A Day in the Life of a Pampered Pet

by Johanna Leonard
May 2015

K.C.’s day starts out pretty early. He takes his owner for a walk outside and they both often admire the view of Lake Merritt. On his way back, he stops by the Concierge desk for a special treat (He actually gets his treat twice per day). As he walks away, he thanks the Concierge with a smile and a wagging tail.

K.C is a King Charles Spaniel, and he is King of this castle. He has the most handsome brown eyes you have ever seen. He belongs to one of our residents. K.C. is currently the only dog that lives at The Lake Merritt, but he is one of many companions in our community. We have a lot of purr-fectly pretty kitties.

The Lake Merritt is a pet friendly community, as we believe in the healing power of companion pets for older adults. There have been many studies on this issue, and claims promoting the benefits of companion animals are many, but just to name a few:


  • Pets help lower blood pressure and pulse rate
  • Older adults with pets can have lower rates of depression
  • Pets fight loneliness; decrease feelings of isolation
  • Pets can make seniors more active
  • Pets can ease the loss of a loved one
  • Pets offer affection and unconditional love
  • Pets help increase social interaction

We love our pets.  Our residents love our pets too.  K.C. is a wonderful companion for his owner, but he positively affects many other residents in our community.  K.C. cannot walk down a hallway without a resident (or employee) stopping to pet and coo at him.  Some of our residents even volunteer to walk K.C. in the afternoon.  K.C. is one lucky pooch, but our residents, his owner, and our staff are truly the lucky ones.



Making a Difference - Have a Heart

by Johanna Leonard
April 2015

One person who is making a difference is Elisa Reutinger, who leads our art and crafts program. Elisa received her AA in Fine Art from the College of Marin and has continued her passion for art ever since. She taught art at a charter school and had classes for her daughters and friends in her home. Professionally, Elisa has worked as an activities director in East Bay senior communities and today enjoys working one-on-one with older adults for her newly founded craft a-la-carte business.

The Lake Merritt persuaded Elisa to create art with the residents of our community twice a month. Participants have learned creative book making, felting, sculpting with clay, and even paper making.

One of my favorite projects Elisa developed was "Have A Heart.” Elisa wanted to use art to make a statement on Valentine's Day, which can be a lonesome time for some older adults. She was able to get ten different older adult communities in the East Bay to participate and many residents enjoyed creating hearts out of clay, felt, paper mache, and yarn. Each community then hung the hearts on nearby bare trees. The idea was to acknowledge our older adults and to showcase their art to the world at large.

Elisa's ultimate goal was to promote awareness of seniors in our society. Many people feel that ageism exists because there is a lack of social contact with older adults. Elisa's project was a huge success and illustrates that if you spend time with older adults, especially those at The Lake Merritt, you will see that older adults are intelligent, fun, interesting, and appreciative. 



Beer Me!

by Guest Blogger Ryan Wilcox
Programming Coordinator
April 2015

Beer connoisseur Chris Chaplin, one of my best friends, was set to begin his presentation.  Next to the serving tray stood fifteen bottles of the finest craft brews we could find. “We’re in heaven,” I told the audience.

Chris’ unique presentation, part of The Lake Merritt’s weekly lecture series, Conversations at The Lake Merritt, that features thought-provoking talks by authorities in their fields, was half-master class and full-sensory massage. As an accomplished home brewer, Chris had us smell, taste and touch a variety malts and hops as we learned about their zythological applications. (One of the many things we learned is that “zythology” is the study of beer).

Chris illuminated the booming world of beer making and consumption with heady stories and fascinating factoids. Did you know that beer is the third-most popular beverage in the world, behind only water and tea, or that beer was being brewed in Mesopotamia and Egypt at least 3,900 years ago?

After learning the differences between ales and lagers, discussing the base styles of beer and how a few familiar brands are made and distributed, we got to the payoff. The tasting was an eye-opener for many in attendance—and maybe the most fun I’ve had during a Conversations program.

We started with two refreshing, light brews: the Weihenstephan, from the oldest brewery in the world in Bavaria and the Bavarian-style Hefeweizen beer, which was a big hit with its smooth yeasty taste and hints of banana.

