It doesn't take long to the see the bond Marianne Eagan shares with the residents of University Place senior living community in West Lafayette. Within a 10-minute span, residents stop Eagan to talk about an upcoming yoga class, their health, shoes and tennis ball massage.
For more than five years, Eagan has led residents through a variety of exercise regimens in her role as engagement research coordinator - elder programs in the Department of Health and Kinesiology. It's her dream job, Eagan says -- one in which she feels she belongs.
What activities do you do with the residents?
I teach a Motion class that involves dumbbells, exercise bands, balls, and ankle weights, and we do strength training, stretching and cardio -- all in one 45-minute class three days each week. I also teach yoga with tai chi breathing on two days.
We do a community walk one day a week for residents who use walkers or wheelchairs. We take them through the hallways and let them see decorations on people's doors. Sometimes I arrange for us to go to the pottery room, where our in-house instructor/resident gives a lesson on how to make clay or a piece of pottery. I also came up with the idea of asking residents who own pets to invite us in to their apartments to see their pets. This has not only benefitted the residents we walk with, but also the pet owners, who just glow as they tell the history behind their beloved pet. If we are lucky, we can even get in a few strokes on the animal’s fur! One resident has happily played the piano for us as we sing old, familiar tunes. In warm weather, we'll go out to the gardens. Some people would not get to go outside if not for this.
I'll do things with them outside of my job as well. I've planted a garden here, and on weekends my husband and I come back and weed the garden and share produce with the residents. I took some of the ladies down to Von's one day, and we shopped for beads. We share the same kinds of interests. Sometimes I bake and deliver cookies on the weekends.
How did you get involved with working at University Place?
When my husband got transferred to Indiana, I decided to apply to Purdue to get my master's in exercise physiology. When I finished the program, I started working as a research assistant on a project for Foods and Nutrition [now the Department of Nutrition Science], and I was doing a lot of data analysis.
For the first several years, I liked it. The Nutrition Science department produces world-renowned research, but I got tired of the detailed, analytical-type work. I wanted to have more interaction with people and less staring at a computer. A lot of people had said that I was so motivated with my health and fitness lifestyle that I ought to be a trainer.
Around that time I met with Steve McKenzie, who was the interim director of the Ismail Center. He wanted me to work at Hanna Center in Lafayette two mornings a week and then at University Place for three mornings. When I came to University Place, I fell in love with it.
Had you worked with seniors or on senior health topics before?
My master's thesis looked at spinal curvature in 65- to 78-year-old women. I developed close relationships during that study. Back then I told my husband I would love to work with the senior population and to promote fitness, but I didn’t know how I could ever get a paying job doing something like that. When Steve brought me in here, I instantly felt like these people were my friends, and I formed relationships with them.
What are your goals for your work?
I want to keep people moving, and I want them to enjoy life and make it fun when they're moving. I want to make sure they stay safe and help them in any way I can.
This community is a gold mine. If I didn't get this job, I wouldn't have known this place existed. I'm amazed by the brilliant and fun people who live here. They have remarkable backgrounds, and I learn a lot from them. They come to me for help, and it's an honor to be able to help them.