Part 2: Red Lodge a Model Age-Friendly Community

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, October 24, 2019
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Courtesy Photo
AARP awarded Dr. Don Redfoot its annual Andrus Award as the state volunteer. Left to Right: Alex Ward, Volunteer, Dr. Don Redfoot, Tim Summers, AARP State Director.

Dr. Don and Kathy Redfoot retired to Red Lodge in 2015. It was not a straight path from Billngs. Kathy had served as General Counsel for the Billings Clinic and Redfoot had worked as a teleworker for the national office of AARP. But they moved back to D.C. for 6 years before setting root in Red Lodge, living a total of 12 years of their careers from 1997-2009, in Billings. They had little idea what an impact their coming to Red Lodge would make.

Don Redfoot is a board member today of the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation (RLACF) working to further develop an “age friendly community” in Red Lodge and throughout Carbon County. 

“We came to Red Lodge not to make it, but because it was an age supportive community. It is remarkable both in Red Lodge and the surrounding county." 

The RLACF is working to have Carbon County designated as the second such “age friendly community” in Montana. 

Redfoot heaped praise: “The Foundation is really a remarkable institution in Carbon County, and their work deserves recognition.” He calls it a team effort between staff and a team of volunteers.

Of his lifelong field which he calls “inherently interesting”, he says, “It’s not just age. How do we have vibrant communities that include everyone? Friends, families, networks-those they can depend upon and the resources to support those networks. We see transport is an issue. Events to keep people connected.” 

He spoke at the Governor’s Counsel on Aging recently, on how to pursue this age friendly communities framework. He talked of “things communities can do to create the condition where people are likely to feel more connected.” 

He said, “I tend to use examples from what’s going on in Carbon County to show how."

One issue Redford brought up at the conference was how deeply loneliness affects health, especially in isolated rural areas. 

A 2018 AARP Study found loneliness decreases with age. One third of adults 45 and older are lonely based on a UCLA scale. Highest were 45-49, 46 percent are lonely. Only a quarter (24 percent) of those 70 and over are lonely.

But age related risks such as widowhood and inability to drive were associated with social isolation and loneliness.

Redfoot also spoke about the connection between the drug abuse in communities among people of all ages.  

“Meth amphetamines and opioids. Tens of thousands of opioids deaths. That is an issue…” but he also says it speaks of “profound despair.”

Loneliness is exacerbated by today’s changing ranch community. “It’s a tough way for folks (today) to make a living. Young people are leaving our eastern and northern counties in the state.”

He noted, “Ten years ago average age of a rancher was 58 years old.  There are a lot of folks reaching that stage struggling to keep the farm, keep the ranch, hitting all kinds of headwinds. They don’t have support of community.” People leave the area.  Montana is still home to 28,100 farm and ranch operations that cover 59,700,000 acres of land (63 percent of state land area). Its farm and ranch numbers are second only to Texas. The average size of these Montana farms and ranches is 2,125 acres. Small farms and ranches are in the minority, and they are dwindling. 

“They’re becoming less populated,” said Redfoot, “especially with grandkids leaving.” He says the value placed on independence may lead to unwillingness to seek help when experiencing problems in life, “especially in psychological issues.” 

Redfoot attended a branding at Clint Branger’s ranch in Roscoe. “There’s probably not a more independent lot than ranchers but when you go to a branding, it’s community. You don’t pay a single person to come to help.” He was impressed by seeing people of all ages-an old fashioned, naturally age-inclusive event. “Elders sit around and tell stories and help with food prep. Little kids are running around and the young are being taught and engaged in some of the process. Teenagers are riding out with middle-aged folks to gather the cattle. The whole community mobilized! It’s a wonderful event.”

He reflects, “It’s that kind of engagement whether in the urban area or rural area.” Redfoot supports “the consciousness of trying to retain some of that in the face of the fact that the world is changing.” 

Despite the need to be independent, Redfoot says, “it’s about being in the community in a way that’s empowering for you. I think people are threatened by services they see as ‘disempowering’, becoming dependent. In my experience it’s empowering, supporting their independence.” 

But, he says, “That’s part of what we’re looking at in age friendly communities.” 

RLACF first took a public survey about unmet needs. “Jumping off the page is transportation. That is true to all around-all senior centers in the county. It’s true in the Clarks Fork Valley, it’s true in Red Lodge, true in Roberts. We hear the same thing,” he said.

Redfoot refuses to single out the elderly. “Because it’s the process of living. It’s a whole life course perspective… It’s basically how do people give meaning to their lives. How do they find identity and purpose?”

Redfoot did his PhD dissertation on family photo albums noting, “They are inherently mapping the course of their lives.” But, “It’s a quaint notion now.” 

He talked about Red Lodge’s connectiveness with some humor, even in challenging circumstances. “We went for a hike. Got a call: my father-in-law had a seizure. He’d had a succession of seizures. We decided we’re not going to do that again. He had been hospitalized, can’t do anything.” 

After the Redfoots contacted the doctor, he helped them make plans to keep his father-in-law comfortable at home. 

Redfoot said, “The doctor got the hospice review and he said, ‘(By the way) there are some hikes you should be doing there.’ That’s the kind of relationship!”  

As another example he added, “My mother-in-law had a stroke. I spent her last five or six days at the clinic. She was slipping away and there was nothing more to be done.”

He observed, “There was a realization by the physicians, nurses and us that the patient wasn’t just the patient being cared for, it was us. I can’t say enough about the wonderful care.” 

“We (RLACF) got a grant from MDOT for a five year plan. We have that document and are now working towards aligning community resources to make that work, hopefully over the next year. But if there’s one need to identify a basic service if we’re going to have a connected community, it would be transportation.”

He notes, “With a land mass a little larger than the State of Delaware and 10,000 people, there is a need to access essential services like health care and how to stay socially connected. 

If there is one thing that would do it, that would be my wish.” 

Recently, the state office of AARP awarded Redfoot its annual “Andrus Award” as the state volunteer of the year on Oct. 22, in Helena.

Redfoot says, “While it is a personal honor, it truly is a recognition of the team of staff and volunteers at RLACF for the work related to the Age-Friendly Community initiative.”



The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

Fax: 406-446-2225

Toll-Free: 800-735-8843

Open: Monday-Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.