Creative Living

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Sharon Wixon says Glencroft Center for Modern Aging is Glendale’s best-kept secret.

“When I came here, there wasn’t much going on (around the city) except for games,” says Sharon, 77. “I wasn’t ready to sit and play a lot of games. I wanted stimulation and education.”

She got it. The 50-year-old Glencroft recently adopted the Center for Modern Aging, which stresses a full-body approach including a healthy diet, good exercise, continued learning, strong purpose, social vibrancy and deep spirituality. The faith-based center’s approach is called ZOE-Life, a Biblical term for “life,” and its goal is to enable full and rewarding lives for their residents.

“It’s interesting to see the number of people who participate in our programs,” she says.

The nonprofit Center for Modern Aging offers comprehensive programming to help residents build wellness in each aspect of life. Residents are able to interact through group activity in the performance center, indulge in ZOE-Life healthy dining options and take part in lectures that address the Boomer demographic. University-style lectures cover topics like diet, depression and infection control. Reservations are suggested, but walk-ins are admitted, if space is available.

Steve Heller, vice president, director, Center for Modern Aging, says incoming residents are skewing younger, although the “old regime” is still excited about the programs.

“We have folks who are 99, 94 and they are so pumped to workout and learn,” Heller says.

He came to Glencroft Center for Modern Aging from Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, where he was the longtime fitness director. Heller was impressed by Glencroft Center for Modern Aging’s facilities.

“We have this massive physical therapy-style operation where it’s like a spa,” he says. “We have physical therapy and a juice bar. It’s elaborate.

“Next door is a state-of-the-art university area where we had 43 lectures last summer, or last semester. We’re big partners with Midwestern University, ASU and Grand Canyon University. A lot of their instructors come over and teach. Whatever lecture I put out there, we sell out. The residents are just so engaged on learning.”

Heller says residents’ days are interesting. They can go from working out, to swimming, to eating and to a lecture.

“We really try to turn this into a campus college,” Heller says. “Our big spin is, even if you’re 90, going back to college is reasonable. We love the idea of learning again—on their terms.

“I think even, relative to other facilities out there, we’re feeding them well in their home. There are activities like redefining this purpose and direction.”

Sharon and her 83-year-old husband, Ken, had lived in Glendale for 40 years and wanted to stay in the area. Ken says they were looking for a casita or cottage, instead of an apartment building. They changed their mind when they saw Glencroft Center for Modern Aging.

“I love the socialization,” says Ken, a former insurance agent. “There’s a lot of entertainment.”

A former nurse, Sharon keeps busy by volunteering at the gift shop and running Glendale Center for Modern Aging’s newspaper.

“I’m looking forward to the lectures starting up again in the fall,” she adds. “They talked about meditation, which was really interesting.”

Sharon wishes to see younger folks moving in.

“The grounds are beautiful,” she says. “I think they would enjoy them. There’s a lot of grass to walk your dog. There are a lot of outside activities. It’s nice.”

Fellow Glencroft resident, former 45-year nurse Barbara Lathrup, moved from Florida to Arizona to be near her sister. She’s 72 and calls herself one of the younger people at the facility, which helps her stay as active as she can.

“Steve’s program is excellent,” she says. “He works on it all the time. I exercise three times a week. I lost a lot of weight and have a lot of energy. I feel five years younger, at least.”

Heller says it’s fun to see the seniors so engaged in the courses.

“This has taken the shape of a full-fledged college atmosphere and there are even 90-year-olds running around with backpacks, going to class, learning, running to eat and swimming,” he says.

“These 78- and 90-year-olds were not being treated like athletes.”

A ‘Modern’ success

Heller calls his plans a success.

“Our sales team loves it because the phones are going bananas because we’ve been doing so many good things. We’ve been doing these ‘stay and plays’ where for free (prospective residents) can come stay one night and just immerse themselves in the culture.”

Prospective clients — and Heller himself — are amazed by the center.

“This feels right,” he says. “The acreage feels nice because residents can move around.

“The freedom to maneuver 40 acres and then have all this programming in place for an added value of life in here is amazing. It’s all free once you live here, too.”

He admits, he received a bit of flack when he left Kierland to come to Glencroft, where his niche was professional athletes and golfers.

“They were like, ‘How do you leave that to go to these seniors,’” says Heller, who adds the athletes visit him and the residents for encouragement. “I said, ‘You guys on the Cardinals are just trying to catch a few more football. These guys are trying to walk again.’ This is emotional stuff.”