Our taste tour took us from Europe to the Americas and back again. We savored Anchor Porter and Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA—both mighty fine West Coast beers. We finished the day with two knockout Belgian beers. You know it’s good if it comes in what looks like a champagne bottle. The Saison Dupont Farmhouse Ale won us over with its creamy, fruity flavor. Finally, the Lindeman’s Lambic changed our idea of what a beer could be. Several residents remarked that they didn’t think they liked beer that much, but they loved this. That might be because drinking the low alcoholic peach lambic is a little like drinking an extremely delicious juice. This was both the climax and the conversion moment for many in attendance.

Guests and residents stayed long after the talk had finished to chat with Chris and sneak another taste. All in all, it was a singular treat (and a free event) that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere, let alone in a senior community!



Inside the Wonderful World of Marching Bands

by Johanna Leonard
February 2015

Ryan Wilcox, an energetic University of California Berkeley graduate, The Lake Merritt Independent Senior’s Program Director and self-confessed ‘band nerd,’ presented an exclusive audio-video presentation on America’s distinctive marching band tradition and an inside look at the Cal Band last Thursday. His presentation featured a special appearance and live music from Cal’s acclaimed Straw Hat Band.

As part of his program of photos and video clips, Ryan showed us how America is crazy about its marching bands which pervade our culture both today and in yesteryear. Whether it is the famed song “76 Trombones” leading the big parade in The Music Man, (a musical about the importance of band music in our country’s heartland), or our love of national drum corps competitions (and the many championships of Concord’s famed Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps), there are band lovers around the country.

And, Ryan Wilcox knows his band! For the entire four years he attended Cal he was part of the Cal Band and moved up into its leadership. He fell in love with marching band while playing alto sax in his high school’s ensemble. Later he enjoyed much camaraderie and built many friendships as a member of Cal’s band. “I was on quite a few committees during my four years in the band. My duties included teaching members how to march (and not crash into each other), designing field shows, directing and organizing performances and writing musical arrangements,” he said.

When the 20+ members Cal Straw Hat Band members took the stage to perform on Thursday, they played traditional and pop songs and also show off some of their zany props. 




My Favorite Memories of 2014

by Johanna Leonard
January 2015

This is the time of year when we often reflect on the previous year to hopefully improve ourselves for the New Year. In the past week or so, I began to think about the top five experiences that I had at The Lake Merritt in 2014.

There were so many amazing events that I considered for the slots two through five. Our fabulous Oscar Night; the Chinese New Year party; a reading by Oakland's Youth Poet Laureate; the publication of our community's first compilation of fiction and non fiction from our residents, Writers of Merritt; and presenting the top seven City of Oakland mayoral candidates in September and October. I could go on and on!

But there is no question in my mind of the top experience I had at The Lake Merritt in 2014 was a conversation that emerged from our weekly discussion group “Topic of the Week.” This group of residents chooses to discuss a variety of topics, but we mainly converse about politics and current events.

Several months ago, we read an article from the New York Times about the difficulties that America’s women's colleges were having with the concept of transgender students. There were so many questions they had to consider. For example, how would the college administration handle it when a woman student or faculty member was transgendering to become a male or if a man was transgendering to become a female? Should a women's college accept a women transgendering to male? It was a very thought provoking article and generated a lively discussion! The group empathized with both the women students at the college and those were transgenders. But this was just the background for my favorite experience of the year. During the discussion, one of our residents, a gay man, noted that he was so pleased to be having this discussion. He said that he did not know many places where this topic could be so thoughtfully discussed. He told me that in all of his years he had never lived in a community where he felt so accepted for who he was. He is 65 year old. I left that conversation with a huge smile on my face thinking how lucky I was to make a difference in someone's life.

(Of special note: “Of the nation's 119 single-sex colleges for men or women, Mills College in Oakland is apparently the only campus that explicitly lets applicants choose a gender and be considered for enrollment - if that choice is female.” - San Francisco Chronicle – 8/21/14.)



Come Taste Restaurant Week at The Terrace Room

by Johanna Leonard
January 2015

The Lake Merritt is a unique community in many aspects, from our building’s landmark status to its customized transportation, but what really sets us apart from the other retirement and senior communities is that The Terrace Room Restaurant & Bar is, and always has been, open to the public.

Today is the beginning of Restaurant Week in the City of Oakland. It runs from January 15th to January 25th. I would hazard a guess that The Lake Merritt is the only restaurant situated in a community for older adults that has ever participated in Oakland’s Restaurant Week! In fact, we have participated for several years.  Restaurant Week is a celebration of the culinary scene in the City of Oakland, which has always been strong, but over the past several years has really exploded.

