-from Kristen Kubisiak, Catholic Herald staff
For Bernard “BJ” Bythell, there is nothing inherently special about March 1. It’s not a holiday, a birthday, or any other festive occasion. All the same, on March 1 he discovered a large, yellow greeting card-sized envelope in his mailbox.Settled into a recliner in his apartment at Milwaukee Catholic Home, a continuing care retirement community, he held up
the card as if it was evidence. “This is what I am talking about,” he said.
Bythell has experienced a lot in his life. He was married for 68 years (his wife Kathryn died in 2014) and he is a father, grandfather and great-grandfather– multiple times over; he served the country as a World War II Army veteran; and he spent decades working as a buyer for grocery and hardware stores.
But this January, something happened that he couldn’t explain. Intermingled with the perfunctory bills and glossy advertisements he had come to expect in his daily mail were brightly colored envelopes. The first one showed up on January 5, and they haven’t stopped coming since.
“Birthday cards,” Bythell said. At first he thought it might be a joke; his birthday isn’t until April 13.
But the baffling phenomenon showed no sign of slowing, and, in fact, has gone digital.
“I started getting emails, Facebook messages, phone calls,” he said.
Bythell began to suspect this was a coordinated effort. But he had no idea how or why. Then someone let the cat out of the bag.
“Last fall, I was just working on my calendar for 2019 and I realized Dad’s 99th birthday was coming up,” said Barbara Bythell, BJ’s fourth and youngest daughter. “I was trying to think of a special way to honor him then it just kind of came to me.”
Barbara ran the idea by her siblings, Jean, Carol, Diane and Bob. Then she reached out to other family members and friends, Catholic Home employees, neighbors – anyone she could think of who knew her father and had been touched by his life in some way – and asked them if they would like to send him a message on one of the 99 days leading up to his 99th birthday. The response was overwhelming.
“It’s a little embarrassing,” BJ Bythell said, but he noted he enjoys reading the cards. A couple in particular make his eyes light up.
“I really like this one,” he said. The card he identifies-which has a bottle of liquor and a glass containing what appears to be a cocktail – is one of more than a dozen displayed on his walls, along with framed photos of family and friends. “It says, “Like a fine Scotch, you get better with age.”
Another favorite is a musical popup card with a 3D dog in the middle. On his Facebook page, he has a video of two of his great-grandchildren who live in Illinois, Lulu and Freddie, sitting at a table singing happy birthday. All of his children live out of state, with the exception of Barbara, who resides in Riverwest – so many of his cards have postmarks from locations across the country. The card that traveled the farthest distance to reach him – so far –was from Seattle. The nearest traveling card came from his next-door neighbor.
“It’s been a great couple of months,” BJ said, though he maintains he’s not worth all the fuss.
Barbara hinted a few more surprises may be on the horizon for her father. In the meantime, what she has dubbed, “The 99 Days of BJ” is in full-effect.
On behalf of the Catholic Herald, happy birthday BJ.
Gloria Armstrong, beloved member of the Health Care Center kitchen staff, recently celebrated 40 years of dedicated service at Milwaukee Catholic Home!
It is hard to imagine how many meals she has prepared for residents and staff during her tenure, and it’s equally hard to imagine Milwaukee Catholic Home without her infectious smile!
Her loyalty and commitment to the MCH mission is truly inspiring, and we were honored to sit down with her and discuss her nearly half a century of experience.
Q: Tell me about your role here and what a typical day looks like for you?
A: A typical day here means two things: it means arriving early so I can be sure to get all of my work done, and it means that it’s going to be a good day. Every day working at Milwaukee Catholic Home is a good one-I just love all of the residents and staff here!
Q: In what ways has your position evolved in the last 40 years?
A: My position has changed a lot in the last forty years. When I first began at age 30, my starting pay was $3.10 an hour, which was a pay cut from $4.00 an hour from my previous position! Back then, I was mainly a food service aide, but today, my main role here is as a short-order cook. Being a cook has been so rewarding, because I have learned how to make quite a few things over the years!
Q: Are there any particular things you enjoy making the most for residents and staff?
A: I love making desserts the best—and that’s what the residents seem to enjoy the most too!
Q: What is your favorite part about coming to work every day?
A: It’s always wonderful to see all of the friendly faces here. I am happy to say that I really do get along with everyone here, and that there is a great sense of teamwork here at Milwaukee Catholic Home.
Q: What is it that has motivated you these past forty years to continue to be part of the MCH mission?
A: It has never been in my nature to frequently change jobs, so staying in one place for so long, where you know all the systems and practices, has been really great for me. Plus, there’s too much to enjoy here, so I’ve never had a compelling reason to leave.
Q: How would you describe Milwaukee Catholic Home to those who are unfamiliar with it?
A: I’ve always said that Milwaukee Catholic Home is a beautiful place. It’s something in the atmosphere that I have felt ever since I first started, and I’ve liked it every day for the past forty years.
Q: When you aren’t at work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A: My three children, 14 grandchildren, and 28 great grandchildren sure do keep me busy! Other than that, I love coming home after work and relaxing by listening to some of my favorite Blues music.
At Milwaukee Catholic Home, we believe that an engaged life is a full life. And the more aspects of your life that you engage, the healthier you age. Expanding MCH’s commitment in engaging those we serve, we are proud to announce the “A Life Engaged” program.
For over 100 years, Milwaukee Catholic Home has had a holistic approach to engaging others. Throughout our history, we have valued the philosophy of whole person wellness, which specifically focuses on five key areas of a person’s well being. They include experiential social engagement, cognitive health, physical fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness and spiritual wellness. That is where “A Life Engaged” comes into the picture. This innovative program enables people to be engaged in something bigger than themselves in meaningful, joy-filled, and consistent ways. Activities and events made possible through “A Life Engaged” give residents, staff, friends, and guests of Milwaukee Catholic Home a sense of belonging and purpose, no matter where an individual is in their life’s journey.
“A Life Engaged is about answering that call to get out there and experience things that inspire you and excite you … what is it that lights you up?” says “A Life Engaged” program director Amy O’Connor. “Whether that’s reading a good book or kayaking or gardening … it’s about you! A Life Engaged means to intentionally involve yourself with these types of experiences so that you will be your best self, your whole self and your happiest self at every age! It means that you create your life as you would like it to be!”
Although we are only a few weeks into the New Year, “A Life Engaged” has already brought unique and exceptional programming to residents and friends of Milwaukee Catholic Home in 2019. On January 24, 2019, during the MCH annual Partnership Event, residents and guests were treated to an interactive ice sculptor demonstration in the Residence Courtyard. Upcoming event highlights include a “Paint ‘N Sip” evening on February 12th, Philip Chard’s discussion on “Engaging Life at Every Age” on February 27th, a Sprecher Brewery Private Reserve Tasting and Tour on March 1st, and “An Evening of Irish Music with Tom and Evan Leahy” on March 13th.
These and other program offerings throughout the year are made possible by the generosity of our “A Life Engaged” program sponsors, including the Milwaukee Catholic Home Foundation, Catholic Financial Life, M3 Insurance, Johnson Financial Group, Paratech Ambulance Services, Husch Blackwell, and Spectrum Investment Advisors.