A Century of Artistry
Though Laura Ashbrenner’s hands have weathered 104 autumns, they are light and sure as the faint lines of a barn and a mountain take shape on her sketch pad.
Art has been Laura’s constant companion throughout most of those 104 years.
“My cousins got me started drawing dresses for paper dolls,” she says, chatting on the patio at Columbia Basin Care, where she now lives.
Laura was born in a cabin in Battle Ground, Washington. She started drawing at age 12. By age 14, she was painting with oils, thanks to a birthday present from her family.
After graduating from Battle Ground High School, Laura took art classes at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington.
“They didn’t have what I wanted, so I went to art school in Portland,” she says.
Laura studied commercial art at the Oregon School of Fine Arts, then studied under fashion artist Carolyn Reis.
Laura made her living working for the Adolph L. Black Advertising Agency.
She drew fashion art as a freelance artist for Meier and Frank and several other companies.
Representative of the 1930s, Laura’s ink drawings feature elegant, long-limbed women in crisply tailored suits, revealing lingerie, flowing day dresses and glamorous evening gowns.
Graceful, long-limbed women in crisp suits and elegant evening gowns are among Laura’s creations. She worked as a fashion illustrator for many large clothing stores in the 1930s.
Laura’s life and her career changed in 1937.
A few years earlier, she had met her future husband, Edgar, at a barn dance while both were on dates with other people. It was during the Great Depression, and Edgar had to find a job before he could support a family.
They couple married in 1937, and Laura moved away from her big-city career to tiny Wishram, Washington, where Edgar worked for the railroad as a machinist. They were married just shy of 76 years, until Edgar’s death in 2013 at age 105.
Laura continued to practice her art while she and Edgar raised their three children, Vernon, Janet and Marcene. She developed an interest in ceramics and learned from Bend artist Leona Wilde, who had moved to Wishram.
Laura and five other women bought a kiln, molds and paints, and enjoyed working on ceramics together.
With her background in drawing and painting, the others often asked Laura to paint the faces on their figurines. Soon she had her own ceramic class and taught for about 43 years while living in Wishram and The Dalles.
When Laura and Edgar moved to The Dalles in 1957, he built a two-bedroom home, as well as an artist’s workshop.
“A lot of ladies came to do ceramics with me,” Laura says.
She would drive into Portland every week to buy greenware, selling the unfinished pieces to her class members.
While her cherubic face and artistic nature might make some think she has a soft disposition, Laura was no-nonsense in her business dealings.
She is fond of telling the story of a client who refused to pay her bill. Eventually, the woman moved to Canada.
“We drove up to Canada and found her where she worked,” Laura recalls with a laugh. “She paid up!”
As she ran the ceramics shop, she also continued to paint. Sitting in front of her as she talks is a landscape of Mount St. Helens that she painted just days before.
A painting of Mount St. Helens erupting, painted earlier this year, is planned for a gift.
“It’s a Christmas present for my son,” she says.
Throughout the years, Laura’s paintings have been featured in many venues. She and Edgar used to set up a sales display at Lloyd Center in Portland. Her works were also a regular feature at The Dalles Art Center. They continue to be displayed at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center’s gift shop.
“She just got a check not very long ago from a sale,” says her daughter, Janet Meader.
While Janet says she did not inherit Laura’s artistic bent, her sister, Marcene, is an artist. Unlike her mother’s preference for landscapes, Marcene enjoys portraiture.
Barns are a favorite subject for Laura.
“My husband and I used to take trips across the country to look at old barns,” she says. “I like painting old barns better than houses.”
Their travels also included trips to Europe, Mexico, Hawaii, Canada and the Virgin Islands.
After reading that a wife should be involved in a husband’s interests, Laura joined Edgar on his fishing trips. She would paint while he fished. It was a system that Laura says served them well through the years.
Laura’s mind remains sharp, despite her advancing years. Her answer is ready when she is asked her secret to long life.
“Having something you love to do keeps you alive,” she says.
— By Kathy Ursprung
This story first appeared in the December 2018 issue of Ruralite magazine.
A Holiday Open House
The residents and staff of Columbia Basin Care are merry & bright and wrapping presents with care. Please join us for a relaxed afternoon of music, sweets & good cheer on Friday, December 14 from 2 to 4pm.
Please Join Us For A Meal of Thanks
Caregiver of the Year Awarded to
Columbia Basin Care Nursing Assistant
Veronica Quintero, Certified Nursing Assistant at Columbia Basin Care, has been named 2018 Caregiver of the Year by the Oregon Health Care Association.