Our community dines in The Terrace Room Restaurant & Bar along with our regulars from the community, downtown businesses, and the general public. The intergenerational demographics during a weekend brunch can range from two years old to ninety-two years young. Having our restaurant open to the public has really permitted our Chef to offer quality dining options and a wide variety of menu choices to our residents, their family members and friends.

Take advantage of Oakland’s Restaurant Week! We’re offering a prix fixe menu for $30, plus tax and gratuity. 

First Course:
Roasted Wild Mushroom Tart
Roasted North Coast Chanterelle Mushroom and Caramelized Shallots
on House Made Puff Pastry Glazed with a Thyme Beurre Blanc


Poached Pear Salad
Baby Red Oak Leaf with a Sweet Poached Pear, Candied Walnuts,
and Point Reyes Bleu Cheese with a Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Second Course:
Chicken Supreme
Chicken Breast Roulade Stuffed with Carrots and Leeks served
over a Crispy Potato Cake with both Dijon and Pear Demi Sauces


Fresh Dungeness Crab, Mussels, and Calamari in a Rich Tomato Broth
with Fennel and Poblano Chiles served over Toasted Sourdough

Third Course:
Lake Merritt Swan
Swan Profiterole filled with TCHO Chocolate Mousse
on a Pool of Creme Anglaise


Please join us for lunch or dinner and enjoy our Chef’s special creations for this week. The great thing about The Terrace Room Restaurant is that you do not have to be a resident to dine here, but considering the alternatives, you might just fantasize about living at The Lake Merritt someday! Bon Appetite!



Bringing in the New Year in Style

by Johanna Leonard
January 2015

Happy New Year! The Lake Merritt was a happening place as we welcomed in 2015 last Wednesday.  To celebrate the evening, The Lake Merritt hosted a sophisticated dinner party for residents as well as many family members and friends.

Our lovely soiree began with cocktails and live music from pianist and crooner Rodney Bell who performed jazz standards in the lobby on the baby grand piano.  Our own Programming Coordinator, Ryan Wilcox, accompanied Rodney Bell on his guitar.  

We then all sat down for a spectacular seven-course meal orchestrated by our Chef de Cuisine Todd Fisher and his staff who enjoyed showing off their experience with French cuisine.


Pinot Noir Poached Pear with Mincemeat with a Red Oak Lettuce Bouquet

Dungeness Crab Bisque in a Sourdough Bowl

Blood Orange Granita

Rosemary Prawn Brochette with Taro Chips & Dried Tomato Oil

Lamb Medallion with Potato Quiche & Glazed Baby Carrots

Bleu Cheese & Pomegranate Crostini

Chocolate Ganache Triangles


It was a fun party! The Terrace Room echoed with laughter and friendship.  Although it was initially difficult to get everyone's attention, our Master of Ceremony, Ryan Wilcox, led a toast to our wonderful community, our excellent service staff, and especially gave thanks to Chef Todd and his crew - Ryan, Erika, Julian, and Gerald - for such a memorable meal.

Near the bewitching hour, we returned to the lobby to count down the evening and finally sang the traditional "Auld Lang Syne." Many expressions of "Happy New Year" were wished for one and all accompanied with hugs and kisses to thank them for their friendships in the past year.  As January begins and we step into the future, we wish a Happy New Year to all and offer our best wishes for a fruitful 2015. 



Hanukkah Lights Shine for the Holidays

by Johanna Leonard
December 2014

Shabbat is Seth's Bar Mitzvah Project

The Lake Merritt celebrated Hanukkah in 2014 with a Shabbat service and special candle lighting ceremony.  One Friday per month, The Lake Merritt is pleased to have Seth Browbosky and his mother, Cantor Ilene Keyes from Temple Sinai in Oakland come to our community to lead a Shabbat service.  Seth guides our gathering of residents and friends in songs and prayers as part of his Bar Mitzvah project.  In the Jewish faith, Shabbat begins at sundown Friday evenings and ends Saturday night with the appearance of the first three stars.  It is primarily a time of rest and spirtual enrichment.

