By Michelle Frost

If you have not been to Whitewood Gardens Residential Care, then you have not seen how vital and unique senior living can be. This retirement and assisted living facility, is nestled into the neighborhood at 2027 SE 17th Ave. It is also home to the World’s Largest Crossword Puzzle!

“These residents are treasure troves of history,” says Chris Nelson, Life Enhancement Director at Whitewood Gardens.

“They have clear memories of the past, such as the Columbus Day storm of 1962. They can recall events like that in such detail.”

A Tennessee native and former Colorado resident, Nelson moved to Oregon twenty years ago. “My wife is from Oregon,” he explained. An avid runner who is “always moving, always doing something, and having lots of energy.”

Nelson has worked in senior care for 25-26 years, most recently at Whitewood for the past four years. “We keep everyone busy with lots of activities, like karaoke, art classes, bingo and puzzles.”

“One day I was on the internet looking around for puzzles when I found the World’s Largest Crossword,” he laughs.

“It is seven feet by seven feet mounted on the wall upstairs and it came with a small phonebook of clues – 25,000 clues! It was a Three Stooges episode getting it taped up on the wall.” Residents began work on the puzzle in the summer of 2015.

During the morning circle, Nelson selected 20 clues for each day. “I’d write down their answers then come upstairs and transfer the answers to the wall,” he explains.

The residents completed the World’s Largest Crossword Puzzle in January 2018, puzzling 5 days a week for 2-1/2 years.

“We had a goal in mind,” Nelson said. “It helped to keep people in the present and to have a sense of hope. They’re not just passing time and they are contributing to the outside world; the bigger picture.”

“We were meticulous in never cheating once,” he added,

Touring the facility, a visitor can observe how much handmade art decorates the walls, jigsaw puzzles in beautiful frames, and painted portraits of residents hanging beside their doors. It’s easy to see how creative and rich resident life is at Whitewood.

“We plug in the karaoke machine up here sometimes,” he said, sweeping an arm at the sofa/TV lounge upstairs.

“We hold Sunday services, and musical performances.” As a musician, Nelson often includes music in the morning circle.

“I have a ‘holistic’ approach to care – mind-body-spirit, right? I like activities that stimulate all three of those things for better health.”

Whitewood Gardens is a smaller community than most residential care homes, with the capacity for 40 residents.

“This facility is a bit different from other facilities in that it is owned by a Filipino family and they live onsite. The couple who own it live right up stairs,” he says, “and their family does a lot of the cooking so it’s a very family-oriented feeling here.”

In a sunny corner by the window, a resident named Barbara works leisurely on a jigsaw puzzle, a colorful scene with red tulips.

Barbara is one of the White wood Gardens’ crossword puzzle masters. She admits having never before worked on crossword puzzles but said that she really liked how it stimulated her brain, especially her vocabulary.

Chris Nelson, Life Enhancement Director at Whitewood Gardens

“We strive for connection and learning here,” Nelson said. “I watch them for clues to successful aging; how to move smoothly into old age versus stressfully, and I notice that the happier residents all have real compassion in common. They focus on others and how to help and give to others.”

“The only difference between who works here and who lives here,” he adds, “is time… We all get here. And one reason for tackling the World’s Largest Crossword is to make a public statement that people in resident care have a lot more going on than you might think. They are an accumulation of wisdom! We have seven feet x seven feet of proof.”

To visit Whitewood Gardens or for other inquiries, call 503.764.9719.