Monica Schmidt and Ann Leingang

Monica Schmidt and Ann Leingang

By Marci Narum

Age and circumstance are not relevant when discovering a new purpose in life and finding joy in it.

Consider Ann Leingang, a feisty 88-year old who raised ten children and 40 grandchildren. Many of them live far away now but Ann remembers fondly all the baked goodies she made for them over the years.

“My counter was completely full of cookies,” Ann recalls. “As the kids came home from school or work all these little hands kept coming. Most of the time I never had enough. By the end of the day they had them all gone and the next day I had to bake again.”

Ann is a resident at St. Vincent’s Continuing Care Center in Bismarck. She moved in about a year-and-a-half ago after suffering a broken leg in an accident. Ann says her health is fine otherwise and she is looking forward to moving out; she wants to live in her own apartment. Until then, she needs something to help pass the time. So she’s baking cookies.

“I didn’t have anything to do. I was just sitting in my room and time was going by. It made me feel terrible,” she says.

“Somebody came along and said, ‘you want to bake cookies?’ I said, ‘yeah, that sounds good!’”

That was in September. Ann is now the reason you can count on dozens of extra smiles in the hallways of St. Vincent’s every-other week as she and her friend and baking buddy, 89-year old Monica Schmidt, hand out fresh-from-the-oven cookies to staff, residents, and visitors.

“We made chocolate chip cookies, zucchini bread, banana bread, zucchini cookies, and monster cookies,” says Monica.

“First we took cookies to the fire department and police station and now we’re distributing them around here,” says Ann. “We made chocolate chip cookies and after that we had a job. We’re in!”

On the day we visited, Ann and Monica baked flourless peanut butter cookies.

“Here comes somebody,” says Ann, rolling forward in her wheelchair, enthusiastically greeting a couple and their toddler in the hallway. “You’re at the right place! Want to taste our cookies? We just took them out of the oven.”

“They like to bake them for the staff because they appreciate what the staff does for them and they like to spread joy by baking for others,” says Allie Hanson, Activity Director and Volunteer Coordinator at St. Vincent’s.

“It’s so easy to do this,” Ann says. “Allie furnishes all the ingredients and in an hour or so we’re in and out. We’d bake every day if they’d let us.”

Ann and Monica bake about three dozen cookies each time. But the cookies don’t last long.

“If they don’t all get cookies then they say, ‘oh, I heard you baked cookies the other day and I didn’t even get one!’”

So the ladies are planning to make a bigger batch of some special cookies for the holiday.

“At Christmas we’re going to make Pfeffernusse cookies that all the old people like. They have anise in them,” Ann says.

Monica adds, “It’s a big recipe that makes 100 cookies.”

A big takeaway from Ann and Monica’s story: whatever your circumstance or age there is no recipe for having purpose in life. It’s whatever brings you joy and gives joy to others too.

As Ann says, “I like life. It’s what you make of it. When you have something that can make somebody happy and feel good, it makes your day for the rest of the day and time goes by faster.”   

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla

Bake for 15 minutes in 325°oven.

To see more photos of Ann and Monica, click here. That will link you to a gallery of photos taken by Jacy, of Photos by Jacy.