Staying Active. Making a Difference. Following Their Own Path.
Each week in May, we’re profiling an adult in the community who is blazing their own trail – whether it is staying fit and active, getting involved in the community or making a difference in others’ lives.
This week’s trailblazer is Mukwonago's Joe Sperstad.
Joe Sperstad, a lifelong Mukwonago resident, has lived a successful life by all accounts. He headed the Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants for 27 years as the organization’s executive director and was an active leader within the Mukwonago community for decades.
But his prestigious community status and financial successes are not what he’s ever wanted to be defined by.
“Being successful is helping others achieve their dreams,” he said.
That philosophy only became clearer for the 88-year-old a few years back when he survived heart surgery and then chose LindenGrove to rehabilitate him back to physical strength.
“I asked myself, what is important to you? Would it be having $1 million dollars? Driving a nice car? And the answer is no,” he said. “The most important thing is helping others and making an impact on their lives.
“That’s really what makes me feel successful because if you are defining success by material goals, you’ll never have enough,” he added.
The father of four and grandfather of seven said he lives his life with others in mind, and that philosophy has kept him active, fulfilled and happy.
“It keeps me relevant. If I am making someone else’s life better, that’s what matters to me,” he said. “I don’t think much about eternity because today is about eternity.”
Growing up during the Great Depression, Joe said being successful was really impressed upon him.
“I was born in 1927. It was ingrained in me that I had to achieve and to achieve I had to do worthwhile things,” he said.
So after a long, successful career and more than three decades of community involvement – including 30 years of Kiwanis club membership – Joe concentrates on personal interactions to make a difference, whether it is striking up a conversation with someone in need, offering a helping hand or simply asking how he can help.
“If you want my advice on living well, I would say make sure those you care about know you care about them, and tell them often,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going and makes life meaningful.”
Joe, who now lives in a LindenGrove assisted living apartment, remains active at the age of 88. Once a week he gathers with a group of friends for breakfast where conversations about politics normally take front and center. The group consists of friends in their 60s, 70s and 80s with him being the eldest.
He also reads and writes regularly, keeping his mind sharp. And he greatly looks forward to traveling three and a half hours to Eau Claire next month for his lone granddaughter’s wedding.
“I’m lucky. I’m really lucky,” he said.
At age 88, Joe continues to live an active lifestyle and continues to make a positive impact on those around him. For that, LindenGrove recognizes him as a Community Trailblazer.
Read about our past Trailblazers:
New Berlin’s Jack Sala is a stroke survivor who was determined to get his active lifestyle back as soon as possible.
The former accountant has always been physically active. In retirement, he’d spent so much time at the YMCA that people started calling him the mayor there.
But that all changed, at least temporarily, in spring of 2015 when a stroke kept him away for more than eight months. After a six-week hospital stay, and another seven months of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation at LindenGrove, Jack is more active than ever. He exercises regularly on his own, takes fitness classes and keeps an active social schedule.
The stroke was completely unexpected, but did not come without its warning signs, according to him and his wife, Susan.
Jack began to slow down considerably in the year leading up to the stroke. He went from being able to ride 70 miles a day on a bicycle to getting fatigued after just five minutes. He also started to sleep more than ever.
And then when Susan was visiting family in Madison for a few days, it happened.
After talking to Jack on the phone one day, he didn’t answer the next two. A neighbor confirmed his car was parked in the driveway and Susan asked her to check on him. She found him upstairs.
“When it happened, I didn’t know what was going on,” Jack said of the day.
Noticing the changes in him prior to the stroke, Susan had told him to make a doctor’s appointment. He did, but it wasn't scheduled for two weeks after the stroke.
Recovery was long and at times difficult, but Jack said he looked forward to the daily therapy sessions. In total, he spent 100 days in the inpatient rehabilitation program at LindenGrove receiving physical, speech and occupational therapy and another four months of outpatient services twice a week.
After seven months of rehabilitation services, Jack was on his way to full recovery and no longer needed LindenGrove’s services.
There have been many achievements since, such as taking his first extended car ride to Madison, walking down the driveway to grab the newspaper for the first time, taking the family dog for a walk or most recently, mowing the backyard.
“You have to realize recovery is going to take a really long time,” said Susan. “So you have to celebrate all the small steps along the way.”
The recovery he’s made has been remarkable. When he first arrived at LindenGrove, he had to be transferred to and from his wheelchair by two people. Today, he doesn’t use a cane or walker to move around.
For Jack, tell him he probably won’t be able to do something and he’ll focus on proving you wrong. It’s that determination that has led to his remarkable recovery.
“You can tell him he can’t do something, and he’d go ahead and try it,” said Susan. “Sure, he fell a few times, but he got right up and tried again. He has tunnel vision, and in this case, it was a good thing. Because getting better was at the end of the tunnel.”
Today, Jack says he’s more active than ever. He takes spin classes at the YMCA three times a week. The classes are taught by one of his LindenGrove therapists, Lisa Burkhardt
“She has been unbelievable,” Jack said of the friendship that has developed between him and Lisa. “I feel I went further because of her. I am that much better because of her.”
During each class, he logs around 10 miles of bicycling. He works out at the YMCA six days a week, besides the classes, he lifts weights, rides the exercise bike and walks on the treadmill, and he does lots of socializing while there.
“I actually feel (physically) stronger today than I did before the stroke,” he said.
