Olathe & Southwest Joco

Memory care unit gets a gift from above

Workers with A.L. Huber General Contractor helped as a crane operator placed the truck into the courtyard of Cedar Lake Village.
Workers with A.L. Huber General Contractor helped as a crane operator placed the truck into the courtyard of Cedar Lake Village. Submitted photo

When a pickup truck flies through the air, you may expect a thudding crash to follow.

In this case, however, a crane operator set the orange 1968 Ford F250 down gently in the courtyard of the new memory-care unit at Cedar Lake Village, where it will serve as an object of interest for two dozen residents.

The truck — the result of many in the community coming together to help —had to be put in place with a crane because there is no room to drive it into the courtyard of the building, which is still being built.

The restored and modified truck is one of several features in what landscape designers call a “memory playground” of the new unit, which is expected to open early next year. The vehicle can no longer be driven, but residents can sit inside, work the lights and radio and imagine themselves in their own vehicles of yesteryear. Other playground elements will include a putting green, a bubbling fountain and a group of mailboxes.

These items are designed to provide activity and stimulate pleasant memories for the residents whose short-term memory is debilitated by Alzheimer’s disease.

The truck’s path to Cedar Lake Village winds from Madison, Neb., where Ted Asay’s grandfather bought it new with then-young Ted in tow. Asay is now a fundraiser for the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, which owns Cedar Lake Village in partnership with Olathe Medical Center.

When Asay heard that the memory playground, designed by Larry Reynolds of the Kansas City-based firm Vireo, was to include a late-1960s pickup truck to which prospective residents could relate, he thought of his grandfather’s truck. Asay had inherited it and placed it in storage, where it awaited a reason to live again. He donated it.

The truck, however, needed modification to fit in the allotted space, and so Tracey Torola, senior living manager at Cedar Lake, reached out to Kathy Musgrave, who served until earlier this year as administrator of career and technical programs for the Olathe School District. Musgrave, in turn, asked Paul Katsulis, who directs the auto-collision repair program at Olathe Advanced Technical Center, to take on the project.

It would be a way, Katsulis explained, to honor his predecessor as program director, Don Simpson, who retired three years ago after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Students in the program shortened the truck bed from eight feet to 24 inches and turned it into a rear-facing seating area. They also painted it orange after Phil Thomas, president of Overland Park-based A.L. Huber General Contractor, pledged a $1,000 donation if the truck would bear the firm’s corporate-branding color. Huber is handling the memory-care unit project, and Thomas said the donation was to honor the firm’s second-generation leader, the late August L. Huber Jr., who suffered from memory problems near the end of his life.

About two dozen onlookers stood on South Lakecrest Drive as the crane lifted the truck and swung it into place. They included Devin Brown, a senior at Olathe Advanced Technical Center, who was one of more than 20 students who worked on the truck.

“I always kept in mind while working on it that I can’t do anything badly,” he said. “This was going into a home for people.”

Reynolds, the landscape architect, was there, too.

“It’s great to be a part of something that brings people together,” he said.

Executive director Joanna Randall said the memory-care unit would complete the continuum of care offered at Cedar Lake Village, which already has independent- and assisted-living, short- and long-term care units. It also offers adult day services and respite care.

The memory-care unit will have two “households” of 12 people each. Each person will have his or her own bedroom and share common kitchen, family and dining rooms. All residents will have access to a chapel, spa, ice cream parlor and the courtyard.

“They can get out of the house and go into the community and still be in a secure area,” Randall said.

The truck, the garden beds, the workbenches and the like will allow residents “to feel productive, like they are helping. It’s part of their quality of life,” Randall said.