knowledge that God loves us and meets our needs. Since then, the Hesston community was tragically shaken by violence. We also experienced an election year that became ugly—on both sides of the aisle. I hope and pray we do not see a political year like this ever again.

However, I am more convinced now than ever that a small child came into the world to bring an abundance of HOPE, PEACE, and JOY. We have witnessed it abundantly in this past year, as during the most difficult of times, people have been at their very best.

This was dramatically observed in the community response to the Excel tragedy. The love and support shown by the larger community was incredible. It still makes me well up inside as I reflect on the countless memories of true HOPE in the resilience of the human spirit, PEACE-making as people chose to respond to one another in non-violence and daily acts of peace, and JOY found in the most unexpected places as new relationships were formed and lives were celebrated. I could not be more proud of the spirit shown in the community over the last ten months. During this holiday season we continue to hold those affected by the tragedy in our thoughts and prayers.

Hope, Peace, Joy

HOPE, PEACE, and JOY have also manifested themselves at Bluestem Communities. We have experienced an outpouring of support for Bluestem PACE, Kidron Bethel Village and Schowalter Villa. The financial support received in 2016 has been unprecedented. In great HOPE, so many people have stretched themselves significantly to enhance the future for many. My heart has been touched by the benevolence shown as $4.6 million has been given for the Private Home for Everyone campaign in the last year. We anticipate that private homes for every Schowalter Villa resident will allow those who live in our life plan community to live with JOY each day as they live life to the fullest in their own space.

In August, this amazing love was demonstrated on a personal level when our family needed to go down to MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, TX. A flood of emails, cards, gifts, home cooked meals, and phone calls confirmed that Julie, Halle, Jamie and I are the most blessed people in the world. We have deep inner HOPE, PEACE, and JOY because you expressed His love to us during that time.

A month ago my daughter, Jamie, drew a picture demonstrating a “Celebration of Peace” for a contest hosted by the Hesston Lions Club. During this holiday season, I thought the picture was especially fitting as we celebrate the Prince of Peace. I have realized that Christ uses us to show His love to one another—that love is the only thing that gives us true peace.

Despite our world experiencing unrest, we can all still experience an abundance of HOPE, PEACE, and JOY because of the love of Jesus. My earnest prayer is for each of you to experience His love in new and unforeseen ways this Christmas season and in the year to follow!

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  —Philippians 4:7

—James Krehbiel, CEO Bluestem Communities

Tips for Staying Mobile in Your 60s and Beyond

As we age it is not uncommon for mobility to decline. Mobility refers to a person’s ability to move himself or herself independently and safely from one place to another. Preserving mobility is one key factor in maintaining independence in old age. Physical Therapist Chris Deck, our Director of Rehab at Bluestem PACE in McPherson, recommends the following tips from the American Physical Therapy Association to maintain your mobility, and ultimately your independence.

Chris Deck, Director of Rehab at Bluestem PACE

Chris Deck, Director of Rehab at Bluestem PACE

Take the pressure off. Regular physical activity is more crucial than ever, but if aches and pains are making walking or jogging a chore, move some of your exercise to a pool, where you can work just as hard with less pounding.

Get balanced. One-third of adults over age 65 are likely to fall each year, and those falls will lead to more than 700,000 hospitalizations. Unfortunately, too many people realize they are prone to falling when they experience their first fall. Be proactive.

Preserve your mental health with physical activity. People who are physically active—even later in life—are less likely to develop memory problems or Alzheimer’s disease.


Maintain your intensity. Studies show that people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s and older can make improvements in strength and physical function, which is associated with improved health and quality of life. But that can’t happen unless your physical activity is intense enough to produce gains in muscle strength. Don’t do this alone. A physical therapist can prescribe an exercise dosage adequate enough to generate results.

Strive for 60 minutes. Not the TV show! Set a goal to be physically active 60 minutes a day. You don’t have to do it all once. Ten-minute increments count, too.

Team up. If you’re retired, what better way to stay close to longtime colleagues than to make time to walk together? Whatever the activity, doing things as a team will keep you accountable and provide social interaction.

Bluestem PACE now open!

Bluestem PACE sign

In July, Bluestem Communities received some long-awaited news.  The contract for PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) was finally signed by the state government and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)!

This was truly riveting news for our organization and the surrounding community! This signed agreement signified the official opening of Bluestem PACE and the ability to enroll participants. The program has now begun providing the outstanding medical care that many seniors need to be able to remain safely in their homes.

Since the program just began operation, I would like to take some time to answer a few questions that I am commonly asked about Bluestem PACE.