The honor is awarded to an individual who demonstrates a commitment to quality care through their dedication to residents, staff, and the long term care profession. OHCA is the largest long-term care trade association in Oregon, representing 1,000 organizations and nearly all long term care providers in the state.
Columbia Basin Care, located in The Dalles, is the region’s only community-owned, not-for-profit facility for long-term care and short-stay rehabilitation. Founded in 1964, Columbia Basin Care employs 100 people and has served the community for over 50 years.
Humble and energetic, Quintero has worked at Columbia Basin Care for three years, and serves as a mentor to new aides, working side-by-side to share proper protocols and procedures, infused with empathy and warmth. “I just like to help,” says Quintero, with a smile and a shrug.
When she’s not caring for others as a full-time CNA, she is saving up her vacation time to work with her mother in the local cherry orchard. Since childhood, she has spent summers in the orchard, often toiling from dawn to dusk. “I like helping my mother. That time together is so special,” says Quintero.
Though young and early in her career, Quintero is a leader who carries a compassion beyond her years, says Aubree Olmstead, executive director of Columbia Basin Care. “Helping is such a natural reflex to Veronica that she doesn’t even realize compassion is part of her every action, both personally and professionally. Veronica is dedicated and caring, and so deserving of this honor.”
Why Not-For-Profit Matters
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead
Twenty years ago a small group of volunteers made a difference that has dramatically impacted The Dalles and neighboring communities. Three determined folks — John Byers, Linda Omeg and Mike Courtney — went to work transforming Columbia Basin Care into a rare and special thing: a not-for-profit facility providing award-winning medical care and comfort.
Today, Columbia Basin Care is the region’s only community-owned, not-for-profit, nursing facility for short-stay rehabilitation and long-term care.
Founded in 1964, Columbia Basin Care has operated as a not-for-profit business since 1997 — that’s over 20 years! With a team of 100 people, the company is one of the area’s largest employers.
Created by and for the community
Columbia Basin Care operates with a volunteer Board of Directors. The founding members: John Byers, Mike Courtney and Linda Omeg were later joined by Carla Chamberlain and John Hutchison — all of whom still serve on the board today. Aidan Health Services, a management company, provides oversight and support. While Wasco County owns the building and grounds, Columbia Basin Care is an independent company with local control and decision-making authority. As a non-profit, there are no owners or investors, and funds are dedicated to staff, equipment and facility upgrades, such as the recently renovated courtyard and park — all improvements that increase quality of life for residents.
Advocating for quality medical care in a comfortable setting, these board members have firsthand experience. John Byers rehabilitated at Columbia Basin after major surgeries and took part in the physical and occupational therapy services. Other board members have had family recover at the facility, too. “It’s been around so long that almost everyone has known someone — mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles — who has known Columbia Basin,” notes Byers.
“This is our community, our neighbors, and our families,” says Valerie Hiveley-Blatz, the geriatric nurse practitioner who serves as primary care provider for residents at Columbia Basin Care. “We get to know and care for every resident on an individual level. Every person here, from nurses to aides to the kitchen and housekeeping crew, wants what’s best for the residents.”
Reduced turnover, happy staff
In the U.S., nearly all nursing homes — 70 percent — are for-profit facilities, according to the Center for Disease Control. In Oregon that number is even higher: 80 percent of nursing homes operate as for-profit facilities, with just 17 percent operating as not-for-profits, and three percent are government-owned.
Most experts agree that a quality facility is based on staffing levels, and note that for-profit facilities — and particularly large corporate chains — may cut corners to save money and boost profits. Nurses working in nonprofit nursing homes are significantly more satisfied with their jobs, according to a study of 900 registered nurses working in 300 skilled nursing facilities. A similar study show certified nursing assistants are more satisfied and preferred working in non-profit facilities.
Aubree Olmstead, executive director of Columbia Basin Care, can see the difference. Under her helm, CBC has seen a dramatic reduction in employee turnover and an increase in job satisfaction among staff (measured through anonymous surveys).
Long-term care is an industry that typically sees high turnover — 60 to 80 percent is standard — and that affects both residents and staff. The answer, say many, can be found in non-profit care facilities, places that put people before profit.
“With our dedicated team, the care and concern for our residents is genuine,” notes Olmstead, “and that makes all the difference.”
Sharing Our Stories
“I’m not a writer,” cautions Patty Geiger.
Moments later, she shares a vivid poem that recalls making hot chocolate with her mother years ago.
