Residents’ meals a priority for Hillcrest administrator

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Mary Bergren, administrator at Hillcrest?Home considers the staff and residents there to be her extended family.

Mary Bergren is the administrator of Hillcrest Home, rural Geneseo, a position she has held for the past 10 years. Prior to that she worked in the activities department at Hillcrest, and has been there for a total of 32 years. In that time she  has seen many changes at the home and says one of the more popular changes has been the addition of a buffet meal line for residents.

“I help with the breakfast buffet line each morning,” she said. “It is extremely important to stay in touch with the residents. We want to make sure they are taken care of.”

And since Mary enjoys cooking she can be seen occasionally preparing such popular breakfast items as Belgian waffles for residents and staff. “The Belgian waffles are very popular with everyone here and also with my family,” Mary laughs, adding when she prepares them at Hillcrest there are five waffle irons going for two hours. But she doesn’t see it as a time consuming project, she sees it as opportunity to have a good time with residents while creating wonderful memories.

“The more you do things like that the easier it is,” she reasons. “We serve the waffles with butter and syrup and then we have blueberry or cherry toppings available if they want.” The waffles can be topped off with whipped cream for a really special presentation.

“Since I have the five waffle irons going at once, the important thing is to be careful not to blow fuses, so we scatter them around — some are in the kitchen and some are in the dinning room.”

Mary is proud of the fact that Hillcrest Home will be receiving a grant for their Best Friends program. “It is a great program and is based on concepts for Alzheimer’s care,” she said. “We do things like put together scrapbooks with pictures of each resident and they enjoy looking at the scrapbooks. We are really one big family.”

Mary stresses the importance of that “homey” atmosphere at Hillcrest. “We believe in the Pioneer approach which began with a group of nursing home professional staff who envisioned something far beyond the traditional nursing institutions and identified new ways of operating a nursing home. They proposed innovative strategies to reconstruct the long term care system,” she said. As far as dining is concerned, a nursing facility’s kitchen can operate much like a restaurant, according to Mary. Buffet dining can allow residents to make choices regarding the time they would like to eat and the types of food they would like to choose.

“We want to make sure the residents can go through the line and make their own choices for their meals. It is giving part of their life back to them,” Mary said. “We also have an assisted dining area and those residents might not be able to go through the line, but they do still have choices for their meals. Meal times are important here.”

Mary said both the staff and residents really like the buffet dining. “No one would want to go back to the way it was before we began the buffet,” she said, adding that many times a resident may invite their family members to dine with them, something the staff encourages.

Growing up on a farm, Mary said she was involved in 4-H, taking many cooking projects and participating in demonstrations. “I also took home ec classes all through high school,” she said. “I’ve always liked cooking, especially baking.”

Mary adds that since they lived several miles from town, they couldn’t go to the grocery store on a whim. “If you wanted something, you made it,” she laughs. “I learned the basics of cooking from my mother, in fact I have a recipe for cream puffs that is her recipe and it brings back wonderful memories every time I make them.”

Mary adds sometimes when she gives the cream puff recipe to people, they are intimidated by the prospect of making the dessert. “They shouldn’t be though,” she said. “They are not difficult to make at all.” She stresses, however, if you’re going to make cream puffs, make the homemade filling also — that is what makes the cream puffs special. “I cringe when someone puts instant pudding in the cream puffs,” she laughs.

She has made the cream puffs for residents many times and they are a favorite. “You can make the cream puff batter in large batches, but you really have to make the filling one batch at a time,” she advises. “Otherwise the filling will just scorch and burn.”

For a special presentation Mary said she dusts the top of the cream puff with powdered sugar.

Mary and her husband, Jim, reside in Kewanee. She has one son, Jeff, of Chicago, and a stepson, Scott, of South Carolina.

Mary’s father was a resident at Hillcrest Home for five years and she remembers that was a very special time for her. “I was so glad to have him here and it helped me look at things from his side and from the side of families whose loved ones are here, and also from the administrative side,” she said.

According to Mary, there are lots of potlucks for employees at Hillcrest Home and also many “neighborhood parties” for staff and residents. “Usually someone will make the meat dish and everyone else will bring something to pass and we invite residents to join us,” she said. “We have pot lucks or parties for lots of special occasions.”