Why did Bluestem Communities choose to open Bluestem PACE?

The PACE program is directly in line with the Bluestem Communities mission and ministry of caring for the elderly.  We are a progressive organization, so we welcomed another avenue to deliver high-quality services on the cutting edge of health care to seniors.

Bluestem PACE center

Why is Bluestem PACE located in McPherson?

Our center is located in McPherson because it is centrally located to the counties we serve.  Bluestem PACE serves seniors from 10 counties which include McPherson, Marion, Harvey, Reno, Lincoln, Ottawa, Dickinson, Saline, Ellsworth and Rice. Our brand new Bluestem PACE busses will provide seniors with transportation to and from appointments. The interstate access, central location, and friendly community of McPherson is definitely ideal for the center.

Bluestem PACE bus

What is the difference between Bluestem PACE and home health?

The biggest difference between PACE and home health is that Bluestem PACE provides all-inclusive care. This means we offer all services that are medically necessary. These services include:  primary care, specialty care, physical, occupational, and speech therapy in conjunction with in home use of cutting edge medical monitoring technology.  In addition, all of these services are highly coordinated on the participants behalf including transportation services.

Want to know more? Call 844-LUV-PACE (844-588-7223), or visit bluestempace.org.

Bluestem PACE team

Socializing keeps your mind sharp

Bluestem Communities had a BLAST celebrating the Fourth of July on our campuses. Schowalter Villa had a fireworks show on July 1 and Kidron hosted their annual Fireworks Extravaganza on July 4. Around 2,000 people attended the Fireworks Extravaganza—wow!

Fireworks Extravaganza

At these events, I witnessed the gathering and socializing of friends and family of all ages. Everyone was excited and energized by one another. These types of social events happen at Bluestem Communities all the time, just on a smaller scale. We have BBQs, Christmas parties, game nights, Bible studies, car shows, concerts, exercise classes, craft groups, learning courses, and much more!

We all know that being physically active is an important part of staying healthy, but did you know that social contact can be just as effective at improving your mood and quality of life? One recent study from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found that highly social seniors had a 70 percent lower rate of cognitive decline than their less social peers.

Schowalter Fireworks

Here are the “Four Fs” that I have found to be critical to being socially active—

1) Faith– Coming together and talking about meaningful topics such as faith and spiritually can help us feel connected not only to others, but to something greater than ourselves. Church and small groups are perfect avenues for these connections.

2) Fire– What are you passionate about? Keep that fire lit. Rallying around what you are passionate about will naturally lead you into community with those who have similar passions.

3) Focus– Make a list of goals you want to complete in the months or years to come. Unite with your friends, family and community to complete those goals. Stay focused and don’t waiver!

4) Fun– An easy way to stay socially active is to have fun! Get involved with a club, sport, hobby or group that you think would be fun. Attending events, concerts and fundraisers can also be great way to enjoy yourself while socializing with others.

The health benefits of staying social will echo far into your future. For that reason, I encourage you to keep your friend, family and community connections strong. At Bluestem Communities, we encourage those connections by hosting regular community events. Comment below with some ways you stay socially active!

Impacting Generations

The optimistic buzz around Bluestem Communities is unavoidable. The launch of the A Private Home for Everyone Campaign at the end of March was a success. Now, we are so anxious to see these dreams come to life! We have been planning for this new addition for several years and it was tough to keep quiet about it because it will be such a wonderful thing for Schowalter Villa and the Hesston community. Now that the plans have been made public, it is time to start sharing the exciting news with everyone we know!

Concept #5 - 11.23.15

This $6.1 million project is the largest project in the 55-year history of Schowalter Villa. This campaign will make the building of a two-story assisted living facility possible—giving every resident at Schowalter Villa a private room. This positive impact will not just stay on the Schowalter Villa campus, but spill over to touch multiple generations. Children, college students and community members of Hesston will feel this impact. Here is how….

Schowalter Villa Residents

This expansion will greatly enhance the living environment of current and future Schowalter Villa residents. Health care residents will enjoy private and personalized rooms. Assisted Living residents will benefit from renovated and new living spaces, and independent living residents will be able to utilize the many amenities that will be available in the new building.


Child Development Center Children

This expansion will provide two new classrooms for the Hesston Intergenerational Child Development Center. These two classrooms will replace the existing classrooms that are currently located in a duplex. This will also allow interaction between children and Schowalter Villa residents to continue to exist and expand.

Child Care

Hesston Community Members

Hesston community members will benefit from beautiful landscaping and new walking paths surrounding the building, a new café, and an above ground tornado shelter doubling as a theatre-style room.


