TORRINGTON – Willavie Simonsen, fondly known as Willie, turned 100 years old on Jan. 5 at Goshen Healthcare Community (GHC).
Under normal circumstances, Simonsen’s daughters would meet her at GHC for lunch and a slice of birthday cake, but GHC has been closed to visitors since the onset of COVID-19 last March.
Linda Erdman, one of Simonsen’s five children, wanted the day to be special despite the circumstances. So in lieu of candles and cake, Erdman and her family decided to ask friends and neighbors to send birthday cards to her room at the care center.
“[My sisters and I] couldn’t be with her, so we wanted to brighten her day, make her feel like we’re still around,” Erdman said. “She’s always liked parties anyway, so we figured this would be a good thing.”
Staff at GHC read the cards to Simonsen, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Erdman said her mother received roughly 35 cards so far from relatives, friends and community members, with more on the way.
“It really is awesome,” Erdman said. “There’s some relatives that you lose track of, so it really was great to hear from them.”
Greeting cards are just one of the ways families and friends are showing their love for residents.
Chico Delossantos, director of social services and recreation at GHC, said contact from loved ones is important for residents amid COVID-19, even if it comes in different forms than it typically would.
“Our goal is to maintain quality of life,” he said. “We really encourage our families to stay involved.”
Families and friends have been “thinking outside the box,” according to Delossantos, with pizza deliveries, care packages, video chats and even window visits and window decorating during the Christmas season.
In June, GHC organized an “adopt a senior” program where community members took flamingoes from the center’s southeast lawn and returned with a care package for a resident. In December, the Goshen County Homeschoolers dressed in Christmas costumes and greeted residents from outside their windows.
“The community has been very supportive of the facility during this COVID time and we really appreciate it,” Delossantos said.
Delossantos said GHC will allow limited, “very structured” visitation when Goshen County’s COVID-19 positivity rate decreases. For now, residents rely on modified communication with loved ones and staff-sanctioned activities that take place either in their individual rooms or in an activity room with just their hallway, with at least six feet of physical distance between one another.
Happy hour is still on, Delossantos said, but residents get to drink from what they call “the whiskey wagon” that comes by each of their rooms. There are also tacos, online games and even music therapy through a program called music and memory in which residents, including Simonsen, listen to their favorite music on a device.
Born in 1921, Simonsen lived a lot of life before moving into GHC in 2015.
Erdman and her sisters compiled a list of their mother’s accomplishments and attributes: she simultaneously taught eight grades at a country day school, moved to Torrington in 1957 where she was involved in numerous clubs, she worked to establish the community building in Yoder, she was a member of South Goshen Presbyterian Church where she played piano and organ, and she made quilts for her family and even painted.
A former organ player and choir singer, Simonsen even sang at her wedding, Erdman said. Even at 100 years old, she still loves music.
“Music is a big part of her life, and still is,” she said.