Although she likes to try new and different recipes, Mary says she has several favorite recipes that she uses often. “Frosted banana bars are something I like to do and occasionally the residents will request them so I’ll make a couple of pans of them and bring them in,” she said. “Or I have a recipe for a cheesy potato casserole that everyone seems to like.”

Mary laughs that when a friend was married recently she made 21 batches of the potato casserole to serve at the reception. “I put them in disposable pans and I had friends take them home and bake them then bring them to the reception,” she said. “I’ve made them here so much, it was no big deal.”

Hillcrest Home has about 125 employees and Mary said she has occasionally done a full meal for the staff. “I’m a little controlling so I really like to plan it and do it myself,” she laughs. “But everyone is so good to help.”

Those meals have included favorites like tacos or lasagna with garlic bread and salad, or hot dogs and brats. “I love to grill so I do that as often as I can,” she said.

If she is preparing a simple roast chicken, Mary said she stuffs it the same way she would a turkey, with a celery and bread stuffing. “I usually put some water and chicken bouillon in the bottom of an enamel roaster, then put the stuffed chicken on top and baste it with the broth as it roasts,” she said. “I put a little butter on top of the chicken after a while so it will brown. I roast it for about two hours, depending on the size of the chicken.”

Mary keeps her favorite recipes right at hand in a photo album. “I have my recipes categorically itemized — desserts, appetizers, main course — and then with categories, like main dishes, I separate even further by poultry, beef, pork, Italian, or maybe crockpot recipes,” she laughs.

“Like I said, I’m kind of a control freak but it works for me. I know exactly where my favorite recipes are.” Mary said she gets new recipes from newspapers, magazines or from friends.

Mary adds she doesn’t use cookbooks a lot, since she has a large collection of recipes in her photo album. “But I do like to sit in the evening and read cookbooks. It is very relaxing for me and I get good ideas,” she said.

She says she is definitely a recipe follower. “Even if it’s something I make all the time, like the cream puffs, I still get the recipe out,” she said. “And I’m also a measurer. I always level off the measuring cup when I’m measuring something like flour or sugar. Baking is real precise and when I’m baking I’m going to follow the recipe.”

Mary Bergren shares some of her favorite recipes.

Cream puffs

Mary Bergren

1/2 C. boiling water

1/2 C. flour

1/4 C. butter

2 eggs

Bring water to a boil, add butter and stir until melted. Add flour all at once, then stir until mixture leaves side of the pan. Remove from heat. Add unbeaten eggs, one at a time, beating to a smooth paste. Drop by tablespoonful on greased baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Slice tops off of shells and let cool.

Cream filling:

1/2 C. sugar

1/4 C. flour

1/2 t. salt

1-1/2 C. milk, scalded

1 egg

1-1/2 T. butter

3/4 t. butter

Mix together sugar, flour and salt. Gradually stir in hot milk and cook mixture until it thickens, stirring constantly. Stir a little of mixture into egg, then add to mixture. Stir in vanilla and butter. Cool, then fill shells. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Frosted banana bars

Mary Bergren

1/2 C. butter, softened

1-1/2 C. sugar

2 eggs

1 C. (8 oz.) sour cream

1 t. vanilla

2 C. flour

1 t. baking soda

1/4 t. salt

2 medium ripe bananas


1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened

1/2 C. butter, softened

2 t. vanilla extract

4 C. confectioner’s sugar

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, then gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in bananas. Spread in greased 15x10x1” pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Cool.

For frosting, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Gradually beat in confectioners sugar. Frost bars. Store in the refrigerator.

Potatoes deluxe

Mary Bergren

1 can cream of chicken soup

1-1/2 C. (12 oz.) sour cream

1/2 lb. Velveeta cheese

1/2 C. milk

6 T. melted butter

1/2 t. salt


1-2 lb. bag hash brown potatoes

1 C. Corn  Flakes

2 T. butter


Combine first seven ingredients, mix with potatoes. Place in casserole dish. Top with crushed Corn Flakes. Drizzle with butter. Bak at 350 degrees for one hour.

Hillcrest breakfast casserole

Mary Bergren

7 slices white bread, torn into bite size pieces

2 C. shredded Velveeta cheese

6 eggs

3 C. milk

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled

Grease 11x7x2” baking dish. Layer bread in dish, sprinkle with cheese.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, slat and pepper. Pour over bread and cheese. Top with  bacon.

Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean.