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September 14, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 23

PROFILE

photo: Mrs. Anna Day and Miss Tatum Previtera sat down to compare notes on life. Separated by a chasm of time and experience, their conversation produced a surprisingly common set of responses.

Mrs. Anna Day and Miss Tatum Previtera sat down to compare notes on life. Separated by a chasm of time and experience, their conversation produced a surprisingly common set of responses.

Meeting of the Ages

It’s been said that life is a journey. Most of us have no idea where it will take us, nor do we typically have the time to focus on where we are going. Day-to-day obligations direct our attention to schedules and responsibilities that can make us sometimes feel we are just along for the ride.

And then come those moments of clarity. We read of or witness a tragedy that claims lives, or learn of the passing of someone important to us. We read of the disrespect for life of the unborn. Or maybe we ourselves experience an accident, illness or injury that — if but for an inch to the left or the right — could have brought us to our own mortal end. Sadness and loss reminds us of only one side of life if we choose to look at the completion of our physical existence on earth as truly being “the end.”

And then again there is Mrs. Anna Day. On August 25th she turned 108. Meeting her at Our Lady of Peace Retirement Community in Charlottesville provides that moment of clarity about life while bringing with it a room full of sunshine.

“It’s just an accident, it was nothing I did,” Day explained matter-of-factly to someone who had congratulated her on having reached such an exclusive milestone.

It was not an accident that this reporter was accompanied by his 9 year-old daughter to meet Mrs. Day. In 2006, the birth of Tatum, currently a fourth-grader at St. Edward-Epiphany Catholic School in Richmond, brought with it the same joy to her parents as did that day back in 1907 when Anna Day made her entrance into this world. Separated by nearly 100 years, it seemed a good idea to get the two ladies together to compare notes. And now the both of them sat side-by-side for an interview, to enlighten us about the blessing called life.

“We played hide-and-seek, and tag,” Day reminisced when asked what activities she and her friends participated in at 9 years old. Tatum nodded her head with a look of surprise. These are the games she plays today with her own schoolmates. Tatum recognized she had something in common with Anna, something that connected her through the century that separated their births.

“I like to swim, and I especially like to dance,” Tatum chimed in.

Mrs. Day’s eyes brightened.

“Oh yes, I love to dance, when I could. I’d dance to any kind of music. It did not matter,” Day exclaimed, “And swim too, but I was not very good at it.

“My mother taught me how to knit, and I remember she did a lot of that for the soldiers during World War I. Helping others, that brings you joy.”

That is the motto Mrs. Day lives by.

“We do Outreach at school,” Tatum was anxious to add, inspired by the idea that helping others brings joy. “We bring in cans of food for people who can’t buy it themselves.”

The cans are steel, and they multiply the weight of her backpack three-fold. Yet Tatum does not seem to mind nor notice the extra weight on her 65 lb. frame. Knowing that she is helping others lifts both her spirits and the cans of soup she slings on her back these past few mornings.

The two ladies compared favorite colors. Mrs. Day was wearing her favorite, a sea foam blue. Tatum’s was neon green, both warmer hues of otherwise cooler palettes. Was it a coincidence that Tatum’s headband matched Mrs. Day’s blouse perfectly?

Mrs. Day was grateful for the flowers Tatum had brought her, both agreeing the colors were beautiful.

“That is what life is all about, having friends,” said Mrs. Day. “Enjoying life and giving to one-another.

“Jesus gave us a model to live by. He shows you how to live, how to behave. You don’t do things that are mean or nasty. You take care of one-another, and that is fun!”

A simple truth and life lesson for all of us between the ages of nine and 108.

“You see, the people aren’t different today, but the culture is,” Day explained. “Technology, computers…we did not have many things that today are taken for granted. And that was fine.”

Mrs. Day was an only child. Born in New York City she loved the bustle of the busy streets and remembers walking and taking the subway wherever she traveled.

“We got our news from the newspaper, and later we discovered radio. My father built the first radio we used in the house before I was in high school. Technology and communication intrigued him. We loved listening to music, and listening to shows like Amos & Andy.

