‘I’m not worried’: Many older Nevada County residents are optimistic, and are making the most of the shelter-in-place order


The Union logoApril 7, 2020

Although certainly not the only demographic at risk of serious illness and death from the novel coronavirus, the elderly face elevated risks from COVID-19.

But that hasn’t dimmed the spirits of many older adults in Nevada County — quite the opposite. New celebratory and socializing rituals have arisen in these communities.

At Grass Valley’s Eskaton Village, independently living residents on Sparrow Circle head outside at 10 a.m. every morning to greet their neighbors from their own doorsteps, some blowing bubbles, honking horns, playing music and even dancing with the person they live with.

“It has really made a difference with morale,” said Priscilla Mayfield, a Sparrow Circle resident. “So many of our people are stuck inside and don’t talk to anybody.”

If residents can’t participate, they are asked to open their garage doors and turn on their porch lights to let neighbors know they are faring well.

Mayfield’s husband recently had his toe amputated, but being able to go outside and distantly interact with his neighbors has helped him. “It’s lifted his spirits,” said Mayfield. “People need to see some good news.”

Peg Vielbig calls the ritual, which includes 16 homes on the street, “sensible socializing.” Vielbig, who originally came up with the idea, says the liveliness typically lasts for 30 minutes, but many people linger outside longer. Outside, people can be seen ringing cowbells and playing cheery music from boom boxes.

The collective energy is particularly helpful for Vielbig, as her husband of 66 years died recently. If not for the socialized morning ritual, she said she would likely be in poor condition.

“We’re human beings, but we’re a lot more than that. We need each other, we need the whole thing,” she said. “It’s the combination of science and spirit.”

Many Eskaton Village members who don’t live independently are doing quite well despite the shelter-in-place order, according to Betsy Donovan, chief operating officer for the retirement community.

The village is following guidelines set by the California Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control to ensure all members and staff remain healthy. As of late last week, no cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed at Eskaton, according to Donovan.

To keep elders connected, village employees brought in tablets to help residents chat via Facebook and Zoom with their loved ones because visitations have been significantly restricted.

While some residents are anxious, many are feeling confident, and have been helping to ease stress in younger staff members.

“The Greatest Generation is who we’re dealing with, and they’ve been through a lot,” said Donovan. “A lot of the time residents are taking care of the staff.”


Hilda Wheeler, a 79-year-old Truckee resident, was working full time at the Tahoe Mountain Club before the pandemic hit. She’s been staying active and engaged now that she can no longer frequent her workspace.

Wheeler said she enjoys cooking, going for walks, reading The Union’s sister publication the Sierra Sun, and checking on her neighbors.

“I think the key is keeping busy,” she said.

The pandemic has reminded Wheeler of how polio once impacted kids of her generation. Because she’s experienced problems that have previously shaken the nation, and has personally endured her own hardships, having fought cancer for seven years, the Truckee resident remains optimistic.

“All of the people in this community are taking care of one another,” she said. “It’s little things that are the big picture about who Americans are.”

Madelyn Helling, the namesake of Nevada County’s library system, said she’s mostly been reading and talking on the phone with friends. The Grass Valley resident, who has reported feeling well, believes older individuals are more equipped to handle a situation like this.

“There’s more patience involved,” she said. “We’re used to not having everything go our way as much.”

Grass Valley resident and 66-year-old Jody Long said she’s also been doing well, surfing the internet in her spare time and watching movies.

“I’m a real computer buff,” she said. “I love the internet.”

Whenever she’s sad, she says she watches “America’s Got Talent” to cheer herself up.

Nevada City resident Jeff Kane, who has been playing music from a distance, said he tries to have three or four conversations each day with friends, particularly those who are older and more isolated.

“The longer you stay isolated, the more you tend to go off the deep end,” he said.

Kane said the pandemic, which he believes could be as significant as World War II, provides residents an opportunity to develop their social skills, allowing ample time to reach out to friends and family members.

While there is some amount of concern for older adults, many are optimistic and have shed feelings of anxiety by engaging with others and remaining active.

“I’m a survivor,” said Peg Vielbig, the woman who started the “sensible socializing” ritual. “I’m not worried at all about how things are going to turn out.”  View Photo Gallery/Video.

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