Meet the Columbia Basin Writers, a group of senior citizens transformed into powerful poets and storytellers.
Comprised of residents of Columbia Basin Care, a care facility in The Dalles, the Columbia Basin Writers gather once a month to read, write and share. Through writing prompts and conversation, members mine their past for stories and poems. With the help of staff and volunteers, writers are guided through games and exercises to rev up the creative process.
For those who have difficulty with the physical act of writing, volunteers take dictation and offer kind nudges. For some, just a little encouragement stirs a rush of memory, and emotion too.
“When I write, it’s from here,” says Sandy Pishion, placing her hands across her heart.
Studies have shown older adult literary programs, such as reading poetry and writing memories, can have significant impact on residents’ mood, concentration and social interaction. Research has also demonstrated improvements in short and long-term memory and listening.
“Self expression is powerful, at any age,” says Drew Myron, Columbia Basin’s marketing director who leads the writing program. “While the focus is on writing, the real focus is on sharing our stories, and ourselves. There is great power in being seen and heard.”
While writing programs are frequent among youth, few programs are in place for senior citizens, and even fewer for those with dementia.
In April, in conjunction with National Poetry Month, Columbia Basin hosted a party for writers to read their words aloud. Against a backdrop of a sunny day, festive food, and music by local pianist Rule Beasley, the Columbia Basin Writers shared their work to a rapt audience.
“This has been the best hour I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Norm Vincent, a writer and natural storyteller, said of the party. “This really means a lot to me.”
Look Good, Feel Good
We’re looking and feeling good, thanks to Leanna McDowell, our on-site hairdresser.
Leanna offers cuts, curls, style & color for men and women — and serves residents, staff, and the community-at-large.
Her skill and enthusiasm is matched with warmth and kindness.
“I believe I’m here to help people find love and beauty in their reflection,” she says. “We put a lot of energy into protecting children but in our culture we don’t always put so much care and love into our elderly,”
Born in Portland, Leanna has lived all over the U.S. and now makes her home in Dufur. She is an instructor at Gorge Academy of Beauty in The Dalles and has a passion for color.
“I’m a hair artist, a colorist, a chemist,” she says. “I can turn the hair every color of the rainbow.”
Leanna is typically available Mondays and Tuesdays. To make an appointment, place your name on the reservation form located outside the Salon, located on the first floor, across from the Activity Room.
Leanna joined Columbia Basin last fall and has found a second home among new friends. “I’ve been so embraced by everyone here, the residents, and nurses, and all of the staff!” she says.
“I feel good when I pedal,” says Norm, as he works the stationary bicycle at Columbia Basin Care. “It reminds me of when I use to cycle. It gets the body and blood flowing, and helps my mind too.”
While our expert team of physical, occupational and speech therapists provide rehab care for short-term residents, Columbia Basin offers programs and activities to keep long-term residents active and healthy too.
The Restorative Exercise programs offer short supervised exercise sessions led by a licensed Restorative Aide. Exercises are tailored to individual needs, and take place in the second floor therapy room. The space is equipped with a variety of exercise equipment, including bicycles for strengthening and grab bars for balance exercises. Sessions typically run 15 minutes, two to three times per week.
Most everyone looks forward to their session, says Marlene Marick, the licensed Restorative Aide overseeing Columbia Basin’s exercise program. Approximately 25 residents take part.
“They get results,” Marlene says. “They feel better, with more strength, more mobility, and better balance.”
In addition, a variety of games and activities complement the structured exercise sessions. Bean bag toss, bocce ball, and whack-a-noodle (held in the Activity Room on the first floor) are excellent opportunities to stretch and strengthen muscles, and also improve balance and mobility — while having fun.
“I need to exercise,” says Carla. “I need to do this.”
She’s always happy to head to the therapy room for a session of restorative movement.
“This strengthens my legs and makes me feel like I’m doing something,” she says. “You gotta move it or lose it.”
Thank you for considering Columbia Basin Care. As the region’s only community-owned, nonprofit, skilled nursing facility, we have a team of professionals eager to help fulfill your needs for long-term care and short-term rehabilitation.
For Admission information & requests, please contact:
541.296.2156 ext 3213
Director of Nursing
541.296.2156 ext 3223
Let’s work together toward our shared goal: health, happiness & safety for all.
Columbia Basin Care Earns Top Rating!
Columbia Basin Care has earned a Five Star Rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a key branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Five-Star Quality Rating System is a tool to help consumers, their families, and caregivers easily compare nursing homes. The overall rating is determined by health inspections, nurse staffing, and quality of medical care, and provides a quality rating system — between 1 and 5 stars — for every nursing facility in the nation.