“Father was the very best man I ever knew. A principled man, but he also knew how to laugh.”

Mrs. Day spoke about the excitement Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight across the Atlantic to Paris generated. That was the year she graduated college.

“I liked and studied languages. French was my major, and even today I can read it, plus some Spanish as well.” Mrs. Day went on to earn a Master’s degree, an exceptionally rare achievement for the period, especially for women who were not given the same opportunities as men.

Both Mrs. Day and Tatum love to read. Spending time with books brings them both great joy.

Sitting with Mrs. Day and looking into her steel blue eyes, it was amazing to think of all that they had witnessed; 19 presidents, 10 popes, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, Women’s suffrage, World War II, a man on the moon, 9/11.

Tatum would remember this day in as simple a way as Mrs. Day – sharing some time with a new friend who just like her enjoyed meeting new people and laughing.

“We hope to come back and meet you again Mrs. Day,” I said, as Tatum nodded approvingly.

“If I am alive,” she responded with that matter-of-fact tone in her voice.

Mrs. Day knows her life — her journey — is not in her hands but held in the grasp of a greater power. And she is fine with that because her mission is to leave this world a little better than when she came into it.

“That’s what Jesus would do,” Tatum commented, with all the wisdom of 100 years.

photo:  Our Lady of Peace Retirement Community exterior view

House of Longevity, Our Lady of Peace Retirement Community, Charlottesville

“This is a lot quieter than our cafeteria at school,” Tatum observed as we walked into the dining room of Our Lady of Peace Retirement Community (OLOP). Sunday lunch was being served to the residents, each table dotted with four place settings, cloth napkins and — perched against the drinking glasses — four copies of the day’s menu.

The staff busied themselves moving along the neat rows of tables, smiles on their faces and drinks on their trays. We had come at noon, and although the many tables were full, there was a sense of intimacy in the large room.

photo: Our Lady of Peace Retirement Community dining room

“The staff develops personal relationships with each of the residents,” said Sherry Beverage, OLOP’s Activities Director and senior staff member during our visit.

“When folks walk into our community they often tell us how warm they feel. That’s the environment we want.”

Sue and Henry “Hank” Morgan have been married for 51 years and as they emerged from the dining room together they stopped to chat.

“When we started looking for a place to retire, we visited half a dozen locations,” Mr Morgan said, “But this is where we chose to live and have been here and enjoying it for two and a half years.”

photo: activity room at Our Lady of Peace Retirement Community

Mr. Morgan served as a professor of Advanced Theory in the music department at the University of Virginia. He was also the school’s choir director.

“We knew people who lived here and they gave us a good recommendation,” he added.

Mr. Morgan then had a brief discussion with Mrs. Beverage, the Activities Director, about the upcoming schedule of events.

“We post daily schedules of activities,” Beverage said. “And we encourage participation by the residents. With this generation especially, it is important for them to keep active, keep busy.”

photo: statue of Mary in the garden

Exercise classes are high up on the agenda of activities. OLOP just added a third class to their active schedule due to its popularity with the residents.

The focus is not just on their bodies, but on the resident’s minds as well.

“What I find interesting is how they retain facts from their lives much better than I do,” Beverage noted. “Specific dates and events that happened long ago.

“We do lots of trivia games with them, and that keeps their minds active.”

OLOP provides a “memory care neighborhood” which provides specialized care and security for seniors diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, OLOP was established in 1992 as a nonprofit, nondenominational retirement community. Coordinated Services Management, Inc., (CSM) of Roanoke oversees the property management of OLOP with Sara Warden as Executive Director of the community. CSM employs 1,500 persons and manages 24 retirement communities in Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland.

Having come to OLOP for our feature story, we were surprised to learn that there are five other residents along with Mrs. Anna Day over 100 years of age.

Maybe Sherry Beverage said it best when she noted “My favorite part is getting to know them as individuals.”

Each, no doubt, with a story worthy of telling.

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