Harbor Tower Village Community Blog

Oak Harbor man Paul Birkeland reflects on his CIA career

By admin: 08/05/2014 @ 9:14 am


Paul Birkeland received two awards from Poland because of his work in that country. He received the Gold Cross of Merit and Order of Polonia Restituta, two of the highest decorations offered to recognize people for their service to the country. - Photo by Michelle Beahm/Whidbey News-Times

MICHELLE BEAHM, Whidbey News-Times Reporter

Nationally recognized as a great place to retire, Whidbey Island is filled with myriad aging adults with fascinating life stories.

Take, for example, 95-year-old Paul Birkeland. He currently resides in Harbor Tower Village in Oak Harbor, though he’s lived in the city for decades.

His life can all be traced to a mishap.

His parents, Carl and Sophie Birkeland, both from Norway, met and married in the United States.

While they were visiting their families in Norway, Birkeland said they “got stuck.”

That started a long career for him and his father with the United States government.

During their vacation, the United States joined in World War I, and travel between Norway and the U.S. was suddenly restricted.

Birkeland’s father found a job with the U.S. Embassy, and from there his life was shaped.

“He joined the state department. He made a career out of that,” Birkeland said. “Then when I came along, I made a career out of it, too.”

Birkeland grew up all over Europe. He lived in Norway, Latvia, Finland, Poland and Denmark, before eventually landing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, studying political science and participating in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

After graduating, he joined the army full time. When his training was complete, Birkeland was sent to London as a military attache, to work with people exiled from their own countries because of the fighting in World War II.

When that war was over, he was then sent to Yugoslavia through the state department to help with the residual fighting between political parties there.

“When I went to Yugoslavia, the first thing that happened was I got sick,” he recounted.

Having contracted scarlet fever, Birkeland was quarantined for a month inside the embassy and, though no one could enter his room, he wasn’t wanting for company.

“The word that I got was that they said, hey, a captain is here, and he’s single,” Birkeland said. “On their lunch hours, the ladies would come over and visit me, and I wound up marrying one of them.”

Birkeland’s daughter Carla Birkeland said that Yugoslavia was not the first place they’d crossed paths.

When Birkeland was in Washington, D.C., for training before going to London, his future wife, Jane Downs, was in a boarding house just down the street from where he was staying. They were also in London simultaneously, as she was working in the U.S. Embassy at the time.

One day, when she was leaving the embassy and he was arriving, they crossed paths. She was wearing a multi-colored beret that was striking.

“We didn’t know each other, but I noticed that hat,” Birkeland said.

Carla said that the connection wasn’t made until after their marriage, about two months after they met in Yugoslavia. Her mom’s trunk arrived late, and it was when she was unpacking it that Birkeland discovered the beret.

After that, the two traveled the world together on Birkeland’s many assignments. They lived in Washington, D.C., Norway, Denmark, Liberia and other places. Along the way, they had five children: Leslie, Carla, Paul, Janet and Ann.

Sometime during the Cold War, Birkeland left the Army and joined the State Department as a political attache. Not long after that, he was recruited by the CIA.

“I was of interest to them for several reasons,” he said. “One was the fact that I speak five or six foreign languages. I fit in with that crowd, so they recruited me.”

“We were all, as children, oblivious,” Carla Birkeland said.

“We just thought we were with the embassy and living abroad.”

When the family was living in Denmark during the Cold War, Birkeland knew invasion from Russia was a possibility and bought a boat for his family as an escape plan. They used it as a pleasure boat to quash suspicion, but Birkeland said “it was intended for escape to Sweden.”

They never needed to use it to escape.

“One mistake that a lot of people make is they hear I worked for the CIA, and they think spy,” Birkeland said.

“That was not the case because we never spied. We hired spies.”

His main job with the state department and later the CIA was to gather intelligence that might be of interest to the government.

Birkeland retired in 1973 in Oak Harbor, a place he and Jane found “by luck.”

“Everybody that we know has remarked as to what a nice place it was that we retired,” Birkeland said.

Jane passed away in 2000 at the age of 82.

Birkeland still owns the house he and his wife bought, though for the last four years, he’s been living in Harbor Tower Village in Oak Harbor, and his daughter Carla visits him frequently.

Pictured: Paul Birkeland received two awards from Poland because of his work in that country. He received the Gold Cross of Merit and Order of Polonia Restituta, two of the highest decorations offered to recognize people for their service to the country. Image Credit: Photo By Michelle Beahm/Whidbey News-Times Reporter


Oak Harbor retirement center recognized for care

By admin: 07/22/2014 @ 7:42 am



Michelle Beahm
Whidbey News-Times Reporter

Hazel Welliver, the executive director of Harbor Tower Village in Oak Harbor, is proud of the retirement community, with good reason.

Harbor Tower Village was recently awarded the bronze Commitment to Quality Award from the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living. This award is given to communities that exemplify a commitment to the goal of making lives for their residents better.

The bronze award is the first applicants can receive; after that, they can then apply for the silver award and then the gold.

But Harbor Tower Village, while planning on applying for the silver award in the fall, won’t be changing anything about how they run their facility to sway their chances.

“We’ll always just do what we’ve got to do and try to make (life) better for them,” said nurse Shannon DelCiello, who runs the Wellness Department for Harbor Tower Village.

Welliver credits DelCiello as being instrumental in earning the national recognition.