Hesston College Students

Through this expansion, the partnership between Hesston College and Schowalter Villa will be enhanced as nursing students will conduct their clinical studies in renovated areas and students will have expanded opportunities to volunteer.


We hope to start construction of this new facility next spring and see it completed in the spring of 2018. To find out more about the project or make a donation, follow this link: http://www.schowalter-villa.org/aprivatehomeforeveryone/ or call 620-327-3476.

Food, Laughter and Thankfulness

On February 29 Bluestem Communities had our annual Employee Appreciation Dinner. The “Party on the Prairie” involved food, laughter and thankfulness as we reflected on the past year. Several parts of the evening were very touching, including when we honored employees who have been with us for many years.

2016 Employee Appreciation Dinner

One of our core values here at Bluestem Communities is “commitment to mission.” This value was evidently displayed that evening as we honored employees who have served 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 years with us. The commitment and dedication of these staff members speaks volumes to me. I am privileged to work alongside these devoted individuals who go the extra mile each day to serve residents, staff and the organization as a whole.

There was another humbling moment that evening. As I sat watching the 2015 highlights video (below), I was in awe of all that God has made possible for our organization this year. From the building of PACE and the Peace Garden at Kidron, to the chapel renovation at Schowalter—we have so much to be thankful for.

As I reflect on those two powerful moments from that evening, I realize they have an undeniable connection. There is no way these great strides over the past year could have happened without the wonderful staff members of Bluestem Communities who display teamwork, servanthood and innovation. God has blessed our organization with His people, and in them he has placed His heart to serve, love and create. Our employees are the only way the day-to-day tasks at Bluestem are made possible and for that I am so grateful.

No Reason to Fear

This Christmas season I have heard more messages expressing fear, concern and doubt instead of hope, peace and joy.

I have heard people’s concerns regarding the tremendous unrest around the world, including the terrible acts of violence that have occurred internationally, and close to home.  Many are troubled by America’s sluggish economy and heated political environment, while the surrounding media drums up fear in us regarding the impending future. People have also expressed to me that they are worried about where the Body of Christ and other faiths are headed.

Personally, I cannot watch TV without commercials attempting to stir up concerns in me. Commercials flash across the screen asking me who I want to sue, or describing debilitating medical issues that I may experience in the future. It has caused me to keep the remote control close by, so I can mute the TV or turn it off completely.

Despite the negative messages we hear and see daily, this Christmas season I can say without reservation that we have nothing to fear!  In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt stated it so well while giving his First Inaugural Address. He said, “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

During this Christmas season, we must remember a small child came into the world to bring a flood and abundance of HOPE, PEACE and JOY.  Jesus’ love for each of us is the reason for the season.  Earlier today, I heard a Christian song that resonated with me. The lyrics said, Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place. I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.”

Many of you are aware that Julie, my wife, has been fighting cancer. When we heard that it came back we immediately had tremendous fears and concerns rise up in us, but by resting in Him and allowing Him to hold us in His arms, our fears and concerns have melted away. We have a deep inner HOPE, PEACE and JOY. He has used your prayers and thoughtful acts of kindness to show us His love during this time.

I have realized that Christ uses us to show His love to one another—that love eliminates fear and concern.  Despite our world experiencing great unrest, we can all experience an abundance of HOPE, PEACE and JOY because of the love of Jesus.  My ongoing prayer is for each of you to experience this love during the Christmas season!

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” – 1 John 4:18a


Four and a half years ago, Linda Cranmer had her left leg amputated a few inches below the knee. She was 62 and living in Scranton, about 20 miles south of Topeka.

“It was blood clots,” she says. “I was supposed to have a tumor taken out of my head, but I ended up losing my leg. I got to a point where things were so bad I just stayed in my room. I didn’t want to live anymore.”

Cranmer says her life improved a year and a half later when she got into the PACE program with Midland Care.

“PACE has been a miracle for me,” she says. “It’s made me want to live again. The people here don’t let you give up.”

Bluestem Communities is proud to announce that it has been awarded a new, 20-county PACE territory by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. PACE, the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, offers community-based services and care as an alternative to traditional Medicare and Medicaid services.

The overall goal of PACE is helping people remain safely in their own homes for their entire lives. When talking with people in the greater community, I hear again and again about their desire to stay home as long as possible. I believe that PACE is an exciting program designed to fulfill just such a need for aging in place.

Bluestem Communities plans to begin offering services later this year, in a three-stage development that begins with the establishment of a PACE center in McPherson. Participants must be 55 or older, Medicaid-qualified and nursing home-eligible. Private-pay participants also may qualify for PACE.