IN HARMONY WITH SENIORS
"Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community." Anthony J. D'Angelo
By Bill Rautenstrauch
early 100 senior citizens and disabled adults live in the four apartment complexes managed by Marty Falk.
Many of them live alone. Yet all of them can lay claim to one true friend.
"The best part about my job is letting people know there's someone who honestly cares about them. I do whatever I have to to help," said Falk, a key employee for Coleman and Chrisman and Coleman and Chrisman-owned Union County Senior Living.
Falk conducts her business from a tiny, spotlessly-kept office in the Clover Glen apartment complex on Cove Avenue.
Clover Glen is one of four complexes she manages. The others are Mallard Heights in Elgin, Ramo Flat in Union, and the newly-opened Emily Drive apartments in Island City.
She keeps files and tracks finances. She does paperwork endlessly.
She answers the phone, listens to tenants' problems, and sees to it those problems get fixed. She makes frequent trips to the facilities outside
She works with various government agencies, advocating for her tenants.
And that's only part of the job. She's also someone to be counted on in an emergency, and a shoulder to cry on, anytime.
"I go to the people's apartments and they talk to me about anything and everything," she said.
Falk, 63, was born in Portland but raised in Wallowa County. She graduated from Joseph High school in 1960.
Her first experiences working with seniors and the disabled came just after high school, when she worked in a couple of hospitals as a nurse's aide and ward clerk.
She married, moved away to the Portland area. She and then- husband Jim Guida had three- children before they moved back to Wallowa County in 1978.
That year, she got a job with Community Connection, a social service agency that then served Union, Wallowa and Baker Counties. (An office in Grant County has since been added).
Falk found plenty to keep her busy in the Wallowa County branch.
"When I worked for them, I drove the bus and worked at the meal sites. We did it all," she said.
She supervised a weatherization program, and was a caseworker in the Low Income Energy Assistance Program.
She also was the supervisor for in-home care for the elderly and disabled.
"It was caring for people with health issues. We had geri-aides who went into the homes and did what was needed," she said.
During this time Falk began to understand that she was good working with older people.
"I started to find out that they would tell me things they might not tell other people," she said.
She recalls one incident in which an elderly lady living in squalid conditions and not caring for herself refused help and would not consider living in a group home.
Doctors and other caregivers couldn't reason with the woman, but Falk could. Through her efforts, the lady agreed to enter a care facility.
"There were no openings at the Wallowa County nursing home, and so she had to go to a place in Walla Walla. That was hard for her, but she agreed to do it," Falk said.
There was another time when Falk heard that an elderly Community Connection client had purchased a pistol at a local shop. There were fears the man was contemplating suicide.
"Luckily, there was a three day waiting period for him to get the gun. He was going through that when I heard about it. I went and talked to him, and got him the help he needed."
Falk left Community Connection in 1988 because of budget cuts. She took a job as a deputy clerk in the Wallowa County Courthouse.
She stayed with it 10 years, but never found it particularly rewarding.
"I liked doing the paperwork, but I didn't like the political arena," she said. "Besides, it wasn't working with seniors. That's where my heart is."
Falk's chance to return to the work she loved came in 2000, when Wallowa County businessmen Doug and Tony Chrisman offered her the job as manager for their senior/disabled housing units.
"You can't find two better people to work for," she said of the brothers who own Coleman and Chrisman Insurance Company in Wallowa County in addition to the senior/disabled facilities.
Three of the four facilities fall under the Union County Senior Living umbrella; Clover Glen stands separate, though it is also owned by the Chrisman brothers.
Since coming aboard, Falk has lived in an apartment in Clover Glen, keeping herself on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
All tenants have her phone number; all are told to feel free to call, anytime day or night.
When someone falls ill and needs to go to the hospital, chances are Falk will be there to help with the crisis.
When patients recover, she rejoices; when they don't, she grieves.
"I take it very hard when we lose one of our people," she said.
Having worked with seniors in Wallowa and Union Counties, Falk often finds herself comparing quality of life for clients in the two places.
In many ways, she thinks those in Wallowa County are better off.
"It appears that my seniors here don't have the support network those in Wallowa County have," she said. "It seems there are more here whose family and friends live far away."
Also, she said she thinks older people have better access to health care in Wallowa County than they do in more populous Union County.
"There's a shortage of medical care here," she said.
Falk, 63, is married to Don Falk, a 69-year-old who works as a fish technician at the Oregon Department of Wildlife's Looking Glass Hatchery.
The marriage is a recent one, and a rekindling of a friendship that goes back to childhood.
The couple lives together at Clover Glen, while keeping Don Falk's house in Elgin.
They may retire soon, but then again they may not.
Marty Falk said she tentatively plans to give up her job in two more years, when she turns 65. But she knows it will be a hard decision to make.
"Everybody in this world has a gift given to them by God, and I believe mine is working with seniors," she said.