As part of their application for the award, the community had to provide a measurable example of how they improved the life of a resident, so DelCiello suggested the story of how two residents with uncontrolled diabetes were saved from having to go on insulin. She said when she arrived at the community, the two residents had very high blood sugar and were quickly approaching a point of needing insulin.

“I thought, you know what, we’re going to see if we can stop that,” DelCiello said.

Her plan involved working with the two residents to get them to make healthier choices in regard to food and exercise, and to educate them on how to continue making those choices without constant supervision.

“So the staff, the entire staff, the kitchen, myself, the doctor and families all worked together in unison to try to get these people to make healthier choices for themselves without having to be watched all the time,” DelCiello said.

Eventually, one of the residents no longer needed to regularly check their blood sugar at all, and the other resident went from having to check four or more times a day to only checking twice a week.

So when she was asked to provide a measurable example for the award application, this was first on her mind.

“I think that if you can take something like that and be able to make their lives better so that they, one, felt so much better about themselves and, for two, they accomplished something that was great in their lives,” DelCiello said. “I think that was fantastic.”

According to her, the all-inclusive, hands-on approach to helping improve the lives of their residents is their normal strategy.

“You have to be involved with all of your residents on a personal level,” DelCiello said. “They’re not just diagnoses, they’re not just ‘folks in a home,’ they are actually people, and we need to be able to take what they’ve got and make it better.”

DelCiello has been a geriatrics nurse for 32 years and started when she was 17 years old. She said geriatrics is her passion.

“They do an outstanding job of quality for their seniors in their community, and they are working toward making sure everybody has good, great experiences at their building,” said Stuart Brown, chief operating officer of Village Concepts, the assisted living management company Harbor Tower Village is a part of.

Eight Village Concepts communities received the bronze award for commitment to quality this year. Brown said that so many communities receiving the award this year helps the company recognize that they are “consistently, throughout all of our communities” committed to quality care.

“It’s a privilege to come into work,” Welliver said. “That’s how all of us feel. We’ve got a tremendous staff.

“You can’t teach somebody to have that compassion gene. They either have it or they don’t. You can teach them to do a job, but you can’t teach them to care. And this staff cares.”

Pictured: Lou Biddle looks through a selection of books brought by the Sno-Isle Library Bookmobile. Program Director Arielle Corrin arranged for it to start coming once a month so the residents could check out books to read that aren’t offered in the Harbor Tower Village library. Image Credit: Photo By Michelle Beahm/Whidbey News-Times


Harbor Tower Village receives Bronze National Quality Award

By admin: 05/30/2014 @ 2:02 pm



Washington State center recognized by national program for commitment to quality care  

Oak Harbor, Washington – Harbor Tower Village has been recognized as a 2014 recipient of the Bronze – Commitment to Quality Award for its dedication to improving the lives of residents through quality care. The award is the first of three distinctions possible through the National Quality Award program, presented by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL). The program honors centers across the nation that have demonstrated their commitment to improving quality care for seniors and individuals with disabilities.

“I applaud Harbor Tower Village for its commitment to delivering quality care,” said Mark Parkinson, President and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. “This award represents the dedication that each Bronze recipient has given to improve quality in the long term and post-acute care profession.”

Implemented by AHCA/NCAL in 1996, the National Quality Award Program is centered on the core values and criteria of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. The program assists providers of long term and post-acute care services in achieving their performance excellence goals.

The program has three levels: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Centers begin the quality improvement process at the Bronze level, where they develop an organizational profile with essential performance elements such as vision and mission statements and an assessment of customers’ expectations. Bronze applicants must also demonstrate their ability to implement a performance improvement system. Trained Examiners review each Bronze application to determine if the center has met the demands of the criteria. As a recipient of the Bronze – Commitment to Quality Award, Harbor Tower Village may now move forward in developing approaches and achieving performance levels that meet the criteria required for the Silver – Achievement in Quality Award.

“This award demonstrates that Harbor Tower Village is committed to striving for quality improvement,” said Ed McMahon, Ph.D., Chair of the AHCA/NCAL National Quality Award Board of Overseers. “Harbor Tower Village has laid a strong foundation for continuing on to the Silver and Gold levels.”

The awards are sponsored by AHCA/NCAL Associate Business Members My InnerView, by National Research Corporation and PointRight. My InnerView represents the true voice of nursing home and assisted living residents, families, and employees with the most insightful quality measurement solutions and satisfaction surveys in the healthcare continuum. PointRight is the recognized leader in data-driven analytics for health care and insurance. Harbor Tower Village was one of 390 centers to receive the Bronze level award. The award will be presented to Harbor Tower Village during AHCA/NCAL’s 65th Annual Convention and Exposition, October 5-8, 2014, in Washington, D.C.


Ice Cream Social

By admin: 05/12/2014 @ 9:52 pm


Ice cream social with the Boys and Girls Club of Oak Harbor.



Tulip Festival

By admin: 04/28/2014 @ 8:28 am

On Thursday, April 24th, a dozen residents from Harbor Tower Village journeyed to Mount Vernon, WA for the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and Kiwanis’ Salmon Barbecue. For lunch, residents dined on a scrumptious menu of wild salmon barbecue over alder, baked potatoes, coleslaw, garlic bread, and ice cream. Afterwards, residents took a beautiful van ride through the vast multi-acre tulip fields of the Skagit River Valley. For the album, click here!



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