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Blueberries blossom into beautiful memories for Robbinswood residents

Marie Havenga • Jul 27, 2018 at 12:00 PM

SPRING LAKE TWP. — As Robbinswood Assisted Living Community residents reached for plump blueberries from walkers and wheelchairs Thursday morning, many were reaching back to their childhood.

“This is great,” said 86-year-old Carol Eberly as she plucked berries from a branch with Robbinswood dietary manager Dee Dee Hartwell. “This makes me think of my childhood.”

Robbinswood Director of Operations Lydia VanDyke invited the residents of the Grand Haven assisted living center to her home in Spring Lake Township to pick blueberries. About 15 took her up on the offer and arrived via Harbor Transit buses.

“I remember when I was a kid — one time we went out and picked blueberries,” Eberly said. “I just remember it as a really fun time. My father was there. My mother was there. It was a real family event. We picked a bunch.”

As she spoke, Eberly spotted a high branch drooping with plump fruit. She pointed toward it.

“This is wonderful and therapeutic,” Hartwell said, pulling the branch down toward Eberly. “I'm just in a zone doing this.”

VanDyke noted that Robbinswood resident Mary Chittenden, whose family ran the Chittenden Family Farm on Leonard Road, probably had the most blueberry memories of all.

Some of the berries picked Thursday will be for their personal consumption. Hartwell will bake others into blueberry pies, using a recipe from 92-year-old resident Millie Artibee.

Artibee wheeled her walker across the grass and toward the patio after picking two pints Thursday morning.

“It's a lot of fun,” she said. “Years ago, a friend gave me a recipe for blueberry pie that's out of this world.”

Sara Young, 84, said the event reminded her of picking wild blueberries when she was growing up in Pennsylvania.

“I'm enjoying myself,” she said, throwing several berries into her container and several more into her mouth. “I've picked blueberries before, but they were never this big and plentiful. When I was a kid, I picked wild blueberries. But they strip-mined everything and ruined all the wild blueberries there.

“This is great,” she said of Thursday’s outing. “You can fill up a container with one bush.”

The Robbinswood residents picked about 45 pints of berries, then enjoyed a cool breeze and hot dog lunch on VanDyke's backyard patio.

VanDyke said she invited the residents to her home for a similar event last year.

“I want to open up my home to my family,” said VanDyke, who had five Robbinswood residents serve as flower girls in her 2017 wedding. Three of them attended Thursday's event — Sybil Holland, Sara Young and Bernice Nienhouse. “All the residents are my second family.”

VanDyke, who previously served as Robbinswood's activities director, said events such as Thursday’s outing help form a deeper bond between the residents and the center’s staff.

“It gets us out to enjoy the weather and catch some sun,” she added. “... It's just a joy to serve the geriatric population. They give as much to us as we give to them. They give us a lot more than they could ever know. We're family.”

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