Hanukkah Lights Shine for the Holidays
This month, we combined our Shabbat service with a candle lighting ceremony to celebrate the Festival of Lights or as more commonly known, Hanukkah.  The Festival of Lights celebrates two great events - the defeat of the Syrian-Greeks so that Jews were able to return to the Temple in Jerusalem and a miraculous happening in which a day's supply of oil kept temple lamps lit for eight consecutive nights.  Now, more than 2,200 year later, Hanukkah is commemorated "with the lighting of a special candelabrum called the menorah or chanukiah which has nine branches.  The holiday is also celebrated with special foods and games and with the giving of gifts."  At The Lake Merritt, many of our residents brought their own menorahs, and we all lit the candles and sang traditional hymns recalling the miracles of Hanukkah.

Our combined celebration of Shabbat and Hanukkah concluded with a traditional meal of beef brisket, potato latkes served on a bed of applesauce with a dollop of sour cream on top, and chocolate decadence cake.


Source from The Little Book of Jewish Celebrations by Ronald Tauber.



Annual Holiday Party - A Quacking Good Time

by Johanna Leonard
December 2014

On November 30th, The Lake Merritt welcomed in the holiday season! For the third year in a row, Randall and Cheryl Berger, the owners of The Lake Merritt, invited all of the residents, as well as their family and friends, to be their guests for a fantastic holiday dinner to thank them for making The Lake Merritt such a success.

With a 12-foot tall decorated Christmas tree, along with holiday lighting and music adorning the entryway and lobby, over 160 people entered The Terrace Room to celebrate the tastes and fellowship of the season. Our chef sliced prime rib “to order” and also offered delicious grilled salmon accompanied by green beans, mashed potatoes, and ratatouille. Wine and beer were available for interested parties and holiday cookies, coffee and delectable hot chocolate rounded out the evening.

The Bergers decided to do something new this year and added a photo booth. Guests were encouraged to have fun with family members to pose for a holiday photo. The technology was so up to date that guests left the party with their photos (and a link to a website to print even more) – providing all those who had "fun with props" a unique memento of each family’s get together. WOW! What fun! 

What no one knew was that they were in for a special treat. Randy Berger had made a commitment to our own Community Relations Director, Diane Broch, that he would perform his award-winning bird calls for the party. Randy’s rendition of the five-part call of the Marila Americana (more commonly known as the “Red-Headed Duck”) was the winner of the prestigious Piedmont High School Leonard J. Waxdeck Annual Bird Calling Contest in 1973. It was so unique “back in the day” that the highschooler’s performance (enhanced during his teen years by an incredible red-headed Afro hairdo) was featured on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and NBC Nightly News with John Chancellor and many other media outlets. Now over 40 years later, we laughed at the duck’s many antics and the fantastic sounds Randy made to bring the duck to life! Here's
 a photo of Randy’s 1973 performance which is part of the Oakland Museum’s permanent collection.

As the evening wound down, Randy, Cheryl and I (in my role as Executive Director) introduced members of the staff, from the kitchen to the front office. As members of the staff came forward and stepped into the limelight, they were greeted with rounds of applause. We joined with the audience in expressing our appreciation to all who have worked so hard on behalf of our residents in 2014.

As our party-goers said goodbye with many hugs, I heard it said over and over again how this year’s Holiday party was the best one yet! Here's a toast to our fabulous residents, families, and friends and to a happy holiday season!

Photo from The Oakland Tribune Collection, the Oakland Museum of California. Gift of ANG Newspapers. Photographer Jim Edelen 1973.



Our Tree of Thanks

by Johanna Leonard
November 2014

This is the time of year that we try to hit the pause button in our lives to give thanks to the people, places and things that make our life so rich and so worth living. For the second year in a row, The Lake Merritt has encouraged residents, families, friends and employees to express their thankfulness on our Tree of Thanks. When completed with hand-written messages, this five foot high tree is a stunning picture of fall, covered in leaves of yellow and orange. It is our hope that our seasonal visitors along with members of community select a leaf or two from our Concierge desk and add their messages of thanks to the tree.

Last year, we had a full tree of wonderful leaves. I wanted to share several of them with you to remind us of the memories and appreciations which make us happy and life so enjoyable.

I am grateful to have this refuge from the storm


I am grateful for the here and Oakland family....the world outside my window and the people here who make it possible.

I am grateful for still walking around this beautiful lake and environs


Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!  From all of us to you and your families.