The Northern Lights Apartments opened its doors in May 1993.
All of its apartments are handicapped accessible. Within these walls live people who have met physical challenges and are basically living independently, with assistance as needed.
One of these is an 83-year-old woman named Bernice Anderson who is in a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis. Her disease was diagnosed in 1959. She has needed a wheelchair for mobility since 1991. She was the first resident to occupy an apartment in this building. She occupies a bright cheery southeast-facing apartment. Her husband remains in their home, but the home is not handicapped accessible.
Multiple sclerosis is a slow, progressive neurological disability characterized by disseminated patches of demyleniation in the spinal cord, and varied neurological symptoms, usually with remissions and recurring exacerbations. It is difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Its symptoms are highly variable and unpredictable. Multiple sclerosis is a hard condition to adapt to, especially because its symptoms are so changeable.
Bernice has not let the wheelchair hold her back. She maintains membership in the Nisswa Women's Club and the Shrine Auxiliary, but needs transportation to their meetings.
She has planned all her vacations with Wilderness Inquiry. They plan active outdoor vacations with one or two openings for handicapped people with each trip, and they make adaptations so that all participants can fully enjoy the trips. This is a Minnesota-based company. Their address is 808 14th Avenue S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414-1516, and phone number is 1-800-728-0719.
During my visit with her she recounted some of the 17 trips she has taken with this company since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She has many pictures of the places she has been and the good times that she and the vacationers had. She has been kayaking in the Everglades in Florida, canoed and camped in a tent on both the Gunflint Trail, and the Boundary Waters. She has camped outdoors without a tent in the winter, and then from there went by dog sled into Ontario. She has camped and canoed on the St. Croix River, at the Apostle Islands, and on Lake Powell, Utah.
Most of the camping experiences are tenting in the woods or on beaches. There are difficulties in getting into a sleeping bag in a tent, so this was facilitated by her getting into the sleeping bag outside the tent, and staff dragging her into the tent while in the sleeping bag.
She has been on two wilderness experiences headed by Ann Bancroft. On one of the trips one of the staff was from Liberia in Africa. The outdoor experiences, the staff and the people that she has enjoyed meeting on these trips all have made them truly enjoyable. The pictures she has as memories show what a beautiful country this truly is.
Bernice is a gutsy 83-year-old woman who encounters life's challenges, not as something to be avoided. She makes plans built on her strengths and capabilities rather than on centering on her disabilities. It proves what you can do if you are willing to try.
(The author is a member of the Senior Class Advisory Board.)
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