He and his wife, with a new outlook on life, plan to follow their dream and spend parts of each winter in Florida, while maintaining their residency in New Berlin so they can stay close to their two children and grandchildren.
“We’ve talked about going to Florida for some time, but we never have,” said Jack. “Now we will.”
Jack’s recovery was long and difficult, but he never gave up and for that LindenGrove salutes him as a Community Trailblazer.
Evie Griebling is always on the move. It’s just the way she’s lived life and at the age of 88 she has no plans to slow down.
She still drives a car and is quick to tell you she isn’t afraid to take it out on the freeway, either. She loves to socialize and meet new people, and always seems to be volunteering her time somewhere.
Even a 2015 heart surgery has had little effect on her lifestyle. Now in good health again she’s back to being on the move, including spending at least two days a week volunteering for organizations that helped her through the surgery.
Her active lifestyle played a big role in her recovery. She and her doctor credit Evie’s longtime, almost daily mall walking routine prior to surgery as a reason for why she’s been able to bounce back like she has.
“Who knew walking at the mall all that time would help me,” she said. “Sure, I still have to take medicine, but I just take it in the morning and watch what I eat.”
Her family has a long history of heart conditions – her mother had one and several cousins also went through surgery themselves – so when Evie learned of hers, it wasn’t much of a surprise.
“I just knew I had to be careful,” she said.
Evie is the first in her family to reach 80 and is easily on track to reach the milestone of 90 in two years.
Prior to heart surgery, doctors told Evie her body probably wouldn’t recuperate as fast as she’d hoped and that it might take more than six months of recovery time.
So after surgery, she chose LindenGrove to rehabilitate for a few weeks. She enjoyed her time there so much she told the staff ‘If I come out of this, I’m going to come back and volunteer.’
At the time, the LindenGrove team appreciated the offer, but was more concerned with getting Evie back her independence.
“I don’t think they thought I’d do it. But here I am,” she said from the LindenGrove Menomonee Falls rehabilitation gym.
Evie returns here every Tuesday, transporting rehab patients in wheelchairs from their room to the gym and back and completing paperwork that needs to be done. She says she most enjoys meeting all the people and bringing a smile to their faces.
But LindenGrove isn’t the only place she volunteers her time. She spends her Thursdays at Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls volunteering at the front desk where she greets guests and directs them to where they need to go. She donates time to help out Goodwill Industries, too. And then there are all the community events she’s volunteered for. Pretty much wherever she’s needed, she’ll go.
All this, while also serving as her husband’s primary caregiver as he lives with memory loss.
“I really love to volunteer,” she said. “I love to meet other people, I really do. Plus, with caring for my husband, volunteering really makes a difference for me. I never thought it would, but it really does. It’s all about how you treat others.”
Since no other member of her family lived to 80, she counts her blessings.
“I’m happy where I am. I never thought I’d be here so healthy and independent (at age 88),” she said.
Evie said she believes the secret to living a long, quality life is to stay active and eat right.
“You really have to watch what you eat. So many people eat fried foods and sugar and those are bad words for me,” she said. “I’ve always watched what I ate – fruits and vegetables are my favorite.”
But she admits M&M’S candy is her guilty pleasure. Living so well at age 88, it’s a pleasure she can afford.
LindenGrove salutes Evie for blazing her own trail by living actively and giving back to the community.
Nancy Machnik lives by one simple motto – “Enjoy today and smile.” That straightforward slogan has shaped the 73-year-old’s life, and has made a difference in countless others’.
Nancy enjoys traveling – she’s been to the nation’s capital, all over the southwest, New Orleans and more, but what really drives her is putting smiles on others’ faces, especially people who are living with physical ailments.
She makes a special point to visit those who are housebound and rarely have an opportunity to get out into the community. She'll often drive them into town, treat them to a restaurant meal and share an afternoon with them.
“I just love to see them smile,” she said. “There are a lot of people going through a lot out there.”
She said one woman is fighting cancer, another has limited sight after a bout with shingles, yet another suffers from severe arthritis and walks with a cane
But they escape from whatever is ailing them when they are in the company of Nancy and her positive and encouraging personality.
“Our time is nothing but laughter,” Nancy said. “I am just happy to be there for them.”
Nancy knows a little about physical limitations, herself. For years, she suffered from severe knee pain. She tried to manage through it, but in the early summer of 2014, Nancy knew something had to be done when she woke up screaming from excruciating pain and was unable to get herself out of bed.
The doctor who checked her knee was stunned by what he found – she had more severely cracked bones than he'd ever seen on a knee and wondered how she got by for so many years. Knowing cortisone shots wouldn’t help, he told Nancy she needed surgery immediately.
After surgery, she rehabilitated at LindenGrove in New Berlin, where she once worked, and returned to her home in a few weeks. Yet, she kept coming back to LindenGrove as a volunteer. Twice a week, she’d walk the halls and spend time with anyone who wanted company offering support, encouragement and friendship.
When a woman who attended a Bible study with her through church moved to LindenGrove, Nancy decided to bring the study to the woman and invited others to join. The tradition continues today. Two Thursdays every month, residents gather with Nancy to have their spiritual needs met.
She maintains an active lifestyle when she is not helping others, frequently taking long walks – something she couldn’t do before surgery – and traveling with her husband. But it is the passion to care for others that makes her a Trailblazer in the community. LindenGrove salutes Nancy for her dedication to helping others and making a difference in our community.
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