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Admiral resident Bindy Bitterman during a work out class. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

PHOTOS: Chicago Seniors Find Joy In Normalcy As COVID Restrictions Are Lifted

Admiral resident Bindy Bitterman during a work out class. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
20210520_Admiral_Day_3_mm00375 .jpg
Admiral resident Bindy Bitterman during a work out class. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

PHOTOS: Chicago Seniors Find Joy In Normalcy As COVID Restrictions Are Lifted

Chicago and Illinois are now fully reopened after more than a year of restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus, lockdowns and isolation were all especially severe among residents in senior living communities. Those residents were also among the first in the country to be fully vaccinated and begin to emerge cautiously toward pre-pandemic normalcy.

At The Admiral at the Lake on Chicago’s North Side, fitness classes once again happen in person, choir practice is back and overgrown hairdos can finally be trimmed at the salon in the building’s main level. WBEZ visited the facility multiple times during April and May after most residents were fully vaccinated. Here’s a look inside the community.

Staying active to “keep our sanity”

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Katie Cavanaugh leads a work out class. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Katie Cavanaugh leads residents in a work out in the pool when it opened in April. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Pat Martino, Toni Smith, Rhoda Bernstein and An-Shih Cheng walk along Lake Michigan. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Hank and Joan Bliss
Hank and Joan Bliss work out in their apartment. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
During the pandemic, some residents took physical fitness into their own hands with daily walks along the lakefront.

“In fact, I probably shouldn’t say this: The reason we meet on the sixth floor is we were not sure we were allowed to be outside, so we were kind of sneaking out through the alley when we first started,” resident Pat Martino said. “Now that we’ve been doing it for over a year, it’s even listed in the happenings as a daily activity.”

Others relied on Katie Cavanaugh, the Admiral’s group fitness instructor to broadcast classes right to their apartments through a closed-circuit TV channel.

“Food time is such a social time normally”

Dining Admiral
Bindy Bitterman, left, talks with friends in the dining room. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Lead cook Dave Figueroa grills at The Admiral. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Tiara Thomas serves up lunch for residents. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

After months of meals being delivered to apartment doors, residents can now gather in the sixth floor dining room.

“The only good thing was the staff who used to ring our doorbells. We were able to make friends with the staff in a way maybe we hadn’t before,” Bindy Bitterman said. “They’d come and they’d be wearing masks and they’d take your temperature and they’d bring your lunch or your dinner and you sort of got to chatting.”

“The beginning of the end”

Vaccines Admiral
Roza Arefayne, a server in the dining room, gets her second shot. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Admiral nurses
Director of nursing Angela Jalloh holds a staff meeting. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

The Admiral began administering vaccines in late December, but it hasn’t all been smoothing sailing to the end of the pandemic. Instead, it’s been more of a cautious reopening process, along with occasional shutdowns in parts of the building as the result of a positive COVID-19 test.

“There was singing and dancing at our first clinic day, Dec. 30,” said Nadia Geigler, The Admiral’s CEO. “It felt like the beginning of the end and nobody knew how long the end would take or how many twists and turns there might be, but that was a hopeful day.”

“We were crying every day seeing these family members”

Visits Admiral
In late April, Clark Bernard, and his wife Susan Bernard, made the trek from Boston to see his mom, Mary, at The Admiral for the first time in more than a year. She had just turned 104. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Early in the pandemic, all interaction with family and friends was done digitally. Then there were the kind of drive-thru visits that were prone to go viral. Eventually, outdoor visits were allowed, and finally guests were allowed inside. Emotions were high at every stage.

“We’re returning”

Salon Admiral
Dorothy Jackson gets her hair styled by David McFadden, owner of Salon 929. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Melody Hanson works on a puzzle in a common room. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Choir practice in the gathering room. Manuel Martinez/WBEZ
Admiral Trees
Karen Grant, Dianne Bowman and Alice Blount decorate a tree outside The Admiral. Manuel Martinez
Admiral Field Trip
Admiral residents on a field trip to the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Although life has largely returned to normal, the pandemic took away more than a year when time feels especially precious.

“Our children have a different perspective on this because they’re looking forward to decades of life ahead of them. Those of us who have gone through this in this building are not looking forward to decades,” said Joan Bliss, who resides at The Admiral with her husband Hank and their trusty dog Spice. “This last 15 months has definitely impacted the way we view time and the way we view the future and the way we value the present, particularly the healthy present.”

Manuel Martinez is a visual journalist at WBEZ. Follow him @DenverManuel. Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow her at @cmkueppers.