(MPR Photo/Chris Welsch)
Fireball is a word that comes up when people talk about Verna Toenyan, who coordinates Todd County’s senior services. “That seems like a strange one to use for a 62-year-old lady,” she says, bursting into a hearty laugh.
Toenyan, who used to run her own financial planning business, was born in Bertha and is dedicated to improving Todd County. “It’s just that I love the people and want everyone to have a bright future and options and opportunities, regardless of age, from a tiny baby on up.”
Toenyan works with eight local senior centers. “I try to help them be aware of the resources that are available,” she says. “I’m a cheerleader is what I am basically.” She also fundraises for Todd’s innovative Meals on Wheels bundled meals program, which delivers to elderly people living in the far reaches of the county, and coordinates a senior transportation network.
Often, she starts work at 5 am and doesn’t stop until well after dark. “As soon as I get a cup of coffee in me, I’m planning my day,” Toenyan says. If she gets tired, sometimes she pulls off onto the side of the road and sleeps in her car. “Naps are good for people,” she says. “It’s good contemplating time.”
Toenyan was instrumental in winning a Healthy Communities Partnership grant from the Initiative Foundation of Little Falls. “They are always trying to help people help themselves,” she says. “That community building piece is so important. As our community changes, as Todd County changes, it’s crucial that we are all rowing the same the way in the boat.”
One of the biggest changes the county is facing is an aging population. So far, thanks in part to Toenyan’s efforts and those of a host of local volunteers, the county has been able to provide the necessary services. That may be more difficult in the future as the ratio of elderly people continues to grow.
“We need to look for what we can do and not wait until it is too late,” says Toenyan, who cares for her husband who has Alzheimer’s. “Many people will wait for a crisis and then ask for help. It’s easier if you get ahead of the crisis. It’s more cost effective, too.”
Asked what keeps her going, Toenyan says, “It’s the people in Todd County. I think they really care. Though we could probably use a little more hope.”