Tag Archives: OAM

The Culpeper’s bridge club provides social connections, mental fitness for residents

05/23/16

Editor’s note: In celebration of Older Americans Month, LifeSpire of Virginia is featuring one or two residents a week from its four continuing care retirement communities who most embody the characteristics of a “trailblazer” in wellness, community and hospitality.

By Ann Lovell

CULPEPER, Virginia—Jean Isaacson, 72, was disappointed there wasn’t a bridge club at The Culpeper, the LifeSpire of Virginia continuing care retirement community where she’s lived since 2013. An accountant who had started her own business in 1980, Isaacson learned to play bridge as a teen and taught the game when she lived in Chicago from 1972-1975.

Then she met Lila Bunt, 89, another avid bridge player who has lived at The Culpeper since 2011.

“Lila and I were walking from ‘the big house’ (the building that houses the dining room and community center) to our cottages,” Isaacson recalls. “I told her how I wished we had a bridge club. ‘Let’s start one!’ Lila said. So we did.”

Bunt laughs. “Two heads plus a need equals a bridge club,” she says.

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Jean Isaacson (left) and Lila Bunt (right) discuss how bridge club began at The Culpeper, the LifeSpire of Virginia continuing care retirement community where they live.

The two women started the club with one table in 2013. Then, they asked Pat Ballard, The Culpeper’s Director of Resident Services, to add it to the The Culpeper’s activities’ calendar each month. Soon Bunt and Isaacson were offering weekly classes to those interested in learning the game. Eight players joined a cruise the group took in early 2015, and today the group has grown to 14.

“We need two more players to have four tables,” Isaacson says.

Isaacson and Bunt are two of LifeSpire’s featured trailblazers during Older Americans Month in May. The U.S. Administration for Community Living sets aside May each year to recognize the contributions of older Americans. The 2016 theme is “Blaze a Trail.” Ballard recommended the two women for their initiative in starting the bridge club.

“LifeSpire trailblazers model wellness, community, and hospitality,” agrees Jonathan Cook, LifeSpire President and CEO. “By starting the bridge club, Mrs. Isaacson and Mrs. Bunt showed the kind of community spirit we appreciate from all our residents.”

‘MENTAL GYMNASTICS’

Bridge evolved from the British card game whist and dates back to the 1700s. In 1925 railroad heir Harold Stirling Vanderbilt created the modern version of contract bridge, the version The Culpeper club plays. According to David Owen of The New Yorker, Vanderbilt “had been annoyed by what he felt were deficiencies in the previous version, auction bridge.” Contract bridge caught on quickly, especially as the Great Depression set in, and by the 1940s, 44 percent of American families played the game.

Today, an estimated 25 million Americans enjoy bridge, including such notables as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who often play as a team. The majority of bridge players are over age 50, says Jon Saraceno in an article for AARP.

“Bridge’s intricacies make it particularly appealing for those who want to sharpen acuity with mental gymnastics,” Saraceno writes. “A study in 2000 at the University of California Berkeley, found strong evidence that an area in the brain used in playing bridge stimulates the immune system. Researchers suggest that is because players must use memory, visualization and sequencing.”

Additional research by Dr. Claudia Kawas of the University of California Irvine, seems to indicate bridge, with its added social element, may have a slight edge over other mental games in staving off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“We think, for example, that it’s very important to use your brain, to keep challenging your mind, but all mental activities may not be equal,” Kawas says. “We’re seeing some evidence that a social component may be crucial.”

A REWARDING PURSUIT

Isaacson and Bunt carve out lots of time each week for bridge. The two women teach bridge on Wednesdays, developing lessons based on the book, “The Fun Way to Advanced Bridge” by Harry Lampert.

“Many of those who come last played in college,” Bunt says. “It’s a great way to welcome new residents to the community.”

The group plays together at The Culpeper on Fridays. Isaacson plays with a group at her home on Saturdays, and Bunt and her husband, John, play Tuesday evenings at the local country club with people from the greater Culpeper community.

When they aren’t playing bridge, the two women are also involved in other activities in their community. Bunt and her husband regularly work in the food pantry at their local church, St. Stephens Episcopal in downtown Culpeper. Isaacson reads to an older friend, plays rummy with older residents, and enjoys caring for her granddaughter one day a week.

Still, bridge has provided a strong bond between the two women and allowed them to forge friendships with other residents as well.

“It’s very rewarding,” Bunt says. “It keeps us busy and provides a lot of good laughs.”


Ann Lovell is Corporate Director of Communications for LifeSpire of Virginia, formerly Virginia Baptist Homes. For more information, email alovell@lifespireliving.org or call (804) 521-9192.

LifeSpire of Virginia operates four continuing care retirement communities in Virginia: The Chesapeake in Newport News, The Culpeper in Culpeper, The Glebe in Daleville and Lakewood in Richmond.

Paula Levine inspires generations of dancers

05/16/16

Editor’s note: In celebration of Older Americans Month, LifeSpire of Virginia is featuring one resident a week from its four continuing care retirement communities who most embodies the characteristics of a “trailblazer” in wellness, community and hospitality.

By Ann Lovell

DALEVILLE, Virginia—Imagine rural Roanoke, Virginia, in 1955. The cost of a gallon of gas was 23 cents. The minimum hourly wage was $1.00, and the average cost of a new home was just over $10,000. It was a prosperous and peaceful time for many Americans, blissfully unaware that the turbulent 60s were just a few years away. For Paula Levine, 1955 marks the year she arrived at Hollins College — now Hollins University, an all-women’s liberal arts school outside Roanoke — to teach modern dance.

