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“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” 

These words once spoken by Winston Churchill have science to back them. Numerous research studies show that the more people give of their time, the happier they are and the longer they live. 

It’s news that bodes well for Karl and Ella Pfaehler.

The Pfaehlers met in nursing school in Philadelphia, and married in 1963. Before they met, Karl had served three years in the Army and decided to make a career of it. Karl and Ella and their two boys, David and Kris, bounced around over the next two decades, and were stationed as far away as Germany. Karl’s service was primarily serving in psychiatric nursing. Ella raised their boys and as they got older and more independent, she resumed her career in pediatric nursing.

The Army eventually brought them to Fort Jackson, and they discovered how much they loved the warmth of the South, not just the mild temperatures, but the people as well. So when Karl retired as a Colonel in 1989 after 26 years of service, the Pfaehlers decided to make Columbia their permanent home.

Over the years, Ella had discovered a love of swimming but needed an indoor pool for year round exercise. She soon learned about Still Hopes’ indoor pool and swim exercise classes that are open to the community, and was hooked. For three years the Pfaehlers took swim classes, meeting residents and making friends. 

“We started feeling more and more at home,” said Ella. “And then eventually people started asking ‘so when are you moving in?’” 

So the Pfaehlers put their house up for sale and made the move in 2016, and have never looked back.

“We have more friends here than we’ve ever had in our lives. It’s just wonderful,” said Ella. “There is no strangeness when you meet a new person. They have open arms. People tend to let down their guard because they know you are in the same age bracket and so there’s no judgement.”

Karl agreed. “Coming here and meeting the different residents and getting to know the staff - we learned it was the perfect place to retire.”

With an easy transition by a welcoming community, the Pfaehlers were able to continue to pursue what they loved doing the most - helping others.

Karl had spent much of his pre-Covid time volunteering at the local Veterans Administration hospital, helping vets file their disability claims every Thursday and Friday. He says he looks forward to getting back to that. 

And Ella has taken volunteering during Covid to another level. 

“When the pandemic started I came up with a pattern to make masks and got a group of ladies together to sew them. We sewed 12-hundred masks and then moved onto gowns for the employees in the licensed areas. We also made smocks for the beauty shop when it reopened,” said Ella. “We’ve had so much fun we didn’t want to disband, so we’ve made bowl cozies to protect your hands from burning when you take a bowl out of the microwave. We sell those in the gift shop, and profits for those will help with the Still Hopes Resident’s Assistance Fund.”

They passed their love of serving others onto their children (both teachers), who, in turn, passed it to the grandchildren. In fact, their youngest granddaughter, Kirstin, is following in their footsteps and graduated just this week with her graduate nursing degree. Kirstin is also a fixture at Still Hopes Retirement Community in Columbia SC, having started here on the wait staff in catering, and then moving to an administrative position. And though she was told she wouldn’t be able to work full-time while pursuing her nursing degree, for Kirstin, giving up her job at Still Hopes was non-negotiable. She defied the odds, even putting in 60 hours at Still Hopes the week of her nursing exams. 

But it’s not just Kirstin’s desire to serve that pulls her toward Still Hopes. She says she loves the people, the culture of “family” among the employees and residents, and seeing her grandparents daily, and the special bond they share.

“They are so sweet to each other. Everyone sees it. At dances he pulls her onto the dance floor and embarrasses her constantly by telling her how great she is. I get to see that too and am learning so much from them,” said Kirstin.

Their fondness for each other is evident, in the way Karl talks about Ella. He proudly shared how her love of swimming branched into running and cycling when she became the only resident, alongside many younger Still Hopes employees, to participate twice in the Still Hopes sprint triathlon. 

And Ella was quick to point out that Karl does more for the Still Hopes community than he is willing to admit.

“He just hates to talk about himself. He plays a strong role here in passing information along to the residents via computer contacts,” said Ella. “He keeps an accurate and up-to-date list of email addresses and often helps a resident navigate the intricacies of YouTube and even ordering from Amazon. He’s my Superman.”

We are excited to share Karl and Ella’s story, and we want to thank them for all they do for the Still Hopes community!