There’s always something to celebrate at the Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City as 180 employees get to know 280 residents and share their special moments.

There was the staff-organized flash mob in the dining hall, the synchronized swimming competition in the pool, and “Dancing With the Oaknoll Stars” during the week of Valentine’s Day.

“So much of what we do is about building relationships with our residents,” said Oaknoll CEO Patricia Heiden. “Our staff members get involved in a lot of activities to build those relationships.”

The activities often tend to lean on the “goofy” side, Ms. Heiden said, making them fun for residents and staff alike. But staff members also find their own ways to enrich the lives of residents by themselves.

One staffer who is a lifelong equestrian planned a day to take a resident for a horseback ride. Another who has a convertible seized the opportunity to take residents for a relaxing ride with the top down on the first nice day of spring, including the obligatory stop for ice cream.

Staffers sometimes go to considerable lengths to make stronger relationships, such as a recent Sunday when a 105-year-old Oaknoll resident was taken to a Iowa Cubs game in Des Moines to throw out the first pitch, with a certified nurses aid by her side to ensure her well-being.

“The best ‘perk’ is that we get to interact and have relationships with a generation that has experienced unique and fascinating lives, and they love to share their experiences with us,” wrote one employee in Oaknoll’s nomination. “We gain knowledge, understanding and wisdom in a way that we will never gain through books.”

Employees also said they enjoyed the chance to share some of Oaknoll’s resident amenities, such as a pool and a 24-hour fitness room.

With plenty of birthdays, anniversaries and other special dates to celebrate, administrator Steve Roe says there is rarely a shortage of cookies and cake.

As Ms. Heiden explained, “We always talk about how it’s important to take time to celebrate.”

-Dave DeWitte

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