“Paula Levine pioneered the modern dance program at Hollins,” says Jeffrey Bullock, director and associate professor of M.F.A. Dance. “She brought modern dance to the Roanoke Valley.”

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AN INSPIRATION—Paula Levine, 88, pioneered modern dance at Hollins University outside Roanoke and continues to inspire younger generations of dancers.

Levine, now 88, is a resident of The Glebe, a LifeSpire of Virginia continuing care retirement community in Daleville, Virginia, near Hollins. As a result of her contributions to modern dance, Levine is one of LifeSpire’s featured trailblazers during this year’s Older Americans Month. The U.S. Administration for Community Living sets aside May each year to recognize the contributions of older Americans. The 2016 theme is “Blaze a Trail.”

“Ms. Levine’s legacy as a modern dancer and dance professor reminds us of the importance of the arts to health, wellness and longevity,” says Jonathan Cook, LifeSpire President and CEO. “Her continued commitment to dance and to a younger generation of dancers is an inspiration.”

Ben Burks, executive director of The Glebe, agrees, “Ms. Levine demonstrates the ‘life in abundance’ we strive to provide for each of our residents at The Glebe. She swims, she travels, and she is an active member of our community. Her energy inspires us all.”

FINDING THEIR VOICE

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Paula Levine dances in New York. (Photo courtesy of Paula Levine).

Modern dance began in the early 1900s in part as a rebellion against ballet, which in comparison is rigid and codified, and in part as a reflection of changing social mores at the turn of the 20th century. Modern dance pioneers like Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham, whose work significantly influenced Levine, “made up the rules as they went,” Bullock says. The form, which includes dancing barefoot with a focus on natural movement, ushered in an era of individual expression through dance.

“Women found their voice in modern dance outside the confines of ballet,” Bullock says.

Although Levine majored in English Literature at Brooklyn College, she began dancing at age 13 under the tutelage of Katya Delakova.

“Katya Delakova sparked my love for modern dance,” Levine says.

Later, the young woman also studied under Sophie Maslow, another modern dance pioneer who helped set the course of Levine’s life work. After a brief stint at Julliard, Levine received a teaching fellowship at Bennington College in Vermont where she received a Master of Arts.

“I wanted to follow my passion and do something I loved,” Levine says. “It wasn’t always easy.”

The young woman’s father didn’t want her to be “a parasite,” Levine explains. He didn’t think she could earn a living in the arts.

“Later, though, when I became a professor at Hollins, he was proud of me,” Levine says with a smile.

In most colleges and universities at the time, dance came in through the “back door” of physical education, Levine says. At Hollins, dance was part of the theater program. This focus on modern dance as a performing art gave Levine opportunity to pursue new forms of artistic expression that took her around the world and allowed her to develop life-long friendships in the process.

“The late 60s were heavily influenced by Asian ideas,” Levine recalls. “In 1969, I took a sabbatical to study Asian dance forms.”

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Paula Levine (front, center) with her students at Hollins. (Photo courtesy of Paula Levine).

She traveled to Hawaii, Japan, and Bali before making her way to Bangkok, Thailand. A Thai student at Hollins whose father was a diplomat arranged for her to study with a dance instructor in Bangkok named Lawan. The two women became good friends and developed a professional dance collaboration that lasted many years.

“We combined modern dance and Thai dance,” Levine recalls. Together the two women produced Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Thai style.

As their friendship and collaboration grew, Lawan visited Levine many times and offered master classes and performances throughout Virginia. Levine has traveled to Thailand 21 times since that initial visit in 1969. Lawan’s son, Top, attended North Cross School in Roanoke and lived with Levine from 1990-95. Top and his children are like family to Levine, and though she thought she had made her last trip to visit them in 2013, she visited again in 2015. Though traveling around the world is sometimes difficult, she enjoys spending time with her friends and watching the children grow.

INSPRING FUTURE GENERATIONS

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The Paula Levine Choreographers Contest held each year at Hollins University honors Paula Levine’s legacy and is open to sophomore and juniors girls in high school or preparatory school. (Photo courtesy of Hollins University).

Levine no longer dances, but as professor emerita of Hollins, she continues to help young women express themselves through modern dance. Bullock established The Paula Levine Choreographers Contest at Hollins to honor Levine’s continuing legacy. The contest awards prizes for the most developed solo dance composition submitted by sophomore or junior girls in high school or preparatory school.

“My students who come back tell me that dance enriched their lives,” Levine says.

Although Levine no longer dances, she swims almost every day, enjoying the saltwater pool at The Glebe where she lives.

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Paula Levine enjoys swimming in The Glebe’s saltwater pool. At 88, she still swims almost every day.

“People comment on what a beautiful swimmer I am,” Levine says. “I think it is because I was a dancer. People seem to think I have a lot of grace in the water.”

“I find that amusing,” she adds, “because I’ve never had formal swimming lessons.”


Ann Lovell is Corporate Director of Communications for LifeSpire of Virginia, formerly Virginia Baptist Homes. For more information, email alovell@lifespireliving.org or call (804) 521-9192.

LifeSpire of Virginia operates four continuing care retirement communities in Virginia: The Chesapeake in Newport News, The Culpeper in Culpeper, The Glebe in Daleville and Lakewood in Richmond.