“We work hard to provide excellent care and a comfortable setting for our residents,” said Aubree Olmstead, Columbia Basin Care’s executive director. “This five-star rating reflects the dedication and skill of our team of health and medical professionals.”
In addition, Columbia Basin Care has earned the Pinnacle “Customer Experience Award,” achieving a “Best in Class” distinction in 2017 and 2018. The award is granted by Pinnacle Quality Insight, a national firm that interviews residents of Columbia Basin Care regarding their satisfaction levels.
In achieving theseawards Columbia Basin Care has demonstrated its ability to meet the rigorous demands of providing around-the-clock medical care in a comfortable, home-like setting. “We’ve served the community for over 50 years,” noted Olmstead, “and we work hard to consistently meet the needs of every resident.”
Laura celebrates 103!
HAPPY DAY: Laura celebrated her birthday with a party of friends and staff, including Aubree Olmstead, Columbia Basin Care’s executive director.
What’s the secret to a long life? Depends when you ask.
At 103, Laura Ashbrenner says it’s all about the love of friends and family. “I have good children, and good friends and family.”
Last year, at 102, she attributed her long life to beets. “My mother always made me eat vegetables,” she said, “lots of beets.”
Ashbrenner, an accomplished fashion illustrator and artist who has dedicated much of her life to capturing the beauty of the Columbia Gorge, turned 103 on October 3, 2017.
She was born in Battleground, Washington in 1914. After high school, she attended Oregon School of Fine Arts and built a career as an artist for advertising agencies. In the 1930s and 40s she worked as a fashion illustrator for top Portland retailers, including Meier & Frank department store. Her work frequently appeared in the Oregonian and The Oregon Journal newspapers.
Edgar (Ed) and Laura, along with their three children (Vern, Janet, and Marcie) moved to The Dalles in 1957. Stunned by the unique landscape, Laura turned her focus to capturing its beauty. Many of her landscape paintings are on display at Columbia Basin Care, and her artwork is often seen for sale at online auction and collector sites such as ebay.
She and Ed would often take drives through the country, where Laura would gather inspiration. “I loved all the old barns,” she says. “Some days, Ed would go fishing and I’d paint.”
Laura and Ed were married 75 years. Ed passed away in 2013 at the age of 106.
Known for her sweet nature and quiet talent, Laura is an inspiration to many. Even now, she’s still painting. Just days before her birthday, she has a sketch pad in hand at Columbia Basin Care, a long-term care facility in The Dalles, Oregon.
What’s the secret to happiness? “Well,” she says, “you just have to enjoy every day as it comes.”
Furry Friends Boost Health & Happiness
A stroke left Wilma without words but a friendly dog speaks the language of a wagging tale. The best medicine, it turns out, isn’t a pill or procedure, but Bomber, Belle, Snowball and other furry friends.
Thanks to partnerships with Home at Last Humane Society and Heart of Hospice, residents of Columbia Basin Care are enjoying weekly boosts of comfort, joy and good health — in the form of visiting cats and dogs.
The nonprofit care facility, located in The Dalles, is home to over 60 senior citizens, many with acute health challenges who respond to the love and attention of a friendly animal.
Increasingly, research shows happiness is a warm puppy, just as cartoonist Charles Schulz told us years ago. Studies show as little as 15 minutes of bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.
Using animals to offset emotional and physical problems and improve quality of life is especially helpful for seniors, who with the loss of mobility and independence commonly experience loneliness and depression.
Each week Rheva Wren, with Heart of Hospice, brings her dog, Joki the Goldendoodle, to Columbia Basin Care. The results are often profound.
“Sometimes it is a dramatic moment where someone just snuggles up to him and doesn’t want to let go,” she says. “Other times it’s a quieter moment where someone who never participates in activities reaches out to him.”
And often, she adds, it’s the caregivers who appreciate a snuggle.
The pet visits also stir happy memories. For 102-year-old Gordon, a visiting Corgi recently reminded him of his beloved childhood pet, a German Shepherd. “He was a good dog,” he recalls. “I loved him.”
Columbia Basin requires visiting pets be calm, friendly and obedient, with certification of immunizations.
And while seniors enjoy the licks and wags, they aren’t the only ones benefitting.
“We have a great time visiting with the residents,” says Geanna, a Home at Last volunteer who enjoys sharing the shelter animals. “It is so great seeing the smiles on their faces.”