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Attitude of gratitude: Arlene Joens has reasons to be thankful after overcoming adversity

Arlene Joens (in back) raises her hand during an armchair exercise class led by Ecumen Meadows Life Enrichment Manager Cheryl Dinsmore (far right). (Tim Middagh / The Globe)1 / 2
Arlene Joens relaxes in the comfort of her Ecumen Meadows apartment in Worthington. (Ryan McGaughey / The Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — Thanksgiving Day is Thursday, but for Arlene Joens, every day offers plentiful reasons to be thankful.

Arlene, a resident of Ecumen Meadows in Worthington, has overcome multiple hardships over the last several years. Still, she’s quick with a smile, and retains an ability to both laugh and look at her life with a positive outlook.

Arlene, 89, grew up in Wilmont — “I lived around Wilmont all my life, at one side or another,” she said — and farmed for many years with her husband, Alan, northeast of town. They milked cows and grew corn and beans until eventually moving to town (the acreage was sold, but farmland is still rented).

When Alan died, Arlene remained in town on her town. Eventually, though, her health took a turn for the worse and necessitated a change.

“I had a stroke,” Arlene recalled Monday afternoon in her apartment. “That’s why I moved here — I couldn’t walk very good and always had a cane or a walker. My son was always afraid I was going to fall, so they (her family) thought it would be better if I moved here.”

Before Arlene’s stroke, she’d spent 17 years working at what became Sanford Worthington Medical Center.

“We were on the farm and the kids were all gone, so I got kind of restless,” she stated. “I like to cook, so I got a job baking first at the hospital and later became a cook.”

She had just retired, she said, when she had her setback. Arlene, though, chose to not have that setback set her back permanently. She has continued to work over time to regain as much physical ability as possible while also realizing things could’ve been far worse.

“My speech was good (after the stroke) — they kicked me out of the speech class,” she said with a laugh. “I was lucky that way, but it affected most of my left side — it still does, and I still cannot walk as good as I’d like to. But I get around good, and my son had to fix my walker today because one of the wheels had a bearing on it. They said there aren’t too many women that run a bearing off one of their wheels.”

Arlene said she takes her walker nearly everywhere — including exercise time.

“They have five days of exercise here, and I take in most of them,” she said. “There’s armchair exercise and there’s also ... weights, yoga balls and more.

“(The instructor), she’s a good gal. She teases us a lot; I would say she just loves to have fun. We even get tests, like how much strength we have gained from the last time, and they measure our balance and try to give us the strength to get out of our chairs easier. We do lunges and kick our legs.

“When she (instructor) first came here, I don’t think she realized how old we were. We’re probably from 80 to 100 — but I think that’s why she likes to have fun with us.”

The exercise classes last between 30 and 45 minutes. Since they start at 11 a.m., participants get to be rewarded with lunch soon afterward.

Arlene works hard both because she needs to, and out of habit. She has also tried to keep her strength up, she said, as a result of a fall she had that resulted in a broken hip.

“I was in church and was leaning against the door,” she remembered. “I thought it was open and it wasn’t, of course, and down I went.

“I was living here at the time and went to South Shore (Care Center) to recover from a broken hip … for about a month, then came back here. The hip’s good. … You can have little strokes and don’t even know, but when you break your hip, you know it.”

Therapy at South Shore Care Center was hard and important work.

“Oh my — you wouldn’t believe it!” she exclaimed, responding to a question about her rehabilitation. “We did a lot of therapy before breakfast and after breakfast ... and I soon got well enough to come back. It took me a little while to get back on my feet. Now all I have to do is keep from falling, and that’s scary.”

Arlene, though, isn’t necessarily living in fear.

“I don’t go out much anymore, but I’m really lucky to be here (Meadows) because they do have a lot going for us,” she said. “One of the best things I did was move in here because you don’t have to worry about blowing snow or mowing grass. ...  I’ve been here six years, and it’s the best thing we ever did.”

Joens is the mother of three children. Son Joel lives in Wilmont and had been her neighbor prior to Arlene’s move to Worthington. She also has a daughter, Candace, who’s in Wilmont, and another daughter, Sandra, who resides in Florida.

“We have our days when we get together,” said Arlene, who also six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. “I’m going to Brookings for Thanksgiving with my son. My granddaughter lives there, and she’s having us for dinner.

“(Family) comes whenever they can — some live quite far away ... but when they come we like to go to the Pizza Ranch to eat, being that I don't cook no more. … Sandra does call me a lot, and she spends summers in Ball Club — it’s on an Indian reservation near Grand Rapids — and we see each more then.”

Between family visits there’s plenty of time for exercise, Ecumen Meadows resident outings, pinochle and bingo, among other activities. She reiterates how thankful she is to be where she is, “because I don’t know what I’d do then.”

She also is just a few months away from a milestone birthday, as she’ll turn 90 next March. Has she heard of any big plans for the momentous occasion?

“I’ve heard a few little rumours, but not much,” she said. “It’s unbelievable — there’s no way I can believe that I’m going to be 90. I don’t know how I got to be 89 so fast.

“It’s been a very good long life, and I’m very thankful.”

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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