It’s a perfect day in Duck, North Carolina, in the Outer Banks. Karen Quisenberry and Judy Bowman, along with their dad Glen Ostdiek, have just come into their beach house after a yoga session by the ocean. It’s their 34th year of taking a family vacation to the Outer Banks; they never missed a year, even during 2020. They are relaxed and at peace, enjoying their time together—all 20 of them. They’re missing four members of their family—three who were unable to make the trip, plus their beloved mom Barb, who passed away in 2014. But this annual Outer Banks trip is a special family tradition.
And this is just one of many vacations the family enjoys. A close-knit family who are now scattered across the country, the whole family drops everything they can to keep the Outer Banks tradition alive. It’s a way to honor the memory of their mother, fill their father’s heart with love, and simply be together during a time when technology has made it so easy to stay physically apart.
A Move to Park Place of Elmhurst
On the advice of a professor, Glen, a Nebraska native and CPA, moved to Chicago so he could work somewhere other than in a bank. One of 13 kids, he met only child and registered nurse Barbara, and they soon fell in love, married, and had five children. They settled in the suburbs in Clarendon Hills and stayed there for almost 50 years.
But as time moved on, their big house began to seem unmanageable, especially when Glen had to spend most of his time as the primary caregiver to Barb, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The couple moved to Park Place of Elmhurst in 2012 and planned to live together in their 3-bedroom apartment on the retirement side of the community. But unfortunately, Barb’s Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point where she needed to move to an apartment in Park Place of Elmhurst Health & Wellness Center’s Memory Care.
“At first, it just pulled on our heartstrings,” Karen says. “When they first moved in, Dad had been very sick. I think it had been from being Mom’s caretaker for so long. But Park Place was a godsend. Mom felt so safe there, and that made Dad feel safe, too. He started to get healthier himself, and he was able to have lunch with Mom and visit every day since they lived on the same campus.”
Karen and Judy remember how the staff, who have always been so loving to both their parents, helped their mom relive her time as a nurse. “They set up Dad’s old pill bottles, and Mom would put Skittles in them. When we’d visit, she’d take us on ‘rounds’ with her and it was just wonderful.”
When Barb died, the family was concerned about how Glen would handle losing his wife of 58 years. But they were so thankful he had his Park Place family around to support him.
“Alzheimer’s can be such an isolating disease,” Judy says. “He’d stopped doing the working and traveling that he loved because he loved Mom more, and she could really only do the Outer Banks trip each year. Even that was a lot. So his traveling had to stop. But then at Park Place, all of a sudden, there was so much for him to do socially. He could play bridge, organize dinner parties. It was his second chance of rebuilding his life.”
And with that new life, he wanted to travel again.
On the Road Again
When Barb and Glen were raising their kids, they’d take a family vacation each summer. “It was always somewhere different,” Judy says. “We’d pile all seven of us in the station wagon. My mother would put up the plastic on the windows so it wouldn’t get too hot. That’s how we knew we were going somewhere.”
That “somewhere” was the vacation destination that the family chose together. Once they decided where they were going, Glen would have the kids write a letter to the Chamber of Commerce. “All winter we’d get all these hotel brochures and things, and we’d pick where we were staying and what we’d do,” Judy remembers. “All year was spent planning for these trips.”
After the kids were grown, Glen and Barb had the opportunity to enjoy more exotic trips all over the world to places like Africa, China, and Argentina. “They just loved to travel,” Karen says. “It was always a passion of theirs.”
After Barb passed away, Judy asked Dad where he wanted to go. His answer?
Judy was surprised to hear that. But Glen wanted to show his family where he and Barb had traveled and what they’d seen. “And it kept going after that.” Judy went through scrapbooks of her parents’ travels over the years, and the family found ways to reconstruct those same pictures with the new traveling crew.
They planned a big recreation of their parents’ California trip for the fall of 2020, including a stay at the Coronada in San Diego Bay, and then a drive up the coast to Carmel-by-the-sea on California’s Monterey Peninsula. But when the pandemic hit, it seemed they’d have to cancel.
“Dad says, ‘Judy, We haven’t booked those California flights yet.’ And I said, ‘Dad, we’re not going to California.’ He said, ‘Why not?’ I said, ‘Well, the pandemic, the wildfires—pick your plague. Do you still want to go?’ And he did.” Judy talks about the huge safety steps the family took, how they self-quarantined and tested and took every precaution they could. “No one was going to tell Dad we couldn’t go on our annual trip.”
“Because of work and other responsibilities, one of my sisters and my brother couldn’t come along because they couldn’t self-quarantine as much as we needed them to,” Karen says. “We quarantined for two weeks before and then the trip was two weeks long, and that was too much for them.”
But they all just wanted to give their dad the trip he wanted, as long as they had a safe way to do it. “Dad’s thinking was that the wildfires and COVID would keep everyone inside, so we’d be safe outside,” Karen says. “And you know what? That is pretty much how it was. We ate outside under heat lamps and just enjoyed ourselves.”
Other trip recreations have included Florida trips to Bonita Springs and Longboat Key, to Branson and the Ozarks, to Nebraska for a family reunion, Lake Tahoe, Pebble Beach, and Yosemite. A special (and favorite) trip for all of them was a recent travel through the Canadian Rockies. Judy went by her mom’s old itinerary, and they enjoyed the same high tea in Victoria, British Columbia, and stayed in all the same hotels.
“Even the tea cups we were using were the same pattern as the ones they used for high tea decades ago,” Karen says. They tried to recreate the same pictures their parents took, and they brought back the same joy that Glen had felt the first time he’d visited these places, even though he knew it wasn’t exactly the same without his bride. But Glen talks about the Butchart Gardens in Victoria that he especially loved. He brings it up several times, the beauty of the garden ingrained in his memory from both visits.
Glen turned 92 this past April, a fact the family does not take for granted. “We’re feeling like we don’t want too much time to pass before we take another trip.” They have a drive to Kohler, Wisconsin, planned soon and an architecture boat tour in Chicago is coming up as well. Each year they also take a Florida trip and try to get together in the Chicago area for Thanksgiving. And, of course, there will also be the Outer Banks.
Whenever Glen leaves Park Place to take these trips, the family has to put a note on his door to tell Glen’s neighbors that he’s safe and traveling with family—everyone worries about him if they don’t see him. Park Place will help pack up Glen’s medications for the family and one of his neighbors will pick up his newspapers for him. He makes sure his family updates Park Place of Elmhurst with the pictures of his travels, because they want to see where he’s been and what he’s up to, and they look forward to hearing all about his trips as soon as he returns.
The good news is, Glen has two families who care for him deeply: one that he travels the country with, and one that is waiting for him in Elmhurst. At 92 years old, you can never have too many people who love you.